Mims' Musings

25 Steps to Sew from a Pattern

Posted on: 12/08/2011


For Christmas 2009, my parents bought me a sewing machine. I’d just had a basic lesson on how to use one, resulting in a cushion cover, and was excited to see what else I could do with one. For a year and a half I had a lot of practice in hemming (as I’m only 4ft8 nearly every pair of Jeans needs taking up), but I was increasingly interested in more ambitious projects, and really wanted to learn to sew my own clothes.

For as long as I can remember, my Gran has always been a genius with a sewing machine. During the time she was teaching me, she used an Elna sewing machine that she’s had since 1964, using it to sew clothes for my Dad and his siblings as they grew up in Zimbabwe, and after they moved to the UK in the 1980s. As a child I always remember the sewing machine being a magical thing that I’d see when visiting Gran and Grandad, and I like to think that part of my interest in crafting comes from Gran, just as my storytelling skills are partly owed to Grandad

Last week I finally had the opportunity to go and stay with my Grandparents for a couple of nights. I not only got to spend quality time with them, but my Gran also taught me how to sew a dress, using a pattern and fabric that I’d chosen

The few nights I spent with them will be ones that I treasure for a long time. I’m overjoyed with the dress that Gran and I made together, and feel that she was the best teacher I could’ve asked for, never taking over and always making sure I understood what needed to be done. I’ve decided to share everything that I learned from her here, partly so I don’t forget, partly so this can help anyone else who might be confused about sewing from a pattern, and aren’t lucky enough to have a patient teacher like my Gran.


  1. Carefully take your measurements (in my case Bust = 39inches, Waist = 32 inches, Hips= 42 inches, Back of Neck to Waist = 15.5 inches) and identify which size you need from the pattern envelope (in my case Size 14)  Before looking it’s best that you accept that it won’t be the same size as the clothes you buy in shops! Just trust it. (My inner voice did wimper slightly as I’m usually a size 12)
  2. Work out which ‘view’ you’re going to use, decide on it and stick with it. Identify which pattern pieces you need. (In my case I chose View B)
  3. Cut roughly around the pattern pieces- just getting the rough shape, nowhere near the lines you’re going to follow on the pattern. Pin the tissue onto the fabric. Don’t worry too much about grain if you’re using cotton fabrics, but it’s always nice to get the arrows pointing in the same direction. Always pay attention to how many pieces of each you need to cut out, and whether you need to cut them on the fold. Nap is the direction furry fabrics go in.
  4. In the absence of lining, you can use another layer of your normal fabric as lining. The lining is identical to the garment, just making it double sided! You can also double up parts (such as the midriff section in the dress) to stiffen them, instead of adding interfacing.

  5. After pinning each piece to the fabric, carefully cut along the lines for the measurement  you’re using, which should leave you with a set of fabric shapes.
  6. Once you’ve cut out the individual pieces, sit down comfortably, get a biro, and transfer the markings, onto the fabric. Two little lines for a notch works well. For a dot put a pin through the middle of the dot through all of the layers of the fabric and draw around it.  For pleats draw on both the solid and dotted lines. Make sure every piece has the relevant markings.
  7. Remove the tissue pattern and follow the instructions to put each piece of the garment together.

  8. When making straps, sew a tube, and then use something like a letter opener, or the blunt end of a knitting needle, to scrunch the tube onto and turn inside out.

  9. When making pleats, bring the solid line to the dotted line, pin them and then either sew across the top, or down them, according to the instructions. If there’s a centre seem, make sure you work the pleats in towards the centre.
  10. The midriff section can be a good place to reduce some fabric if you’re a bit shorter than average. Fold the pattern section to cut out a bit, then make the lines line up nicely again for your size.
  11. When attaching pieces to each other, leave 5/8ths of an inch for seam allowance (unless otherwise status) 5/8ths is the mark after the half inch mark. After attaching you can trim seams down to at least half their size, making them less bulky. For seams that lie flat run your nail down the middle of them, or sew them down pointing towards one direction according to the instructions.
  12. Clip means cut the seam to the stitch, don’t cut the stitches. This technique is particularly useful to mark where a zip should later be inserted.
  13. Along seams of curved edges, like necks or sleeves, clip into them at regular intervals, and cut corners.

  14. To gather, get the machine to the longest possible stitch, leave a 3 inch tail,  sew a line 5/8s away from the edge. Stitch a second line ¼ inch away from the fabrics edge (or the line), leaving a long tail. Pull gently on the threads and gather the fabric evenly. Make sure you gather to between the marks indicated on the pattern, and then sew another line over the gathering.
  15. For notches you don’t need to cut actual tiny triangles. Just marking and matching will do.
  16. You don’t necessarily need to press as you sew, but it will make the garment look finished if you press after its’ completion.
  17. When attaching the bodice to the skirt, if the pattern indicates it should be sewn ‘right sides together’, this means that the bodice will be upside down while pinning and sewing. Before stitching it properly, use the largest stitch possible and loosely tack them together, then try the garment on and make sure it fits.
  18. A good way to take-in parts of the garment is to unpick seams that join pieces together, insert a piece into another, then re-sew them.
  19. When inserting a zip, the easiest thing to do is to separate the two halves of the zip, pin the left side to the wrong side of the garment.
  20. To sew the left side of the zip, the left side of the zipper foot should be the one sticking out; the right side should be clipped into the presser foot. Sewing from the right side of the garment, carefully place the needle as close to the zip teeth as possible.
  21. To sew the right side of the zip, the left side of the zipper foot should be attached to the presser foot. Zip the two halves of the zip together, pin the right side of the zip to the opening. Sew across the bottom of the zip tab a few times, before sewing the zip as for the left side.
  22. When you’re a few inches from the top of the zip, pull the metal tab down a few inches past where you’re sewing so that it doesn’t get in the way. If you’re working with a flimsy fabric, reinforce the opening where you’ll be inserting a zipper by attaching some interfacing first.
  23. To finalise the length of the garment, first pin it up to check the length while wearing it. Decide how big you would like the seam, then cut and re-pin it. If the hem you’re sewing isn’t straight, while hemming you’ll need to sew little tucks into it every now and then so you don’t get a load of excess fabric when you come to the end of the hem. To do this, while pinning create a miniature dart every now and then, and sew over it as you’re hemming.
  24. On hems and parts of the garment which might see more wear than others (such as around the neckline), zigzag stitch over the original stitch line, with the top of the triangle going as close to the edge of the fabric as possible.
  25. Press the garment, try it on for a final time, make any necessary adjustments, and wear it with pride!

Behold!!! The finished dress!!!

Special thanks to my Gran =)


2 Responses to "25 Steps to Sew from a Pattern"

Hello, I don’t expect you to remember, but I met you and your boyfriend at the stitched science event, and have been following your blogs ever since – just wanted to say that dress looks amazing, really well made and great step by step instructions! I have always been daunted by those patterns but reckon I may give it a go…nice one!

[…] MimsMusings 25 Steps to Sew From a Pattern […]

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