Disclosure: This blog post contains affiliate links. These links do NOT affect pricing for you.
Are you looking to add garment making to your sewing skill set? I’ve got you covered with this post!
Last fall, I had the pleasure of meeting Adrianna of Hey June Handmade at a makers retreat put on by Kimberly of Straight Stitch Designs. Side bar: if you are ever looking to try out new hobbies, meet like-minded friends and check out new scenery check out her wonderful retreats!
Back to business. I’ve been wanting to make my own garments for a while but I have this fear of sewing something that has to fit my body…which apparently retailers can’t even do when you’re 6′ tall. So how in the world would I be able to make the leap from quilting to garment making? Cue Adrianna, she has an arsenal of fantastic timeless patterns and I knew she’d be able to assist in some basic questions and hit me up with a list of quilter friendly patterns.
Here is a little email interview we did and the line up of HJH patterns that you may be interested in making with me over the upcoming weeks! I’ll try my best to work through one pattern a week….but with how things are right now that could go off course pretty quickly – but I’ll do my best!
Katie: Any words of encouragement for quilters looking to add garment making to their sewing skills?
Adrianna: You already have the most important tools you need to sew garments – meticulous sewing skills and patience! If you can sew a quilt, you can absolutely sew a garment!
Katie: Fabric Types. There are a lot more fabric options than the standard quilting cotton. What are your go to fabrics and what do you typically use them for?
Adrianna: For woven tops I love lawn, voile, rayon linen, cotton linen, rayon, and raw silk (looks like linen and is washable!) For woven bottoms I usually use a stretch denim or twill or a heavier weight twill for pants like the Kendricks.
For knits I really love fabrics that have great slouch and aren’t totally opaque. I love linen, bamboo, cotton, rayon, or any blend of the above (especially triblend!). For pants like knit joggers or hoodies/sweaters I love a cotton/spandex French terry. Rayon French terry and sweatshirting are also great for cold weather tops.
A note about substrates: In apparel weight fabrics, there are a LOT of blends. This makes it difficult to know exactly how something is going to feel and drape if you buy it online. Even if the blend percentages are the same, the weight (think of thread count) could be different and vastly change the feel of the fabric. Apparel weights will also use words that are fairly subjective and don’t have a technical meaning, like “slub” or “silky”. This type of fabric knowledge only comes with experience in buying, sewing, and wearing the different substrates. However, it doesn’t take long to really figure out your favorites and to understand the difference between a 7 oz knit and a 12 oz knit. The good thing about ordering apparel fabric is that even if it doesn’t end up being what you expected, you’ll find another use for it at some point! If I don’t know what I’m going to make, I generally buy 2 yards. If I know for sure I’m going to make a tee, I’ll buy 1 – 1.5 yards (depends on fabric width, your size, and sleeve length). Jumpsuits and maxi dresses may require 3 – 5 yards of fabric though, so just be aware that for those types of garments you may have to be more intentional with your buying. Also, unlike quilting cottons, apparel fabrics can come in pretty much any width from 36 – 72”, so pay attention to that and compare it to your pattern requirements when buying.
Katie: Drape. What is a fabric with great drape? Is there a spectrum of drape that garment makers know, but the rest of us don’t?
Adrianna: Unless you are making a garment that really depends on a stable fabric, like non-stretch pants or a jacket, most garments look best when made with fabric that has some drape. As you said, drape comes on such a broad spectrum that it is hard to define. Some garments require very little and some require the maximum amount. This is where it’s important to pay attention to pattern requirements and also look through finished garments made with the pattern via the pattern maker’s website, facebook group, and instagram hashtags. In general, keywords that indicate a fabric probably has some drape are: rayon, silk or “silky”, poly, bamboo, viscose/modal(types of rayon), and Tencel (brand name of rayon). These types of fabrics can be their own substrate, but are often blended with substrates that generally don’t drape well on their own, such as cotton and linen. In general, when they are blended they are easier to sew.
Katie: Measurements. How does one measure oneself? High bust, full bust, etc. Can you further explain how a pattern is drafted to a certain bust size and how that should impact your measurements?
Adrianna: Many patterns will mention a sewing cup size. This is not the same as your bra cup size. As an example, I wear a D cup bra but have an A sewing cup. You can find your sewing cup size by measuring your high bust (tape measure under your arms, but over your bust), then measuring your full bust (tape measure parallel to the ground around the fullest part of your bust) and finding the difference between the two. Up to a 1” difference is an A cup, 2” is B, etc. Most sewing patterns are drafted for a B cup. If your sewing cup size is more than that, you’d have to perform a full bust alteration, which is often abbreviated to FBA. Some patterns come with a separate piece that already has an FBA performed. Because the FBA is based on specific measurements, it will also not be perfect for everyone, but it will give a better fit or at least a better starting off point for larger busts. In general, if an FBA piece is included, it is for a D cup. Each specific pattern will contain this information in the listing and the pattern itself so you can make an informed choice. The internet is full of FBA tutorials if you need one – they are not difficult and after you’ve done one you’ll be a pro.
Katie: Adjustment. Any suggestions for people that need to make adjustments to the pattern? Whether it’s length, extra or less bust, etc.
Adrianna: Patterns will generally have lengthen/shorten lines to add or subtract simple length to a pattern. However, if you truly need a tall or petite adjustment, the correct way is to cut up the pattern in several different places to ensure that the widest part of the bust and hip hit at the widest part of YOUR bust and hip and the narrowest part of the waist hits your narrowest point. This is done by altering the length between the shoulder and bust, bust and waist, and waist and hip. For pants, the rise often needs to be adjusted and if the knee point is defined, it will also need to hit in the correct spot. Just like weight, everyone carries their height differently. I am taller than most patterns are drafted for but often have to shorten my tops at the waist because my height is in my legs. Maybe you only need to add height below the knee or throughout the torso. It all depends on your body. If you have the time and resources, a great idea before sewing would be to compose a comprehensive list of all your measurements, both girth and vertically, especially the length between major points like bust, waist, and hip, or inseam to knee to ankle. When it comes time to make the adjustments to a sewing pattern, google is once again your friend!
Katie: Interfacing. What’s the standard stuff you keep in your sewing studio? Do you just go with fusible all the time or do you have different types for different material/garment?
Adrianna: I only use fusible because I’m not making elaborate things like tailored blazers. I use a super lightweight woven fusible and a knit fusible. The knit (or tricot) fusible has directional stretch, so it can maintain stretch if necessary. I like to use knit fusible on woven patterns that require drape so it doesn’t make the interfaced areas stiffer than the rest of the garment. For example, any time I use a woven rayon or anything blended with woven rayon I would use a knit fusible.
Katie: Buttonholes. I was just looking at my machine and it doesn’t have a buttonhole option…Is there a way around this?
Adrianna: No. Ha. I don’t know the answer to this. Maybe? I’ve tried to do one manually with a tight zig zag and it’s not ideal, but it’s doable. Beg, borrow, or steal a new machine 😉 (Preferably borrow)
Katie: Notions. What are the must have notions for the beginner garment makers?
Adrianna: You probably already have them if you quilt! I don’t like to have a bunch of tools that all do different things, so I just have a few that can be used for several tasks. The things I use every time – rotary cutter and mat, see-through quilter’s ruler (either 2×18 or 6×24), sharp 4” scissors, pins, and something to mark your fabric (I use a chaco chalk liner from Clover). That’s it! I use my sharp 4” scissors to cut buttonholes open and in place of a seam ripper and thread snip. For serged seams I sometimes use a straight razor refill blade to rip seams. If you use pdf patterns, make sure you have plenty of tape and I recommend a separate rotary cutter for paper, it is SO much faster than scissors! I just put my old fabric blades in the paper one when they’re dull. I’m sure in quilting there are a lot of extraneous notions they want you to buy, but if you sew at all, you know you don’t really need all the bells and whistles. In 14 years of garment sewing I’ve never needed anything besides what I just mentioned (unless I’m performing a special task, like an awl for making rivet holes, a plier for shortening a metal zipper, or a pencil or chopstick for turning tubes. But for just getting started, you won’t need these things.)
Katie: Jersey knit. My ultimate garment fear is jersey knit (hold on..maybe lycra is the ultimate fear), due to how stretchy and flimsy it is…which is the complete opposite of quilting cotton. Any tips on how to approach those super stretchy materials?
Adrianna: I don’ t know if I should scare you, but jersey and spandex (Lycra) blends are some of the more stable knits J In fact, I recommend starting with them! I tend to be too pragmatic to offer any real support in this area, but my advice is always this – what’s the worst that could happen? Even if you end up with something that isn’t wearable (and you WILL), you gained a ton of experience. Fabric isn’t scary, sky diving is scary. You can do it! Just…do it! Haha, I’m a terrible motivational speaker. (do stay away from rayon blend knits for a second though). In all seriousness, a very simple dolman-style tee shirt is your best first knit project, and if you make it in a 95/5 cotton/spandex you will see that it’s really no different from sewing quilting cotton. Google everything that comes to mind – if you’re having trouble, guaranteed there’s a blog post for that.
Garment Making Lingo
Regular stitch length seam around areas that are partially on the bias and could therefore stretch out, such as necklines and sleeveless armholes, circle skirt waists, etc. The stay stitch keeps the pattern pieces accurate as you handle them until you get to the point where you finish those edges.
A yoke is what you’d traditionally see on the upper back of a button up shirt. It’s a separate piece with a seam connecting it to the rest of the garment and almost always has an identical piece that is the yoke facing. Yokes can also be on the front of a shirt (some women’s blouses have these just above the bust, or western style button ups have them in triangular shapes coming down from the shoulders.) Skirts and pants can have yokes too. In general, but not always, yokes are a way for a garment to be fitted in one area and then have a piece attached to them that has gathers or pleats to add more width to the garment outside of the yoke. There are a variety of ways to construct a yoke, but they’re all pretty fun and involve turning things inside out or sideways.
This is done with the longest stitch length without locking the seam at the beginning or the end. This allows the fabric to gather along the stitch line, to various degrees. You would gather a sleeve cap or rounded pocket to it’s final curved shape but not to the point where you’d create visible gathers on the garment. This is called “easing”. Or a skirt could be gathered to fit the waistline of a dress with huge amounts of gathering. There are some tips and tricks to gathering depending on where on the garment it is performed too.
Check out this HJH blog post about Ease
This seam is great for finishing interior seams when you don’t have a serger or want extra stability and a clean interior. It requires at least a ½” seam allowance and is pretty much only used on wovens. It involves first sewing the seam with the pattern pieces WRONG sides together, trimming the seam allowances, and then turning the garment right sides together (the normal way to sew a garment) and sewing the seam a second time. The result is that the raw edges of the seam allowance are enclosed on the inside of the garment.
Plackets are usually areas that open on a garment for style and/or dressing. Woven garments in particular need to be able to fit over your head or hips so they require openings and closures. A placket is applied (or integrated) into the pattern to allow it to open partially or completely. It can be left open, like a short neck placket, or it can allow the garment to open up all the way, like a button up shirt or dress. Plackets can be finished with buttons or snaps or a variety of other closures like zippers or toggles. If you can sew a straight line, you can sew a placket.
Katie: Being new to this would there be any other advice that you have for quilters jumping into this with both feet?
Adrianna: Jump higher, lol! All kidding aside, I really think the best and only way you can learn something new is to just do it. Go into it with reasonable expectations so you won’t be too frustrated if things don’t work out the first time. If possible, have a mini lesson (or zoom meeting) with a friend who has sewn garments before. But in general, you can only get experience by doing, so jump in!
The Pattern Lineup
Katie: Ranking 1-10 what would be good HJH patterns for quilters?
Adrianna: Normally I’d tell new sewists to start with knit. I know this may be contrary to some wisdom, but hear my reasons:
- We wear knit garments. If you sew an “easy, beginner-friendly” woven garment it often ends up being a really shapeless top (which are admittedly very trendy right now) or a stiff a-line skirt, which you don’t really see in RTW very much in current styles. You will be much happier and more motivated to continue if you make something you’ll actually wear.
- Knit fabric is of course stretchy and can be drapey and slouchy depending on the substrate and garment pattern, which means that fit issues aren’t as prevalent. You will also be much happier and more motivated to continue if you make something that actually fits.
With quilters, this advice still persists, but I will allow that it may be easier to start with wovens since you have experience and may have some garment-appropriate fabric already in your stash. So instead of ranking apples and oranges together, I am making a list of wovens and knits separately so you can choose.
In ascending order of difficulty, with patterns I consider to be equal on the same line:
Knit (Katie: this will be the list in order of the items I’ll be sewing in the upcoming weeks)
Woven (Katie: I’ll continue to sew these items upon completion of the knit list throughout the year):
- Key Largo
I ranked these specifically thinking about quilters. Normally I’d put zippers before buttons, but quilters may not have done zippers before, whereas buttonholes are usually an automatic function. I’d also usually put out a caveat about using bias binding for beginners, but nobody does bias binding better than a quilter! (Just note that bias bound edges on garments are sometimes done using a method that hides the binding completely on the inside of the garment instead of wrapping around a raw edge, but it is usually interchangeable depending on preference!)
Katie: Are there any patterns you have that can utilize some quilting cotton? I think a lot of us have a bit of a fabric collection 😀
Adrianna: I usually don’t recommend quilting cotton for garments, though I know there are different schools of thought on this in the garment sewing world. I personally don’t like the way it feels on my skin or how prone to wrinkling it is. I recommend using a lawn or voile as a good substitute for tops and lightweight garments and twill or denim as an alternative for bottom weight. These substrates will be very familiar and comfortable to sew for quilters. After you’ve mastered those, you can also move onto more shifty wovens that are still relatively easy to sew, like linen and rayon or any blends of those. If you do want to use quilting cotton, I recommend the Key Largo. It is cut on the bias, so even a quilting cotton will have some drape and movement on that top. You could also try the Lucerne, Phoenix, or Willamette, although the cut on those patterns really depends on drape to achieve the intended style. Quilting cotton is fantastic to use for muslins before you cut into your fashion fabric, if you have some yardage to spare. It also makes great detail pieces, like waistband facings, pocket facings, and contrast patch pockets on woven or knit garments.
Katie: Would you be able to compile a list of good online retailers that ship garment fabric?
Adrianna: Here is a great resource from Closet Case blog.
There you have it! Let’s push ourselves out of our comfort zone and expand that sewing skill set!