D.I.Y. Fashionista 101 - Part I

4:00 PM


Most of you who are like me that drool over the coverage of Fashion Week every March and September, hoard all of the fashion magazines and gush over every fabulous outfit you see and think, "I want that"! Then reality sets in when you eyeball the price tag, the poor fit and the wrong color. You know what? Instead of giving up the mortgage or rent payment, why not DO-IT-YOURSELF? It's really not as difficult as you may think -- really it isn't. It is possible to teach yourself to sew... practice does make perfect. By learning simple sewing skills, you can be whipping out tops, skirts, pants, jackets and dresses too with the perfect fit!

Let's get started!

Tools of the trade

If you don't already have a machine available to you, you can purchase an inexpensive model (you can always upgrade later) from Wal*Mart, Hancock's or Joann's, etc... If you don't have a sewing room, fear not! All you need is a "dedicated space" where you have room to cut, iron and place your sewing machine.

Other essentials

* Pins
* Hand and sewing machine needles
* Chalk and/or disappearing marking pens
* Seam ripper
* Measuring tape
* Scissors and/or rotary cutter
* Bobbins (for your specific machine)
* Thread
* Pattern
* Iron and ironing board

I would suggest this book -- "The Complete Photo Guide to Sewing" as reference material for any beginner. It has great color photos so that you can see exactly what it is that you're suppose to be doing.

Learning your machine

This is the reason I suggested purchasing an inexpensive model as a beginner. Too many bells and whistles will just add to your confusion. Learn the basics and then upgrade. Read your manual inside and out. Play with it! Learn all the stitch that it does. Learn how to make buttonholes. Some models now come with a learning video... watch it!

Size yourself up

If you already didn't know, your pattern size is COMPLETELY DIFFERENT from your ready-to-wear (RTW) size. This is why you have to take accurate measurements.

Grab a buddy and these items:
  • A short, fine chain necklace -- to establish a natural neckline
  • Washable markers -- to draw lines on skin and/or undergarments
  • 1/4-inch adhesive dots
  • Pins
  • Narrow elastic -- to locate and mark the waistline
  • Flexible but stable measuring tape
  • 12-inch ruler
  • A form-fitting T-shirt with set-in sleeves -- to help identify an armhole
  • Twill tape/cotton cording -- for marking crotch length
A. Neckline

Identify the natural neckline with a short chain necklace that settles comfortably, just below the slight hollow at the base of the neck.

• Mark the exact center front of this neckline with a small adhesive or pen dot.
• Mark the prominent vertebra at the top of the spine with an adhesive or pen dot. (Bend the head forward to make the vertebra easier to find.)
• Mark a point on each side of the neck, in line with the hollow just behind the earlobe.

B. Bust point

Mark the nipple location with a cross of two pins on the bra fabric or with an adhesive dot.

C. Shoulder point

Feel for the end of the flat bone at the end of the shoulder, or raise your arm until a dimple appears at the end of your shoulder and feel for the shoulder bone in this depression. It is important to identify an exact shoulder point.
• Mark it with an adhesive or pen dot.

D. Shoulder seamline

Draw a series of dots (more accurate than a drawn line) on the body, from the side-neck point marked on the neckline, along the top of the shoulder, to the shoulder point.

E. Waistline

Depending upon body proportions, there are two possible waistlines: a natural waist or, for people who do not have a naturally indented waist, a de facto (chosen) waist, where the top of skirts or trousers sits. Find the natural waist by tying a piece of elastic around the person's waist, and having her bend from side to side until the elastic settles comfortably in the hollow around the middle of her body; take the waist measurement here. If the person does not have an indented waist, adjust the elastic on her body to sit at the de facto waist. This often entails moving the elastic above or below the natural waist, sometimes to be higher at the back and lower at the front.
• Once established, mark the waistline on the body with a pen; the elastic can shift while measuring.

F. Armhole

Mark with a dotted line. Start from the shoulder point, down into the crease formed by the body joining the arm, on both the front and back. (If locating the armhole is difficult, duplicate one from a form-fitting T-shirt, slipping one hand under the sleeve to trace the seamline onto the body.)

G. Abdomen

Mark a line parallel to the floor across the fullest part of the abdomen.

H. Hips

Find the widest part of the lower body by wrapping a measuring tape around the hip area and sliding it down the body, note that the widest part may be anywhere from a few inches to more than 12 inches below the waist.
• Where the measurement is largest, mark a line exactly parallel to the floor all around the body.

I. Side seams

Draw a series of dots perpendicular to the floor from the underarm to the ankle on both sides of the body.

J. Center front and center back

Draw a series of dots perpendicular to the floor from the hollow of the neck to the waist. Repeat from the nape of the neck.

Then fill in the blanks:


Shoulder length/left:___________ right:___________



Back width:___________

Front shoulder slope/left:___________ right:___________

Back shoulder slope/left:___________ right:___________

Neck to waist/front:___________

Neck to waist/back:___________


Arm length (over arm)/left:___________ right:___________

Biceps/upper arm circumference/left:___________ right:___________

Armhole depth/left:___________ right:___________


Bust circumference:___________

Upper bust circumference:___________

Under bust circumference:___________

Chest width:___________


Natural neckline:___________

Neck edge to bust point (bust depth)/left:___________ right:___________

Neck edge to waist/left:___________ right:___________


Outer seam/left:___________ right:___________


Waist to floor/front:___________

Waist to floor/back:___________


Crotch length/total:___________

Crotch length/front:___________

Crotch length/back:___________

Crotch depth:___________

Waist and hips

Waist circumference:___________


Abdomen depth:___________

Hip circumference:___________

Hip depth:___________

Fullest part of hip:___________

Fullest hip depth:___________

(courtesy of Taunton.com)

Pick a Pattern

Front of envelope

Back of envelope

Most pattern companies have styles marked as "easy" or "very easy" to sew and these are the ones that a beginner should select. One of the pitfalls that new sewers fall into is taking on complicated projects. Get your feet wet by choosing a simply constructed (loose-fitting) skirt, top or pants that will not require a "custom fit" so that you can learn how garments are constructed.

I started discussing fabric previously, but I'll delve deeper into it in the next installment.

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