You’ve seen all the beautiful pictures on Pinterest and Instagram. You’ve sewed some napkins, maybe a pillowcase or two. But now it’s time for the big leagues. You’re sewing your first shirt! Read this before you get started, and I’ll show you what helped me (and didn’t) on my very first shirt sewing adventure.
Pick a Pattern (Or Don’t!)
When I decided I wanted to try sewing a shirt, I looked through TONS of patterns. Too many, I’m sure. Decision paralysis was rampant. But then I had an idea. I already have a tank top I absolutely love, so why don’t I try to make that same tank top!
The nice thing with using a piece of clothing you already have is that you’ve got a 3D real-life example to work towards. Not just a picture. Also, your pattern is already cut out, so you just need to basically trace the shapes onto your new fabric. As someone who has never read a sewing pattern before, this was way easier.
So, if you find a pattern you like, then go for it. But if you’re not super familiar with reading sewing patterns, and you have a piece of clothing that fits your style and goals, then I would 100% recommend starting with that as your pattern. Find a tutorial on YouTube, and you’re good to go! I found it was a great segue into “real” sewing.
Pick Your Fabric
Once you’ve got your pattern chosen, you need to pick out some fabric. If you’re using a proper pattern, that will have fabric recommendations on it. If not, try to find some fabric relatively similar to the shirt you’re replicating from your closet.
You want to listen to the pattern’s instructions or find fabric close to your original shirt because different fabrics behave differently. So if something you have is made of cotton but you find a really stretchy knit fabric, there’s a chance it could turn out way different than what you’re going for.
Additionally, certain fabrics are easier to work with. Especially for beginner sewers, some nice cotton fabric is going to be the easiest for you to work with. Knit and stretch fabrics can take a little more getting used to on the machine. Which if you’ve got time to practice is totally fine, but if you want success right out of the gate, then cotton is the way to go.
Prep Your Space
This one is one of the MOST important and most helpful tips in my opinion. If you don’t have a good space to sew in, things are going to be trickier. You don’t need a lot of space by any means, but three things I think are definitely necessary are:
- A table to cut your fabric – You want a hard surface so you can cut precisely, and not risk any weird mess-ups by trying to cut on carpet (ask me how I know…)
- A pair of fabric scissors, or a rotary cutter – Both of these implements come in handy, but the rotary cutter is SUPER nice, because it allows you to get long cuts in without having to stop.
- A self healing cutting mat – So you don’t cut your table! This mat works wonders with the rotary cutter, and all the ones I’ve seen have built in grids and rulers, so you can measure what you need and cut right along the guide line it gives you.
Time to Sew! Tips for Making the Process a Breeze
Once you sit down to sew, I can’t emphasize enough to take your time. Just like carpenters measure twice and cut once, sewers should do the same.
Pin, Pin, Pin
Pins are your friend! They might take a little while to put in place, but they hold everything right where it needs to be so you can sew without worrying about things shifting and pulling.
Go Slow at First
I don’t know about you, but I am still learning how to sew at a consistent speed. Sometimes my foot presses down and the machine starts flying, and other times I feel like I press down forever before I can get it go! So when in doubt, just go slow. You’re less likely to make mistakes with you go slow, and more likely to learn some neat stuff about your machine!
Have a Seam Ripper Nearby 🙂
No matter how slow you go, you will mess up. For me, the hardest part was sewing the curves on the neckline and sleeves. When you mess up, just take your fabric out of the machine, use your seam ripper to undo the mistake, and then try again. Things will happen, so it’s a good tool to have handy.
I made a reel of sewing my shirt, which I put on Instagram. You can watch it here.
Like I mentioned earlier, I used a tank top I already had as my “pattern.” I found a nice easy tutorial on YouTube about making a tank top, and followed it pretty much to a T. I knew I needed a bit more room for my belly since I’m pregnant, so I just added an inch or two extra in length on the front.
The hardest part for me was sewing around the sleeves and neckline. I had a hard time where two sides were joined, because for some reason they didn’t line up perfectly. Probably just beginner’s error. But I finagled it a little, and even though the sewing is not the prettiest, it’s already been through the wash a few times and held up just fine!
Overall I feel loads more confident about sewing garments now, and I’m looking forward to my next project, which will be the trapezoid skirt from DIYDaisy! I love the fabric I’ve chosen, and think it will actually go really well with my tank top!
I think the most important thing, just like in gardening, crocheting, and baking is to just jump in and give it a go. Be kind to yourself during the challenging moments, and learn from everything: success, failure, and in between. At least you won’t wonder about if you can do it anymore when you see the pictures on Pinterest!
Let me see your sewing pictures! Tag me on Instagram @sweetgumspot so I can see your shirts, skirts, or whatever is your first sewing adventure. I’d love for us to support each other as we all become better sewers!