1) Go for simple construction
Ease yourself in gently with a project that doesn’t require too much precision sewing. Look for straight lines and not too many pieces, and avoid techniques such as gathering and pleating until you’ve got a few makes under your (homemade) belt. Start simple, and you can progress to the more complex projects later on. Try these cute and easy-peasy projects to show you the basics of construction - the Brigitte Scarf and Bow Belt.
2) Check the fabric suggestions
Just as important as simple construction, check that the project is compatible with fabric that's easy to sew. While you’re still getting used to your sewing machine, the last thing you want to do is sew material such as silk which will slide all over your machine, or a stretchy jersey that may leave your seams wiggly. Medium-weight woven cottons are perfect to get started with as they lie flat, press well and don’t slip around. They come in lots of tempting prints (patterned prints hide dodgy stitching!) and are easy to find in fabric shops and department stores. Give them a whirl with the Margot pyjamas pattern, which is included in my book, Love at First Stitch.
3) Avoid fiddly bits
Inserting zips or getting to grips with the buttonhole function on your sewing machine can be a little daunting to new stitchers. If you don’t feel ready to sew zips and buttonholes just yet, don’t! Choose a project without fastenings for now, such as the easy-peasy Miette wraparound skirt which closes with waist ties. You might want to avoid set-in sleeves too - the kind that you insert into the armhole as a tube - until you're more confident with your sewing. The Bettine dress is a great beginner project as it has kimono sleeves, which are cut and sewn in one with the bodice. It has no zips, buttonholes or darts either - just throw it over your head and go!
4) Pick something that’s easy to fit
One of the best things about making your own clothes is that you can tailor them to fit you. However, since we’re all different shapes, getting a fitted bodice or trousers to mould perfectly around your lady curves can sometimes take a bit of work. So let’s save that fun for later! Choose a simpler shape, such as the A-line Delphine skirt pattern in Love at First Stitch, or the Miette skirt which you can adjust the fit of with the waist ties. The Margot pyjamas are also easy to fit as they have a baggy, forgiving shape and close with an adjustable drawstring. The Bettine dress is great too, as it has a blousy bodice that doesn't need a lot of fitting, and the elasticated waistband does the job for you of cinching it in. Once you're ready to move on to sewing knit fabric, the Coco top or dress is a good option as it's got a relaxed fit, as well as a small number of pieces and simple construction method.
5) Make it again and again
My final tip for beginner sewing projects is to choose something you can see yourself making more than once. Practising the techniques and steps in a pattern a second (or third) time is great for cementing what you’ve learnt, and it will make you feel good about your progress.
Wishing you lots of fun with your sewing projects!
If you've sewn before, what was the first thing you made and how did it go? Do share!
The sewing patterns mentioned above are available from the Tilly and the Buttons online shop and from stockists around the world.
This post was updated in November 2014. Like this? Read more Learn to Sew posts and check out my book for beginner dressmakers.