How To Start Making Your Own Clothes

with Amy from the Spoonflower Brand Marketing team

MAY 17, 2021 updated Jul 13, 2021

Have you ever stood in awe of a friend who showed up to brunch in a handmade dress? Seen the most incredible pair of pants in a store window, only to find out they don’t make them in your size? Scrolled through the design Marketplace on Spoonflower, dreaming of someday creating a one-of-a-kind shirt with your favorite surface patterns?

Making your own clothing may seem like a distant dream, but if you take it slow and have a desire to learn, it can be quite easy! With a little bit of 7th grade home ec class experience, a budget sewing machine, text exchanges with more sewing savvy friends and so many internet searches, I dove into the exciting world of sewing a custom dress two years ago in celebration of Me Made May.

Amy wearing a dress (with pockets) featuring an art deco geometric pattern

My first project, the Stasia dress – If you make your own clothes you can ensure that every dress you make has pockets!

I started this initial sewing experience super intimidated, but quickly learned that every mistake could be undone or mended (sometimes quite literally!). My skills have leveled up with every project since and although there have been frustrating moments, I’ve found great joy in the process.

If you have an interest in making some of your own wardrobe pieces but are finding it difficult to even know where to start, I’m here today to share some basics I’ve learned along the way. I hope to demystify this practice and encourage you to take the exciting first steps towards sewing your own clothes!

What You Need to Start Sewing Your Own Clothes

How to Choose the Right Sewing Machine

Both Singer and Brother make entry-level machines that work well for sewing a variety of projects. The Brother cs6000i model is very popular amongst Spoonflower employees. It’s beginner-friendly and will still be a good fit as you improve and grow.

Want to be sure you know the difference between your tension adjuster and stitch width adjustment dials? Or want to know more about what they do? Check out our Anatomy of a Sewing Machine Diagram within our Ultimate Sewing Guide post to get to know the lingo!

How to Choose a Beginner-friendly Sewing Pattern

Now that your machine is ready to go, what should you sew first? You could get a feel for your machine by hemming a pair of pants or refreshing a treasured t-shirt with our raglan tee tutorial or you can jump right in and learn to make your own clothes from scratch.

Two of my favorite places to look for beginner-friendly sewing patterns are Peppermint Magazine and Seamwork. Our friends at Peppermint Magazine’s Sewing School offer free patterns and release a new one every three months! Seamwork’s Pattern Library boasts over 200 to choose from. You can start with a beginner-friendly and free pattern like the Sorbetto and then become a monthly member to tackle more complex wardrobe additions as you grow and want. Seamwork also has a handy help section and clear instructions so it’s easy to learn as you go.

Here are four patterns from Peppermint Magazine and Seamwork perfect for a first project:

Wrap Skirt

from Peppermint Magazine

Paxson Pullover

from Seamwork

Wide-Strap Maxi Dress

from Peppermint Magazine

Kaye Activewear Set

from Seamwork

If you have access to a printer, you can easily print downloadable PDF patterns at home and assemble them together using scissors and tape. You can also research options like PDF Plotting to order a print of the entire pattern on one sheet.

Scissors and tape on top of a sewing pattern

Putting together the pattern for the Sorbetto top from Seamwork.

How to Choose the Right Fabric for Clothing

Spoonflower has 23 fabric types and counting so our sample pack is a great place to start to get a feel for all the offerings. The sewing pattern’s instructions will tell you to exactly how much fabric you need for the version you plan to create in the fabric requirements section. Your sewing pattern will often recommend different substrates (types of fabric) that work best. Here are some of our recent posts that will help you choose the perfect fabric for a wide variety of projects:

Other Supplies You Need to Start Sewing

Needle and thread – This will vary depending on your fabric choice, but our help center will help you make your decision!

Seam ripper – We all make mistakes, especially when first starting out, but careful seam ripping will help you undo any wonky stitches

Fabric scissors or rotary blade – A pair that is specifically designed for (and exclusively used for) fabric is an important addition to your tool kit.

Iron – Other than your sewing machine, an iron will be your best sewing friend! Pressing your seams will make sewing easier while ensuring accuracy and a polished final look.

Pins and Sewing Clips – To get the right fit and precision, pins are used to attach pieces of fabric together and keep them together for sewing. Sewing clips are a nice alternative.

Bonus: As your projects become more complex your sewing pattern may call for additional elements like bias tape, buttons, and elastic. YouTube is a great resource to see a play-by-play of how to best level up your sewing game with new-to-you additions and skills.

An illustration of sewing tools

The Most Helpful Basic Sewing Terms to Know

When you’ve selected the sewing pattern you’d like to start with, it’s a good idea to take the time to read through all the instructions. Google and YouTube are your friends as you research any terminology or techniques that are new to you. To start, here are the ten terms I found helpful to know when I began my sewing journey. My top ten list is only a start, but as you keep creating, your personal sewing dictionary will expand naturally as you learn.

  1. Backstitch – Every line you stitch with your machine should start and end with a backstitch! Begin with a couple of stitches and then secure those stitches by hitting the backstitch button to stitch over them.
  2. Baste – These are long stitches that can be done by hand just to hold pieces of fabric together temporarily and then they are removed.
  3. Cut-on-Fold – Wherever you see this on a pattern, the pattern piece is only half of the full piece you will cut out. If you fold your fabric and place the pattern piece on the fold where it indicates and cut the fabric together, you will get one full piece that is perfectly symmetrical.
  4. Hem – A hem is the finished edge of your garment like on the end of a sleeve or a pant leg. The most common kind is a double-fold hem, where the edges of the fabric are folded over each other twice to hide the raw edge.
  5. Mock-up, Muslin or Toile – All of these words could describe a kind of prototype for your garment and will help you test the pattern with cheaper fabric first, so they can make any amendments the second time around.
  6. Notch – The notches on a sewing pattern are usually small marks like a line or a triangle shape that will help you match up the pattern pieces when assembling your garment. Notches can also be the wedges cut into the seam allowance of a curved seam to reduce bulk. Clipping is also an option depending on if the curve is concave or convex.
  7. Right & Wrong Side – The right side of your fabric is the printed side and the wrong is the other side that will be on the inside of your garment. This will be noted in your sewing pattern’s diagrams.
  8. Seam & Seam Allowance – A seam refers to the stitched line. The allowance is the space between the stitched line and the fabric edge. Sewing patterns will account for seam allowance and the standard allowance is typically 5/8″ (1.6cm).
  9. Selvage – This refers to the tightly woven edge that runs along each side of a piece of fabric to prevent unraveling or fraying.
  10. Topstitch – This stitch was designed to be seen on the outside. Topstitching can be used decoratively to define and add detail, or functionally by providing an extra hold.
Amy in a handmade jumpsuit with cowboy hat and lasso

Yeehaw! Me Made May 2020 Zadie Jumpsuit

Amy in a sleeveless top featuring orange cheetahs on a pink background

Aspiring Cheetah Girl – Me Made May 2021 Sorbeto Top

I hope you feel empowered to start creating your own wardrobe after reading my tips! Having garments in your closet that were made especially for you and by you is such a great feeling. Whatever your reason for wanting to make your own clothes, it is something that with a little time and helpful tutorials anyone can do.

Don’t forget to share what you make on Instagram using the hashtag #spoonflowerapparel. We’d love to see what you create!

Stay Motivated!

Consider participating in a sewing challenge like Me Made May. It’s also helpful to learn with others, so try sewing with a friend to share your triumphs and frustrations with.

Meet the Creator of Me Made May
About the Author
Amy Hoppe's headshot

Amy Hoppe

Amy is on the Brand Marketing team at Spoonflower. Some of her favorite things include documentary films, minor league baseball, blooper reels, Chicago-style hot dogs and cut paper collage. Her DIY heroes include both Martha Stewart and Amy Sedaris. She enjoys gardening, adding to her Spoonflower shop, attempting simple home improvement projects with her husband Graham, and playing with her spotted dog Stella.

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  • I love your article Amy! And the links in it. I bought a new basic machine a year ago and just took it out of the box (🥺) a few weeks ago. I used to make simple clothes but haven’t sewn anything fir 15 years. Eek – I forget EVERYTHING! I have so much beautiful fabric (some of the best from Spoonflower) and articles like yours will “hold my hand). ❤️

    • Wendy, I’m so happy to hear you found the article helpful! Best of luck with your upcoming projects on your new machine. You got this!

      -Amy
      Spoonflower

    • Hi Deb,

      Making a mock-up or muslin before jumping into the final product can really help you get the best fit for your garment. It’s especially helpful if you measure yourself for the pattern and it’s not completely clear what size you should make. You may want to blend different sizes together and a mock-up would come in handy.

      That being said, whether you make a mock-up can really depend on your personality and your goals. I’m not a perfectionist and I am just enjoying the process of experimenting and learning as I go, so I don’t always make one myself. I didn’t make one for my Sorbetto top pictured above since it was a fairly simple pattern, but I might make another one using what I learned the first time around!

      Best of luck with your project!
      Amy

      • Amy,
        Thanks for your response. The idea of it does not please me but I’ve ruined a few things by not being patient enough to try a muslin before making the actual garment. I will have to give it a try. Thanks again.

  • Fiona Firth

    Thank you so much for the support in sewing. I’m a nervous beginner a Queen of the unpicker!
    Just starting to have a go at basic clothes, funny how they tend to be lounge pants. ie;easy!
    I recently bought cotton fabric Dalmatian pattern from you. Great fabric. I’m making a tea cosy with the whole body it’s proving a challenge with darts. We have 2 Dalmatians Milly and Poppy.

    • Hi Fiona! You are very welcome. As a beginner sewist, I’ve found it so helpful to hear and read about other folk’s experiences. I’m thrilled to hear you found reading about mine helpful.

      Your next project sounds amazing! And love that it is inspired by your pups. Have fun!

      Best,
      Amy
      Spoonflower

  • Super article, Amy! Your fun lassoing pic caught my eye! 😉 I was wondering if you made your western jacket, too, and if so, what pattern you used. 😃

    • Thank you! I’m so glad to hear you enjoyed the article. I found the purple jacket at a thrift store and I added store-bought fringe and iron-on patches. Then I got out the bedazzler and added some small rhinestones.

      I highly recommend adding fringe and rhinestones to a future project!

      Take care,
      Amy
      Spoonflower

  • Home ec. is still in schools it’s just called Family and Consumer Sciences (FACS or FCS) now. Some programs still teach sewing. People need to know we’re still here and teaching these skills just under a different name.