Thursday, 12 March 2015

Fighting the Home Made Blues

How to make handmade garments look professional

Anyone who has taken up sewing has gone through the pains of being a beginner. Nobody makes a perfect garment on their first try. It can take years of practice before you start seeing real progress in the quality of your work. I was an absolute horror when I started sewing! I didn't have a clue as to what I was doing. I cut out pieces of fabric haphazardly with no pattern, or ruler, or any instruction what-so-ever. I was only a child with a big imagination and absolutely no patience. I shudder when I think of my first sewing "creations", as I'm sure many of us do. It was only a few years ago that I was still making garments that I felt looked like crap. Back then I wouldn't wear what I made and I would often feel defeated because they looked so bad. They looked really, really home made.
None of us want our sewing to look home made. That's not always a flattering term. The dictionary describes home made as 'amateurish' or 'unprofessional'. That's not exactly pleasant, is it? I think from here on in I'll describe my sewing as hand crafted instead because it sounds much more artisanal and pretty. I'm sure many of us have experienced the frustration of sewing projects that don't quite match our expectations. You buy a pattern with a pretty picture of a dress, you sew it and then it somehow comes out looking really home made. What gives?

I'm going to share tips with you that helped me to shake the home made blues! 

Doing it right the first time

1) Prepare

This is possibly the most obvious advice but if you're new to sewing it's important to mention; you need to have your tools in order. You should have a fully operational sewing machine, a good pair of scissors, pins, needles, notions, so on, etc. Not being prepared can hinder your sewing process and using less than adequate tools will only cause problems. Everything should be usable and in working order. You should also purchase all the fabric that is required, this is indicated on the back of your pattern envelope, including a suggested materials section, which you really ought to stick to (especially if you're a first timer). Remember to pre-treat your fabric before sewing it. Buying your materials and notions prior to starting your sewing project will make things a whole lot easier.

2) Make a Muslin

You should really create a muslin. Like really. This stage of sewing is imperative if you want your final garment to fit properly. Muslin is a type of fabric that has been widely used throughout history to make a 'test run' or 'draft' of a pattern. Creating a muslin helps to determine fit or design errors in the pattern, which are then corrected and adjusted when sewing the actual garment. If for whatever reason you don't want to use muslin fabric for your draft you should use a material that closely resembles the fabric that will be used in the final garment. For example, a garment that requires fabric with considerable stretch will not exactly translate well into muslin fabric, you would use a material with stretch instead.

3) Follow Instructions

No kidding! I often overlooked the instructions because I felt I could do it better on my own. I still do this but there are parts of the instructions you should follow. For one, you should read the pattern pieces. Each piece will indicate how many need to be cut out, where they need to be marked (for notches, darts, etc.), how to cut the pieces on the fabric (on grain or bias), and sometimes where to adjust for fit issues. The pattern instructions will often give you suggestions on how to lay your pattern pieces on your fabric. Sometimes pattern pieces will indicate seam allowances and other times it's indicated in the instruction booklet.

Even if the garment seems pretty self explanatory you should read over the instructions beforehand, just in case there's something you might not have thought to do. If some of the steps are unclear, try to look at the diagrams to better understand them. If that doesn't work try to look the technique up online. If you're new to sewing, I recommend familiarizing yourself with sewing terminology.

Not all instructions and patterns are perfect, in fact many sewists will tell you they've found notches placed incorrectly, steps missing or are poorly described, and in rare cases misshapen pattern pieces. Use your best judgment, if you're unsure of a step try to read up about it if you can or work it out in the muslin first.

4) Seam and hem finishes

You should know how you will handle your seam and hem finishes. Depending on what kind of fabric you're using you might want to serge/encase the edges of the material so they don't fray. Sometimes the pattern will indicate which finishes to use. In my experience, I've found the most professional looking seam finishes to be hong kong seams, french seams and serged seams. Deciding on which of these to use depends on the fabric. For example, I would use a french seam on a lightweight fabric like chiffon. I would definitely want to use a serged seam on a material prone to fraying, like woven tartan.

Sergers (or Overlocks) are fantastic machines! I love my serger. If you do a lot of sewing it's nice to have one around but you don't need one. They can be costly. I recommend that instead you look for a sewing machine that has an "overlock stitch" (it doubles as the blind hem stitch on two of my machines). Some machines provide a foot to be used specifically with the overlock stitch but I don't think it's necessary to have one, you can just use the standard zig zag foot. Alternatively, you could also finish your seams using the zig zag stitch, I just hate the look of it lol. I feel the overlock stitch looks far more professional.

Like seam finishes, you will want to finish your hems in a nice way, too. My favorite lately has been blind stitching the hems of skirts by hand, or using lace hem tape - it looks very vintage. Selecting a hem finish can vary depending on your fabric and the type of garment you're making. Your pattern will usually suggest how to finish your hem(s).

You might ask, "Why care? Who's going to see my seam and hem finishes?" Even if your hems or seams may never been seen by anyone else, it's nice to make them look good for yourself. When I create a garment with beautifully finished seams and hems, I know it looks goods and it feels good to wear it.

*** Remember to clip your notches prior to finishing your seams/garment! Leaving the notches on your seams can make the garment look home made.

5) Lining, Interlining, Interfacing, Facing

Although your pattern may not call for it, interlining, lining, and interfacing is a great way to enhance the quality of a garment. This doesn't apply to all garments and it can add a significant amount of work to a project, so it's up to you whether or not this practice is necessary.

Lining - A lining is a thin fabric used to line the inside of a garment, you've seen it used in jackets, dresses and some skirts. It can often protect the wearer from the coarse underside of the outer fabric, like itchy wool jackets!! Other times it's used to conceal structural things like boning.

Interlining - An interlining is not to be confused with a lining, it's usually placed in-between the outer garment and the lining. Interlining can be the thermal batting used inside jackets but mostly it's an additional layer of fabric sewn directly against the outer fabric. Sometimes it is used to give the garment additional body. Interfacing material can be used to interline as it comes in a variety of weights; it can be woven or non woven, fusible or sewn in. Which kind you will want to use depends on your needs as well as the type of fabric you're using.

Interfacing - Depending on the weight, interfacing can add body or structure to parts of the garment. It can be used to help something hold its shape, like a collar. It's also used to stabilize an area. For example, I would use interfacing as a stabilizer when sewing buttonholes. Interfacing is a handy material to have around so when it's on sale I like to purchase a good amount of it. If a pattern recommends the use of interfacing, I wouldn't skip out on it.

Facings - Most patterns come equipped with facings but on the off chance they don't it's not too difficult to draft your own. Facings are typically made from the outer garment material and have interfacing sewn or fused onto them. They're used in areas like arm or neck holes. If you've sewn vintage clothing, you've likely used facings before.

6) Embellishments

The best way to make your garments look more professional and more interesting is to embellish them. You can achieve this by using decorative buttons, appliqués, fancy zippers, top-stitching, and embroidery. The sky is the limit! That being said, however, it's better to keep things consistent and under control. You do not want to look like you went crazy with a BeDazzler like those old ladies in the 90's! I recommend keeping things as balanced as possible, this means creating a kind of visual flow between appliqués if you're using more than one, or keeping things symmetrical. If you're going to apply bead work, sequins, or iron on swarovski crystals, I suggest using a decent amount of them because using too little will come off looking wimpy and using too much might look garish. Finding balance is key and the only way you'll figure this out is to experiment. Try placing embellishments onto the garment first rather than just jumping into applying them (especially with permanent, iron on embellishments).

If you're stumped for inspiration, try looking at images of your favorite ready to wear garments. How are they different aesthetically? Are they embellished at all?

My top recommendations for making garments more professional:

1) Be prepared - Have everything you'll need ready.
2) Draft until perfect - Make a muslin and make the perfect fit.
3) Read the instructions carefully - Don't skip steps and research what you don't understand.
4) Finish seams and hems - Find new and clean ways to finish seams and hems.
5) Give it a lining - Adding a lining, interlining or interfacing improves a garment's quality.*
6) Embellish - Adding decorative touches can make a garment fresh and exciting.

*** Again, adding a lining is not necessary, in some instances it would make the garment more uncomfortable. For example, you wouldn't want to line a jersey knit t-shirt. Just use common sense. :)


When sewing, it's important to expand your knowledge. You should research and study the different techniques and in time you'll find which ones work best for you. Today, I feel more confident with my sewing abilities and I'm happier with my results. :)


  1. I am just in awe that you can sew at all! I am pretty useless.

    1. Lol thank you! I was really useless in the beginning too, it took awhile to get where I am today. :)

  2. I was briefly in possession of a serger and it was amazing. Your discussion on the different seams was very enlightening. makes me want to sew again.

    1. I love having a serger! It was a rough start at first, I got it from my mom and she hadn't touched it for years. After I had it professionally serviced I found it ran beautifully. I love using it for rolled hems and quick seam finishes. I'm glad you enjoyed this post I hope you get back to sewing sometime, you have great style. :)

  3. Considering the one and only time I tried to make my own dress resulted in a very much unwearable mess, I feel the pain! I think this applies to any art. I don't show my first art pieces, because they're not really public-worthy. I think I still feel that way about some things I create. It's just an overly critical thing we do to ourselves!

    1. I completely agree! I detest my first drawings and paintings. My parents kept one of my first paintings and it drives me nuts to see it. Everything takes practice. I just wish art was a little easier to master than say sewing or computer programming. It's been all these years and I still don't recognize what I'm doing wrong in my art! Someone should write a post about that! :)


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