Last weekend The Maker’s Atelier took part in the Knitting & Stitching show at Olympia. It was a great opportunity to meet lots of experienced and new dressmakers. Those new to sewing were surprised when I mentioned pre-washing fabric before making. Of course new fabric always looks so pristine, it seems a shame to wash it, but if a fabric is washable, I always wash before making; I regret it when I don’t. So why is this?
During the manufacturing process, fabrics are often ‘stentered’. This is when they are pulled into a uniform width and length and a finishing chemical applied. The problem with this is, that when the fabric is subsequently washed, it ‘relaxes’ back or shrinks. So by washing it before making, you can make sure what you make doesn’t shrink.
If I’m not sure the fabric I’ve chosen is washable, I cut a 20cm square and place it in a 30-degree wool wash. Then when it’s washed and dried I re-measure to check shrinkage and also to review the handle of the fabric. If I don’t like the result, I’ll make sure I only dry-clean the garment I’m going to make.
So what other tips do I have for new dressmakers?
Size – always check your measurements against the pattern size chart and then select your size. If you fall between sizes, go one size up and alter to fit during the making process.
Iron out creases in your sewing pattern paper and fabric before cutting out your garment. This will ensure your garment pieces are accurate to the pattern.
Always follow the grain line otherwise your garment will twist when worn; which is really annoying.
Use the correct needle for the job: ballpoint, jersey, fine, heavyweight, leather. If in doubt ask your haberdasher.
Use your fabric off-cuts to practice on. Get used to handling your fabric before sewing with it. Also make sure you are happy with your stitch length.
If your garment has buttonholes, make a test buttonhole on an off-cut and repeat until you are happy with the result before making the buttonholes on your finished garment.
If you do all of this, you should be able to relax and enjoy your making. I always find this is when I make the best clothes.