As a new CSC Editor, one thing that I’ve learned from reading your comments, emails, and forum posts is that a lot of our readers are just getting started on their sewing and fitting journeys. This theme of “just starting out” came up several times in the comments section to Rosie’s kick-off post in The Peculiarities of Plus Size Sewing Series. To that end, I’ve compiled a list of my own personal “10 things I wish I’d known when I started sewing”. The list is a bit of a hodgepodge of things, but these are all things that I had to learn the Hard Way. I’m hoping that I can save some of you a few wadders, some time, and some frustration with this post.
Not all of the items on this list are specific to curvy sewing, but these are all things that I wish that I knew about when I started sewing. Note that several items on here are specific to my own uber-busty body type, YMMV.
10. Invest in a pressing ham.
A pressing or tailor’s ham is available for less than $10 from sources like Wawak. You’re going to need to press things like darts, and princess seams, and if you press them over a curved surface, they’ll look a heck of a lot better than if you press them on a flat ironing board.
9. Side zippers + giant boobs + short t-rex arms = frustration.
In my experience, side zippers aren’t all that common in RTW; however, you frequently see them appear in dress, skirt, and pant sewing patterns. As a newbie seamstress, it took me a few seldom-worn garments to realize that my arms just can’t reach around my giant boobs to easily zip and unzip a side zipper without risking throwing out my back.
Now when I see a side zipper in a sewing pattern, I simply move the zipper placement to the Center Back (CB) seam of the garment. This takes some planning ahead of time and often means altering the pattern construction order, but it’s an easy fix.
(Obviously, this point doesn’t apply to everyone. If you don’t have giant boobs or short t-rex arms, you probably love side zippers, and rightfully so.)
8. If you’re uber-busty, learn which patterns offer larger cup sizes, and start with those.
Unfortunately, no pattern maker currently offers pattern cup sizes up to a G or H cup, but an increasing number are offering patterns drafted for a D or occasionally even a DD cup. If you need to FBA up to a G cup, starting with a D-cup bodice will give you a much more reasonably sized FBA to perform than starting with the standard B-cup bodice. All of the Big 4 pattern makers offer a small selection of patterns up to at least a D-cup, and a growing number of indie pattern companies draft for a C-cup or larger.
7. Use the excess ease from Big 4 patterns to your advantage.
Particularly for non-fitted styles, if you’re just a bit above the typical size range for Big 4 patterns, you may very well be able to fit nicely into a size 22 or 24 without having to grade up, even if the company’s size chart states that you should really be sewing a size 26.
6. Invest in a fold-away cutting table, and ideally, a rotary mat and cutter setup.
When I started sewing, I did all of my PDF taping, pattern tracing, pattern alterations, and fabric cutting on the floor on one of those cardboard fold-out grids that you can buy at JoAnn’s for $10. Not only does that setup not work so well when you have cats, it can be difficult on your knees and back, and it makes for less accurate cutting.
Finally, I upgraded to a small, inexpensive, fold-away cutting table and a rotary mat/cutter setup. My whole world changed. No longer did I have to worry about finding a safe place to set half-finished pattern alterations–I could just leave the pieces out until I had a chance to finish them. I could cut out a dress in 5-10 minute increments that I could grab here and there. The nice thing is that I can wheel everything unobtrusively away when I’m not using it, so being space-challenged isn’t an issue.
5. Some design elements that look great on a pattern model translate in unexpected ways to a larger, curvy figure.
Learn what design elements behave unexpectedly on a curvy figure, and expect to either modify these elements for your body or just avoid them. One classic example of this issue is slant pockets on pants or skirts that gape open on figures that have a bit of a tummy. (BTW, I’ll be writing an upcoming post on troubleshooting this issue.)
Other times, these issues crop up in less obvious ways. Pleating details and pintucks in blouses can open up over a full bust as your bust “steals” some of the horizontal width from those details. (Hint: Your FBA can help with this.)
4. Washaway Wonder Tape: It’ll change your life.
I am embarrassed to admit that I had not been introduced to what is now my favorite sewing notion until a little over a year ago, when Colette Patterns introduced their knitwear line of patterns and companion book to sewing with knits. The book contained a tip that to stabilize a knit hem, use double-sided Washaway Wonder Tape.
I now use this stuff on everything that I previously hand-basted or used a million pins to baste (with the exception of setting in sleeves). Zippers? Washaway Wonder Tape. Keeping gathers from getting smushed or moving? Washaway Wonder Tape. And yes, it does work great to stabilize knit hems, as well.
A nice thing about this notion is that it’s readily available at both your big box fabric stores and at most online shopping sites that carry sewing notions.
3. There is no “magic bullet” to fitting a curvy body.
*sigh* This was probably my biggest disappointment when I started sewing. When I signed up for my first “Intro to Sewing” class in my early 30’s, I naively thought that I’d be able to address this issue by simply choosing a larger pattern size for my top half than my bottom half.
Was I wrong! I quickly learned that I’d need to do this alteration called a Full Bust Adjustment (FBA). Okay, I can handle that…No, wait, my required FBA is so large that I have to create giant darts for it to work. Then I have to find out some way to deal with those darts! GAAAAAAAAAAAH!!!
I think I’ve tried just about everything to try to simplify my giant FBA issue, including fitting classes, Bernina custom-drafting software, Lekala custom-drafted patterns, and trying out different pattern lines that target larger cup sizes. I’ve had varying degrees of success with these methods, but not one of them gives me an “out of the envelope” solution to fitting my body.
Unfortunately, we all have to make pattern alterations, but unlike with RTW, at least fitting and sewing gives us some control over how our clothes fit.
(BTW–I’ve just started working through Suzy Furrer’s sloper series on Craftsy so that I can start self-drafting my patterns. I’ll let you know how that works out.)
2. Muslins are your friend.
Sometimes, I’m a little surprised at the lack of talk about muslins in the online sewing community. They can save you both the wasted time and money that comes with making a wadder garment. Muslins are not only for fitting perfectionists; they can also help you determine if a particular style will work well on your body, which can be particularly helpful if your body shape or size makes snoop shopping difficult.
I will admit that I probably don’t muslin patterns as often as I should, but I generally make at least a wearable muslin when any of the following circumstances apply:
- I’m sewing pants.
- The pattern is from a new-to-me designer.
- My intended “real” fabric is on the pricey side.
- I’m sewing a garment where at least some aspect is close-fitting.
- The garment has bust darts. (I still haven’t been able to get a feel for where darts are going to sit/point on my body unless I try on at least a bodice shell in fabric.)
- I make a non-trivial design change to the paper pattern and need to test how it will look.
Obviously, muslins don’t guarantee a successful final garment, but they greatly decrease your chance of sewing a wadder!
1. Sewing is supposed to be fun!
When you’re faced with your second wadder in a row or ready to throw out a pattern in frustration because you can’t figure out how to get rid of that diagonal dragline pointing from your bust to your hip, it’s easy to forget that for most of us, sewing is a hobby. If you’re feeling frustrated, it’s okay to put that project aside and move onto something else.
No one is going to care if you don’t sew your own dress for that wedding that’s coming up in three days; make due with something from your closet, or buy something from the mall, if you can!
I hope this list gives our less experienced readers some new tips and tricks to try in their sewing. For our more experienced sewists, what are some tricks and tricks that you wish you had known when you started sewing?