You’ve just started sewing — GREAT!!! Sewing is such a wonderful wearable art form that takes you beyond the boundaries of ready-to-wear and lets you express your own personal style while giving you clothing that FITS. What could be better than that?
By now, maybe you’ve mastered the straight stitch and have sewn up some small projects and are waiting at the starting line to move on to some garment sewing. The first pattern I ever sewed as a newbie was a skirt, so I’d definitely recommend starting out with a simple skirt pattern for your first attempt. Maybe it will turn out super awesome and you’ll get the hang of sewing on your first go, but if you don’t — don’t worry! EVERYONE makes mistakes. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been sewing for two weeks or twenty years — we all make mistakes. That’s what a seam ripper is for!!
Before I move on to highlighting some great fabrics that are easy to sew and look fabulous on a curvy figure, I will share with you some fabrics that I would recommend to stay away from if you’re new to sewing, don’t want to have a big hassle on your hands and don’t want to show off your lumpy bits.
Fabrics to avoid for beginning sewists:
- Charmeuse — whether it’s silk, rayon or synthetic, this is a slippery fabric that likes to cling to your body. It isn’t fun to cut out nor is it fun to sew, but it will definitely give you a slinky glamorous silhouette if that’s what you’re looking for.
- Satin — synthetic or silk (sometimes silk satin is called charmeuse), satin is clingy and slippery and just as difficult to handle as charmeuse. The exception would be a crepe-back satin, which adds a bit of sturdiness to the fabric and makes it easier to sew with and less clingy.
- Chiffon/Georgette — silk or synthetic, these are both sheer fabrics that aren’t clingy, but they are not easy to cut out nor to sew and take some special finishing like French seams or rolled hems to look good.
- Velvet — while beautiful and sumptuous and forgiving on our lumps and bumps, velvet can also be very slippery when sewing and takes some time to get used to. Rayon and silk velvet are the most slippery, while poly velvet can be easier to deal with. Cotton velvet (also called velveteen), on the other hand, is easy to sew and glides over your body.
- Jersey — cotton, rayon, viscose, silk or synthetic — this is another clingy fabric that has a tendency to roll on the edges and can be a pain to cut out and to sew. Lightweight and tissue weight jerseys are the best to avoid, while a more midweight jersey can be a little easier and more forgiving to sew and wear. I’ve also found organic cotton jerseys to a bit more stable and easier to sew than other jerseys, although a lot of them don’t have any lycra or spandex mixed in for stretch.
So, what are some fabrics that are a joy to sew and wear?
Sturdy cottons — these fabrics are so easy to cut out and sew and wonderful to wear. They come in so many colors and prints and are perfect when you’re first getting into sewing. They don’t show needle or pin marks, so if you’re ripping out seams, you don’t have to worry about leaving visible marks like you would with a fabric like satin. If you find a stretch cotton — even better!
What to look for:
- Cotton broadcloth
- Quilting cotton
- Cotton shirting
- Cotton sateen
- Cotton pique
- Cotton poplin
- Cotton linen
- Cotton twill
I also like sewing a lot with cotton batistes and cotton voiles, which also work well as linings. They are a bit thin and sheer, but if you line them, they can be beautiful flowy garments that are perfect for warm weather. Jenny recommends sewing with a Liberty Tana Lawn for a first special project like a simple top (such as the Colette Sorbetto) as it’s nice and easy to sew with and looks and feels luxurious at the same time.
Ponte knits — knits aren’t generally recommended for beginning sewists, but I find nice, sturdy pontes to be very easy to cut out and sew. They are a stable fabric and aren’t clingy and are great at skimming over anything that you don’t want to show. While being a bit heavier weight, you might want to choose a ponte as a bottom weight fabric, but I’ve made dresses and t-shirts with pontes and they have worked wonderfully for me. The nicest one I’ve sewn with was a viscose/lycra blend, but pontes also come in cotton, rayon and polyester blends.
Denims — while you might not want to start sewing jeans right away, you could sew up a denim skirt and feel quite proud of yourself. I recommend a more lightweight denim to start with rather than a heavier one. Denim is easy to cut and out and sew and before you know it, you’ve sewn a skirt! If you want to go a more lightweight route, you could choose a chambray and sew up a quick and simple wrap skirt or a woven top (like the Grainline Scout tee).
Wools — wool is such a great fabric to work with! Maybe you’re only thinking of wool as in coating for your winter coat, but there are definitely more wools and wool blends to choose from. I love to use wool suiting and wool coating to make straight or a-line skirts. Those are quick projects to make and great wardrobe builders. A personal favorite of mine is wool crepe, which is a more lightweight wool that you can use to make dresses, skirts, pants — well, whatever you want! I also love merino wool jersey, but it can be a big clingy and is not as stable as other other wools. Another great fabric is wool flannel. It’s warm, light, and easy to sew, yet like with other wools, it’s great at skimming your body.
Velveteen — I mentioned velveteen (cotton velvet) already in the velvet section, but unlike it’s silk/rayon/synthetic counterparts, cotton velvet is stable, non-slippery and nice to sew with. You could make a beautiful skirt or simple jacket with velveteen and be quite proud of yourself whilst looking glam at the same time. Just make sure you watch for the “nap” (direction of the pile) when you’re laying out your pattern pieces.
Faille — while not a common fabric, faille is a nice luxurious fabric to cut and sew. I would stay away from a poly faille as that tends to be more slippery than the silk, cotton, rayon, or acetate versions. Silk faille is probably the most stable silk fabric, so if you want to make something with a nice sheen and want an easy and glamorous fabric in which to sew it with, that’s the way to go.
Basically, when you’re just starting out, you should look for woven fabrics that don’t slip or stretch too much when you’re sewing and aren’t too thick nor too thin. It’s best to avoid silk, rayon, polyester, and thin, stretchy knits.
Now that you have the type and content of your fabric down, start thinking about the colors and prints that will look great on you and be easier to sew with.
What to look for:
Solid colors — When you’re cutting out your pattern all you have to think about is the grainline and fitting your pattern on to your fabric. When you’re a beginner, a solid color is a great way to go as you can just cut and sew and don’t have to worry about matching or placing a pattern. Of course, dark colors are great for camouflaging anything you don’t want to showcase, but if you like bright colors or pastels — go for it!
Small prints — A small print can work just the same as a solid color, especially if the print does not have a “top” or “bottom”, meaning that the design doesn’t just have one direction. This makes it easy to cut and out and sew and you don’t have to think much about pattern placement. Of course you can spend your time trying to match up the print exactly on the seams, but unless you’re a perfectionist or a couture sewist, why worry about it? Prints are also great at disguising anything that you don’t want to see and you can let your imagination run wild with the variety of prints that are available.
What to avoid:
Plaids — Plaid is not an easy print to match up and takes a lot of careful placement work to get it just right. You’re better off staying away from it until you have had more practice working with patterns and it might just ruin your day and your sewing mojo if it’s off and you don’t like the look of it.
Stripes — Stripes can also be a pain to match up. Even those of us who’ve been sewing for a while have those times when the placement is off and it makes your garment look unprofessional. Although… I’ve seen many a RTW striped maxi skirt or striped shirt with the stripes off…
Checks — Checks go in the same category as plaids in that they aren’t that easy to line up and match either. Sometimes, though, a small check can work great for you as you could inadvertently line it up while putting your garment together or it won’t even look off as it’s a small print.
Big prints — Big prints are another head scratcher when it comes to pattern placement. Trying to line up a print like a big flower on the seamline will give you a big headache. If you don’t care about matching prints on the seams — just go for it. Big prints do a great job at hiding any bits that you don’t want to show off.
Paneled and Border prints — Paneled and border prints can be torture when trying to cut them out. You have to choose the right pattern or it will be all off. But if you find a way to work with them, your garment will be spectacular. The problem with a panel is that it often has a line or a space separating each panel and isn’t a continuous design like other prints, so it can be quite tricky to cut out. The first panel print I had got me so discouraged that I just gave the fabric away (and of course she made a beautiful dress out of it!). Border prints take some forethought to work with, but if you have the right pattern, they look so unique and professional when you get it right.
Rockin’ prints beyond the “rules”
Of course you can choose whatever fabric and/or print that suits your fancy, but just be aware that it might be more difficult to sew and may not show off your assets or your sewing skills as beautifully as you want it to. There’s nothing more disheartening than sewing your first garment and finding it to be a fail. But if it does not turn out like you want it to, just try again. Every sewist has fails, no matter what their skill level. Eventually you’ll just get it and you’ll be the sewing bad ass that you want to be.