HOW TO PLAN A SEWING PROJECT
What does it mean to “sew with a plan”? It means to approach sewing strategically, with purpose. Whether you’re sewing to create a functional wardrobe or preparing for a special occasion, planning each project helps to promote focus and direction. During the SWAP Series, all our hard work has led up to this exciting step.
If you’ve been following along, guess what? We made it! We’ve made it to the end of the series and we’re planning our first sewing project today. If you haven’t completed the previous steps in this series, go back and handle that business before moving forward. START HERE!
It’s a lot of work, so just take your time and enjoy the process.
Going through the steps outlined below took me back to my early days of sewing, when there was no rush, just a passionate desire to learn. As I slow myself down and focus more on techniques, rather than finished projects, I’m excited about what’s ahead.
Are you ready for the final step in the SWAP Series? Let’s GO!
Remember the 1-Month Sewing Plan we created in Step 2 – HOW TO PLAN A FUNCTIONAL WARDROBE? You’ll need to reference that now.
Take a look at your 1-Month Plan and choose which garment you’ll sew first. Once you’ve decided on the garment, follow the steps below to plan your first project. If you have a sewing planner, turn to a blank Project Page and Weekly Plan Page to start the process. Otherwise, you can use a regular calendar or blank sheet of paper. I’m using the “Sew Plan It” Personal Sewing Planner.
STEP 1: WHERE WILL YOU WEAR THE GARMENT?
This is such an important question to answer, because it helps with pattern and fabric choice. Remember, we’re sewing garments to fit our lifestyle and personal style.
For example: I’m going to Memphis, Tennessee in January to visit my grandmother for her 99th Birthday. Memphis in January is a whole different kind of cold than what I’m accustomed to, so I’ll need warm attire.
STEP 2: WHAT ARE YOU SEWING?
After you’ve decided where you’re going, determine what type of garment you’d like to wear.
For example: I’ll be in Memphis for 5 days and only have 3 turtlenecks in my wardrobe. I need at least three more warm tops, so I’ve chosen to sew 3 sweaters that can be dressed up or down.
STEP 3: SEEK INSPIRATION
Now that you know exactly what type of garment you want to sew, it’s time to gather inspiration. This part can be fun but also overwhelming. There are so many images on the internet and within the pages of magazines, that we can easily spend hours scanning without making decisions. So, use caution and set a time limit for yourself. Stick with the type of garment you’re sewing, trying not to wander off into other categories.
Some great places to look for inspiration are Pinterest, Instagram, Magazines, Clothing Stores, Blogs, Online Pattern Companies, Fabric Store Catalogs, and Your OWN Pattern Collection.
The inspiration for the sweaters I’m sewing were found in my pattern collection.
STEP 4: CONSIDER TIME AVAILABILITY
How much time do you have to complete your project? Be realistic with your schedule. If you can’t get it done within a week, spread it out for as long as you need.
If you have a planner, use your weekly guide to write a plan for your project, breaking it up into manageable steps that accommodate your schedule. Use a regular calendar if you don’t own a planner!
STEP 5: SELECT A PATTERN
After you’ve decided what to sew, found your inspiration and determined your availability, it’s time to choose a pattern. If you design your own patterns, this step will not apply to you. The following tips should help with pattern selection.
Tip #1: One sure way to become discouraged when sewing is choosing projects beyond your skill level. Unless you’re seeking to learn a new technique, I recommend staying within the range of your sewing skills and mastering them before moving forward. I also suggest practicing new skills on scrap fabric before trying them on a new project.
Reading the pattern instructions before starting will help to determine if your skills match the pattern of choice. Some patterns and websites note the skill level required. However, what one considers average may be difficult for another. So reading the instructions will give you a better idea as to whether you have the skills to complete the project.
Tip #2: Search through your pattern collection first. If, and only if, you don’t have a pattern for the type of garment you’re sewing, search pattern company websites or your local fabric store’s pattern catalogs.
STEP 6: SEARCH PATTERN REVIEWS
I find it very helpful to hear what others have to say about a pattern I’m interested in sewing. Pattern reviews are great because they provide tips for construction; indicate level of difficulty (relative to the reviewer’s skill level); allow us to see the finished garment on real bodies; and alert us to mistakes or missing information within the instructions. Some even provide solutions to problems encountered with the pattern.
My favorite resource for reviews is patternreview.com. Sewists from all over the world review patterns and help us to be prepared before starting a project. I’ve even written reviews of my own there and will continue to do so because I really appreciate what others have shared to help me.
STEP 7: ALTER & CUT PATTERN
After you’ve chosen your pattern and gathered information from pattern reviews, the next step is making alterations. This is the step that causes many beginners to become stuck and/or quit. Many people start sewing because they’re unhappy with how RTW (ready-to-wear) garments fit their bodies. Therefore, proper fit in diy garments is crucial if you are to be satisfied with the outcome.
There is no shortage of fit books on the market and I can’t possibly tell you which is best because I’ve only tried very few. However, I will make suggestions based on my experience.
Currently, my favorite fit book is Pattern Fitting with Confidence by Nancy Zieman. She teaches the pivot and slide method, where you pivot and slide the pattern pieces, making adjustments based on the measurement difference between your body and the pattern. She also teaches how to choose the correct pattern size for the bodice, using a technique called Right Size Measurement. This measurement helps to eliminate that dreaded gaposis— gaping at the neck, shoulders or armholes. Since I started using this technique, I’ve never had another gaping neckline. It’s especially helpful if you have a large bust or broad back.
I just purchased a new book called Create the Perfect Fit by Joi Mahon. After watching her class on BluePrint, called Fast Track Fitting, I decided to add the book to my library. In Joi’s fitting system, her motto is “Measure your Body—Measure the Pattern. After doing these two things, you use the difference to either increase or decrease the areas of the pattern that need it, using the slash and spread technique.
STEP 8: CHOOSE FABRIC
The first and most important step to take when choosing fabric for a project is to view the suggestions on back of the pattern envelope. Patterns are drafted and sized with a particular type of fabric in mind. The greatest difference is that between woven and knit. If a fabric is drafted for knit fabric, it’s best to follow that guideline, unless you are experienced enough to substitute with a woven.
Substituting knit for woven is safe but you may need to size down for close fitting garments depending on your desired fit.
If none of the suggestions on the back of the envelope appeal to you, it’s okay to use a different type of fabric—just be sure to choose a similar drape to maintain the character of the garment. For instance; you may not want to choose a challis fabric for a coat that suggests leather or suede. Doing so would cause you to lose that structure provided by the heavier fabrics.
Don’t forget to shop your own fabric collection before heading to the websites and fabric stores.
If you’re not well educated on fabrics, you’re in good company. I’ve equipped my Sewing Library with resources to help me with fabric choices and the more I use the different fabrics, the more familiar I become with their characteristics. I’m learning what types of fabrics work best with certain garments and which ones don’t.
My favorite fabric guides at the moment are as follows:
More Sewing Savvy by Sandra Betzina: Sandra breaks down the different categories of fabrics and provides valuable information on how to use the fabrics. She includes the types of needles, thread, stitches, interfacings, pressing techniques, presser feet to use, best closures, hem techniques, cutting layouts, how to treat the fabric, and more. It’s truly a valuable resource that I use with almost every project.
Fabric for Fashion: The Swatch Book: With 125 sample fabrics, the book is broken down into four categories: Introduction, Animal Fibers, Plant Fibers, and Man-Made Fibers. Along with each fabric sample are great descriptions that explain what it is and other helpful information. When I’m not familiar or don’t remember what a particular fabric looks or feels like, I go to my swatch book to look it up and feel it. This is a priceless resource in my library.
Fabric for Fashion: The Complete Guide: This is a companion to The Swatch Book and I call it my fabric textbook. It has the same breakdown as the swatch book, but is a comprehensive lesson on fabrics. It has a wealth of information and teaches all you need to know about fabrics. I’ve read through it once and use if as a refresher when needed. Another great resource that helps me to make better choices for my garments.
The Fashion Designer’s Textile Directory: Here’s another amazing guide to fabrics that teaches which ones are best to use with specific types of garments. Lots of useful charts and information. This is my other fabric textbook.
STEP 9: COLLECT NOTIONS
Theres nothing worse than being sidelined in the middle of a project because you don’t have the necessary supplies. The pattern envelope lists all the notions needed to complete the garment you’re sewing. Sometimes thread isn’t listed, so please don’t forget the thread.
Your basic tools will include: Tape measure, rulers, scissors, pins, machine needles, presser feet, seam ripper, seam gauge, pressing cloth, etc.
STEP 10: SEW A MUSLIN
The major steps have all been completed, so you’re ready to cut out your garment.
But WAIT!!! Don’t cut into that fashion fabric yet. I highly suggest making a muslin (toile) first. If you’re not familiar with this term, it’s simply a practice garment. I know, I know! Who wants to take the time to do that? Can we just sew the project already? Trust me, I dread muslins, and never really sew them unless I’m making something I’ve never tried with a high priced fabric that I’m afraid to ruin. I know some people say, “It’s only fabric!” Forget that! I’m gonna do whatever I can to preserve my GOOD fabric. Hahaha!!! I have indeed ruined nice fabric because I was too lazy to sew a muslin. Sigh!
For this reason, I highly recommend making a muslin, especially if you’re a beginner. When sewing a practice garment, you’re only putting together the main pieces to test fit. You don’t include closures, topstitching, or any other design details. Once the main pieces are sewn together, you try on the garment and pin it closed. If the fit is good, you can proceed with cutting your fashion fabric using the pattern as is.
If you find fit issues, then you have to make further alterations to the pattern to correct the fit. Yes, it’s extra work, however, is it better to find the issues on the muslin or the fashion fabric? The decision is yours.
When choosing fabric for your muslin, use one with the same or similar characteristics as your fashion fabric. You don’t want to use a heavyweight fabric for your muslin if your fashion fabric is lightweight. Likewise, if your fashion fabric is a knit, please don’t use a woven to sew your muslin.
Finally, you’re ready to sew. Choose a time that is convenient for you and set up your space. I like to listen to music, podcasts, or audio Bible when I’m sewing. I also prepare snacks to keep in the room with me. In a perfect world, the rest of my house is clean and I’m fully dressed when sewing. Honey, I’ve been caught sewing in my underwear during fitting many times! Hahaha! Hey, it makes fitting so much faster. Take your time and enjoy.
CREATE A PROJECT KIT
If you’re not able to start your project right away, create a project kit to sew later. This is also a great idea if you’re planning multiple projects at one time. I’ve seen other sewists use this type of system, so it’s not my original idea.
I put the pre-cut fabric, pattern and all notions in a plastic bag and store it away for future use. These ZIPLOC bags are perfect for this. Thanks for the tip, Theresa. If my fabric is too bulky to fit into the bag, I use a hanger for the fabric and attach a small plastic bag with the pattern and notions to the hanger. What’s really nice about this is the fact that you can cut all your projects for the month and just pull out a kit when you have time to sew. Everything is all ready to go.
Finish the Project
Okay, I changed my mind! There is something worse than not having your needed supplies when sewing a project. The dreaded UFO (unfinished object)! I have a strong dislike for them and they don’t live in my space. Anytime I’ve had an unfinished project and tried to move on to something else, it bothers me. The thought of that project being unfinished weighs heavy on my mind.
I know, it sounds crazy or maybe OCD. I don’t know why I’m like that, but unfinished projects are clutter in my brain. I’ve heard stories of bags or baskets full of UFO’s. I shudder each time. I just can’t. Finish the project!
Well, that’s IT! We’re done with the SWAP Series and I have fully enjoyed the journey. Thank you for joining me. I wish you much success as you move forward and continue sewing with a plan.
I’m taking the next two weeks off from blogging, so have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! I pray that this season finds you grateful for wherever you are in your life journey.
Other Blog Posts in this Series:
- Introduction to SEWING WITH A PLAN
- Step 1 – HOW TO DECLUTTER YOUR WARDROBE
- Step 2 – HOW TO PLAN A FUNCTIONAL WARDROBE
- Step 3 – HOW TO DECLUTTER & ORGANIZE YOUR SEWING PATTERNS
- Step 4 – HOW TO ORGANIZE YOUR FABRIC
Thanks for stopping by!
Remember: When you live in your DESIGN, it is from there that God SHINES!
(DISCLAIMER: This blog post may contain affiliate links, which means that if you click on one of the product links, I’ll receive a small commission on qualifying purchases. All opinions in this post are my own.)