Learning to sew is a great opportunity to create a custom wardrobe that fits your body and taste perfectly and it’s something many women dream of but can feel a bit intimidating. Well, this fall I finally took the leap to get started when I came across a beginner sewing course at a local sewing shop. It turned out to be the best decision I’ve made all year! Inspired by class, I set out to find other women who have done the same and found Sara Johansen of The Sara Project. She has sewn a truly enviable wardrobe that looks like it’s straight off the pages of a magazine. I asked her how she got started, where she finds her patterns, and how she made her own jeans
-Jess Atkins, Stylebook Co-founder
SB: When did you start sewing and how long did it take you to develop the skills to create your first piece of clothing?
SJ: I started sewing just a few years ago in 2009. I studied clothing construction at Brigham Young University. Once I learned the basics – such as how to cut out a pattern, sew a dart, set in a sleeve, etc. -I was able to go on my own and confidently sew my own garments.
SB: What is the biggest advantage of making your own clothes?
SJ: The biggest advantage to sewing my own clothing is definitely fit! I can tailor my clothing to my own measurements. This is particularly helpful with jeans! I also find that I can be a little picky when shopping in ready-to-wear stores, and being able to create the look I have in my mind exactly, down to the color and fit, helps me create a wardrobe I can feel really confident about.
SB: You made your own jeans! Finding a great a pair of jeans is at the top of many shopping lists. How does the fit of custom jeans compare to a store-bought pair?
SJ: Yes, I made jeans! For my first pair of jeans, I used the Birkin Flares Pattern by Baste and Gather. I have to be honest: I was skeptical about how they would turn out. I’m ALL about having the right fit when I comes to jeans. My favorite part about making jeans is that you can make them fit for you, and not the masses. For example, I find that the waist is usually too tight for me with store bought jeans (after having two kids). Now I can make jeans that comfortably fit my waist, and everywhere else just right. In comparison to store bought jeans, handmade jeans can have just the same quality. If you are willing to take the time to go slow and pay attention to detail, you can really make a beautiful pair of jeans. Store-bought jeans are great, too, but I’ve really enjoyed getting the perfect fit with my handmade jeans. (P.S: they aren’t as scary as they look! Just dive in!). Keep in mind, as with everything, it can take a few goes to get the techniques down just right. Practice makes perfect.
SB: All the clothes you make look so fresh and modern! How do you find such great patterns?
SJ: I’ve spent the last year really searching for my favorite pattern companies. I’ve really come to love indie sewing patterns in particular. The individuals designing these patterns are creating items that are currently trending, but are very classic too. I’ve learned what silhouettes work best for me and that make me feel most confident. Understanding your body type makes it a little easier when it comes to picking out patterns. My favorite pattern resources are thefoldline.com and indiesew.com. Instagram is another great place to be in the know for new pattern releases! I also spend a lot of time researching trends and styles I like, and then I try to find patterns that can work for recreating the specific look I have in mind.
SB: You have a real talent for choosing fabric prints and colors! How do you pair a pattern with the right fabric?
SJ: Getting the right look definitely depends on having the right fabric/pattern combination. All patterns have a suggested fabrics section within their instructions. I start here to get a feel for the correct fabric weight and type that will work best for the pattern I want to work with. Then I usually hit the internet and magazines for color and print inspiration for that particular style. I usually gravitate towards bold prints and bright colors. Make sure to pick fabrics/patterns you love, but that are equally a good fit for any holes within your wardrobe. I try to always make something different than anything I already have. This helps me create one-of-a-kind, unique pieces. The more you sew and work with different fabrics, the quicker this process will become as you learn and discover the characteristics of different textiles.
SJ: This is a good question! When planning out my time and what I’m going to sew, I’ve come to understand how long different projects are going to take me to put together. If you’re just beginning, give yourself a little more time! The more you sew, the more you learn, the more efficient you become. For me a pair of jeans is a good week, maybe a week and a half depending on the pattern. (I only sew at night usually from 9 pm to midnight). A t-shirt takes me one night, a button down blouse a few days, same with a dress. You’ll come to understand how long different techniques will take you, and this makes planning a lot more efficient. Most of the time I have deadlines for the garments I sew, and having a rough idea of how much time I’m going to need helps me stay balanced, and not overwhelmed. I usually take a separate night to just focus on taping/tracing my pattern pieces and cutting them out of my fabric. It can take some time to match patterns and prints, and getting all your pieces cut out just right. This way I don’t feel pressured to squeeze it all into one night too. Bending over my fabric and pattern pieces for an hour or two is usually enough for me for one day, just a tip! (Obviously, some patterns are much faster to cut out!).
SJ: Sewing can be expensive. A pattern is anywhere between $8-$20 typically. Fabric can be about the same- $8-$20 a yard. (A dress is usually about 2 ½-3 yards, so this would put you at about $42 for a pattern and fabric, and then you still need thread, and any other notions required for the project. I find a lot of inspiration at Anthropologie and Madewell, and at these shops a dress can be $60-$200, so sewing might be expensive, but I find it is still cheaper than buying the items I would prefer to purchase in a store). Also, there are a lot of really great free garment patterns and discounted fabric out there. I would suggest beginning with free patterns and cheap fabric to practice and work on your sewing techniques so you can be confident when working with pricier fabric. Joann’s has a sale area (and coupons), fabric.com has markdowns all the time, so it’s pretty easy to find affordable fabric. On the flip side, time wise, it’s probably faster to walk into a store, spend 40 minutes finding what you like, buy it and you’re done. Sewing takes time! I personally don’t mind taking the extra time to make a garment. Sewing is my me time, it’s almost like therapy after a long day with my kids. I love it.
Throughout this whole process, it’s been really interesting to learn what goes into a single garment piece, especially when shopping at a store and comparing prices. I’m all about a good deal, don’t get me wrong, but it’s opened up my eyes when I find a pair of jeans for $12, now understanding all the effort that goes into making a single pair of jeans. Someone out there isn’t making very much to sew a $12 pair of jeans. Think: it takes me about 12-16 hours to make a pair of jeans, if you break it down to $10 an hour that’s $120 bucks just for labor. (It’s definitely a faster process in the industrial sewing environment I’m sure, but it helps me put everything into perspective when it comes to fast fashion).
SB: What is your favorite piece of clothing that you made for yourself and why?
SJ: I have so many favorites! Each piece has a different story, and each one is so unique! I just finished sewing this really great utility jacket. I’m super proud of it, and it’s a piece I know I’m going to wear all the time. So right now, it’s probably my most favorite. (The Lonetree Jacket by Allie Olsen for Indiesew.com).
SB: If someone wanted to start sewing their own clothes, what piece should they make first?
SJ: I would suggest starting with a shirt. They are usually pretty quick to make, and also something you can wear a lot of different ways. I would try the Scout Tee by Grainline Studio, Penelope Peplum by See Kate Sew or for something a little more exciting, and slightly more advanced, the Marthe Blouse by Republique Du Chiffon. Skirts are always a great first project too, you can find lots of free tutorials on Pinterest. I also love the Inari Tee Dress by Named Clothing, flattering for most body types too! If you come to a technique you’re not so sure about, don’t let it stop you from making a garment: try looking for videos on YouTube, and searching google for blog tutorials! Most everything is out there for free use. The internet is a great sewing resource. Just go for it, and remember that it’s a learning process! (I also have a Free Patterns section on my blog with lots of great options to get you started! Enjoy!)