Sewing your own clothes takes a lot of time and money. Which is why we would obviously like to wear and treasure our handmade clothes longer! There are a couple of things we can do to help us make clothes that will last and that we will continue to love for a long time:
Purchase quality materials.
Spending a little bit extra for a good strong thread (NOT from the dollar store!) and well made fabrics that are evenly woven, strong, and properly dyed will prevent us from tossing our garments due to bleeding colours, torn seams, and premature fabric tears. Some discount fabric companies actually stretch their fabrics so they look like more on the bolt (which causes massive shrinking later) or add sizings that make your fabric feel thicker and stronger than it is.
Also choose appropriate fabrics for the pattern you are making. Follow the fabric suggestions on the pattern envelope to achieve a good fit and drape in your final garment.
Although normally we should wash our clothes in cool water and air dry them to save electricity and lower our carbon footprint, an exception is when we pre-wash fabric for sewing garments.
For natural fibers like cotton or linen (not synthetics), we can pre-wash and machine dry on a hot temperature setting. This will pre-shrink our fabric and also let us know before we put hours of sewing time into a project that we are not wasting our time.
For synthetics and delicate fabrics like silk, follow washing instructions provided by the manufacturer. If in doubt, wash the way we will be washing our final garments – in cold water and air dried.
Choose classic styles and build a library of “tried and true” patterns.
Having some versatile pattern basics that you have already fitted to your shape and size let’s you know exactly how much fabric you need for a given project, eliminating waste, and gives you finished garments that you know you will be proud of and will fit your style for a long time. Examples would be a classic dress shirt, t-shirts, and classically shaped skirts and pants.
Make a muslin or have someone help you with fitting.
A muslin or mock-up is a trial run on your final garment. Although in some cases this could be considered a waste of fabric resources, many people choose to make “wearable muslins” which are done in nice (but less expensive) fabrics and are intended to be worn, although they may not fit perfectly. Making a wearable muslin and having someone help you with fitting it is a step towards building one of those “tried and true” patterns and helps you practice any new-to-you techniques.
If you are not sewing a muslin first, you can either pin together the paper pattern for a rough idea of fit or baste together the seam allowances (possibly add some to the seam allowance, too, as in the next step) of the main bodice (or more, depending on the pattern) so that you can make any changes before you get too far into the sewing process. Having a good fit will mean that you are happier to wear your finished garment.
Add extra to seam allowances and hems.
This is an optional step that is used in theatre costume shops to save resources and allow garments and costumes to be re-fit the next season onto a different body shape. Typically each seam in theatre has a 1″ seam allowance, and 2″ at the centre back seam. This will allow you to take in or let out your clothes in the future if needed.
Choose appropriate seam finishes.
Commercial clothes have tiny seam allowance which are often serged together, making alterations more time consuming and frustrating than they need to be. When we make our own clothes, we can press our seams open and serge either side separately (cutting off as little as possible), making for much easier future alterations! If you don’t have access to a serger, using a zig-zag to overlock each side of the seam will mimic this effect.
Use interfacing, underlining, and lining.
If your pattern has a button placket, collar, or cuffs and doesn’t call for interfacing, interface them anyways. Interfacing helps protect and strengthen these areas that receive a lot of wear and tear.
Underlining is when you take a fabric (usually a fine cotton) and lay it against the wrong side of your fashion fabric, treating them as one going forward through the construction process. It helps provide support and opacity to the outer fabric, and is useful for absorbing odours and sweat next to the skin without as much staining and wear on the outer fabric.
Lining is sewn separately from your garment and attached to the inside of the garment in the final sewing stages. It also provides opacity and support to the outer layer. Because it is added at the end and usually made of an inexpensive fabric, it is easily removed and replaced. In items like coats and dresses, a slippery lining allows us to easily get our arms into our coat sleeves and prevents the dress of the skirt to sticking to tights. Usually the lining is the first thing to wear out on these items, and replacing or repairing it gives our garments a much longer lifespan.
Add pockets and other helpful details.
Small details like pockets in a dress, collar stays on a men’s shirt, or hook and eyes in an area that is prone to pulling open make us want to wear those items more often and are the hallmark of excellent handmade items. After all, we are taking the time to make something that fits us perfectly, we should also make sure that we add useful features like pockets that are often left off commercial garments because of the extra cost and cheap construction techniques.