Category Archives: Beginning sewing

Get into garments

Are you someone who has “given up” on garment sewing? Too many problems with fit? Too many “wadders” that don’t produce the look you envisioned, wasting both time and money?

Dress form measurements by Sew Maris

Maybe there are a couple of things that could help smooth out your process. To start with , let’s talk about picking the right size pattern. We all have been taught to measure our full bust, waist, and full hip measurement. Then use the pattern company measurement chart to select your corresponding size.

Well, that approach often doesn’t work out very well, especially if you are anything other than slim-to-average. There are a couple of reasons for this, one being that measuring “soft tissue areas” like bust, waist and hips doesn’t tell you much about your bone structure. Fitting your shoulder line, sleeves, and neckline area is all about your frame size – and nothing to do with full bust, waist, and full hip.

Susan Khalje has a wonderful, free video on her website talking about picking the right pattern size from the large American pattern companies. Rather than using soft tissue measurements, she recommends starting with your front chest width. According to her analysis, I should be buying a size 14 pattern. According to my body measurements I should be buying a size 16 and adding a bit extra in the hip area. Funny thing, but I had sized down to 14 before watching her video and was much happier with the resulting fit of garments.


Other sewing experts advocate measuring your high bust, and using that number for the “full” bust category. This is a similar principle as Susan’s approach; concentrate more on your frame measurement than your soft tissue measurement.

Pattern example of finished dimensions by Sew Maris

Another clue that can help you decide which pattern size to use is the finished garment dimensions. If you open up your tissue pattern, you will often see the finished dimensions for bust, waist, and hip. What this tells you is how much wearing ease + design ease as been added to the model size measurements for the garment. Regardless of your body dimensions, you can select a pattern size that will produce the kind of fit you like. You are in charge!

Suggested fabrics for dress by Sew Maris

Now, fabric. Oye, that is really another whole set of blog posts. But I can give you one quick, little hint. Take a look at the recommended fabric suggestions on the back of you pattern envelope, and think about the kind of drape, weight, and texture of these fabrics. Linen, denim, and firmly woven cottons have structure and will stand away from your body. Rayon, many silks, chiffons, and gauze are softer and more drapey against the body. It’s not all the fiber tho; the weave plays a role in how a fabric behaves, too. I talk about this more in my pattern and fabric video.   Sometimes you can get away with picking a fabric with very different characteristics than the pattern calls for, but if you are less experienced at pairing patterns and fabrics it is safer to pick a fabric that is listed or one with similar qualities.

Sheesh! Who am I kidding anyway? These issues fill volumes in libraries and bookstores. People take college level classes to try and figure out pattern making and fitting, textiles, construction, and much more. Readers, just jump in. Make some clothes. Put the quilts away for a while. 😉 You are not going to improve much if you aren’t willing to practice. Make some mistakes and learn from them! There are plenty of worse ways to spend your time than working at improving your sewing/fitting/garment-making skills.

Happy sewing!


Creativity + sewing skills + grand-daughters = adorable


Blue Dress with lace

It is awesome to watch my beginning students really get bit by the sewing bug.  Once they get comfortable operating a big, scary piece of machinery (aka a “sewing machine”), there is no stopping them.

One of my new students this fall has 3 grand-daughters, and she had a vision of what she wanted to make for the girls. I am pretty sure those girls are going to have a big surprise this Christmas-Grandma has been ver-r-r-y busy!

You can’t see from this view but this black polka-dot skirt has a rhinestone, sparkly exposed zipper on the back. And what about the rickrack trim? It really makes the skirt colors pop, doesn’t it?

Polka Dot skirt with rick rack

I love the farm scenes on this print, and the brown lace edging is just right.

White print skirt with trims

This one is so cheerful and bright – no one could have a bad day wearing this creation.

Yellow print skirt with blue rick rack

Two strawberry print skirts for sisters – just different enough and both adorable.

Strawberry print with red band and rick rack


Strawberry print skirt with rick rack

I love this pink print – so modern and fresh!

Pink skirt with rick rack

I love watching what happens when someone who already has a creative vision gains a few simple skills at a sewing machine – magic! How about you? What is going to be your inspiration this week? I’d love to hear about it!

Happy sewing,

Maris Olsen


How (NOT!) to sew pajama pants

PJPantsPatternScan (2)

Pajama pants are one of my go-to projects for beginning sewists because they:

  1. consist of only 1 or 2 pattern pieces
  2. usually can be completed in 1 or 2 lessons
  3. provide stitching practice on a garment that is not generally worn in public, so not matter how awful the stitching is they can still be considered “wearable” 😉

At a recent Kids Sew Camp, I handed the pattern instruction sheet shown above to two students working on their PJs. Since they were the oldest two students, I was encouraging their “independent sewing” mindset by asking them to construct their pants mostly by reading the pattern instructions.

Sheesh. Imagine my surprise when I took a second look. Can you see what is missing? Hint: the pictures are correct, but the written instructions are missing a step.

Happy sewing!


Share your sewing pain

Dear readers, I need your help. Really. I need to know your pain. (Just your sewing pain, please. Not trying to be un-empathetic here, just trying to stick to topics I can actually do something about, you understand.)

So, if you are a beginning sewist, what do you struggle with? Stitching straight? Keeping the two raw edges of the seam allowances aligned during stitching? Reading a commercial sewing pattern? Picking the right fabric for the pattern? Sewing around a curve?

If you are more than an absolute beginner, do you go a little crazy trying to get those collar points sharp? Not entirely satisfied with how your buttonholes look? Tired of the wonky-ness at the bottom of your invisible zippers?

I’m working on a list, peeps. And then I hope to create a new system to help you overcome your pain. Sewing pain, that is. Because after all, that is mostly what I know.

Happy sewing! (And thanks in advance for your help. I REALLY need it.)

Maris Olsen