Tag Archives: fabric guide

Shop Your Stash – Planning Your Makes

For the last 3 months I’ve been talking about how to use your leftover fabric scraps, organising and de-cluttering your fabric stash and how to pair your newly organised fabrics and patterns into winning combinations. The last of this mini series is all about planning your projects; to make best use of your time, to avoid stressful sewing and to improve your skills and knowledge.


OK, every project doesn’t have to be a battle to master a new technique; we all love to sew and often the most pleasure is to be had in just sailing through a project, feeling confident in what you’re doing and having everything go right. But occasionally it’s good to choose a project that is going to challenge you in some way and enable you to learn something new, even if it’s in just one aspect of that make: maybe it’s a fabric you haven’t sewn before, a fiddly detail that you always struggle with or a difficult garment to fit.

My first piece of advice is: tackle one challenge at a time! Don’t combine all those challenges into one garment – trying to tackle a tricky detail in a difficult fabric on a garment that might not be the best fit is a recipe for frustration and disaster.

My second piece of advice is: don’t try to learn something completely new with every project – practice makes perfect. I’ve encountered students in the past who as soon as I’ve taught them a new technique and they’ve tried it once, are all too keen to move onto the next one. You don’t collect new techniques, they’re not fully formed and perfected after doing them once, the process of learning new skills and techniques needs practice and you need to master each one until they become almost like second nature. Identify the bits you find most difficult and explore ways that work for you to make them easier – that might be extra tacking, chalking seamlines or simply just practicing on fabric samples until you’ve got it right.

Try and plan your makes with this advice in mind, so if you have a tricky fabric in your stash that you’re planning to use up and it will work equally well in 2 of your patterns, choose the pattern that either; you’ve made before, or is the least technically challenging for you.

It’s rewarding to use your hobby to develop your skills, it gives you a greater sense of satisfaction with your end results and you’re continually building on what you already have. I call this approach “Progressive Sewing”, I’ve written about it before in more depth here, but it’s basically an idea I took from my gym. The instructors in my gym like to encourage everyone’s training to be progressive which means regularly changing your exercise routine by adding new exercises and increasing the difficulty of existing ones. This pushes your body to increase in strength and fitness.

Here are some ideas for a progressive approach to sewing your own clothes that will build your skills and techniques.

how to plan your sewing


In the previous part of this series I went through some common fabrics and the styles of clothes they’re best suited to, this month we’re adding those all important fibres to the mix. Fibre content is important for knowing how the fabric will handle and most crucially – what it will be like to wear. From now on, when you’re shopping for fabric, make a note of the fibre content of the fabric (and the recommended washing instructions!)

Here’s a quick reference guide to the most common fibres, what they’ll be like to wear and what they’re best used for. Print off a copy so that you have it on hand when you’re fabric shopping.

fibre identification chart

Now you might not always know the fibre content of a fabric in your stash, you might buy fabric that isn’t labelled with a fibre content or you may want to check the fibre content of a fabric that you suspect might be mis-labelled. The only way to check fibre content accurately is to burn a bit of the fabric. CAUTION! Use a small piece of fabric, hold it with tweezers and do the test ideally outdoors or at least over a sink.

Here’s a table of what happens to the most common fibres when they’re burnt. Obviously fabrics made from a mix or blend of fibres can be more tricky to identify, but if you’re trying to check if the fabric you’ve been sold really is 100% cotton or really does contain some elastane or really is silk, this should help.

how to identify fibre content


We touched on planning in the 2nd part of this series; mainly talking about seasonal versus non-seasonal sewing and setting yourself realistic goals.

Heed this advice that I’ve personally learned the hard way and that I’ve experienced with lots of my students: don’t decide to make yourself something “special” to wear on the spur of the moment for an imminent event!!

It’s stressful, you’re unlikely to enjoy the process (even if you do enjoy the end result), you won’t learn much as you’ll be rushing rather than taking the time to do things well, you might make some bad fabric / pattern choices and end up wasting money and you might not be happy with the results.

If, however, you enjoy flying by the seat of your pants and have to sew to a deadline, choose a fabric that you know you can sew easily in a colour and print that you know you will wear and ideally choose a pattern that you’ve made before, don’t try to learn new techniques in a project with a tight deadline. Or if you do, don’t bring it to your sewing class!!!

Shop Your Stash – Matching Patterns to Fabrics

For the last 2 months I’ve been talking about how to use and organise your leftover scrap fabrics and your fabric stash. So now you have a beautifully edited and organised stash of fabric, but no doubt you also have a pattern stash?! Here are my tips for how to streamline and organise your pattern collection and a quick guide for teaming fabrics with patterns.


how to store patterns

Go through your wardrobe and pull out the garments you most enjoy wearing. You could even take photos of them and create a moodboard or a “My Style” Pinterest board (this is probably a good version of that for me). Hopefully a pattern will start to emerge of styles, shapes and details.

You might also begin to see some gaps that could be filled with particular garments.

Next get an accurate set of your body measurements; include your cup size as well as your bust, inside leg and your preferred skirt lengths. Always refer to these measurements when choosing your pattern size, DO NOT go by dress sizes on patterns – they’re meaningless (read why here), get to know your body measurements and just go by the size chart and finished garment measurements on the pattern.

Download a copy of my guide to taking measurements:how to measure yourself


Next, go through your patterns and using the flat technical drawings so as not to be distracted by photographs and illustrations, pull out all the ones that you would wear and that fit in with the styles you identified in step 1. Be honest with yourself!

Once you have made a pile of “possibles” go through these patterns again and check that the sizes covered by each pattern include your measurements (remember to check both the body measurement chart AND the finished garment measurements of the pattern). Put all those that cover your measurements to one side, the rest are your reject patterns to get rid of.

Like with your culled fabrics, there are lots of ways to get these patterns out of your life:

  • sell them online – there’s always Ebay, but social media sites like Instagram are becoming popular in the sewing community for regular “Destash Sales”,
  • organise a pattern swap with your crafty friends at a class or meet-up,
  • donate them to your local charity shop or school.

What’s the best way to store your newly edited library of patterns? Patterns come in a wide range of shapes and sizes and then there are PDF patterns.

As with fabrics, I’m a fan of the clear plastic stackable box approach, but here are some more ideas for storing your patterns:

  • paper patterns that you think you’re likely to use several times need to be more durable – transfer the pieces onto card or iron interfacing onto the backs of the pattern sheets before cutting out the pieces,
  • store card and interfaced patterns on pattern hooks and hang them along with any toiles you’ve made of the patterns,
  • don’t try to stuff cut out paper patterns back into their envelopes, either store the pieces in a card or plastic folder and keep them on a shelf or put the pieces in a clear plastic sleeve and put the sleeve on a hanger along with any toiles you’ve made of the pattern,
  • don’t roll patterns that are on card or stiffer paper – they will never lie flat again and will drive you bananas!

It’s time to shop your fabric stash! Take each of your edited patterns and see if you can find a suitable fabric in your (now beautifully organised) fabric stash.
Each pattern will have a list of suggested fabrics, if you’re still quite new to sewing, these lists can be quite confusing.

To help you out I’ve put together 2 checklists:

  • a fabric checklist which explains by fabric name some of the more common fabrics, along with what kind of styles they best suit and their typical fibre content,
  • a project checklist for you to better plan your sewing projects.

You can download them here.

fabric guide

If you’re planning to make a pattern that you haven’t made before, make a quick toile in a similar weight, substitute fabric first to check whether you want to make any tweaks to the fit or style.

Once you’ve sewn with a range of different fabrics and have an idea of how they behave, what they’re like to sew and how much you enjoy wearing them, you can experiment with substituting the fabrics recommended for your patterns.