How to choose fabric for your first handmade garment

[This post is part of a series on learning to sew, Starting to Sew.]

Some of things I’ve made with cotton – definitely the most straightforward fabric to sew with.

I love this bit. I really do. There’s such a world of possibilities out there and it’s the moment when you get to steer your project away from frumpy pattern envelope photos (yes, Simplicity, I’m looking at you) and towards the fabrics and colours you love.

If you’ve never sewn a garment before (no, cushions don’t count), then there’s only one fibre you should use for your first project: cotton.

Why 100% cotton?

Cotton is strong, stable, washable and comes in a huge range of prints and colours. It has a clear lengthwise grain, it presses easily and it’s not stretchy. And it’s not usually particularly expensive. All these factors make it one of the simplest fabrics to cut and sew garments with: you won’t need any special equipment for cotton – unlike silk or wool.

Cotton can also be blended with other fibres like polyester, to create fabrics that don’t crease and are easier to wash and dry. Although these are definitely useful benefits, and polycotton is often very cheap, it does mean it’ll be harder to press your fabric. That means you’ll struggle to get neat seam finishes, casings and hems. So unless you really, really loathe ironing, I’d suggest you start on something that’s 100% cotton, and move on to a polycotton for version two if you want to.

Which type of cotton?

Cotton fibres can be woven (or knitted) into a multitude of different fabrics, so you’ll need to choose one that’s easy to work with and suitable for the garment you’re making. If you’re not sure what to make as your first garment, you might like to read this post first. The first thing you should do is check out the fabrics recommended by the pattern designer – they’ll be listed on the back of the envelope, or early on in the instructions if you’re using a pdf pattern. Very thin and very thick fabrics present their own challenges, so you’ll probably want to avoid these to begin with. Similarly, you should avoid anything with a nap (a one-way weave) like corduroy.

If you’ve chosen to make a skirt, you’ll probably want use either cotton lawn, cotton poplin, cotton chambray or cotton twill (including mid-lightweight denim). If you’re making pyjama bottoms, you might opt for cotton flannel for winter, or cotton lawn for summer.

What about quilting cotton?

Quilting cotton is just that – cotton designed for quilting. So although it comes in thousands of colours and prints, and it’s more widely available than other fabrics, it’s not always suitable for garments. (I once made some PJ shorts in a quilting cotton and they’re really uncomfortable next to the skin.) If you’re making a flared skirt, it might be suitable, but it wouldn’t have enough drape for a blouse, for example. For more info on sewing garments with quilting cotton, read this post from Tilly and the Buttons.

So much choice!

If you can, try to choose your fabric at a shop rather than online. Staff in fabric shops are usually really knowledgable and can direct you to the right materials faster than you find them yourself. Take your pattern with you and ask for advice. Or get them to help you unroll the fabric from the bolt so you can hold it up against your face in the mirror/drape it round you. This will help you decide whether it suits you, and see how it’ll behave as a garment.

If you do buy online, you can always contact the seller with questions. Read the description of the fabric carefully, and if you’re spending what seems like a lot of money, then always ask for/buy a fabric sample first. Cut lengths of fabric can’t be returned unless they’re faulty.

Pick out something you love and buy 0.5m more than the pattern says you need so you can play around with it and practise your stitches.

Prints v solids

There are two schools of thought on this:

  1. You should stick with solids because then you don’t have to worry about matching the pattern up at the seamlines, or pattern placement (making sure you don’t end up with circles around your nipples, for example)
  2. You should choose a print because it’ll distract the eye from any wonky stitching or fitting issues.

So I’m not going to tell you what to do here. Go with your favourite.

Before you cut

The fabric shop should tell you the washing instructions for your material. Even if they don’t, always plonk your cotton fabric in the washing machine (on its own, in case the colour runs) and give it at least one wash and dry before you cut into it – using the same programme as you plan to use for the finished garment.


Staystitching: why, when and how


When you’re working with woven fabrics (as opposed to stretchy fabrics like jersey) you’ll sometimes find cut curved edges are prone to stretching out if you handle them a lot.

Sometimes that’s OK – if those edges will later be gathered up, like a sleeve cap; or if those edges will need to be stretched to attach them to something larger. But for some pattern pieces, such as a neckline, you don’t want any stretching. Staystitching is a simple way to prevent this so that you don’t end up with a gaping neckline.

And if you’re making something that’s cut on the bias, like the Fifi pyjamas I made recently, you might want to staystitch bias cut edges to prevent them stretching as you sew the seams. Check your pattern instructions so you know which edges might need staystitching – Tilly and the Buttons has a great guide to sewing on the bias for Fifi.

I’ve just cut out the pieces for a man’s shirt in cotton chambray, and the shirt fronts and back yoke pieces that form the neckline all have curved edges where they’ll be attached to the collar. There are lots of things to do on these pieces (sew the yoke seam, put on a pocket, attach the sleeves and sew the side seams) before I finally join them to the collar, so I’m going to staystitch these pieces to stop them stretching out while I do those steps. On this pattern, you stretch the collar to fit, so I’m only going to staystitch the shirt fronts and back yokes, and not the collar.

So how and when do we staystitch?

The pattern I’m using (the Thread Theory Fairfield Shirt) doesn’t mention staystitching until it’s time to apply the collar, but having had problems with a stretched neckline on the initial toile, I know I should do this step earlier. My current sewing manual of choice says:

Curved areas that require extra handling should be staystitched. This acts as a guideline for clipping and joining a curved edge to the other edges, as well as prevents stretching. Staystitch in the direction of the grain 1/8″ (3mm) away from the seamline in the seam allowance, using the regular machine-stitch length suited to your fabric.

Vogue Sewing revised and updated (2006 edition)

And the instructions for staystitching the collar of the New Look 6000 dress, which has a 5/8″ (1.5cm) seam allowance, recommend:

Stitch 1/2″ (1.3cm) from cut edge, in direction of arrows.


So I’ve already cut out the pieces, transferred the pattern markings and applied my interfacing. This is the best point at which to do the staystitching – before I handle the pieces any further and they begin to stretch.

I’m going to use a 2.6mm straight stitch and stitch just within the 1/4″ seam allowance. It doesn’t matter whether you staystitch from the right side or the wrong side. I’m stitching from the shoulder towards the centre back and then from both shoulders towards the centre back, meeting in the middle.

Guide the fabric very, very gently through the machine so that you don’t accidentally stretch it as you go. To stop the very corner of the fabric from getting trapped in the feed dogs, you might prefer to start 1cm or so from the edge and then come back and staystitch that initial centimetre from the other side if needed.


And that’s it. We’re done. Begone, gaping necklines and ill-fitting collars.

Hemming T-shirts

Coverstitch? Twin needles? Zigzag?

What’s the best way to hem a knit garment like a T-shirt or a jersey dress? From what I’ve learnt so far your options are:


If you’re lucky enough to have a coverstitch machine this seems to be the way to go. You press up your hem, and then the coverstitch finishes the raw edge and stitches the hem in one go. It gives that RTW twin needle finish on the outside and because of the differential feed you can get it lovely and stretchy so you won’t split your stitches taking the garment on and off. If only I could justify buying one…

Overlock plus twin needle

There’s just a hint of that tunnelling effect on this hem, but the printed fabric hides it well.

This is the one I’ve used the most. It gives a slightly stretchy finish because the bobbin thread zigs and zags between the two top threads, but it probably won’t stretch as much as the original fabric. First you overlock the raw edge and press up your hem. You can also stabilise the hem allowance to avoid a twisted, puckered or ridged finish.

Then fit a ballpoint twin needle in your ordinary sewing machine, use your walking foot, a straight stitch setting, and topstitch the hem in place from the right side.

(If you have a really old sewing machine, like my Singer 201K, that only has a straight stitch, then you may not have a footplate that will take a twin needle, but any machine that has a built-in a zigzag function should be fine. I used my mother-in-law’s 1960s Singer to hem my Moneta dress. If there’s no second spool, then put your two top threads onto bobbins and then you can stack them on top of each other on your spool pin.)

If you’re getting a ridge between the two lines of stitching, then a stabiliser should help, and you can also try playing around with the tension. Lots of people recommend stretchy woolly nylon for the bobbin thread, but I haven’t tried this yet.

If you don’t have an overlocker

You don’t have to overlock the edge before you press it up, you can still do a twin needle hem without this step, but in this case I would definitely use a stabiliser right up to the raw edge – and pick one that won’t wash out. A permanent stabiliser may limit the stretch a little, but that’s better than the raw edge curling back over the hemming stitch and creating a lump there. You might also choose to use an overedge or zigzag stitch to finish the raw edge for neatness.

If you don’t want to buy a ballpoint twin needle…

…because it’s an awful moment when you break one and have to part with another £4, then you can also topstitch the hem with a zigzag stitch, or a stretch stitch. This will stretch a little, but like the twin needle finish, not a lot. Some people are sniffy about how this finish looks, but I quite like the variation. I tried this for my latest T-shirt (which I’ll hopefully post later this week when the weather brightens enough to take pictures).

Unsolved mysteries

Can you help me with any of my unsolved questions?

  1. Is a coverstitch machine so amazing that I should blow the budget and get one? Or are they quite fiddly and hard to use?
  2. What’s the best stabiliser to use for knit hems? Spray-in starch, wash-away, knit interfacing or something else?
  3. I’ve read that you can also use a rolled hem. Has anyone tried this? What sort of fabric would this work best on?
  4. Where can you get woolly nylon thread in the UK?

What’s worth hand sewing (and what’s not)?

There were some great posts by some awesome sewing bloggers last year with some brilliant tips for better hand-stitching (from Closet Case Files and Did You Make That? to name just two). But I couldn’t help but wonder (cue Carrie Bradshaw…) how do you know when you should hand-sew something and when you’d be better off using your machine?

I’m hand-stitching the inside of the waistband on my latest pair of Thurlow trousers.

The short answer is that it is, genuinely, up to you. If you and your machine get into fights inserting zips, or you just can’t get on with your buttonhole foot, then you might want to try doing these jobs by hand (with something nice and relaxing on the TV, or a Seamwork podcast on in the background).

Generally, I’m all in favour of saving time, so if I can do something well enough on my machine, then I will. But there are some jobs I prefer to do by hand because it’s quicker for me in the long run, and those are:

  • Sewing on buttons – I’m not even going to bother finding out if my machine can do this or not when it’s so quick and secure by hand
  • Hemming woven fabrics when I don’t want the stitching to show through
  • If I’m putting a zip into a lined garment, I’ll usually insert the zip with the machine, but then secure the lining by hand along the opening – I always get puckers if I try to stitch both at once with a zip foot (Could someone please invent a walking zip foot?)
  • Tasks you only get one shot at, like attaching the leather toggle fastenings to my son’s School Days jacket – and hand-stitching them gave me more control for my first attempt

How do you feel about hand sewing? Are there things you could do on your machine but you opt to hand-stitch instead? And can you recommend a longish brand of sharps?

How should I finish my seams?

This was the question I was pondering as I walked my dog yesterday morning. I’ve jotted down my thought process, and photographed the samples I made for my Thurlow trousers so you can see the options.

Do I have to bother finishing my seams?

If you’re working with a fabric that doesn’t fray, and where the raw edges of the fabric won’t be seen, then no, you don’t have to bother. So if I were making a cushion cover from a knit fabric, for example, I wouldn’t bother to finish the raw edges. Most people will be making the Thurlow trousers in a woven fabric, as the pattern suggests, and most of those fabrics will fray.

Here’s what happens if you don’t finish the seams.

This also shows why it's never such a great idea to try to make an outfit to an immovable deadline...
This also shows why it’s never such a great idea to try to make an outfit to an immovable deadline…

I’ve chosen a navy blue medium-weight polyester/cotton twill. (I agree, it doesn’t sound great, but I think it’ll work out well.)

What are my options, then?

Here’s a rundown on the options I considered. You’ll probably want to test out at least a couple for each garment you make and see what suits your fabric best.

Top: unfinished edge Bottom: pinked edge
Top: unfinished edge
Bottom: pinked edge
Top: zigzag v1 Bottom: zigzag v2
Top: zigzag v1
Bottom: zigzag v2
Top: Overcast using an ordinary sewing machine Bottom: Overlocked (served) using a 3-thread narrow overlock stitch
Top: Overcast using an ordinary sewing machine
Bottom: Overlocked (serged)

As you can see, left to itself the fabric unravels, and pinking doesn’t help much. So I ruled out these. Zigzagging would prevent the edge unravelling beyond the zigzag stitch but it puckered and it still looks a bit messy for my liking – given that these trousers won’t be lined.

I seriously considered the overcasting stitch on my sewing machine – this is what I used for the toile I made in a linen mix. It did work well, and it saves switching between machines, but it’s very slow. This has its perks – you’re less likely to make a mistake, and – unlike the overlocker – you won’t accidentally trim off too much and leave yourself nothing to work with if you need to let a seam out.

But in the end the overlocker option won out, mainly on speed. And I already have matching overlocker thread, so that sealed the deal. It’ll make it slightly harder to get all the edges and notches matched up because the overlocker will cut off some of each piece, but hopefully I can work that out without a problem.

Isn’t this a huge pain – can’t I just get on with the sewing?

I won’t lie – this wasn’t how I wanted to spend my time yesterday evening. But I’ll grudgingly admit it was worth doing to get all the needles, tensions, settings, threading and decisions sorted up-front. It took around an hour altogether – including re-threading the overlord twice and that should speed up the rest of the project, too. Heck, I even cleaned the overlocker!

Have you made trousers without an overlocker? If so, how did you finish your seams?

Five ways to make a little fabric go further

So you’ve altered your pattern and you’re all ready to cut out your brand-spanking-new garment. Except that once you’ve laid out all the pieces, you realise you don’t have quite enough fabric. Aaaargh.

Well, you probably can’t get a maxi dress out of half a metre, but if you’re only a little bit short, here are five things you could try.

  1. Tweak your garment a bit – maybe 3/4 length sleeves would be more flattering than full-length, or you could skip the pockets? I left out the pockets on my version of Simplicity 2246, and I much prefer it without them.
  2.  Colour block – how about a contrasting belt or using a scrap of another fabric in your stash for the collar?

    Sewing pattern showing 6 different lace dress options
    If I ever get around to sewing this lace dress, I’ll definitely make the belt in a contrasting fabric.
  3. Facings and bindings can almost always be cut from a different fabric, and I love the look of a patterned facing inside a plain garment like this Bettine on Lauren’s blog
I wish I'd thought to cut the facings for this dress from another fabric - they're so itchy in the green wool!
I wish I’d thought to cut the facings for this dress from another fabric – they’re so itchy in the green wool!

4. Create your own fabric layout – rather than slavishly following the layouts given in the pattern, try re-arranging the pieces on the fabric yourself. There are just two rules: you must follow the grainline, and if you’re using a fabric with a nap, or a one-way pattern, then make sure the pieces that matter all face the same way

For this dress, I didn't have enough fabric to make another bodice in one piece, so I created a seam in the centre front and cut it as two pieces.
For this dress, I didn’t have enough fabric to make another bodice in one piece, so I created a seam in the centre front and cut it as two pieces.

5. Try folding the fabric differently. What happens if you create two folds in a knit fabric, for example? Or you could flat-cut everything like Jen from Grainline if you’re obsessed with yield.

Two pattern pieces laid out on twice folded fabric
Making two folds in the fabric for this maternity top gave me a nice chunky piece left over – enough for another T-shirt

If you’re new to making your own clothes, you might prefer to stick with the layout given by the pattern company. But if you know what you’re doing, especially if you’ve altered the pattern to fit you, you might well be able to do better with a bespoke layout.

Fitting part 3: finding your pattern size

Ah, pattern sizes. How can something that sounds so simple be so tricksy?

You’re more than just a number

Although most of us talk about ourselves in terms of one clothes size, the reality is that most of us are a combination of sizes. I’m going to explain how to decide which size you’ll need to go for, but chances are that you’ll be different sizes across different pattern companies, different garments, and probably even different parts of the same garment. And it’s quite possible that none of these sizes will match the labels in your RTW clothes.

For skirts that are fitted at the hips, or for trousers

For these, you should choose the pattern size that best matches your hip measurement. Your hip measurement is the widest part of your derriere – probably somewhere between 7 and 10 inches below your waistline. If you’re between sizes, then go with the larger size. If the garment ends up too big, it’s much easier to take it in than let it out. Don’t worry if your waist measurement puts you in another size – it’s easier to adjust the waistline than the hips.

I recently made the Simplicity 2290 pyjama bottoms, and my 42″ hip measurement put me between the M and L adult sizes so I made an L-size toile to check the fit.

For skirts that are fitted at the waist, but not at the hip

Fairly obviously, you should choose the pattern size that best matches your waist measurement. Again, if you’re between sizes, then go larger rather than smaller.

For tops

For children and chaps, this is easy – pick the size that most closely matches your chest measurement.

For ladies, boobs can cause a few issues here.  99% of commercial patterns (and RTW clothes) are made to fit a B cup*, so actually they fit very few of us – given that Ms UK Average is apparently now a D cup.

To find your size you’ll need:

  1. Your full bust measurement – this is around the fullest part of your bust which is usually where your nipples are. Keep the tape measure horizontal.
  2. Your high bust measurement. To take this, hold the tape measure under your armpits, as high as you can get it whilst keeping it horizontal.
  3. Your bra cup size, just for good measure.

If your full bust and high bust measurements are within 2″ of each other, then you can go right ahead and select your pattern size using your full bust measurement. Lucky you.

If they’re more than 2″ different, then you’ll need to choose your pattern size like this:

  1. Take your high bust measurement.
  2. Add 2″ to this.
  3. Choose the pattern size whose bust measurement best matches that number.
  4. You’ll need to adjust the the bust on the pattern (before cutting out your fabric) to get it to fit your chest properly.

One word of warning. If you find that RTW necklines are often quite low on you and bust darts are often below your nipples then your boobs are probably also positioned fairly high on your chest. If this is the case, then you’ll struggle to get an accurate high bust measurement, so your bra cup size might be a better guide. If you’re an A, B or C cup then you can choose your pattern size using your full bust measurement. If you’re a D cup, then use your full bust measurement minus 2″, for a DD use your full bust minus 3″ and so on. It’s taken me ages to work out that I needed to do this but all my bodices are now fitting much better. There are a fair few alterations involved – you’ll need to raise the bust point and do a full bust alteration. And you’ll almost always need to make a toile. But you will get a top that fits across the shoulders, under the arms and across the chest.

For dresses and other full length garments

You’re usually best off choosing your pattern size by your top half and then making adjustments to the bottom half to get the best fit. You can even combine two sizes, say a 12 on top and a 14 below. Most patterns these days are multi-sized – they have several sizes printed on one sheet, so if possible try to buy one that covers both the sizes you need. Vintage patterns are often only in one size, so you’ll have some tweaking to do. And it’s almost always easier to tweak the bottom half.

Done. You can now buy your pattern in the correct size, and – if you’re keen – run up a toile.

* Update: Colette Patterns use a C cup as their standard fit so if you’re cutting a Colette top or dress, the sizing and adjustments will be slightly different. If you’re a B, C or D cup, you can probably get away without a bust adjustment on a Colette Pattern and just choose your size by your full bust measurement. 

What equipment do I need?

A copy of a McCalls sewing manual.

If you’ve been inspired to try sewing your own clothes, then here’s what I think you’ll need to get started. I’ve tried to keep this to the bare minimum, but if it still looks like a lot of outlay, I’ve also put together some suggestions for cutting costs.

A copy of a McCalls sewing manual.
My current favourite sewing manual from the 1960s. I picked this up for £2 in the British Red Cross charity shop in Cheltenham.


  • sewing machine and bobbins
  • pins
  • tape measure (or some string and a ruler, at a push)
  • fabric scissors
  • ordinary scissors for paper and snipping threads
  • a few hand sewing needles – often called ‘sharps’
  • paper, pencils, masking tape, and a ruler for altering the pattern

You’ll also want to track down

  • a bright light or a sunny spot to sew in
  • a large flat surface for cutting out
  • a table or desk to sit at when you use your machine
  • an iron

For each project

  • a new sewing machine needle
  • the fabric and any notions you need for the garment
  • thread to match your fabric and a contrasting thread for tacking
  • a pattern – shop-bought, downloaded or homemade
  • any special sewing machine feet your project needs – e.g. a zipper foot

Optional extras

There are tons of clever gadgets that will make sewing easier, or quicker, but I think you can muddle through with the list above. If you’ve got money to burn however, (or a generous Auntie offering you lots of her spare kit) you might like to collect the following.

  • a seam ripper
  • a pincushion – you could easily make one
  • different types of pins – ballpoint for knits, longer pins for heavy fabrics and thinner ones for delicate fabrics
  • a tailor’s ham, press mitt and a sleeve board
  • a pattern master and a french curve
  • a book about dressmaking (I’d go for one that’s a similar vintage to your machine and has a big index)
  • extra feet and attachments for your machine
  • storage for all your notions and haberdashery bits
  • tailor’s chalk, dressmakers’ carbon paper and tracing wheel, washable fabric markers

Have I missed something essential? Let me know what you can’t live without.

Choosing your first pattern

So you’re ready to get stuck in and try making your own clothes. Where to begin?

Most people start with a commercial pattern – all the pieces you need to cut and instructions are provided. But which one should you choose?

1. Choose something you love

If you don’t love it, you won’t feel like finishing it, or wearing it when you’re done. So go with something you really like. Try to see past any cheesy illustrations and imagine it made up in a fabric you like, or with different trims. Smaller, newer pattern companies often have better illustrations  – and much more stylish packaging if that’s your thing. Check out Sewbox for a good selection.

2. Know your limits

If this is your first make, then pick a pattern that doesn’t call for too many different skills, tools and techniques – they’re often graded for difficulty, so pick something easy. Look critically at the design and description and try to work out how many pieces of fabric are involved. Six or fewer is a manageable number to begin with. If you can open the envelope or find them online, then read through the instructions too to see what’s involved. I’d suggest you avoid welt pockets, a fly front or lots of buttonholes for your first project, for example.

3. Go for something small in a cheap fabric

If your first make is an Atonement-style, long, silk evening dress, then it’s going to be quite an investment – perhaps £100 or more just in fabric. You might opt to start with a loose-fitting cotton top, an A-line skirt, a T-shirt or even an item of childrenswear for one of yours, or the child of a favourite friend. And children are easier to fit than women, as well as smaller, so you won’t need so much fabric!

4. It’s OK to ask for help

If you choose your pattern online, then smaller shops often have an email address (or a Twitter account) that you can contact for advice. They’ll tell you whether it’s suitable for beginners, or suggest another option that might be better. You’ll find the larger pattern companies stocked in fabric shops and some department stores, so staff there might be able to help you. Failing that, the more experienced sewer leafing through the bridal patterns can probably give you some good tips!

5. Check out reviews online

Sites like Sewing Pattern Review house thousands of reviews of commercial patterns, and just typing the pattern’s brand name or number into Google or Pinterest can bring up photos and blogs about other people’s makes you can cast your eye over. People love to share information about how they’ve adapted a pattern, so you might get some useful tips from looking through their ideas.

What was your first make, and how did it go? Is there a pattern you’d recommend to a beginner?

Will dressmaking save me money?

Dressmaking is going through a revival, and it could be because we’re all keen to save money on clothes. So can a DIY wardrobe actually save you money?

DIY v high street prices…

Big high street clothing chains buy their fabric, equipment and labour very cheaply – too cheaply in some cases. Expect your fabric to cost about the same as the finished garment would in Primark. Your version’ll be awesome in comparison, obviously – but if you usually shop in budget chains then DIY won’t be cheaper overall.

If you usually pay a bit more, then you can definitely make clothes that you’ll like more and that fit you better for less than you pay in the shops.

How can I cut costs?

There are lots of things you can do to bring the costs down. Here are my top 5 suggestions:

1. Upcycle. Root through your existing wardrobe, your stash household linen, and those of your family and friends. Try charity shops too. If you can find a garment you could alter, or a piece of fabric that’s big enough to cut something new you could convert it into something you love. Even if you hate the material, could you re-use the buttons or the zip?

2. Repeat yourself. Once you’ve got a pattern you love that fits, get your money’s worth by making it up in several different fabrics. If you’re making for a child, buy a multi-size pattern and make bigger versions of the same garment as they grow.

3. If you’re buying fabric, shop around. Try your local market, or head for your nearest city and investigate specialist fabric stores away from the main drag. It’s also worth a dig around your local charity shop – some occasionally have dressmaking fabric, or items like bed linen and curtains that could be adapted into clothes – depending on your taste!

4. Blag equipment. Let your family and friends know that you’re taking up dressmaking and see if you can have or borrow any kit for free. You’d be amazed at how many people have an unused sewing machine lurking in the loft, or a bag of haberdashery they don’t want. Ebay, gumtree and preloved are worth a look too, but check the prices carefully. Start with the bare minimum and work out what else you’ll use as you go along.

5. Be different. There’s a whole swathe of people out there looking for vintage 1950s dress patterns, so prices are rocketing. Try something else – maybe you’d love some well-fitting trousers for work, or a shirt that doesn’t pull across the chest. You can even draft your own patterns if you can’t find what you want.

Where shouldn’t I scrimp?

There’s some stuff you shouldn’t skimp on. You need a good quality pair of fabric scissors and cheap thread isn’t usually good value – it snaps in the machine and your seams come apart.

What tips would you give to a sewer on a budget?