Do you need a sewing guide to help you sew clothes? When it comes to learning how to sew clothes, it is important that you follow a step-by-step process. If you’ve ever followed a sewing pattern, you’ll have realised that things need to be sewn in a certain order so that you’re not struggling to complete an essential step later on.
Example? Attaching pockets at the end. It is so much easier to place pockets ‘on the flat’ – which means before the main sections have been connected to form a garment!
Most sewing patterns come with a step-by-step sewing guide, but there are those that don’t, like the Style Arc sewing patterns! Of course, if you are designing and sewing your own clothes, you’ll be doing so ‘blind’ as there won’t be a ready-written process for you – that’s where this sewing guide comes in!
If you’re just learning to sew, I have some great sewing tutorials for you to start with!
Sewing Process For Making Clothes
One of the very first things fashion school told me to learn was a multi-step sewing process written by Connie Amaden Crawford. The idea is that you should follow a process of construction when making clothes so that you don’t sew things in the wrong order.
The way she explained it all was quite long-winded for me, and over the years I’ve adapted and revised it to suit my needs, making it simpler and easier to follow. That adapted process is what you see before you now in this 18-step sewing guide!
The most important note that Connie insisted upon – and the one thing that I will reiterate here too is:
“It is very important that you not proceed to the next sewing step without pressing the garment details or seams that have just been completed!”
Now, that may sound a little overwhelming to sewing beginners, but she is completely right. You see, when I don’t take the time to press each step, my beautiful hand-sewn clothes tend to look a bit lumpy and puffy on the seams. Not an effect anyone wants when learning how to sew clothes, right?
Now, before following this 18-step sewing guide, you’ll want to make sure you have the following in order:
- The pattern of choice cut out in the fabric.
- Pattern markings all transferred.
- Any notions needed.
- Necessary tools to hand.
If you do not know what the different pattern markings mean, you’ll want to check back next week for my pattern markings and symbols post. For now, just have a read through this sewing guide to get used to the process for sewing your own clothes.
A quick note. This process is for regular ready-to-wear clothes that you’re making at home, and the order can differ depending on the type of garment you are sewing. If you are considering starting a tailored project, the process is quite different, but I’ll cover that later on.
Ready? Let’s get started! (At the bottom of this guide is a sign up form for the printable version!)
Sewing Guide: 18 Steps Overview
Here’s a quick list of the order needed when learning how to sew clothes. Some clothes that you learn how to sew will be sewn in a different order, and I have a downloadable sewing guide cheat sheet coming soon for those.
Here’s an overview of the 18 sewing steps:
- Tucks, Darts and Pleats
- Waist, Centre Back and Centre Front Seams
- Shoulder Seams
- Side Seams (Set In Sleeve Garments) and Inseams
- Waistbands, Facings and Linings (Skirts and Trousers)
- Collar Preparation
- Collar attachment
- Sleeve Preparation
- Attaching Sleeves
- Armhole and Neckline Facings
- Side Seams (Non-Set In Sleeves)
Step 1: Interfacings
Connie has you complete this step later on in the sewing process, but for my sewing guide, it is an essential first step.
Look carefully at your pattern pieces. Do you have any areas requiring interfacing? Sometimes, a more advanced sewing pattern may call for interfacing to be added later, after a sewing technique is finished, to help stabilise the fabric. And that should be followed.
Other areas to be interfaced should be done now.
What Needs Interfacing?
You’ll want to use interfacing to stabilise:
- Waistband pieces
- Pocket openings
- Collar stands
- Button stands
- And more
What Types Of Interfacing?
There are two types of interfacing that you can use, and the type you choose depends upon what you are sewing:
Both types of interfacing come in knit or woven versions. The fusible kind needs to have heat applied to it, which will melt the glue and ensure the interfacing is ‘stuck’ to the fabric. The woven version can be basted in place where needed with a long running stitch.
Make sure to choose the right weight and colour for your sewing project. Do not use a heavy weight interfacing on a light-weight fabric or a black interfacing on a white fabric. You can imagine the possible results I’m sure!
Step 2: Tucks, Darts and Pleaty Bits Too!
Once you have cut out your fabric pieces, the very first thing you should have done was mark out any darts, tucks and pleats that need to be sewn. Sewing pleats tucks and darts is impossible later on, so always do these after you’ve applied interfacings.
When sewing darts, I always start sewing with a normal length stitch at the top of the dart leg. As I progress down the dart, towards the point I switch down to a much smaller stitch length. It makes for a much cleaner finish.
To finish, you can back stitch a couple of stitches making sure the new stitches are inside the dart excess, not the garment. My preference though is to leave long tails, and tie a knot to secure the threads.
I love tucks, especially the pin-tuck variety! Pin-tucks should be consistent with a uniform width and spacing. Otherwise they look rubbish.
That said, we don’t have to be so perfect with them when we are sewing clothes for ourselves! If you struggle to sew in a straight-line, pin-tucks probably aren’t your starting technique!
There are other tuck types used for fabric suppression that you can try which aren’t as overwhelming to sew. Or you can buy a dedicated sewing machine foot that will help you sew continuous and consistent tucks!
When you’re sewing pleats, you will want to mark the start, fold line and end point of pleats with notches first. I then hand tack them into place to check how the pleats the fall before sewing them in with the machine.
Step 3: Style Lines
Style lines are next up, and these are seams that are not your:
- Shoulder seam
- Side seam
- Waist seam
- Arm-hole / sleeve seam
Those four seams above DO NOT get sewn yet when you follow this sewing guide!
Every other seam is fair game at this point!
What Is A Style Line?
A style line usually runs from one point of your garment to another. This could be an under bust seam running horizontally from one side seam to another, a princess seam running from your shoulder seam to your waist or a series of sleeve sections stitched together before the sleeve is closed.
These style lines are only sewn once you’ve sewn all the tucks, darts and pleats indicated on the pattern.
Note that if your style lines call for topstitching it should also be done now. It will be tricky to complete this later on when the garment is stitched together..
Once all your style lines have been sewn, the garment sections should be complete and lie flat on your work table. They should not yet be connected at the side seam, shoulder seam, waist or armhole!
Step 4: Waist, Centre Front And Centre Back Seams
If you are sewing a dress or jumpsuit that has a waist seam, they should be sewn together at the waistline now. This also differs from Connie’s sewing guide, as she had this step much later on!
Often times one or both of your centre front and centre back is cut on the fold. If it does contain a seam, you will want to sew that now that the style-lines have been completed, so that you can match up any previously stitched style-lines from step 3.
If a placket is needed on the centre front or centre back, this can be sewn now. Think of those lovely loose-fitting caftan style tops and dresses that have a placket opening on the front.
If your centre front or centre back has an opening and will have a button stand – either as a grown on / extended stand, or as a separate stand – both sides should be sewn now.
This is important, as when we get to attaching the collar, the button stands will be enclosed.
Step 5: Pockets
If the garment you are sewing contains pockets, this is the point that you attach them. It is always much easier to sew pockets when they are flat as you’re able to see if pairs of pockets are symmetrical, which will help your final garment look perfectly balanced.
Be sure to use a measuring tape or pattern master to mark your pocket positions in correctly. Pockets are an obvious design detail, often added to a sewing pattern to make an impact. If they’re wonky, they may stick out like a sore thumb.
Types of pockets you may be sewing are:
- Patch Pockets
- Side Seam Pockets
- Welt Pocket
- Jetted Pocket
Step 6: Zippers
In this clothes fastenings post I touched on zippers. They are the one fastening most used in fashion – excluding buttons! And they can be sewn in different ways:
- Invisible / concealed zipper
- Trouser fly zipper
- Lapped zipper
- Plain zipper
- Exposed zipper
Zippers can be sewn into dresses, skirts, trousers, jeans and jackets, and even used as non-functioning design details on anything you can imagine!
They’ve been used for years as an entire dress opening, or more recently as shoulder seam details on tops and jumpers. The use of zippers is rampant and for this reason it is really important to consider them from a design point of view. Especially as zip openings are constructed differently, which can affect the order that they’re constructed when sewing your own clothes!
First up, check your sewing pattern. Does it have a zip opening? If it is your own design, think about how you will get into and out of the garment. Is a zipper opening necessary, and if it is, how long does your zipper need to be?
For zippers that are centre front or centre back openings, you should sew them in now for:
If you will have a side seam zipper hold tight, and if you are using zippers for a shoulder seam opening, complete that in step 7!
Step 7: Shoulder Seams
There are very few garments sewn without shoulder seams. The only one I can think of right now is a garment with a raglan style armhole. Or a shirt that has a back yoke running over the shoulder line to the front.
Most dresses, tops, jackets and shirts will have shoulder seams on both the body of the garment, and again in the facings.
Check the pattern for the types of seam you should be using and then sew your shoulder seams now. Sew the seam on the main garment (connecting the front to the back) and the facing sections too if you have them.
The types of seams used varies depending on the garment your are sewing, but would usually be one of the following:
- Open seam – this one is quite standard for shoulder seams
- French seam – used for garments made of sheer / light weight fabrics
- Welt seam – mostly used on outerwear or sportswear garments
If you have a zipper opening on one or both shoulders, now would be the time to sew them.
Step 8: Side Seams And Trouser Inseams
Woohoo, it’s time! You’ve finally reached the point where your flat sewing project becomes a 3D form for the body – unless it is a shirt with sleeves, in which case, jump ahead to the next relevant step!
Make sure to select the seam most suitable to your garment design and fabric choice. A sleeveless shirt would be sewn with a flat-felled seam, an anorak with a welt seam and a dress with an open seam.
Check that all notches are matched – we don’t want a hem on one side being longer than the other side!
Make sure to note whether there is a side seam zipper needed. Mark on the side seam the notch that the zipper starts at, and then sew all the side seams on blouses, bodices, skirts, lower dress sections and trousers. You can also sew all inseams on trousers and shorts.
At this point, if your garment is a bodice and has sleeves that are not set-in, you cannot sew the side seams yet. Sorry! You need to attach sleeves on the flat first before you get to sew the side seams!
Finally, for skirts, dresses and trousers that have them, sew in your side seam zipper.
Step 9: Waistbands, Facings And Linings (Skirts / Trousers)
When you’re at the point of attaching facings and waistbands to a garment, you know you’re almost done!
If your garment is to be lined, you’ll want to have created the lining pieces in the same order that you created the main sections, so that they’re ready to be attached now!
- If you have a facing, attach the lining to the facing and then sew the facing to the main garment.
- If you have a waistband, attach the lining directly to the waistline now.
Make sure to sew a neat finish for any zippers that have been added!
Your lining should be sewn so that the wrong side of the lining is facing the wrong side of the main garment fabric. Make sure that the waistlines are matching.
You should have the ‘right side’ of your lining laying against your skin when the garment is worn, and the right side of your garment should – obviously – be shouting ‘look at me!’ to the world!
For those using a waistband, you can now sew that on to enclose the raw edges of the waistlines of both your fabric and lining pieces.
Step 10: Collar Preparation
If your design has a collar, you’ll need to prep the pieces. I am always thorough at collar prep, because many a garment was ruined in my younger years when I rushed the sewing process. Your collar is close to your face, and people look at your face when engaging with you, which means that any problems with a collar are super noticeable.
So, prep first and be epic!
If you’re not sure about collars, go check out this collars post. I cover the different types of collars. Then head back here.
Remember that at this point, we are only prepping and constructing the collar, not attaching it to the garment!
Start by making sure all the required sections have interfacing attached. If your collar is a convertible collar with a stand, sew the collar section first. Then sew the stand, enclosing the collar piece within.
Sewing patterns should come with some detailed instructions on how to construct a collar, but if you are sewing your own design, you’ll be ‘winging it’. If that’s you, I’m working on a series of collar construction posts to help you out!
Step 11: Collar Attachment
Attaching a collar to a garment can be easy or tricky, depending on the collar type. I once needed to attach a collar to a sleeveless heavy-weight leather vest. I messed it up as I followed the client’s construction notes – and it ended up looking a mess!
If your design has any neckline or centre front facings, these need to be sewn in place before you attach the collar, as when the collar is ‘closed’ it will enclose the seam allowance of the garment and facings for a tidy finish.
To attach the collar, match the centre front and centre back points, and the shoulder notches too. Be careful not to stretch out the neckline as you are sewing. Press the seam allowances into the collar before sewing the second line of stitching, for a fully enclosed finish.
Step 12: Sleeve Preparation
There are two ways to sew sleeves, as a set-in sleeve or a non-set-in sleeve. But both of those are how we attach the sleeve to the main garment – which is the next step.
If your sleeve is a two piece sleeve, with an upper and under sleeve, connect the pieces together now.
Next we need to sew the sleeve details which can include:
- Pleats at the elbow
- Sleeve tabs
Make sure that all these elements are sewn before moving on!
Step 13: Attaching Or Setting In Your Sleeves
Sleeves are sewn two ways, as I mentioned above. They can be set-in for more formal garments, or sewn flat for more casual garments.
Shirt / Casual-wear Sleeve
Sew the sleeve to the shirt on the flat. It is best to sew with the sleeve underneath the garment and gently ‘ease’ the main body pieces so that they align with the length of the sleeve cap. Your side seams should still not be sewn!
Jacket / Tailored Sleeve
- Your garment should have a set-in sleeve style. Start by sewing the underarm seam so that the sleeve is closed.
- Next, sew two rows of basting stitch within the seam allowance of your sleeve cap. These should be gently gathered as ‘easing’ between the two notches, to help fit the sleeve within the armhole.
- Finally, pin the sleeve into place, matching notches and being careful of the ‘pitch’ of the sleeve before sewing the sleeves into place.
Step 14: Bodice Facings
Facings are how we keep a garment tidy, but they also provide support as well for different garment types. If you decided not to have a collar or sleeves on your garment, you will need to finish the raw edges off. This can be done using facings or bindings.
Usually, facings are found on:
- Centre front openings
- Centre back openings
In this step, we’re only sewing facings for necklines and armholes, as the centre front opening facing should have been sewn in step 11 when you closed the neckline with a collar, the waistline facing should have been sewn in step 9 when finishing skirts and trousers, and we’ll cover sewing hemline facings later on in step 16.
Construct your facing sections – they may be as one or two piece sections – and then attach them to your neckline and armholes.
Step 15: Flat Sleeve Garments
If your garment did not have a set in sleeve but was instead sewn on the flat, it will now need connecting along the side seams and underarm line of your sleeve. This can now be sewn, usually with a flat felled seam.
Step 16: Hems
Hemming is one of the last stages in the process of sewing your own clothes, and it is really important that you choose a hem finishing that is suitable for your design as well as the fabric you chose to use!
Hems – unless a design feature – should not be visible. The aim of a good hem is cleanly finish bottom edge of a garment to stop any unravelling, but to also add some structure so that the garment hangs well.
Hems can be folded and stitched self fabric, bindings, bandings, facings or attached sections such as cuffs on shirt sleeves!
For single fold hems, turn your hem allowance up, press in place and sew a single stitch-line along the length of the hem.
Double folded hems should be turned once, twice and then stitched in place.
A pin hem has two rows of stitches if you finish it the way I do in this pin hem tutorial.
Binding encloses the raw edge of your hem. If you plan to use a bound finish, consider the finished width of the binding, as this will impact upon the hem allowance amount.
You can use bias binding to finish hems, either in self fabric for a clean finish or contrasting fabric for an interesting design feature.
Banding are similar to bindings except they ‘extend’ the finished length. You could add a wide banding to a circle skirt in a contrasting fabric to add some retro vibes to your design.
This is a type of hem that is finished when a facings is sewn. You can create a facing for a hem, by copying the hem area of your sewing patterns, and making it up in a facing fabric.
Place the hem facing and garment right sides together, sew, press, turn through, retain stitch all seam allowances on the facing section, and then hand stitch in place, being careful to ensure the stitches are invisible on the right side of the garment.
Attached Hem Finishings
These are ways that you can attach elements to finish a hem. It may be a cuff on a sleeve, a pre-constructed ruffle along the entire hem or any other form of trimming that will ‘finish’ your hem for you.
Step 17: Closures
When you’ve put so much work into creating a beautiful item of clothing for yourself, you need to ensure that is finished with the right type of clothes fastening.
We covered inserting zippers earlier on in the sewing process. If you were constructing anything with buttons, now is the time to create button-holes and sew on your buttons.
Remember that button and button holes are created on the centre front line of your button stands. Button-holes are vertical along the button-stand for shirts, except the collar buttonhole which is sewn horizontally. Button-holes on trousers / pants and skirts sit horizontally too, parallel to the ground.
Tailoring items and outwear often have button holes parallel to the ground also. Like in the image below!
If in doubt, look at an item of clothing you already own to check. I’m always checking the construction of my clothes to see if I can learn a new technique!
You may need to add hook and eyes to dresses above zippers for extra security, or perhaps
There are of course many other types of clothes fastenings that you can use too, from magnets and velcro (yuck) to rouleau straps and lacings with eyelets. Be aware that these are things you need to consider early in the design / making process so that they are constructed at the right point.
Step 18: Pressing
Throughout the whole construction process in this sewing guide, you should have been pressing stitchlines and seams along the way, to get that lovely crisp finish. You’ll now want to give a nice all-over press to your newly created garment. And then? Wear it with pride!
Click the image below to grab a free printable version of this guide!
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Eve Tokens (aka The Creative Curator) is a fashion designer, creative pattern cutter and sewing pattern designer.
Eve graduated with a 2:1 in Fashion Design from the University of The Creative Arts in the UK, has a BTEC diploma in Creative Pattern Cutting, a Foundation Degree in Art & Design from Wimbledon College of Art and gained extensive experience in the fashion industry by interning and freelancing for London based fashion brands – Hardy Amies, Roland Mouret, Peter Pilotto and others.
As well as running her own small sustainable fashion brand, Eve has more than 25 years experience sewing and making clothes for herself and family members.