To learn to sew your own clothes is a fun and empowering thing to do, and if you get any good, could create your own little cottage industry. Whether that’s just a repairs and alteration service (which is good for the zero waste lifestyle – darn socks, mend hems etc) or making custom clothes for people local to you. Ideally, sew with recycled or sustainable fabrics (organic cotton, hemp & linen). Keep fabric scraps away from pets and children, and keeps pins and needles securely stashed.
Below are some good books to start you off. If you prefer to learn in person, look out for local sewing classes. You can find nice digital patterns and tips at Tilly and the Buttons (above). On the other side of the pond, Seamwork (below) member site includes sewing tips, a video class and 2 patterns (out of 200) each month.
How to Make & Modify Clothes
The Act of Sewing is a book on how to make and modify clothes. Maybe you learned to sew in school and have a sewing machine, but it hasn’t been outside the cupboard since your last move. Or maybe you are new to the craft, but no idea how to thread your machine. No matter what your experience, this workbook offers four basic patterns:
- A simple top with built-in sleeves
- A below-the-knee skirt with elasticated waist
- A pair of trousers
- A tailored shirt with set-in sleeves
Empower yourself to express your personal style and make clothes, that are comfortable for your body type. After explaining the concepts of sewing and construction, Sonya Philip provides suggestions for mixing the basic patterns together, to create new garments as you gain confidence:
- Full bust
- No bust
- Long torso
- Add sleeves
- Add pockets
- Add hems
You’ll also learn the basic terminology of sewing:
- Stitch settings
- Seam allowance
Going beyond simple pattern instructions, this book makes sewing garments accessible for each body type, in a range of sizes from XS to 4X. With inspiring essays on Sonya’s sewing philosophy that speaks to the slow ethical fashion movement, this is your go-to guide for aspirational or seasoned sewists.
Sustainable Pattern-Free Fashion
Radical Sewing offers sustainable, no-pattern fashion for all bodies. Take control of your wardrobe, and learn how to escape from the never-ending cycle of fast fashion. Regardless of sewing experience, gender or body type – this illustrated guide will empower you with information on basic sewing techniques, how to alter clothes to fit your unique body, and detailed instructions on how to recreate your favourite clothing items.
Recycle & Revamp Your Clothes
Fashion Hacks is a beautiful book that teaches you how to reconstruct and embellish well-worn clothes and vintage finds into sustainable clothing. An experienced dressmakers shoes how to rework cloths into new styles, by changing necklines, sleeves and hems or to create a brand new dress from old ones. Make a pretty blouse from a floral dress or convert a man’s shirt, into a stylish shirt dress. Or bring a skirt up to date with an asymmetric hem or add interest to a plain top with an embellished collar, made using a linen table doily. Includes 3 full-size patterns and tips on sourcing vintage clothes, to create a wardrobe that’s all your own.
Sew on the Go: A Maker’s Journey is the story of Mary Jane Baxter, who did what many people dream of: she quit her job at the BBC, rented out her flat and headed for the hills. Her home for the next few months was an upcycled 1986 Bedford Bambi campervan with a top speed of 60mph. She raided skips for vintage wallpaper, and scoured second-hand emporiums to scour vintage stylish accessories. Creating her own travelling craft studio, packed with all she needed, for crafting on the road.
Mary Jane then set off around Europe, searching for inspiration. Travelling from Belgium right down to the Cinque Terre in Italy. Then around France, and up to Scotland. Armed with her trusty hand-cranked Singer, she spent a summer sewing on the go, foraging in flea markets, meeting artists and hosting pop-up events, to help fund her trip.
Like creatives the world over, she decided to see where her travels would lead her, and returned with a head full of new projects. Fortunately, there’s no need to give up your job, wave goodbye to your family and rent out your house, in order to re-ignite your own creativity. Mary-Jane has gone before you. Her guide to carry out more creative space in your life includes decorating your own budget-conscious bolt-hole to making your own clothes and gifts. An ideal companion for those who dream of devoting more time to their craft.