Dressmaking Equipment

A sewing machine is really a necessity for dressmaking. You can, of course, make entirely hand-stitched clothes, but it takes so much longer. If you are buying a sewing machine, spend time researching the various makes by asking friends and looking in shops. A swing-needle machine is certainly more useful than one with only straight stitch, But consider carefully whether you can justify the high cost of an elaborate machine with several embroidery stitches if basically all you need is plain sewing.

Do ask for a demonstration of buttonholing β€” the technique varies with the machine and it should be easy, You should also try lifting the machine and remember to check on easy availability of spare needles, bobbins, bulbs and other accessories. Make sure the machine has an adequate instruction book and spend time reading it and practising stitches before attempting a garment.

Other equipment

You will need good dressmaker’s shears for cutting out, tailor’s chalk for marking fabric, a seam ripper and a piping foot for your machine.


There is such a wide variety of fabrics available for home dressmaking that it helps to know a few facts before buying.

Fabrics may be made from natural fibres, such as cotton, wool, silk or linen, or from synthetic fibres such as nylon, polyester or acrylic, or from combinations of the two. With any of these yarns, the fabrics fall into two main categories, woven or knitted, according to their construction.

Knits are stretchier than wovens and should be stitched with a synthetic thread which has a similar stretch to prevent seams and hems from popping. Knits should be stitched with ball-pointed needles which do not pierce the yarns. Choose threads for stitching wovens by fibre: silk thread for silks; cotton for cotton, wool and linen; polyester thread for synthetics.

When buying fabric always ask for the fibre content, as this will affect the garment you make, the way you sew it, and washing and pressing.


Apart from a few very simple items, it is always worth buying a paper pattern for the garment you wish to make. Patterns for children and men as well as for women come in a range of sizes and designs which are updated every season and can be seen in shop catalogues.

Paper patterns are sold by body measurement β€” assumed to be taken over underclothes β€” and they are cut with allowances for comfort and movement in the same way as ready-manufactured clothes.

Choose the size that most nearly corresponds to the one you require, basing it on the bust or chest measurement for shirts, blouses or dresses, or on the hip measurement for skirts and trousers. Other measurements can be altered to fit if necessary.

If you are new to dressmaking, choose a pattern marked ‘simple’ or ‘easy’. The instructions will be straightforward with clear diagrams for each step.

Make up the pattern in one of the fabric types suggested for the design on the pattern envelope. Choosing the wrong fabric for a style is one of the most common problems in home dressmaking.


The instruction sheet given with patterns is usually very clear, but it may contain unfamiliar terms. Here are some of the most common ones.

Basting Tacking stitches.

Bias Any line running diagonally across the woven threads. Fabric cut ‘on the bias’ is more stretchy than fabric ‘cut on the straight grain’.

Bodkin A large-eyed, blunt-ended needle used to thread elastic, etc. through casings.

Clipping curves Method of making curved seams smooth. Using sharp scissors, cut from raw edge to within one thread of stitching. On inward curves the clips may be triangular to reduce bulk.

Crosswise threads The weft threads of woven fabrics which run from selvedge to selvedge.

Dart A triangular tuck taken in fabric to give shaping.

Ease Slight gathering.

Facing Shaped section found inside a garment, stitched on to finish an edge.

Grading Trimming seam allowances to different widths where several layers have been stitched together to reduce bulk.

Grain The lengthwise or warp threads on woven fabrics.

Interfacing Special fabric used inside collars, cuffs, etc. to give body and stiffness. It is made in a variety of weights to suit different fabrics and should always be bought with the fabric to ensure correct type.

Nap A soft surface on fabric.

Pile The raised surface of fabrics like velvet. Pile must lie in one direction on all sections of a garment or the colour appears different.

Seam allowance The amount of fabric left between the seamline and the raw edge. It is usually 1.5 cm (5/8 inch).

Seam line The line along which the stitching is to be worked. It is marked on paper patterns but need not be transferred to fabric.

Stay stitching Stitching on a single thickness of fabric along the seamline to prevent stretching.

Top stitching ‘Show’ stitching worked from the right side of fabric, usually through several layers.

Trimming seams This is done after stitching to reduce bulk and make curves smoother: cut seam allowances to within 5 mm (ΒΌ inch) of stitching.