I've never been excellent at sewing or craftwork, and I've been absolutely fine with this from the get-go. As long as I could stitch the pockets of my school uniform on my own whenever they happened to tear (they tore a lot because I hoarded coins, I was a veritable Shylock in my youth), it didn't exactly matter to me that my stitches looked as if someone had crudely sewn them in blindfolded.
So it came as quite a surprise when I was fabric shopping in Chinatown last week with B and found some very on-trend grid fabric in a stretchy, drapey mix. This kickstarted my dormant urge to make some clothes, especially since I shop and resell on Carousell fairly often and I've noticed grid patterns being popular in the past year. I really wanted a black base with a white grid (most of my clothes are black, and I'm notoriously picky about clothing), but this was selling for $6 a yard and the shop assistant and shop owners were all really friendly and helpful!
I impulse-bought a yard of cloth ("If it fails, I'll turn it into a drawstring bag") and traced a top and skirt pattern using some dresses and separates I've got at home that fit handsomely. Here's what I did, so you can try it yourself. I'm poor with sewing terminology and I don't know the names of half the stitches I used, so this might help people who are complete beginners like I am. Alternatively, it might confuse you more.
1. Lay your favourite separates out on drawing block paper and trace around them. Cut these out, and now you have a pattern to cut your cloth with. This is the best time to remember what you like or dislike about the fit of these clothes (i.e. if the skirt is too long, shorten your template a little bit) so you can make something that you think is ideal for you.
2. Pin these cutouts to the cloth (don't skip this step, especially if you're clumsy with craft like I am) and cut around them to create pieces to sew together. Don't forget to leave allowance for hems and seams! I usually leave allowance of about an inch. Grid fabric is surprisingly helpful – you can use each grid unit as a helpful way to measure allowance.
3. When you have all your pieces (you need two of each! A front and back! This is not the most obvious thing if you're me), look carefully and think about where you need hems and where you need seams. Think about how everything is supposed to come together before you start sewing. Unpicking is the fastest way to demotivate yourself.
4. Start by pinning and sewing hems first, and then move on to seams. The cloth I bought is quite similar to swimsuit material, and it didn't fray. Consequently, neither did my nerves.
5. If you're feeling particularly lionhearted, pin your seams first and then slowly pull the pin-infested garment onto your body to check the fit. I'm still alive, so you can do this too. If it fits well, go ahead and sew your seams and don't forget to turn the garment inside out unless you dig visible seams.
6. By repeatedly sewing hems and seams, you should eventually make it to the final product. Hopefully, if you kept a clear head on your shoulders and took some time to visualize the process before starting work, your homemade clothes should have turned out surprisingly and pleasingly successful. If not, you can always make a drawstring bag from a failed skirt or top!
Here are the most important tips. Firstly, try to buy cloth that doesn't fray. Drape a length of the fabric you want to buy over your arm to see how it falls. Avoid fabric that falls awkwardly. If it looks suspect draped over your arm, it will look suspect on your body too. Secondly, make sure you visualize where every hem and seam is going to go, right down to which side of the cloth faces outwards. Do this judiciously. Thirdly, keep your sewing patterns so you can improve on them the next time you feel like making something! Write notes on the patterns for future reference on how to improve the fit of subsequent garments. This is why I recommend drawing block paper – it won't tear as easily.
I found a slim silk belt at home, so I've turned that into the shoulder straps of the top and the drawstring waist of the skirt (which I've tucked under the top to make it look like a dress). I got a lot of compliments on my grid set when I was out for dinner the other night, and it's incredibly fulfilling to wear something you made yourself (especially if you pricked yourself in the process and bled on it. Don't worry, I didn't).
The next time I'm out in Chinatown I'm going to pick up more fabric and try making a swing dress with a mock neck! I might go ahead and do a proper tutorial on that too, so if you like that kind of thing, come back and read about it sometime.