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Get Started Sewing Your Own Slow Fashion (with the All Well Box Top!)

by Amelia Greenhall - 06/23/2019

Want to get into sewing your own slow fashion? It’s been really fun for me - besides the satisfaction of improving sewing skills and hands on stuff, I’ve been loving the design aspects. And it’s really cool to be able to make stuff similar to slow fashion brands I admire, that fit me and in fabrics I like, for a fraction of the cost.

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all well box top black silk

I’d recommend starting with the All Well Box Top pattern - I worked on production in collaboration with Amy of All Well and so I can vouch that it’s good. I think it’s a perfect place to start, because it has thorough instructions for making four different garments, so you can start simple and then make another one that builds on your skills. And it’s a wardrobe staple. So many amazing versions on instagram on the #allwellboxtop hashtag - simple everyday tops, fancy dresses, so many fabrics and styling choices.

box top instructions booklet printed

The pattern was designed so a complete beginner can use it to make their very first garment, with thoughtfully written instructions and lots of visual diagrams for each step. And the pacttern comes with a 50-page Hacking Guide that expands the garments you can make dozens more variations.

Basically, you can make a bunch of wardrobe staples for one $14 pattern, and learn a lot of sewing skills as you go that will set you up to do more.

Besides the pattern and fabric and thread (recs below), what supplies do you need?

The minimum to get sewing is a sewing machine (which usually comes with a measuring tape and seam ripper), pins, fabric scissors. You’ll also need a steam iron, and ideally an ironing board, although you can start by pressing on a towel laid on a table.

getting started sewing recommended supplies

If you have none of those yet, you can get them for about $160 on Amazon (if you live in the US - I haven’t looked up prices for other countries). Though if I’m giving advice, I’d say just to get the sewing machine online, and buy the little supplies from a local fabric store, if there’s one you have access too.

1. Brother CS6000i Sewing Machine

Currently $143 plus tax on Amazon.

This is the sewing machine I’ve been using for the past few years (since May 2017), and it’s my #1 pick for someone who’s just getting started. It’s a good price, a solid beginner machine, will sew buttonholes and blind hems and stretch stitches. It’s easy to thread and easy to change the speed, stitch length/width, stitch pattern, and so on. It has a needle up/down button and a reverse button in a nice position for your hand, which makes things easy.

Overall, I don’t think it really matters what sewing machine you get, as long as it’s in working order. I've used many different sewing machines in the past almost-30 years, and yeah, I've used some fancy ones that were really nice, but a beginner one like this is plenty and the Brother is one of the easiest to use ones I've owned.

There are even cheaper beginner models out there that I can't personally vouch for, but can get you started. Or maybe you have one someone you know can give to you, or sell to you inexpensively – or you might find a working one at a thrift store. But if all that's overwhelming, just get this one. The Brother CS6000i is a really common one, so you’ll be able to google for tutorials and youtube videos for how to do stuff with it too. Don’t worry about finding a perfect machine.

2. Pins

It doesn’t really matter which pins you buy, as long as you have a set. 100 or more is plenty to start. There are special pins for sewing knits and silk that you might get later, but just a general set will be fine for everything you do as you’re getting started sewing.

3. Sewing Scissors

These are the pair I have (under $10), and they work really well. If you’re left handed, you can find left handed scissors. Again, not something that matters too much exactly what you get, as long as it feels good in your hand. Write SEWING or NO PAPER on them as soon as you get them, because they’ll get dull if they’re used for anything else but fabric. In the future, you might want to cut fabric with a rotary cutter on a self-healing mat, but a pair of fabric scissors is plenty to get started.

Optional:

Other sewing supplies I really like post Coming Soon.

Then, while you’re waiting for your sewing machine (and any supplies you order online) to arrive, you get fabric. Look up on the pattern instructions how much you need, first by measuring around your bust to find your size:

box top size chart

And then looking up how much fabric to buy, based on your size.

box top fabric chart

I recommend starting with a thin, flowy cotton, a cotton linen-blend, linen, or raw silk. You should go touch stuff at a local store to see what you like. Most fabrics in the store are unwashed, and will get a bit softer and less structured with the first washing, too. Buy a similar color thread - a polyester general purpose thread is great. I like to find fabrics at thrift stores, garage sales, fabric outlets, and online, where you can find good deals, but starting out with at least your first garment from somewhere local where you can feel the fabric is likely worth it.

When you get your supplies and fabric and thread and the pattern, print the pattern out.

I recommend starting with the short sleeve box top in regular length.

Follow the sewing instructions to adjust the pattern if necessary (for example, adding length if you are tall - that’s one I commonly do). Use paper to make a copy of the pattern in your size.

Then, follow the sewing instructions to cut the pieces out of fabric, pinning and using scissors to cut around the edges of the pattern pieces. If you’re nervous about fit or using the sewing machine, you can use an old bedsheet or curtain to make a test version first. If you don’t have any linens at your house that need retiring, ask friends/family or find them for a dollar or two at a thrift store.

Once you have your fabric pieces cut - just two pieces plus a neck binding strip, if you’re doing the short sleeve box top - follow along with the instructions and diagrams to sew it.

It feels SO great to make your first wearable garment!

After you’ve sewn the first garment, I recommend trying out a long sleeve, and then moving to other variations. Or if you’re not a ruffle top or box dress wearing type of person, just move to the hacking guide and make another long or short sleeve top, in crop or regular length, and add some hacks like a center seam, split hem / side vent, or other features. You can also try going one size up or down from your measured size, to play with ease.

box top pattern variations sketch

Once you’ve made four box tops/dress variations, that brings the cost per garment down to about $3.50 each for the pattern, and $40 / each for using the sewing machine/supplies, plus the cost of fabric. Over time as you sew garments, you’ll bring the cost of having the sewing machine down to a dollar or two per garment, or less if you can buy one secondhand. I like to compare the cost of the garment to the cost of a similar garment by one of the slow fashion brands I admire - usually those garments are $100-400 each.

— Amelia Greenhall