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Learning to Sew My Own Dress by Nikki Miles Designs

Earlier this year a friend and I signed up for a beginners dressmaking class. Ever since I started designing surface pattern designs I have dreamt of wearing a dress made from one of my very own fabric designs. But there was only one problem - I had no idea how to sew a dress! Sewing is one of the only crafts I haven’t really dipped my toes in to very much, which is funny because my mum is a wonderful sewer and even has her own business selling products she has sewn herself. When my friend said she wanted to sign up to a six week dressmaking class in Leigh-on-Sea, I jumped at the chance to join her and learn something new.


The dressmaking class, held at The Dressmaker Fabrics shop in Leigh-on-Sea, is perfect for those with no previous sewing experience. Above their beautiful fabric shop and haberdashery they have a charming workshop room filled with sewing machines, and as a bonus, is also well stocked with tea and biscuits!

The tutor Liz taught us the basics of the sewing machine, talked us through how to read a sewing pattern, and then about all the different types of fabrics available and which type of fabric is best for which project. The shop itself is filled to the brim with beautiful fabrics, sewing patterns, buttons, spools of thread, skeins of wool and mannequins adorned with inspiration - everything a beginner seamstress-in-training could possibly want!

Of course, the ultimate goal is to make a dress using one of my own fabric designs, but I thought it would be best to use another fabric for my very first attempt - as I wasn’t sure how well it would turn out! My own fabric would have to wait for attempt number two or three…

The class is held in their workshop for two hours a week for six weeks. Ours was on a Tuesday evening but I believe they also have some during the day class options as well. The class was made up of 10 eager students with varying degrees of experience. Some had made small sewing projects already, others had never even touched a sewing machine. I was somewhere in the middle having done a handful of very small projects over the years with my mum’s assistance (let be honest…a lot of assistance!).

Two hours a week for six weeks is unfortunately not a huge amount of time and it absolutely flew by, so Liz encouraged us to choose very basic sewing patterns and even gave us a list of recommendations, some which could be bought in the shop below and some that could be ordered online. I chose the Tilly in the Buttons Lotta dress - a lovely lightweight summer midi-dress with an elasticated waist and patch pockets. And for fabric I chose a yellow ochre floral patterned cotton lawn which had a nice drape to it.


Week one Liz taught us how to take our measurements and helped us pick out our fabric and patterns. Weeks two and three we cut out our paper pattern and fabric (it took longer than I thought so I also did some at home between classes), and weeks four to six we sewed our dresses (or tops/trousers/pajama bottoms - there were lots of different projects in our class, it didn’t necessarily need to be a dress).

My project was fairly time consuming due to the number of different elements - top, skirt, pockets and elasticated waist, so I admit I did do a bit at home between class to catch up as I was determined to finish by the last class. But to be honest, also because I was just too excited to work on it and didn’t always have the patience to wait for the next class.

There was a learning curve and I was a little scared of the sewing machine at first, especially going too fast, so my first few seams were created at a snail’s pace on the slowest setting possible. But after a few tests on scrap fabric I started to gain some confidence and by the end of the six weeks I had raised that switch to at least a medium speed, sometimes even faster!! I know, check me out!



Liz was on had to help us read our sewing patterns, help us pin our fabrics, check our sewing machine settings and advise on measurments and fit. She also gave us top tips and taught us how to do tailor tacks and how to use an overlocker machine.

The class was a lot of fun and it was great to spend time with other crafty students and get to know them throughout the duration of the course, and to see everyone’s projects come together over the six weeks. It was a real mix of people and projects, some making clothes for their kids and one even making a Lord of the Rings style cosplay outfit which looked fantastic!

My friend made a beautiful dusky maroon pink corduroy pinafore dress (Tilly and the Buttons Cleo pattern) which I loved and was very jealous of - I may need to make my own one at some point!


I really enjoyed the class and it was lovely to have something to look forward to during the week after work and to learn a new skill. I think I have now got the sewing bug and have been looking for new projects to work on. My husband and I (he is actually a great sewer with more experience than me) even got a bit addicted to watching The Great British Sewing Bee in the weeks I was going to class, and it provided me with lots of inspiration and motivation to keep learning.

Although the dress is not 100% perfect and even some stitch unpicking was needed in the process of making it, overall I am very happy with the end result! And I plan to wear my new yellow floral Tilly and the Buttons Lotta dress on my upcoming summer holiday!

The questions now are… 1 - what should I make next? 2 - which of my fabric designs should I use? And 3 - am I ready for an intermediate class?? Sign me up! There is only one way to find out.


Visit Nikki Miles Designs for more wonderful blogs and check out her beautiful illustrations 

Come join our Absoliute Beginners Dressmaking Course  and create your own beautiful dress. 

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