How I went from quilting to sewing clothes I love. (And how you can do it too!)

Hi, I’m Kate! I own the Confident Stitch in Missoula, Montana, and I love both quilting and garment-making.

Are you a quilter who dreams of sewing clothes for yourself? Well, 2023 is going to be your year at Confident Stitch! If you don’t think quilting prepares you for garment-making, or if you’re worried that you don’t know how to make patterns fit your shape, I completely understand! 

I started my sewing journey as a garment maker, eventually got frustrated when my clothes didn’t fit right, switched to quilting, learned a few things, and eventually made it back to sewing clothes, only this time they were clothes that I loved! This year, I want to share my journey with you, and help you conquer your own clothing-making fears – one tip, stitch, and tool at a time!

How It Started

Me and my mom.

I learned to make clothes at a very young age by “helping” my mom and grandma in the sewing room. In junior high, I had a great Home-Ec teacher who got me even more excited about sewing. And, in high school, my mom was happy to buy fabric for me so I made a lot of my own clothes. 

However, the older I got the more my shape changed, and garment-making – once a fun and empowering hobby – was suddenly frustrating. As a tween, wearing clothes that didn’t fit quite right or that had an unfinished hem hadn’t bothered me. However, in my twenties I wanted to look more polished, but – beyond increasing or decreasing a seam allowance – I had no idea how to alter patterns to make them fit.

By the time I hit my forties my lack of fitting knowledge had become discouraging. Patterns from the ‘Big 4’ (McCalls, Butterick, Simplicity, and Vogue) had once worked fine! I’d just cut out the pieces, sew them together, and hope for the best. But – two kids and 20 years later – this approach no longer worked, and in fact just made me feel inadequate.

The Turning Point

Though making clothes wasn’t bringing me the joy it once had, I still loved sewing. So I made the switch to quilts and bags, built a community of sewing friends, and, for a long while, I was content with that.

But then, in 2010 I discovered the Palmer/Pletsch method of altering patterns to make them fit, and (for the first time in a while) I got excited about sewing garments. It almost seems obvious, but the realization that I could use my fitting knowledge to make clothes that I loved, and that fit ME perfectly, made all the difference!

Saying NO to feeling unhappy in dressing rooms? Saying NO to thoughts of “I can’t wear that because I’m too ________?” Saying YES to doing my favorite thing (sewing) and making clothes I feel comfortable in and proud of? Sign me up!

Ahead of the Game

My lessons with Palmer/Pletsch filled in a lot of gaps for me. Suddenly, I knew why something didn’t fit, and even better, I was equipped with the tools and know-how to fix the problem. Despite this, there were still scary questions rolling around in my head: What about curves? Could I use bag interfacing for a collar? What kind of needle should I use for different substrates, and how do I deal with slippery or stretchy fabrics?? 

But (after taking a deep breath) I realized that my many years of quilting and bag-making had actually prepared me to succeed in garment-making! The quilting skills of sewing at a consistent seam allowance and stopping with the needle down and lifting the foot helped me to easily manage curves. Also – though I had to learn more about the different types – I realized that garment-interfacing worked just the same as the fusible bag interfacings I was accustomed to. And, just knowing that I had to ask questions about what needle to use for certain substrates put me miles ahead of a beginner.

In short, I realized that I wasn’t starting at square one. I had years of sewing knowledge to draw from, and it made transitioning to clothing feel like an exciting challenge rather than an insurmountable problem.

Finding Your Rhythm

The more I delved into garment-making, the more it became clear that the biggest difference between sewing clothes and quilting was (what I call) the ‘sewing rhythm’. These two skills require different types of preparation, and they exercise different mental muscles.

For example, all you quilters know the time it takes to carefully cut your fabrics before piecing your units – sometimes hours and hours! With garment-making, you spend less time actually cutting fabric. Instead, most of the preparation goes to altering and fitting the pattern pieces themselves. Once that’s done the cutting goes pretty quickly!

The sewing process for garment-making and quilting is also a little different. When piecing a quilt, you sew hundreds of ¼” seams. It can be meditative but also tedious. Garment-making on the other hand calls for much less continuous sewing. Frequent pauses are necessary as you stop and try on the garment to make sure it’s going to fit. But – in the long run – clothes tend to come together much more quickly than a quilt.

Once I understood this difference in rhythm, determining how to manage my sewing time became much easier too.

Let's get started!

My years of quilting helped me dive into sewing clothes, and yours can too. I hope you’ll join me this year as I do my best to help you conquer your fitting and sewing concerns, and transition to making clothing that you’ll love as much as a quilt. 

Here’s what you can look forward to in 2023:

  • Educational blog posts 
  • Educational Reels and Instagram posts to teach garment-making techniques. (Join us on Instagram and Facebook!)
  • YouTube videos on altering patterns to make them fit. (You can subscribe to our YouTube channel here.)
  • The opportunity to subscribe to our {gar}Meant for You swatch experience, which teaches you about garment fabrics and provides inspiration on what to make.

Are you interested in coming along on this sewing journey with me? Great! Leave a comment to let me know what’s deterring you from jumping into garment-making!

Here’s to a year full of growing and sewing!


33 thoughts on “How I went from quilting to sewing clothes I love. (And how you can do it too!)

  1. Christine Dickinson says:

    I too learned to sew making garments and went through very similar experiences, though I did still sew for myself until I was 30 or so. Then it got discouraging and I discovered the wonderful world of quilting, but I did continue to sew for my daughter. I have been working very hard at learning new tips and techniques in garment sewing and looking forward to what I can learn from you. I do belong to the swatch program, and it would be wonderful to see some items actually made from those fabrics.

    • kate says:

      Hi Christine — Yes it would be wonderful to see things made out of the swatch fabrics. When this business takes off, perhaps I can hire someone to do just that!
      🙂 Kate

  2. Susan May says:

    I can not, for the life of me, get patterns to fit. I waste so much time and murder so many beautiful fabrics only to end up with another item to add to the scrap pile. Darn, it’s so frustrating!

  3. Deb Becker-Galewski says:

    I love garment making. At my age, I am experiencing a visible “shifting of sand” and look forward to walking through pattern alteration. You will be part of a multi-source learning experience for me.

  4. Elizabeth Lewis says:

    Reading about your journey was like hearing my own story. Thanks for sharing! Finally getting the right fit is life-changing and sew liberating. Once accomplished, I can now relax and enjoy the sewing journeys from bags to quilts and especially great fitting and looking garments.

  5. Marsha says:

    I would love to re- learn garment making. I loved your post and am very excited to follow along. What a great idea, I grew up sewing garments in 4-H and then some into my early twenties. But fit, always an issue. In the seventies peasant dresses were easy to fit, extra elastic and lots of cotton prints. Looking forward to being inspired to try garment making again

  6. Sheila says:

    Hi There. I returned to garment sewing a few years ago. Ready to wear seemed to me to be increasingly boring and age inappropriate. What great surprise it was to discover the vibrant on line sewing community. So much incouragement and inspiration! I am looking forward to your posts on this subject.

  7. Darlene”Toni” Hayden says:

    Kate, in reading your article, I felt as if you had jumped inside my life. My sewing journey is parallel to yours, I have now been quilting for years with a desire to make clothes. These days there are no clothes off the rack that fit me. Learning to fit myself has always been my worst fear.
    Last year I joined your swatch club and really loved getting the fabrics but sadly, I never got the courage to make anything with the fabrics in the swatch cards.

    As I was reading this I was wondering, wow is she going to teach a Palmer/Pletsch fitting class? I was ready. I will be following along your YouTube and blog and learning as much as I can. Thank you for all your inspiration, Toni

    • kate says:

      Yay Toni! I’m glad I jumped inside your head (not in a creepy way!).

      We’re going to have fun and learn a lot this year!

      🙂 Kate

  8. Nadine says:

    Great post Kate! And yes, I’m anxious to get back to garment making! …..while finishing up several WIP quilting projects! And I love my quarterly swatch subscription! Carry on girlfriend, carry on!!!

  9. Stephanie Busby says:

    Hi Kate,
    Everything you have said echos myself. I have decided 2023 is going to be a deep dive into garment making for myself. I belong to the Swatch Club and purchased the Palmer-Pletsch book but have not used it. Mainly because I buy Indie Patterns. There are no garment fabric stores where I live except for Joanns. I purchase everything online and learn online. I dream of having a sewing store like yours near me. I can’t wait to follow where you are going. So exciting.

  10. Joanna says:

    Is there any chance there will be classes offered for local folks in MT? I’m a beginner quilter and would love to explore making clothes but am completely new and a little intimidated. (Hasn’t stopped me from buying a few patterns and fabric for clothes though haha… ) is the Sewcialist meetup ok for someone who is looking for help walking through the entire process?

    • kate says:

      Hi Joanna,
      We hope to have local classes, but I need to find some good teachers now that I’m making videos. You can get support and advice at Sewcialist Union. I also give private lessons.

  11. Kathy Cerenzo says:

    Fitting is my biggest challenge too! I made tons of clothes in my teens and then……..stopped when fitting became a struggle. Looking forward to this journey with you!

  12. Patricia Doucet says:

    I also learned garment making in my younger years. Like you the unfinished seam allowances and fitting issues were not a problem. But now it is! About 10 years ago I purchased a fancy sewing machine and serger from a local quilt shop in order to sew for my grandchildren. Then they got me into quilting! Still I’ve continued to purchase garment fabrics and patterns. I’ve gotten myself kinda intimidated to get back to sewing garments. I’d really like to enjoy making garments. Find away to understand fitting myself with ease! Commercial clothing is less appealing and there are so many lovely fabrics out there!!!

  13. Laura Goodwin says:

    I got back into sewing in the past year and a half. Bags and garments. I bought a serger and am obsessed. Knits are so fun to sew, and are so fast with a serger. Fabrics are much improved than in the 80’s. My favorite make to date is one I bought at The Confident Stitch while visiting my son in Missoula. It’s the Christine Jonson v neck tee in swim fabric, just like your sample. So comfy, and I can wear it to work or to work out. I graded between sizes for a perfect fit. Love it!

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