learn to sew with Oliver + S

For me, the hardest and most time consuming part of drafting a new pattern is writing the instructions.

Our patterns feature more sophisticated design elements (and, therefore, include more fine dressmaking details) than other children’s patterns on the market. This means that the construction techniques need to be innovative and the instructions need to be especially clear, thorough, and well illustrated.

Before starting Oliver + S, I taught regular sewing classes here in New York. That experience gave me insight into where people struggle at each stage in their development as seamstresses. When I write the instructions for our patterns, I always think of my former students. I ask myself if they would be able to accomplish something by following the instructions I’ve drafted. If the answer is “no,” I rewrite a step.

It makes my day when I hear someone say that sewing with an Oliver + S pattern feels like taking a sewing class. I’ve always considered teaching to be a core part of what Oliver + S is about. (We make great patterns, but we also help make good home sewers even better.) These days I don’t get to do as much direct instruction as I used to, but I try to make our patterns clear enough that they can be used as self-teaching tools for the people who sew from them.

All of this is a long way of getting around to the purpose of this blog post. Now that we have a critical mass of patterns, with styles at many difficulty levels, I’m able to do something with the line that I haven’t been able to do before. I can offer you a complete syllabus for learning to sew (or improving from your current level) with Oliver + S patterns.

Absolute Beginner
Lazy Days SkirtYou know the basics of how to operate your sewing machine, but you’ve never sewn a garment. Here’s your place to start.

Lazy Days Skirt: This free downloadable design will help you get comfortable with your machine and will allow you to demonstrate to yourself that, yes, you can sew a garment. This very easy tutorial doesn’t involve an actual sewing pattern and is a perfect place to start for absolute beginners. It also involves a minimum of supplies. You’ll learn to make a simple elasticized waistband and a very easy ribbon hem that gives the skirt its finished appearance. This skirt doesn’t even require you to finish your seam allowances, so it’s fast and simple to make.

Popover Sundress: Ready to sew from a pattern? This free download for a simple sundress provides a good introduction to sewing from a pattern. It also teaches you how to apply bias binding, which is frequently used in sewing projects. You can also have fun with combining different fabrics and adding a variety of trims to this dress.

Bedtime Story PajamasYou’re able to sew from a pattern, and you’re eager to learn basic garment construction techniques. Our patterns rated one scissors in difficulty are designed for sewers at this level.

Bedtime Story Pajamas: Our easiest pattern, this pajama set features simple elastic-waist pants and a bias bound kimono top. You’ll gain experience cutting out and assembling pants and a top without needing to worry about more detailed elements like buttonholes. The sleeves are fantastically simple to assemble, and you might try combining unusual fabrics for the bias trim and ties.

Sandbox Pants: This pattern allows you to create a great looking pair of pants with some interesting details that are fully within the reach of a new garment sewer. This project will teach you how to make simple pockets and will give you practice making buttonholes. The pants have a simple combination elastic/drawstring waistband which is slightly more challenging than the one on the Bedtime Story Pajamas.

Sailboat Top, Skirt, and Pants: This pattern provides a simple pair of cropped pants, a skirt, and a top that can all be made by someone without a lot of sewing experience. The details of the finished garments (decorative topstitching, buttons and button holes on the flat-front skirt and pants) provide a high satisfaction quotient for the novice sewer. You’ll learn to set in an easy sleeve and will be amazed at how simple it is to construct the pants and skirt—with no zippers!

Advanced Beginner
Tea Party Sundress and Playsuit: This is also a one scissors pattern, but it is slightly more challenging than our other one scissors patterns. Using this pattern will teach you how to make a curved seam and how to use flat piping. The sundress will introduce you to our innovative hem facing, which is ideal for finishing flared skirt hems.

Bubble DressYou no longer consider yourself a beginning sewer. You’re comfortable with your machine and with following a pattern. You’ve made a few garments, and you’re pleased with the results you’ve achieved. Our two scissors patterns are perfect for this level. They are a little bit more involved and challenging to sew because they introduce interesting new construction techniques, but they provide great results for the extra effort.

Bubble Dress: This fully lined dress includes a number of interesting details that will help you build your skills. The sleeve is part of the bodice on this pattern, so you can concentrate on the unique back placket, the scalloped side seams, and the hidden elastic at the hemline.

Sunday Brunch Jacket and Skirt
: This tailored, unlined jacket will get you comfortable with sewing sleeves, gathers, and collars. As a result, it provides a slightly greater challenge—but also several opportunities to pick up new skills. The unlined jacket also gives the opportunity to practice bias binding, if you should choose to finish the interior seams this way.

2+2 Top and Skirt: This pattern features a unique placket and gathering treatment on the front of the blouse, bias binding at the neckline, and a button placket at back. The simple pleated skirt features a side placket. This pattern offers opportunity to develop your construction and technique skills while working on these features. Chances are that you’ll surprise yourself with your new sewing abilities once you’ve completed the outfit.

Advanced Intermediate
Birthday Party DressWhen you’re ready to invest a little more time and take on a greater challenge, our three scissors patterns are ready for you. They feature full dress
making details and, consequently, require a greater time investment to complete. But the outcomes are totally achievable (thanks to our detailed instructions) for an intermediate sewer looking for a new challenge.

Birthday Party Dress: You’ll gain experience sewing pleats, and you will use using accurate stitching to create the facing. You will experience a new and unique placket construction when you sew from this pattern.

Jump Rope Dress: This pattern features a straightforward construction technique that teaches you how to sew a sophisticated front placket. You’ll also get experience with sewing a collar. The detailed pockets and more tailored sleeves of this pattern result in a very professional final garment.

School Days Jacket and Coat
: This is our “no holds barred” pattern for those of you who want a real sewing workout! Using this pattern will allow you to create a fully lined jacket or coat. You can even opt to make a removable, quilted lining. You’ll get experience sewing with laminates or wool. Sewing from this pattern is more time consuming than most of our others, but it will return excellent results for the investment. You’ll be amazed that you made it yourself!




  1. Wow, this is fantastic! I can't wait to learn to sew with Oliver + S! Thanks so much

  2. I love that you organized the patterns like this. I can attest to this being my experience also. Every time I have made something with an Oliver + S pattern, I feel like I ended the experience as a better sewer. That is a big part of why I love them so much. I am a new sewer, and I started with the lazy days skirts, and then the sandbox pants, then the bubble dress and the birthday party dress. I guess I skipped a step. While I am reading and using your patterns I am always saying to myself, "Oh that is how they do that." They truly are a class in an envelope.

  3. OK. Now this makes me want to buy all of the patterns! You are one smart lady. I still have to try my first one–and will do that soon.

  4. I'm tellin' ya – Oliver + S is revolutionizing the pattern industry.

  5. lorr

    I just finished sewing my first Oliver + S pattern (Jump Rope dress) and the directions are wonderful! I do alot of heirloom sewing and am used to crummy directions which give me headache as I try to figure them out. I was surprised to have most of the dress completed in one day–no headache! Thanks for the clear and concise directions. This was the first, but not the last Oliver + S pattern I will purchase.

  6. You answered a question that I have wanted to post on your blog but hadn't yet — thanks! I look forward to learning to sew with Oliver + S! I think a halloween or fall inspired lazy day skirt will be created soon!

  7. I bought several oliver & s patterns at once, and as a relatively new sewer, I (thankfully) realized that trying to make the puppet show tunic and shorts for my daughter's first day of school the next week might be overly ambitious. So instead, I made the bedtime story pajamas. Then I did some sandbox pants, then I did the tea party dress. And I made progress! Now I think I am finally ready to make the puppet show set.

    I also want to tell you – people absolutely *gush* over the tea party sundresses. I get really nice compliments on how talented I am every single time the girls wear them. I try to explain that it has nothing to do with my talent and everything to do with a really well written pattern. All I do is carefully follow the directions. No one ever really gets that, but it is completely and utterly true. And I am definitely a better sewer since I started using your patterns. Thanks!

  8. Liesl, you are amazing! I credit you and your fantastic patterns for getting me into sewing. (I should include a cute daughter and the free vintage sewing machine.). My mom taught me the basics of sewing when I was a teen, but it wasn't until I saw your patterns that I really wanted to sew. I consider myself a beginner but have finished the tea party dress, 2+2 outfit and the lazy days skirt (in that order). My daughter and I love them all. I just got all my supplies for the bubble dress and hope to have that done by spring. (Yes, I'm slow, but thorough.). I have many of your patterns and can't wait to make them all. Thank you so much Liesl; I really don't think I could have done this without you fantastic instructions.

  9. Your patterns are like taking a class, and your instructions are excellent. I learn something every-time I sew one of your patterns. I go on to use these techniques in other patterns, and things I sew for myself.
    The styling and the cut are great. Everything always comes together. But, the instructions are what really make the difference. My finished garments always look like the illustration because I understand what I need to do.

  10. I definitely considered myself a beginner even though I've been sewing for years. But I guess I wasn't giving myself enough credit since I have made clothing from your "intermediate" list. And I'm about to tackle the "advanced intermediate".

  11. Anonymous

    How long to the next principles of fabric selection? It seems so long since the last one!

  12. Thank you for posting a couple of free patterns to see how wonderful your directions are. I have been quilting for many, many years and consider myself advanced in that field. Clothing, on the other hand, scare me to death!!! I have 2 little girls (4 and 6 months) and love your patterns! Now, I feel confident enough to try them out! Thanks again. Julie

  13. Anonymous, we'll try to post the other principles of fabric selection soon. Sorry for the delay!

  14. Birthday Party was the first pattern of yours that I made. After I bought it, I noticed that it was "3 sissors". =) I was really nervous as I have only been sewing for about a year and a half. Your instructions were so clear and the dress turned out great!. I can't wait to make another of your patterns!!

  15. I love your patterns – but I have struggled on my very first one. I tried the PJ's (one scissor) and totally blew the sleeves – I have giant inverted puckers. I almost threw then away – but pulled them out of the trash until I got up enough nerve to try to see if I could figure out what I did wrong. Does this sound like something easy to fix?

  16. Fourkid, I'm sure your pajamas can be saved. The sleeve seam is a flat seam, so it should not pucker when it's finished. If you'll post visit our forums and describe the problem in detail I think we can help you solve the problem. Cheers!

  17. Where does the Playdate dress fit into this? I have made the Tea Party and now I am wondering if I should try the Swingset or the Playdate. Thank you!!

  18. Suziemc, the Playdate dress is rated 3 scissors. The yoke is a bit more challenging to sew and to accurately pin to the dress, so I would suggest moving up to it with a 2 scissors pattern first. I hope that helps!

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