Here are 21 essential tips for learning to sew for beginners that will help you to start your sewing journey today. Beginning any new project or skill can always seem a bit daunting, but if you think of the process as a journey, it may help you with getting started. This blog currently has over 500 articles on sewing techniques, so you are sure to find all the advice and tips you need.
Learning to Sew - Before you Start
Lao Tzu who was an ancient Chinese philosopher said: …‘A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step’… Well, a sewing journey will surely start with…one stitch! So take the first step and stitch!
Before you start learning to sew, check that you have your basic sewing tools.
People often ask what kind of sewing machine do I need to start sewing? Well, the answer is any machine.
When you are starting, all you need is a simple machine that can do a straight stitch and preferably a zig-zag as well. Even experienced sewers rarely use the fancy stitches that many upmarket machines have.
Choose a machine in your budget or borrow one to give it a go. A serger which is used for finishing seams and sewing stretch, is a luxury and not strictly necessary. You can sew stretch and finish seams on an ordinary machine instead.
- Best Machine for your Budget - This article will give you some suggestions for buying a new machine in your budget.
- Sewing Machine vs Serger vs Coverstitch - This will explain the differences between the machines and help you make the right choice.
- Time Saving Sewing Tips
- Simple Sewing
Scissors and Cutting Tools
Pins, Needles and Thread
Sewing machine needles should suit your fabric. I recommend below that you start sewing with cotton fabric, so try some universal needles in an assorted-size packet.
You will also need an assorted packet of hand-sewing needles.
- Sewing Machine Needles Types and Sizes
- Types of Pins
- Types of Thread
- Hand Sewing Needles
- Beginners Sewing Kit
Best Fabric for Learning to Sew
There are endless types of fabrics to choose from, but if you are learning to sew, then make it easy for you and start with some quilting cotton. This is a light to medium weight 100% cotton fabric that is smooth and really easy to sew.
Stay away from polyester, silk, velvet, lace, and anything fancy until you have done some test sewing on cotton.
For those of you on a budget, go to your local second-hand shop and purchase some cheap old sheets. These are great for testing patterns and practicing learning to sew.
Further Reading: Glossary of Fabrics
Learning to Sew Patterns
Finally, when learning to sew, you are going to need something to sew. My blog has lots of quality free patterns for small sewing projects that you can start with. Click on the free sewing projects section of the blog menu and start browsing for something you like.
I'd recommend the envelope pillow as one of the easiest starter projects. Doll bedding and clothing are also great as it doesn't use much fabric.
Alternatively, if you are feeling confident, shop for sewing patterns and choose something simple like a peasant dress pattern with an elastic neck. Look for patterns with elastic and no zippers or buttons. Shorts are another easy beginner option and really satisfying to sew.
Learning To Sew - 21 TIPS
Read some of the best learning to sew tips below and cross-reference to the detailed articles. Soon you will be well on your way to making that journey toward sewing success. Don’t worry; you are going to learn as you go along!
TIP #1: Measuring for Sewing
Map out your body measurements before you start your sewing journey. Take a look at the chart of what to measure, and then draw up a body map for yourself. This will help you get the most accurate measurements and ensure well-fitted garments every time you sew.
Further Reading: Sewing Measurements
TIP #2: How to Cut Fabric
Once you have chosen your pattern and the perfect piece of fabric, the first step to making a successful garment or item must be learning to cut accurately. Learn about prepping the fabric, sizing your article, the grain of the fabric, and the best cutting tools to use in these articles.
- How to Cut Fabric for Sewing
- Napped Fabric, What is Nap in Sewing
- What is Selvage, Grain and Bias
- Cutting Tools
- How to Cut Fabric Straight
TIP #3: Understanding Pattern Symbols
When learning to sew, the symbols on the pattern pieces can look a bit like a foreign language to the novice seamstress. Take the mystery out of it by reading my article on sewing pattern symbols. You may also want to read all about sewing terms.
TIP #4: Fabric Marking
This is a great way to mark out all the little details on the pattern. Highlight any darts, symbols, or tucks before you start to sew. Find out how to mark fabric with chalk in 3 easy steps, as well as the best marking tools for sewing.
TIP #5: How to Pin Fabric
Everyone needs directions. Do you pin horizontally or vertically? The way you pin and cut can make all the difference to your garment. What is the ideal way to go? If you have asked yourself this question, then here is the answer….read how to pin fabric.
TIP #6: How to Baste Fabric
Learning how to baste fabric is a basic technique that makes the world of difference to the item you are going to sew. Find out about different types of basting stitches to secure your fabric before you start. Pinning, taping, clips, and machine basting methods are explained in detail for the beginner seamstress.
Further Reading: How to baste a seam
TIP #7: How to Thread a Sewing Machine
The essential part of learning to sew and using a sewing machine is obviously the threading part! The machine’s manual is the reference book to use, but some added tips will always help. Practice on a scrap or two before you are ready to launch into the real deal...sewing with your machine. Don't have a manual to consult? Find out how to download free online sewing machine manuals.
- How to Thread a Sewing Machine
- Winding a Bobbin
- What is a Bobbin
- How to use a Serger
- How to use a Sewing Machine
TIP #8: How to Sew a Seam
Practice makes perfect, they say, and so it is with learning to sew a seam. Read all the ways to do this essential skill and practice on some scraps to build up your confidence. Always try a seam on the same fabric you are going to use for your finished product. Don’t forget the back stitch to secure the beginning and the end of the seam.
TIP #9: Clip Corners and Curves
No more puckering or wrinkling when you learn how to clip curves and cut corners. You will have a truly professional look every time you sew.
Further Reading: How to Clip Corners and Curves
TIP #10: Learning to Sew Darts
There is an art to sewing darts that will give a flattering finish to your garment. Different types of darts need different techniques and different ways to be pressed to achieve the best-finished dart.
TIP: #11: Seam Finishes Without a Serger
Not every seamstress is lucky enough to have a serger. However, there are many other ways to neaten a seam and make sure your work looks professional and neat with edges that will not fray.
TIP #12: How to Sew a French Seam
This is the perfect seam for delicate fabrics, as the seam itself hardly shows through the sheer material. It is professional and soft for a really neat finish. If you are starting learning to sew by making a pillowcase, this is the seam you will want to use. Learn to do this seam, and you will always be delighted with the end result.
Further Reading: How to sew a French seam
TIP #13: How to Press Fabric
Pressing every step of the way is definitely the secret of success for any well-made garment. Learn this essential basic skill, and you will always have a professional end result.
Further Reading: How to Press Fabric
TIP #14: Learning to Sew Bias Tape
Bias tape is an amazingly versatile accessory to enhance every sewing project. Learn how to use this creative trim and how to neaten, bind or just decorate your sewing projects.
- How to Make Bias Tape with a Bias Maker
- How to Make Bias Tape with no Special Tools
- How to Sew Single Fold Bias Tape
- How to Sew Double Fold Bias Tape
- How to Make Continuous Bias Tape
- How to sew Mitred Square Corners with Bias Tape
- Types of Bias Tape
- Bias Bound Seam
- Hong Kong Finish
TIP #15: Learning to Sew Gathering
Learning to sew gathering is a good decorative skill to use to add something extra to the item you are making. Learn the easiest way to create the quality look you want for the finished item. Gathers can add ruffles, shapes and extra decorative accents to your garment.
- How to Gather by Machine
- How to Gather by Hand
- Shirring (sewing with elastic thread)
- Gathering with a Serger
- How to Sew Ruching
- Gathering with Cord
- Gathering with Elastic
- How to Gather Tulle
- Gathering Foot
- Gathering Fabric
TIP #16: Alternatives to Buttonholes
If you are just starting out with dressmaking and learning to sew, don’t despair, as there are alternatives to the challenging buttonhole. You don’t need to ruin a garment with a messy buttonhole. Try some other ideas while you gain confidence with the machine-stitched buttonhole.
TIP #17: Learning to Sew a Zipper
This method of fastening a garment can be decorative, functional, or even invisible. Find out the best way to tackle a zipper with step-by-step instructions and diagrams to illustrate.
- How to Shorten a Zipper
- Sewing a Zipper
- How to Sew a Zippered Cushion
- Types of Zipper
- How to Sew an Exposed Zipper
- How to Cover Zipper Ends
TIP #18: Five Easy Ways to Sew a Hem
Now we are getting to the end of learning to sew a garment. The hem must be finished off neatly otherwise, your garment will not hang gracefully. Find out about the best hem to suit your garment and the fabric you are using.
Further Reading: How to Sew a Hem
TIP #19: Learning to Sew Topstitching
Topstitching can really add the finishing touches to your garment. It is decorative and adds durability too. There are 9 tips for learning to sew great topstitching. Try them out on a scrap before you apply them to the garment you have made.
Further Reading: How to Topstitch
TIP #20: Easy Hand Stitches
It is time to stand back and add some finishing touches. Using a bit of imagination and following the basic lines of the garment can lead to another dimension of decorative stitching.
Simple but effective ideas can make a world of difference when learning to sew. Try some easy hand stitches and admire your creation – something original with a loving touch.
TIP #21: Learning to Sew Troubleshooting
No sewing for beginners list would be complete without a link to troubleshooting. If you have sewing machine problems, don't feel bad, just look up some of these easy troubleshooting tips and get back to sewing smoothly.
- Sewing Machine Troubleshooting
- Sewing Needle Keeps Breaking
- Sewing Machine Thread Keeps Breaking
- Sewing Machine Skipping Stitches
- Seam Puckering when Sewing
- How to Thread a Sewing Machine
- Time-Saving Sewing Tips
Time Saving Sewing Tips
How can the avid sewer save time? Here are some useful time saving sewing tips to try:
- SEW WITH YOUR MUM OR A FRIEND- Whenever I have a batch of sewing to do, my Mum comes and helps. We form a production line and she will do a lot of the jobs such as pressing, basting and preparing while I sit on the sewing machine. She is also an expert unpicker. If you don't have your Mum living nearby then enlist a friend. Just make sure you have lots of coffee and snacks on hand for your helper. This is a nice bonding time for us as we hang out, eat and chat.
- ORGANIZE SUPPLIES - Be organized and get everything you need ready before you start a project. You will save time by not having to stop halfway through and rummage around your cupboards for missing supplies.
- HAVE AN ORGANIZED SEWING ROOM - Having an organized and dedicated sewing room saves so much time as you can always find the supplies you need. Best of all, if you do get interrupted, you can just walk away and shut the door and then come back to your project later.
- PREP FABRIC - Prepare your fabric beforehand including pre-washing and pressing fabric. To stop creases, hang or fold it ready to use.
- READ BEFORE YOU START - Read instructions carefully before you start sewing and be methodical. Read twice if you need to and if you don't understand any of the instructions you can often email the pattern designer for clarification.
- CUT MULTIPLES - I often find that cutting fabric takes longer than sewing. Save time by cutting out more than one project at a time. Fold cut out pattern pieces and pack them away ready for the time you are going to sew. I separate projects by storing them in plastic zip-lock bags.
- PINNING FABRIC - Use pattern weights instead of pinning fabric to secure your pattern pieces while cutting. Pattern weights don't need to be fancy bought items. Look through your kitchen cupboards for tins.
- PRACTICE SEWING WITHOUT PINS - Practice sewing up some straight forward seams and edges without pins by lining up the seam and guiding the fabric through the machine. Build confidence with practice before you try this approach. Not pinning all seams does save time for the experienced seamstress and I have to say that I rarely pin seams.
- INTERFACING TIPS - Block fuse interfacing and then cut out the pattern pieces. This means rough cutting out your fabric and interfacing and then fusing them together before cutting. This eliminates the need to cut separate pieces and then fuse together.
- SEW IN A LINE - Sew straightforward items in a chain and then cut the threads in between at the end. This works well for patchwork squares or repetitive pieces
- PRESS MULTIPLES – It helps to bulk press if you are sewing a large number of the same things.
- EXTRA TOOLS - Have extra bobbins ready and waiting especially if you are sewing in white thread. There is nothing that slows you down more than having to stop and wind a bobbin, or even worse, stitching all the way around a hem only to realize the bobbin ran out a few inches from the beginning. (How to wind a bobbin)
- LIGHT TO SEW - Use good lighting in your sewing area. Good lighting will help you thread needles faster and result in less overall mistakes. If you have ever tried to unpick in poor lighting you know exactly what I mean. Black thread or fabric is absolutely impossible to sew in poor light.
- SEW BUTTONS BY MACHINE - If you have lots of buttons you can sew them by machine rather than hand. This saves an enormous amount of time and not to mention frustration.
- WORK NEATLY - Cut threads as you go and place them in a small container placed next to your machine. This will save cleaning up time and save the stray threads from tracking all over the house.
- SLOW AND STEADY - You can sum all this up with a ‘take it slow mantra’. If you rush your work to save time, you may end up making mistakes and wasting time. Unpicking is the biggest time-waster of all!
- KEEP PETS OUT - I say this half-jokingly but my cat is obsessed with my sewing machine. The minute I start sewing she jumps up and is grabbing threads and bobbins and gets cross when I try and move her out of the way. This is her favorite part of the week. If she gets her paw into my bobbin drawer I'll end up with a tangled mess all around the room which takes ages to unravel.
- ATTACH SCISSORS and GLASSES - If you are like me and are continually losing scissors and reading glasses in your sewing room, then attach them to something. A cord attaching scissors or snips to your machine is useful and you can get cords to attach your reading glasses around your neck.
- SEW WHEN THE KIDS ARE ASLEEP - If you have young kids, make naptime your special sewing time. You will be more relaxed and things will go smoothly with minimal mistakes. (Thanks to Mandy from my facebook group for this suggestion)
- CHOOSE A PATTERN AT YOUR LEVEL - This was suggested by Heidi from my facebook group and makes total sense. When the pattern is at your level, you will comfortably read and sew all instructions making the process very enjoyable. Stretch yourself by just a small amount each time.
- SELECT QUALITY FABRIC - Another facebook group suggestion, this time by Simone - choose good fabric. Cheaper fabric that slips and puckers will take extra time in the long run as things don't go as smoothly. This is especially important when you are sewing leotards using Lycra.
Learning to Sew - In Conclusion
Beginners and seasoned sewers alike will definitely enjoy these 21 helpful tips for learning to sew. It is very possible that the journey that goes down the sewing route may never stop! Never stop learning to sew.
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