This article will show you what is sewing as well as give you inspiration and techniques to start sewing. In simple terms, a technique is a way of doing things - it is a method or a skill. For sewing, there are many different ways of pulling together a creative or practical sewn masterpiece. The skills you need range from the simple act of threading a needle to more involved techniques relating to dressmaking and tailor-made haute couture.
What is Sewing? Definition
Sewing is simply the art of joining fabric pieces together using needle and thread. It can be done by machine or by hand and can have both functional and decorative purposes.
Learning new sewing techniques will always make a difference in the way you put a garment together. The techniques and skills are as varied as the quality items they produce. Start with the simple act of threading a needle. Then move through more elaborate skills.
Learning what is sewing aims to take you through most of the basic skills applied to the art of hand or machine sewing.
Best Sewing Tutorials for Beginners
Here are some of the best overall sewing tutorials to get you started if you are a beginner.
- Sewing Basics
- Simple Sewing
- Learning to Sew
- Learn to Sew Online
- Sewing 101
- History of the Sewing Machine
A Brief History of Sewing
Hand sewing dates back 20,000 years to a time when animal skins were joined using bone needles. When the sewing machine was invented in the 19th century, sewing became faster and resulted in mass production. Hand sewing is still used for haute couture and fine tailoring.
What is Hand Sewing vs Machine Sewing
Both of these techniques have their place in the world of learning to sew.
Hand sewing has been a skill dating back to when needles first became available. Machine sewing only became possible when sewing machinery became available during and after the industrial revolution. In today's application of sewing, hand sewing is more widely associated with embroidery.
Machine sewing can perform all the simple hand sewing skills as well as many others depending on the brand of machine. Inevitably the sewing machine delivers stronger stitches and works faster than the hand embroiderer. There is always room for delicate hand sewing and more robust machine sewing on heavy-duty fabrics.
What is Sewing by Hand
Learning how to hand sew is always a useful technique to master. It is especially useful if you are away from your machine or if you do not have a machine.
Hand sewing is simple, and there are only a few basic hand stitches. Before the days of machines, hand sewing was the chosen method. When you are away from home, pack up a little sewing kit to travel with. Hand sewing at home helps with a little emergency if you need to sew something and do not have time to get out your machine.
What Does Sewing Mean & Popular Hand Sewing Techniques
The beginner using hand sewing techniques needs to know the simple act of threading the needle, starting the sewing, and finishing off. The basic hand-sewing stitches covered below start and finish with a double back stitch or a simple knot in the thread.
Here are some popular hand-sewing techniques that all beginners will need to master.
How to Thread a Needle
Threading a needle can be a challenge, especially if you want to use a fine needle with a very small eye. The thread you use must be trimmed at the end, so the tip of the thread is squeaky clean to insert into the eye of the needle. Some seamstresses like to wet the tip of their fingers and press the thread to make it stiff and neatly cut on the end.
Your sewing box may have a needle threader. This is a little wire gadget that takes the thread and pushes it through the eye of the needle.r
A running stitch is the easiest stitch, and as the name suggests, it runs along the fabric, weaving in and out at even spaces. Two rows of running stitches can be drawn up together to make gathers. Running stitch has decorative possibilities too.
Backstitch is the strongest hand-sewing stitch and can be used to sew seams. The stitch goes back on itself, and this gives it its name and the strength it needs to sew a seam.
Decorative embroidery is a sewing technique that can open a whole world of different sewing opportunities. Embroidery may become a hobby and allow you to decorate more than just a few edges or table runners. Start by learning the basic embroidery stitches and how to embroider, and then branch out and try more complicated patterns.
How to Sew Buttons
Learning how to sew a button is a simple but important skill. It is a basic mending technique because anything you wear with buttons can be in need of a replacement at some stage. There are different types of buttons in all shapes and sizes. You will see some have two holes, some have four holes, and some have a hole underneath as part of a piece called a shank.
What is Sewing by Machine
A modern sewing machine should have a range of stitches and a gauge to lengthen or shorten them. Read more about stitch lengths.
The basic sewing machine will have a zigzag stitch in different lengths and widths. Some machines have buttonhole and button stitching facilities and other more elaborate stitches. The sewing machine should come with a handbook to explain the different techniques. Some suppliers of new sewing machines offer free lessons to the purchaser of their machine.
If you don't have a handbook for your machine, you can sometimes get one from the manufacturer's website. Read more about sewing machine manuals.
How to Thread a Sewing Machine
Each brand of sewing machine will have its own threading directions. There is usually a diagram to follow in order to get the right order of hooks and eyes on the front of the machine.
The needle thread is the upper thread and is held together with the bobbin or lower thread to start the stitching of the machine. Correct threading is vital, and incorrect threading will cause pulled threads, uneven sewing machine tension, and skipped stitches.
Read more about how to thread a sewing machine for a complete guide.
How to Wind a Bobbin
The same thread used for the threading at the top of the machine must be used for the bobbin that slips under the machine into a special casing.
Some machines have a casing that clips in at the side, and others have a bobbin that drops in from the top.
The bobbin is wound from the main reel of thread through guides or loops to get to the bobbin. The bobbin is attached to a winding spool on the machine. Usually, the needle thread has to be disengaged to wind the bobbin up successfully.
Cut your coat according to your cloth is a well-known expression, but how about cutting your cloth according to your coat. The real measure of a sewer or tailor is the way they cut their fabric. The process of cutting the fabric is the key to successful sewing.
Firstly the sewing tools you use are important. Good quality types of sewing scissors used only for fabrics are the most important aspect of cutting fabric. You may prefer a rotary cutter and cutting board as an option for accurate clean cuts or you may have both to ensure you have the right tools for every type of fabric.
Practice using the scissors to make long, firm cutting movements. The rotary cutter will need practice too. The idea with the rotary cutter is to push the cutter along the cutting line away from your body.
Prepare the fabric and make sure the grain is straight for your piece of fabric. Fold the fabric with matching selvages and check the straight grain of the fabric in case the shop assistant did not cut accurately.
More About Cutting
Basic Machine Sewing Stitches
An automatic sewing machine has a few basic stitches common to all sewing machines. The more elaborate and the latest models of machines have a greater variety, but they, too, have the basics.
Stitches are defined by their pattern and then adjusted according to their length and their width to vary the basic stitch or change the decorative stitches.
The next most common stitch is the zig-zag stitch, and this stitch can be adjusted through its length and width settings. The zig-zag stitch is useful for neatening edges and as a decorative edging. Some machines offer a three-stitch zig zag. This is a stretch stitch and is used for sewing elastic or for mending.
The overcast stitch, like a serger stitch, wraps itself around the edge of the fabric, and it is useful for seam finishes. The difference is an overlocking or serger machine trims the raw edge at the same time. A specialized presser foot is used for this stitch.
The blind hem stitch is another basic stitch and will hem very neatly as it picks up the fabric of the hem at even intervals. The finished hem is almost invisible on the right side, particularly if you have used a matching color thread.
Buttonhole stitch is a worthwhile setting to have on your machine. It is definitely one of the basic stitches on modern sewing machines. Learning how to sew a buttonhole is a function that needs practice, and the setting of the length may differ from one fabric to another.
If your machine is among the newer versions of sewing machines, there will be decorative stitches to try out. Decorative stitches vary from machine to machine, but all rely on the length or width gauge for variety.
What is Sewing Seams
Sewing seams is how you put a garment together. Whatever pattern you have chosen, you will need to sew it together. Read more about how to sew a seam.
Seams fall into two categories; open seams and closed seams. Open seams are pressed open after they are stitched, and each side of the seam allowance is neatened. The neatening can be machined up or down each side. A closed seam, like a French seam, may close in on itself, putting the raw edges inside the seam. Read more about different types of seams.
- Plain Seams
- Open Seams
- Closed Seams
- Princess Seams
- Bound Seams
- French Seams
- Grading Seams
- Welt Seams
- Serged Seams
- Pinked Seams
- Double Stitched Seams
- Flat Felled Seams
What is Sewing Elastic
Sewing elastic is very useful for making children’s clothing or putting a gathered effect into a machined item of clothing.
Elastic can be threaded through a casing designed to fit the width of the elastic. Sewing elastic directly onto the area to be elasticated is easy to do using the triple zigzag stitch to attach the elastic. Don’t forget to change your needles to a ballpoint or stretch fabric needle.
A dress takes on a professional look when the hem is beautifully finished. There are several ways to finish a hem by machine. Here are the most popular types of hems:
- The double-fold hem is the most popular hemming technique. The raw edge is pressed over twice. The second fold can be hand stitched with a catch stitch or machine stitched with a straight stitch.
- Single-fold hems are used for thicker fabric, and the raw edge is only folded once.
- Hems for fuller skirts and circular skirts lie better with a bias-taped hem. The bias, with its stretch properties, eases around the hem first and is stitched on with a straight stitch.
- A narrow rolled hem is suitable for very fine fabrics that will happily roll under and be machine stitched. A rolled hem foot helps with this process.
- A blind stitch hem is done with a special presser foot and gives an invisible finish on the outside.
- A wide hem is used on skirts and dresses where more body is required at the hemline.
What is Sewing Gathers
Gathering stitch comes in use in every area of sewing, from dressmaking to home décor. Sewing gathers by machine is a simple process using a straight stitch and several rows of parallel stitching. Learn how to gather fabric with a machine. You can also gather with a serger or gather with a cord.
What Does Sewing Mean - Making and Sewing Bias Tape
Knowing how to make bias tape and sew bias tape is a wonderful technique to add to your sewing skills. Bias tape is so useful as well as decorative. It is stretchy because it is cut on the bias or the cross grain of the fabric.
You can buy cards of bias tape in most colors, but the tape you want as a contrast or to follow the pattern of your fabric is one you will need to make yourself. The bias tape can neaten a hem, enclose the raw edges of a seam or act as a flash of contrast color.
More About Bias Tape:
- Types of Bias Tape
- How to Sew Double Fold Bias Tape
- Sewing Bias Tape
- How to Make Continuous Bias Tape
- How to Sew Bias Tape Corners
- Bias Bound Seam
- Hong Kong Finish
- How to Sew a V Neck with Bias Tape
- How to Make Piping
- Sewing Piping
- How to Bind a Quilt
- How to Use a Bias Tape Maker
- What is Bias Tape
Sewing a zipper by machine is often one of the most challenging machine sewing techniques. There are different ways to tackle this process, and with practice, it does not have to be the one skill you avoid. Your machine should have a zipper foot to make this process easier.
There are three common types of zippers - nylon zippers, metal zippers, and invisible zippers.
Zippers finish a garment with a professional touch. The most common zipper is sewn into the center back seam.
Other zipper methods include the side or lapped zipper, an invisible zipper, an exposed zipper, and an open-ended zipper. Study all these different methods and have some practice before attempting to sew your own zipper on a garment.
Sewing darts are the little nips and tucks that give shape to whatever you are sewing. They are always clearly marked on your pattern, and when properly in place, darts add value to the shape of the outfit.
Darts need to be marked before they are sewn. They are best sewn from the bottom up. Do not backstitch to secure the end of the dart. You will get a better finish if you tie a secure knot at the end of the dart with the two threads and then cut the threads. Read more about different types of darts.
Sewing pleats are another way of adding fullness to the article you are sewing. Pleats come in different styles, and if you are using a commercial pattern, the pleats will be marked on the pattern pieces, and the direction of the fold of the pleats indicated.
There are several different types of pleats. Knife pleats are smaller pleats, and they all lie in the same direction. Box pleats fold in a different way. The first pleat faces one way, and the next pleat faces towards that pleat.
Remember to finish the hem of a skirt before pleating. It is easier that way. Press and baste the pleat carefully before sewing it in place.
The technique of sewing a buttonhole is one that needs practice. It is a four-step process and really worth trying out on a scrap of fabric before you start on your latest piece of designer fabric.
Check your machine and the manual to be sure your machine will make buttonholes. Prepare for the process by having the right tools, fabric, interfacing to stabilize if necessary, and the correct buttonhole foot.
Finally, have a very sharp, small pair of scissors on hand to snip open the buttonhole at the end. It is a good idea to make a small incision and then put a straight pin at the bottom of the buttonhole to prevent cutting into the stitching at the end.
Did you know you can sew a button on your garment with a machine?
What is Sewing Repairs
If you have young children knowing how to repair a torn shirt or pants is a handy skill. Darning, the best way to mend your clothes, is an easy technique to learn.
It is advisable to use a darning foot technique on cotton and linens and not on stretch fabrics. Fusible interfacing helps to keep the area to be darned firm, and there are numerous colors of this useful sewing aid available. Choose a neutral or matching thread and have the same color thread on your machine and on the bobbin.
Read more about what to sew:
- How to Sew a Rip - Knowing how to mend a rip is a useful skill for sewing up the little tear or rip that appears on a garment or on your child’s play clothing. There are different kinds of rips ranging from the simple tear when the clothing caught on something to an enormous hole that gapes wildly at you. A rip may also appear in a seam or the edge of a pocket.
- How to Sew a Patch -A well-placed patch can revive a worn and torn garment or just add some flair to something looking a bit plain. Patches cover unsightly stains, and they can add strength to the knee section or to an elbow where a garment often wears thin.
- Hemming Pants - Putting up the hem of pants is an easy task. It gives your pants a professional look and allows you to buy any pair that fits at waist level even if the length is wrong.
- Hemming Dresses - The hem of a dress will depend on the skirt style. A full skirt may hang better with a bias tape hem, while a straight skirt or A-line skirt may just need a simple double-fold hem.
What Should I Sew? Top 10 Suggestions
Here are my top suggestions for what to sew:
How to Make a Patchwork Cushion
How to Make a Fabric Gift Bag
Tote Bag Pattern
Hand Towel Pattern
Half Apron Pattern
Dog Bandana Pattern
Burp Cloth Pattern
DIY Envelope Clutch
Doll Blanket Pattern
How to Make a Scrunchie
What is Sewing FAQs
Can I teach myself sewing?
Yes, it is possible to learn to sew online following carefully laid out guidelines. Dressmaking patterns have step-by-step guides to the process of making a garment. Tutorials are available on many different websites, and when you find your favorite, it is easy to follow the instructions as if you had a tutor right there with you.
Remember to start simple and use an easy-to-work fabric like cotton. It is a good idea to keep samples of your work. Start a file of the new techniques you have learned. Always try something new out on a scrap first. There is nothing worse than having to unpick something once it is on the garment.
What is Sewing - In Conclusion
Learning different techniques and making your own clothes or outfits for family and friends is a really rewarding exercise. When you are more proficient, you may want to join a sewing club or sew from home to be part of the home industry. Knowing the basic techniques associated with sewing will open new doors and interests for you.