Sewing for Beginners
Have you ever dreamt of becoming a sewist, but didn’t know where to start?
Learning to sew can be downright overwhelming, so I’ve compiled the very best tips and tricks to help you get started.
What to Expect From This Guide: I’ll share a brief history of this popular hobby along with its benefits. From there, I’ll cover the basics of hand sewing and machine sewing, help you choose a machine and other supplies, and share some valuable resources to get you started.
After reading this guide, you’ll have the confidence to begin your sewing journey.
Ready to get started? Let’s do this!
Sewing: A Brief History
It will probably come as no surprise that sewing has ancient roots. In fact, anthropologists and archaeologists have recovered sewing needles from as early as 17,500 BC, according to Jones Sew and Vac.
The earliest sewing needles are believed to have been constructed from bone. And while today’s sewists can choose from a variety of materials to create beautiful garments and décor, ancient sewists likely sewed animal skins and furs.
Over the years, several discoveries led to the art of sewing as we know it today. In 1755, German inventor Charles Weisenthal secured a patent for the first mechanical sewing needle, and in 1776, Betsy Ross famously sewed the first American flag.
It wasn’t until 1830 that the first practical sewing machine was invented and later produced. This invention singlehandedly transformed the sewing world. Projects that had previously taken hours and days to sew could now be completed within minutes.
In 1880, the first electric sewing machine was invented. Less than 10 years later, Singer took the sewing world by storm by introducing the first powered sewing machine created for personal use.
Much later, in 1978, Singer introduced the first computerized sewing machine, and the rest is history.
The Benefits of Sewing
Believe it or not, sewing could lead to a happier, healthier you! Here’s how:
- It’s a confidence booster: As you complete projects and perfect techniques, you’ll likely feel more confident in your sewing abilities and take pride in creating beautifully sewed items.
- You’ll connect with other sewists: Forming friendships is important, and a common interest makes building connections much easier. Whether you visit a local sewing guild, sign-up for a sewing class at your local craft store, or join the online sewing community via Facebook or Instagram, you’ll soon meet fellow sewists and potential lifelong friends.
- It’s a great time out: Let’s face it: Life is hectic, and building some “me time” into your daily routine is essential for your mental health. Sewing will allow you to take a much-needed break from the chaos, even if only for a few minutes. In this fast-paced digital world, unplug and unwind by penciling in some crafting time.
- It lets you explore your creativity: Have you ever envisioned the perfect gift for a friend, but you couldn’t seem to find it in any store? Sewing encourages creativity, allowing you to create garments, décor items, trinkets, and gifts from your own unique vision.
- It could improve your hand-eye coordination: Although the act of sewing may seem downright soothing, the activity also improves hand-eye coordination. You’ll be sharpening your skills while keeping your brain engaged.
- It makes you a lifelong learner: Even if it has been years since you opened a textbook, continuing to learn is important. If you enjoy the topic, you’ll find the process that much more enjoyable. With so many techniques and avenues to explore, you’ll not only soak up new knowledge—you’ll also use it! You may start out sewing toys and move into garments or quilts. The possibilities are endless.
- It keeps your brain active: An active brain has been shown to ward off dementia. Taking part in activities that require learning is vital for brain health.
- It could make you happier: Along with providing an array of health benefits, sewing could make you a more positive person. When partaking in an activity you enjoy, dopamine is released in the brain. The high you get from sewing will likely lead to future sewing sessions.
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Hand Sewing Vs Machine Sewing
Many sewing enthusiasts began their sewing journey with a thread and needle, while others opted to learn on a machine. There’s no right or wrong way to venture into sewing. With that being said, learning to sew by hand is often recommended for a variety of reasons.
Sewing by hand:
- Is inexpensive. You’ll just need to pick up a needle, some thread, and fabric to get started.
- Is portable. Depending on the size of the project itself, you can take your hand sewing projects virtually anywhere. It’s the perfect way to pass time, whether you’re picking the kids up from school or waiting at an appointment. Bonus: Hand sewing is undoubtedly a conversation-starter!
- Is easier to control. You can take things at your own pace.
- Is more manageable for certain projects. Smaller projects, such as repairs, are typically easier by hand. Larger, bulkier items can be difficult to sew on a machine. I tend to hand sew oversized projects.
- Is more precise. When hand sewing, you have the ability to place each and every stitch exactly where you want it. This is particularly important for those pesky finishing touches that are difficult to accomplish with a machine.
- Is enjoyable. Sure, machine sewing can be an enjoyable experience, but there is just something about sewing by hand that is downright satisfying.
While I’m a massive fan of hand sewing, there are plenty of reasons to pull out the machine. Here’s just a few.
- Speeds up sewing time. A project that takes hours or days to complete by hand can be whipped out in minutes via machine.
- Produces secure stitches. Hand sewn projects tend to call for only one strand of thread at a time, while machines double up by using two strands in tandem. This approach results in reinforced stiches that are much less likely to break.
- Is easier for thicker fabrics. While hand sewing thick material can be tiring and hard on the hands, sewing machines can be adapted to easily handle these heavier fabrics.
Whether you opt to begin sewing by hand or machine, patience and persistence are key. If patience isn’t your strong suit, I suggest hand sewing to start, as there is more of a learning curve when it comes to machine sewing.
Keep in mind that starting with one technique—such as hand stitching—doesn’t necessarily mean that you won’t venture down other paths. If you aren’t particularly fond of sewing by hand, give machine sewing a try. Many sewists prefer one over the other, while others enjoy mixing it up.
Hand Sewing Basics
Materials: As I previously mentioned, hand sewing requires minimal materials. You’ll need to pick up some sewing needles and thread, along with the fabric you’d like to sew and a pair of sewing scissors. You may also want to pick up a threader and thimble, although these items are optional.
Below, I’ve listed helpful hints and resources for choosing the right materials.
Fabric: The world of fabric is vast, and picking just one can seem daunting. Woven fabrics are ideal for new sewists, as the fabric keeps its shape, tends not to stretch, and is typically easier to sew. Knit fabrics are more flexible, which makes for comfier garments, but they’re more fiddly to sew.
Thread: When choosing thread, you’ll need to keep your fabric in mind. This video makes the process super easy:
Needles: When I started sewing, I was completely overwhelmed by the needle selection at my local craft store. This informative video will help you choose the right needle for the job.
Scissors: Quality is key when it comes to fabric scissors. Money-saving tip: Higher quality options often come with a heftier price tag, so before heading out to your local craft store, look for coupons. Many big box craft stores now have apps with money-saving coupons you simply show to the cashier.
When learning to sew by hand, you’ll need to practice threading your needle and tying a knot before starting to stitch. Below I highlight two basic stiches to get you started:
Running Stitch – Used for a variety of purposes, including sewing on patches and hemming garments, the running stitch is a versatile method every new sewist will benefit from learning.
To work this stitch, simply hold two pieces of fabric together and push the needle through both layers. Poke the needle through the fabric about ¼-inch over, and continue this stitch to the end of your fabric. To finish, poke your needle through the material, but don’t pull the thread taut. You should have a loop. Push the needle through the fabric and loop, and repeat two or three times to form a secure knot.
Backstitch – If you need to mend a garment seam or add a patch to your trousers, learning the backstitch is essential. This basic, yet strong and durable stitch is ideal for bonding two pieces of material.
To work this stitch, start with a single running stitch about ¼-inch in length. Bringing your needle close to the first stitch you created, push it back through the fabric approximately ¼-Inch from the starting point. Simply push the needle through the fabric once more to finish.
If you’re anything like me when I began hand sewing, I needed visual step-by-step instructions to fully grasp the concept of each stitch. This popular YouTube video highlights the basic stitches mentioned above, along with the blanket stitch, which is ideal for stitching edges.
Beginner Hand Sewing Patterns
If you’re looking for patterns for hand sewn projects, Sewn By Hand: Two Dozen Projects Stitched with Needle and Thread is an excellent book filled with clear instructions and fun, practical project ideas.
You can also find free patterns and templates on the web. Craftsy.com offers adorable pin cushion patterns absolutely free. The cute mouse and sweet strawberry patterns are great starter projects.
The Spruce Crafts website also offers beginner patterns and step-by-step online instructions. Make a cozy fleece blanket or festive holiday ornament.
Note: I recommend completing a few practice pieces before attempting to stitch your first project.
Machine Sewing Basics
Materials: You probably won’t be surprised to learn that machine sewing requires more materials than hand sewing. Most notably, you’ll need a machine. My first sewing machine was a hand-me-down from my Aunt Peg. It was a basic model that allowed me to become acquainted with the world of machine sewing, which I quickly fell in love with.
Below are my helpful hints and a few resources to help you build your machine sewing toolkit.
Sewing Machine: As most experienced sewists will tell you, not every sewing machine is right for every sewist. Regardless of your skill level, I recommend purchasing a high-quality machine from a reputable company that stands behind its products.
Although you may not be in the market for a top-of-the line machine, keep in mind that it doesn’t take long for many new sewists to master the basics and move into more complicated projects. For this reason, I recommend splurging on a versatile, high-quality machine. Brother and Singer are two reputable companies known for producing top-notch machines.
Whether you’re shopping online or at your local craft store, be sure to research multiple machines before making your final decision. Don’t overlook the specs or warranty information. While purchasing a second hand machine is an option, it’s best to buy from a fellow sewist who can share the machine’s history. For this reason, I don’t necessarily recommend picking up your first sewing machine at a second hand store.
Cutting Board: There are several options on the market. I adore my plastic cutting board and would be completely lost without it.
Scissors: As mentioned above in the hand sewing section, I recommend treating yourself to a pair of high-quality scissors. You’ll be using them frequently to cut patterns and fabric, so no cutting corners here!
Needles: No sewing toolkit is complete without hand sewing needles. You’ll also want to pick up extra sewing machine needles. As a beginner, it’s completely normal to break multiple needles, so stock up before you start stitching.
Thread: Because all projects take different types of thread, it’s best to have several options on hand. Stock up on neutral colors, including black, white, and grey. Look for 100% polyester threads or a cotton/polyester blend. If you’re unsure which type of thread you need for a particular project, ask the experts at your local craft store.
Plenty of Pins: Seriously… You can never have enough pins. There are lots of options. I particularly love this pin set from Grabbit, which comes with 50 plastic head pins and a magnetic pin “cushion.”
Measuring Tape: This useful tool is inexpensive and can be found at any craft store.
Water-Soluble Fabric Marking Pens: These pens are ingenious! You can also opt for pencils. The marks completely wash out with water, making them a sewing toolkit must-have.
Seam Ripper: Even the most experienced sewists make mistakes from time to time, so sewists of all skill levels should have a seam ripper at hand for those inevitable mishaps.
Bobbins: You’ll need plenty of extra bobbins loaded with thread depending on the size of your project.
Machine sewing doesn’t have to be overwhelming. There are many books that highlight machine sewing basics, but I have found no resource quite as useful as the beginner sewing class I took at my local craft store. If you have a friend or relative who sews, ask them to give you some pointers and show you the basics. There are lots of ways to learn machine sewing, including online tutorials.
Because written instructions and sewing terms can be puzzling to new sewists, and not everyone has access to sewing pros or classes, I highly recommend the following set of tutorials by Made to Sew—a U.K.-based sewing shop and haberdashery offering in-person and online classes.
Made to Sew covers the basics of machine sewing in a free online course available on YouTube. The course is broken down into five sections. I recommend taking some time between each segment to process the information. These tutorials are an invaluable resource. I wish they had been around back in my beginner sewing days!
Day One: This 20-minute basics class highlights how to thread your machine and wind a bobbin, along with tips on choosing the right thread and needle. You’ll also learn how to change a needle and foot.
Day Two: This 20-minute class covers all things fabric. You’ll learn why cotton-based fabrics are often best for beginners and why you may want to avoid printed fabrics in the beginning.
Day Three: Just a bit longer than the previous two classes, this 26-minute class covers tension and changing the length of your stitches.
Day Four: In this bite sized 11-minute class, you’ll learn about alternate stitches, including the zigzag stitch. The host also highlights when to use alternate stitches.
Day Five: Just like the previous four classes, this 34-minute final segment is a joy to watch and very informative. The host covers accuracy in your sewing, and you’ll learn how to sew curves and corners. She even highlights some hand stitching techniques, so have your needle and thread ready. Finally, you’ll learn how to press your projects for that finishing touch.
After soaking in so much valuable information, you should now be ready to tackle your very first sewing project on your machine!
Beginner Machine Sewing Patterns
Patterns for beginner machine sewists are everywhere! You can find great pattern books at your local library or bookstore. One to look for is, One Yard Wonders: 101 Sewing Projects.
I personally prefer purchasing pattern books rather than borrowing them, as I find it helpful to make notes on the pages and jot down the date I completed each project.
If you’re looking for a free, downloadable pattern, I highly recommend Craftsy’s Sturdy Fabric Basket. The fun and functional baskets are ideal for your stash of fat quarters. They make great gifts, and I love to store my craft supplies in them. If you prefer, you can even sew these adorable baskets by hand!
In addition to the above-mentioned patterns, I recommend taking some time to peruse patterns online. Choose projects that make your heart sing, as sewing should be enjoyable.
Whether you’re starting off with hand sewn projects, or you’re trying out your machine sewing skills, keeping your supplies organized is essential. When my supplies are in disarray, I tend to avoid my sewing area. It’s much easier to find inspiration when I’m organized and have everything I need to start a project.
Organization Tip: If at all possible, dedicate an area in your home to sewing, and make it a cozy space.
Becoming Part of the Sewing Community
Perhaps the best part of learning how to sew is connecting with likeminded makers. Whether you join a local quilting guild or take a class at your local craft shop, meeting fellow sewists in person can lead to lifelong friendships.
In addition to in-person connections, don’t underestimate the power of the online sewing community. Instagram is an excellent place to find sewing inspiration, tips, and advice. Below are a few hashtags I follow that are sure to spark your creativity:
Sewing blogs are also great for sewists of all skill levels. Sew Mama Sew has loads of tutorials and an online forum.
Made Everyday with Dana also offers lots of informative tutorials. This blog is especially helpful and inspiring for sewists with children.
If you want to unwind with some sewing inspiration, I highly recommend the Little Tailoress podcast on YouTube. Ami is warm and engaging, and she makes beautiful projects. She’s also a knitter if you care to dive down another rabbit hole.
Sharing Your Knowledge
Once you’ve learned to sew, I highly encourage you to teach others. Sewing is a wonderful intergenerational activity. Kids tend to pick it up quickly, but no one is ever too old to learn. If you’d like to teach others, consider contacting local schools and craft shops. You could also start a sewing circle at a local senior center or nursing home. Whether a sewist is 5 or 85, there’s nothing quite like the sense of accomplishment that comes from completing a project.
As you make your way into the world of sewing, I invite you to enjoy the adventure! Stitch by stitch, you’ll be developing a skill and gaining knowledge that will last a lifetime.