Getting into a new hobby and learning a new skill can be tough – I know, I’ve been there and done that. But at the end of the day, when you succeed in doing what you sought out to do and see the fruits of your hard work, the feeling is indescribable.
For beginners out there who are learning how to sew and those who are keen on getting into this hands-on skill, you’re most likely going to feel a tad bit lost and confused on how to begin. Look no further – you’ve come to the right place. This guide is the only one beginners would ever need to begin to learn sewing.
Everything from getting the right resources to help you through, to what exactly you need to learn to start off on the right foot and what steps you need to take next.
I personally compiled this guide based on my own experience of 8+ in the fashion and sewing industry, so my word can be 100% believed, I assure you. Ready to get started?
You don’t have to skim through the whole guide just to have a layout of what we’re going to cover – here’s a guide overview. Generally, we’ll look at these categories, and in each point I’ve highlighted what we’ll cover:
- Before You Start Learning to Sew:
- Basic Sewing Skills: the skills you ought to learn at the start of your sewing learning journey, including basic stitches, hand stitches and others
- Beginner Projects To Take On: what I recommend to try out as a beginner to practice and improve your sewing skills
- Tools to Assist Learning: available resources you can use you help you with advancing your skills
Before You Start Learning to Sew
I know you’re eager to learn a sew skill, especially when it’s something with results that you can actually see and use. But before you can get your hands moving and feet pumping, you need to prepare a few things so that there aren’t any hiccups and setbacks when you’re learning how to sew.
There are generally three things you should prepare: a sewing machine, essential sewing supplies and a sewing kit.
While you can still sew without a sewing machine and do it the traditional way, by hand, who doesn’t want to ease their burden just a bit? Your sewing machine will be your best friend on this journey – you’ll have ups and downs with it, and at some point you feel like hitting it, but at the end of the day, you can’t live without it.
There are tons of sewing machines out there, and if you’ve ever searched for it online, you were probably overwhelmed by the loaded information available. Various sewing machines are superior in various areas – light duty sewing, heavy duty sewing, quilting and embroidery are just to name a few – as well as for different levels of sewers. If you’re just starting out, there are those that are ideal for beginners.
There’s an article that I’ve written about the 10 best sewing machines for beginners, varying in usage and budget. If you’re stuck on which sewing machine to get, my list neatly wraps the best ones in various categories aimed at beginners.
You’re going to want to pop by your nearest sewing supply shop before starting on your very first sewing project, whatever it is. A dress or a bag doesn’t just magically appear out of thin air – you’d need the pieces to make them from scratch.
Fabric: Of course, you’d need your fabric. This is probably the most fun sewing supply to buy, as you get to go a bit creative with picking out the fabric for your project. Anything from plain to prints, woven to ribbed, shiny to matte – you get to choose how your product is going to look.
Thread: We’d need something to join pieces together, and working closely together with the sewing machine is the thread. When you shop for this, get colours that are about the same as your fabric. You’ll soon realise you’d built quite a collection of threads; I have boxes full of various shades of colours that I’d need to rummage every single one of them to get ones that I need for each project. Don’t be like me – sort them out from the start.
Fabric scissors: While you can somehow use ordinary scissors to cut fabric, you really shouldn’t. Doing that can and will damage your fabric and scissors, so get a pair that’s made for fabric – fabric scissors. This can get quite pricey, so if you’re budgeting, you can get one that’s on the cheaper end, but I highly recommend investing in a really good one. Various types of fabric might require various durability capabilities of the scissors – heavier fabrics like denim can damage a pair of fabric scissors if they’re not sharp enough.
Rulers: I have a pair of rulers when I started out – a straight 50cm ruler and a curve ruler. These are the basic ones you’d need to start out, and for a while they’re going to be all that you need. When you advance, you might want to get an armhole ruler and an L-shaped ruler to make your pattern drafting (patterns of parts for products) more convenient (but I personally don’t use them as much). If you don’t plan on pattern drafting yourself at the start, skip on the last few rulers I mentioned to save a few bucks.
Rotary cutter: Some people use them instead of scissors to cut their fabric. You can get them, but I’ve only ever used them a handful of times in my life. This is basically up to personal preference, so if you want to give it a try, get a cheaper alternative to see if you like it.
Measurement board: Similarly, you can buy this or you don’t have to, either. It does make measuring and cutting fabric so much more effective for beginners, and your prep time before sewing can definitely be cut short. Here’s a great set of rotary cutter and measurement board I recommend.
Your second best friend, after the sewing machine, is your sewing kit with all the essential tools you need to assist you when sewing. There are a few basic ones you should have in this sewing kit, and these are also what I have currently:
Needles: you should definitely have more than one needle. Believe it or not, they can break easily, and you don’t want that to stop you from continuing to sew. Have a bunch of machine needles as well as hand-sewing needles in your sewing kit.
Bobbins & bobbin cases: I have a few bobbins of various coloured threads and an extra bobbin case in my sewing kit for convenience – I’ll wind a couple of bobbins up at the same time in the coloured thread I want so I don’t have to stop sewing when my bobbin runs out of thread. Having an extra bobbin case depends on whether you need one in the first place, and also whether you’re as forgetful as me and leave it around the house and forget where it’s at.
Footers: Have various types of sewing feet for various types of sewing – namely the basic foot, zipper foot, buttonhole foot and edge-stitching foot.
Thread shipper/cutter: This is a tiny scissors-like tool where it’s extremely useful for cutting excess thread dangling off the edge of a stitch – one of the top two essential tools I’d say. I use this to tidy up my finished sewing product.
Seam ripper: The other essential tool is this one, a fork-shaped utensil that’s used to unpick seams if you make a mistake, or to rip a seam up quickly.
Chalk pencils: I find chalk pencils extremely handy to mark where seams should match up, as well as marking which sides are the wrong and right ones (if both sides are almost the same). They’ll come in handy for a lot of sewing steps.
Pins & pin cushion: Especially when you’re starting out, having pins and a pin cushion to align your fabric pieces together is extremely useful. You don’t want to mess up the sewing stitch and have to use the seam ripper a lot.
Measuring tape: Of course, measurements are extremely important when it comes to sewing – how much is the seam allowance, how long is the seam, etc. Unlike a ruler, measuring tapes can measure circular lines.
Screwdriver: With a lot of machines, you’d need to screw on your needle and/or foot, so having a small one in your kit is handy.
Tweezers: Another must-have is the tweezers, used for fixing up pointy edges, pulling out threads and fabric and getting into corners unreachable to the human hand. Take this as your extended hand… a small one.
Basic Sewing Skills
There’s a lot to learn when it comes to sewing – so many types of stitches to use for various parts and so many parts that make up a product. An unpopular belief is that it doesn’t really require that many sewing skills to start sewing – you just need a handful and you’re good to go.
We’ll look at three areas of sewing skills: sewing machine stitches, hand stitches and ones to attach parts.
Using your sewing machine on just the straight stitch option, there are a few different types of stitches you can do on a product. Various stitch types are various purposes – some are to piece together the pieces, others are to finish off a product or garment.
We’re going to take a look at the four basic types of stitching that’ll see you through your beginner projects.
Plain/Seam stitch: This is ultimately the first thing you’ll learn when sewing – the plain or seam stitch is the one where you stitch a straight line on the wrong side of the fabric to combine two fabric pieces together. After stacking the fabric pieces together with right sides facing each other, the stitch line should be about half an inch (or 1 centimetre) away from the side seam.
Top stitch: This is the next type of stitch you should master. The top stitch is sewing a straight line on the front side of the fabric, about half an inch (or 1 centimetre) from the joined seam. This is to hold the seam down on the other side and prevent cluttering.
Edge stitch: This stitch type is similar to the top stitch – the only difference is that there is no space between the joined seam and the stitch. You’d have to sew it right next to the joined seam as close as possible. This takes a bit to master and is slightly trickier as it should be as straight as possible.
Hem stitch: This stitch is a kind of finishing stitching for garments or products with sides that aren’t attached to other pieces. You’d have to fold up the fabric and stitch it down (usually with an edge stitch method) to conceal the raw edges. I’d say it’s one of the most crucial types of stitching as it helps to present your final product in a more neat and professional way.
Even with a sewing machine, you’d still want to learn a few hand stitches. Not every type of stitch can be done with a machine – sometimes, the traditional method is the best. You can even control the stitching more as you can take your time with each stitch.
We’ll look at the top ones you should learn when starting out.
Running stitch: Arguably the easiest hand stitches of them all, the running stitch is the most common one used in sewing. It’s the most basic of the basics. While a machine can get the same stitch, this hand stitch type can be used for unreachable and narrow areas.
Back stitch: This hand stitch is stronger than the other one as it’s made up of small and durable stitches. The back stitch is used for seams that need a bit more resistance like areas that are prone to pulls and strains. You can even use this stitch to mend seams that have been broken.
Slip/ladder stitch: This hand stitch has two names: the slip stitch and the ladder stitch. It’s called the latter because from above, the thread looks like a ladder! When pulled together, this stitch makes the perfect hidden seam in between two fold edges. Most of the time, this type of stitch is used for bindings, closing linings and closing stuffed products.
Whip stitch: This next hand stitch is used for hemming most of the time. The whip stitch is made up of short and diagonal stitches along the edges of two fabrics put together, and it prevents the edges from fraying. If you don’t have a serger sewing machine, this is the second-best way for finishing an edge.
Catch stitch: Also known as the crisscross stitch because of its appearance, the catch stitch is quite versatile – it’s great for front-facing fabrics as well as circular garments like tablecloths. Some do use this stitch to hem the lining of garments.
Blind hem stitch: One of my most-used hand stitch type, the blind hem stitch is exactly what it sounds like – it’s used to create invisible hems as a finishing. On the front of the garment, you won’t see any stitching at all, and it gives off an elegant vibe.
Knowing the stitches and just combining fabrics aren’t enough – there are also other parts to combine that are under the beginners category. Generally, there are two that you should master by the end of the beginner journey.
Buttons: Whether you’re making a shirt or a pouch, you’d need to know how to connect an opening. Buttons are the easiest way to do that in terms of the sewing aspect – all you need is to have a buttonhole stitch and buttons…then hand stitch on the buttons.
Zips: A step up would be to have zippers as the closure. There are various zipper types from invisible zippers to normal ones, and depending on which you choose, you’d need to have the footer for it. And it basically does the work for you, and all you have to do is sew a straight line next to the seam.
Beginner Projects to Take On
No matter how much you read up on sewing techniques and the theory behind it all, there’s nothing better than putting that knowledge into practice. Even though there are so many things that you can sew, not all of them are suitable for beginners. Don’t go hard on yourself from the beginning – ease into it.
I have a list of great projects that are beginner-friendly, and what’s more, the products are useful at the end of the day. You’ll find yourself decorating not only the house but yourself after a few months into learning sewing.
Masks: The easiest and most useful item on the list of beginner projects are masks. They’re so simple, you could do it in your sleep! All you need is the plain/seam stitch for it and no other sewing skills – simple, right?
Tote bag: Another simple one is the tote bag. This one needs a bit more than the mask – you’d need the seam/plain stitch as well as the hem stitch. Other than that, you’re good to go. With this project, you can be as creative as you want – using various types of fabric, sizes and shapes for various occasions.
Pouch: This project takes a step up as it requires either a button fastener or a zip closure. Once you’re confident enough to take that leap, a pouch is a great way to practice your sewing skills. You can make as many as you want and it won’t take up a lot of fabric at all. They make great gifts for others, too!
Skirt: One of the first things I learned in sewing class in art school is sewing a skirt – it’s the simplest piece of clothing to sew. If your main objective of learning to sew is to make your own clothes, then start off with sewing a skirt. You’d need to know how to sew a zip closure and finish a hem, but they’re all part of the basic sewing skills I mentioned above.
Curtains: I personally think sewing curtains is easy, but I guess it depends on what type of curtains you want. Of course, the simplest variation is ideal for beginners and it’ll definitely be great practice for your sewing. It also gets you used to handling a chunk of fabric at once.
Pillow cases: Sewing pillow cases is similar to sewing pouches – they’re kind of the same technique just different in sizes. I think this is a great DIY project that’ll not only help you practice but also decorate the house a bit – you’ll be satisfied to see your hard work put to use!
Tools To Assist Learning
Obviously, everyone needs a mentor of sorts when it comes to learning something new. In this day and age, the world is our oyster – resources are left and right, and we’re positively overloaded with them.
Here are some tools to help you with your sewing learning journey.
Books: One of the best tools is to get some sewing books. They’re full of pictures and easy step-by-step instructions that you can follow. There are so many out there that listing out the best books would require an article just on its own!
Online materials: The internet is the best way to get fast and precise information (most of the time). Turn to YouTube or blogs (like ours!) for DIY projects full of step-by-step guides. There are also tons of online patterns for garments and other products, complete with tutorials for you to follow.
Lessons: You could do it the old-school way and take lessons, which I highly recommend. You’re learning from ground up, fundamentals and all. Whether it’s online or in-person, private or group lessons, having a physical tutor to guide you on your journey is the best.
As you now are fully aware, it’s not that difficult at all to learn sewing, and the skills can be compressed to just a few to start off with. Don’t overwhelm yourself – and with this guide, you’ll be well on your way to graduating from beginner sewer to intermediate, and ultimately becoming a pro!