A Beginners Guide to teaching yourself to Sew.
Updated: Jun 14
I grew up in a household where the main woman in my life was always sewing...something. She didn't necessarily love to sew; she needed to sew.
My mother taught herself the skill at a young age, out of necessity. If she wanted to wear the newest fashions to school, her mother couldn't just go out to buy them - she had 12 children to feed and clothe. So My mother taught herself to sew. I can vividly remember the look on her face when she told me the story about the maxi dress that she made herself, that was an inch too short for the dress code and got her sent home from middle school.
Fast forward to my childhood, There was always a holiday where new clothes were required. Or we wanted a new play dress for dress-up. Or our Halloween costumes! She sewed all our costumes until we were in our preteens. I fondly remember watching her up late sitting at the sewing machine set up at the dining room table working away on a Christmas dress, or a costume, or just fixing a torn shirt cuff. My mom was precision itself. Perhaps that is why it took me so long to try my hand. Her clothes literally looked better than store-bought. SO I always thought, dang I could never!
Well, the year my daughter first dressed up for Halloween, and her store-bought dress was too long, and I had to hem it, was the year I first fell in love with embracing my sewing roots.
I have always been crafty, but I was charting a rickety boat into treacherous waters. I couldn't ask my mom for help (there is a kinda - ask, and you shall get the run around story there) I learned the basics very quickly, not because I am a natural but because I am baaaaad and had numerous mistakes to learn from.
THE 5 MAIN STEPS TO ALWAYS REMEMBER:
#1. ALWAYS, ALWAYS IRON:
If you open your pattern and there are creases iron that puppy out before you cut. ALSO, Iron your fabric, and each time you sew a new seam. Iron at every stage; It locks in the stitching and gives you more precise lines to work with.
#2. Read your INSTRUCTIONS
Go over your instructions and steps, even if it isn't a store-bought pattern, I know winging it seems fun, but later when you need to restart you might forget that crucial step and need to re-read it, and it will help if you can remember where to find it! Also, this will help with learning your terminology.
#3. Always layout the pattern on the fabric as instructed.
If your pattern or whatever you are using says lay on the bias, or place on the fold and cut two. You do that or live to regret it. I can say with absolute certainty that even if you think you are saving yourself time by placing it your own way, there is a reason, and that reason may not seem clear, but it is a good one. DO IT!
#4. Group your supplies together according to the steps of your project.
Before you begin to press on that little foot gather everything you might need, the tools of this trade all have a particular use and are all really needed. Make sure they are on hand and easy to reach. And try to avoid little distractions like a toddler who needs something every five minutes, or other chores that are waiting in the wings, you want to take it slow at first so that you don't miss a step.
#5. Always Check and Re-check your Tension
Always check and re-check your thread tension and needle placement before you move on to another stage. When you are switching stitch types, changing colors, moving from one piece in the project to another, or if you just get distracted and have to come back to the project, always check your thread and bobbin. Nothing is worse than sewing a whole cuff, only to release it and realize nothing is actually caught. Or finding a large wad of tangles underneath your piece. Or even worse breaking a needle. Check and re-check!
TOOLS of the TRADE
My toolbox of sewing things has grown gradually over the last several years since I first picked up a sewing needle. I have learned what works, what is absolutely necessary, and what is just fluff or fun to have, and what is purely for stores to get rich off of. Here are my top 10 tools (first five items on this list are can't live without, the second list items are really nice-to-have items)
*Machine (cause who wants to sew everything by hand- this isn't the 1700's) get a nice one, or start with a cheap one and upgrade when you get the hang of it...Mine is by no means the highest price, and it still gets the job done.
*Pins/ Needles/Cushion (not for your tushie) the pins you buy can range from fancy colored balls on their end or flat fancy, but make sure you get both long and short pins. Also, be sure to pick up extra needles when you start off according to your machine's requirements. You will break them as you are learning- hey, no one is perfect!
*Scissors 3 kinds plus a seam ripper (and not just because I am obsessed) One pair MUST be very sharp, and you cannot cut anything but fabric with these or you will regret it...I did:( The second pair is for cutting paper, patterns, string, ribbons, basically everything else. The third pair is for snipping your threads, they can be small but need to be sharp, once you get into a rhythm, it's nice to quickly clip without danglers or fuzz being left (I know very technical terms) And the Seam Ripper is precisely what it sounds like and is invaluable. GET ONE!
*Iron and Board (what a novel idea - trust me, I didn't always know) The idea that we use an Iron to care for our clothes after we have them washed is a given. But I didn't realize that the best approach is to have your ironing board and iron out, hot, and ready while you are sewing. It is! I can't believe it was that simple, and since I didn't always own one, I would have to say you can't sew appropriately without one.
*Fabric- Lots of Options ( this is for practice and builds a good supply) I learned early to nab what I could that was on sale at Joann's or the fabric store and always cruise the remnant sections for deals. You can never have too much practice fabric. And it will come in handy if you are sewing a project, and you forget something and happen to have a yard in just the right blue, you might save yourself the trip! But it is also fun to see the rows of many colors and imagine what you could make with all this fabric.
NOW for my quick list of helpful to have's
* extra bobbins
* two tape measures
* elastic guide or safety pins
* rotary cutter
* Magnet for sweeping up stray needles
* bowl or container to catch your needles as you sew
* Youtube video tutorials on different techniques. There are lots of good ones and some not-so-good ones. Aim to figure out which are which. (I recommend looking up hemming, finishing a seam without a serger, sewing with elastic, puffed sleeves, attaching a bodice to a skirt, sewing sleeves, attaching the lining to a bodice.) and click on from there.
5 Easy Project Ideas for starts
(Pretty much anything with simple straight lines, Minimalist pieces.)
#2. Pillowcase and/or Pillowcase dress
#3. Sewing mat for under your machine
#4. Sewing Machine cover
Thanks for reading and I hope this has encouraged you to give sewing a try! It is fun and If I can do it "sew" can you! **cheesy**
This is the costume I made for my seven-year-old Little Bean for Halloween this year, she was Alice in Wonderland.