Start from the sewing beginning.
We all have different learning preferences – some of us like to learn with detailed instructions, some love to jump in and have a go. I’m talking here about what works for me, and I like slow learning with much guidance. You may need to try several courses and patterns before you find what is best for you. As an example, I know a couple of pattern companies which claim to have much better instructions than usual, but which I don’t get on with at all – they always seem to leave out what I want to know.
So, sadly at the beginning of making things, there’s not only learning to use a sewing machine and learning to make things from fabric, there’s also finding teachers and pattern companies which are right for you. I say this not to depress you and make sewing seem even more impossible, but to encourage you that if you don’t get on well at first – maybe it all whizzes by and you can’t understand what’s going on, or you get exasperated that it’s too slow and fussy. Or it’s too wordy, or you need to make something usable not just samples. Or the teacher’s voice annoys you. . .. That doesn’t mean you can’t sew. Learning to sew involves many processes, and it may just be that you haven’t yet found the right teacher 😀
The Sections in this post are :
The most basic sewing techniques you need for nearly any project.
Garment making intro.
A few garments you can make with starter skills.
– – –
The most basic processes for woven fabrics
Many beginner topics dealt with by Tilly and the Buttons.
Many beginner books have long lists of tools, some of which I still haven’t got after over 70 years of sewing.
To start with you just need :
big items :
– sewing machine, correct bobbins for the machine (these hold the thread under the fabric),
– iron, ironing surface (fold something heat proof (so not polyester) on a flat surface).
Well actually you can hand stitch and finger press if you want to. People have been making things that way for more than 4000 years. And high end couture is still made by hand, because a good hand sewist has more control.
small items :
– fabric cutting scissors (not used for cutting paper !), many people love a rotary cutter but they can be dangerous if you don’t use them properly, so that’s something to try later,
– pins or clips and something to keep them in (most people use a pin cushion, I’ve never been able to get on with one and use a tin),
– measuring tool (unless you’re happy to start with cutting and folding ‘by eye’).
Use anything for these items at first (kitchen scissors ? paper clips ? school ruler ?), except for :
machine – the very cheapest new machine may be difficult to use,
thread – cheap thread may mess up your machine with fluff and what you make won’t last long. Old cotton thread may break easily.
Then if you find you love sewing, get the best you can afford.
Add other items as they’re needed for a project. The first things you’re likely to need next may be :
– seam ripper (it’s difficult to unpick using scissors),
– fabric marker,
– hand sewing needles.
Here’s a post on choosing the minimum items, from Sew DIY.
Use your sewing machine
Set up a sewing machine for use – see top of right side menu.
The general principles of threading a machine are the same for all machines, but there may be some little things which are important on yours, so try to find a manual or video specifically for your model. Many sewing problems are caused by wrong threading, so it is worth looking for detailed help with your machine.
Learn to sew straight seams, pivot at corners, and pivot round a curve.
When making garments you also want to be able to finish a fabric edge so it doesn’t fray. Probably easiest if you have a serger/ overlocker, but that is an expensive purchase if you don’t yet know whether you will enjoy making garments. You can also finish edges using a zig-zag or overlocking stitch on your domestic sewing machine.
For the very first projects, there are often instructions which tell you what size of fabric pieces you need to cut.
Later you may want to use patterns.
So, learn to use a sewing pattern – the basics about understanding markings, cutting out using folded fabric, finding what materials and notions you need for your project.
No need to understand about sizes at this stage.
Paper patterns are much easier to use than home-print pdfs, but you may need to print and assemble a pdf pattern.
If you’re really worried about using patterns, then you can sew without them, such as in this out of print book of boho styles, The illustrated hassle-free make your own clothes book by Bordow and Rosenberg.
Move on to crisper styles in Rosie Martin DIY Couture.
Basic sewing techniques
Cutting and pinning fabric.
Fabrics for beginners, suggested by Mood Fabrics.
– – –
Many people find they need to make a few very simple other items before starting on clothes. Get used to : using a pattern; cutting and handling fabric; getting a machine to sew in straight lines, around curves, turning a corner.
Sew Over It pattern’s beginner e-book goes through similar projects to the ones suggested here – learn new skills with each project as you make a cushion/ pillow cover, drawstring bag, tote bag, bag with zipper, wrap skirt, pyjama pants. Links to technique videos (click Continue or Start Here on the page you get to when you click on the red circle link). You may find you want supplements, such as for threading your model of machine. Patterns included, clothes for body with hips 34″-60″, 86cm-152cm.
Simple projects are usually ones which have only a few pattern pieces, and no obvious added style elements (add interest by using a print fabric).
Search for these items and you’ll find the ‘big’ pattern companies have many patterns. There are also many indie patterns at etsy.
And many demos on YouTube. Watch a video to see if you feel ready for the processes used – if it’s just that you feel uncomfortable with this video, try another.
Look at the pattern line diagrams and choose patterns with the fewest lines, and with straight edges. Many home dec and craft patterns have added bias binding or piping round the edges – not good processes to try in a first ever project. It’s useful to develop the skill of recognising what sewing skills are needed from looking at line diagrams.
Projects which need only straight seams, hems and pivoting corners :
the simplest versions of : cushion/ pillow cover, sewing machine cover, needle case, table cloth, table runner, placemats and napkins, curtains/ drapes, bed cover, duvet cover, book cover, scarf.
Much glee and self-congratulation possible from making such items 😀
Or be generous and supportive with yourself if things don’t work out as you dreamed – learning to sew can be challenging ! Here’s a post on dealing with mistakes.
Add basic casings (made the same way as simple hems), and thread a drawstring/ elastic :
drawstring bag, laundry bag, hair scrunchie.
Add straps :
tote – unlined and lined; purses and bags without fastenings – including for phones and tablets; apron.
Here’s a very easy tote from Sarah Kirsten.
Add square cornered patch pockets :
to many of those items.
Here’s an easy video for a square apron with pockets from Cosmopolitan Corn Bread, scroll down for written instructions.
Add sewing inward and outward curves :
eye mask; more of the above items, now with curved edges.
Add stuffing, sewing an opening closed :
stuffed toys with cut-on ears and limbs (Kwik Sew 4384, McCalls’s 7451).
‘Pancake’ doll :
– the simplest sort of doll pattern, easy to make your own pattern once you know the principle.
– or here’s one with simple sewing instructions (no need to buy the tutorial).
– clothes – draw 1/4″ outside the body pattern for basic clothes shapes (leave centre back of top open).
Even a complete simple doll clothes wardrobe for an American Girl type 18″ doll, Kwik Sew 3091.
You can also make people-size elastic waist skirts and pants using these techniques, see below.
Sadly even the simplest top (with very rare exceptions) needs a more complex technique for finishing a curved neckline – I’m planning a post with beginner projects which need more skills.
Moving on to making garments
Free videos and photo tutorials are helpful for what to do, and you can look at them beforehand to see if they show processes you feel ready to try.
If you’re not confident about the techniques used – get some cheap fabric similar in weave and weight to the ‘proper’ fabric. Perhaps make many samples until you feel confident. Then make a test garment, it may turn out to be a ‘wearable muslin’. Or it may be so awful you just need to laugh/ weep/ groan/ scream and try again 😀 These are called UFOs – unfinished objects. Or you may like to upgrade to calling it a WIP – work in progress.
For the proper garment, be sure to choose fabric in a flattering colour, and a favourite print. It isn’t possible every time to make a garment you love to wear, but do start with a good chance. And you can learn from every item you attempt, even if it goes wrong !
Not in the mood for learning yet more ? (There’s does seem to be a huge amount you need to know before you can ever get going with sewing.) Don’t yet feel ready to move on to learning another skill ? Not to worry, there’s much you can make. Make another of something you’ve made before. Then move on to other patterns for the same type of item.
Some people like to make only one of an item. Others like to stay with a pattern until it becomes familiar. Some simple variations :
Change fabric colour or print.
Colour block : make each pattern piece from a different fabric, or make each pattern piece from a patchwork of fabrics.
Change fabric type – though not from woven to knit. And check if the original is best made in a stiffer or drapier fabric.
Add trims such as :
– machine or hand sewn decorative stitches.
– lace, fringe, ric-rac, ribbon – these trims just need to be attached with a line of stitching. (Adding bias binding and piping are skills to learn later.)
Add square-cornered patch pockets.
Garments : change the length of sleeve, top, skirt, pant legs (many patterns have instructions for this).
And once you’ve made one of these you may be able to look through the pattern catalogs and see styles you can make using the same sewing skills (develop the skill of looking at line diagrams to see what sewing skills are used) 😀
Garments you can make with the starter skills
The only extra step you need for making simple garments is to find your size. Get it from your measurements (bust for tops, hips for bottoms), as size numbers vary between pattern companies. Try to forget all the cultural messages about measurements and sizes, no one else need know these numbers. It’s so much more comfortable, and makes you look good, to wear a garment that fits you properly rather than one that is too tight. Celebrate the self-care of making what’s right for you.
Here’s a post on finding your size from Tilly and the Buttons.
Then you can make :
Elastic waist skirt and pants – links to some easy patterns with free support videos, and some more stylish patterns without. A few up to 71″ hip. Simply change length to make mini to maxi skirts, shorts to capris.
Sussex Seamstress Selsey top, halter top gathered at the neckline by casing and tie. Up to 50″ bust, with free sew-along video.
The suggested fabrics may be slippery, and so difficult to cut out and sew. Best to use something drapey but not slippery for a first garment, such as lawn or voile.
Lengthen to tunic, mini dress, maxi (measure pattern width to check it will go over both bust and hips).
– – –
There are many possible easy projects in the next planned post, for you to build up yet more skills if you want to 😀
= = = = =