The most basic sewing processes, for making items from woven fabrics

So now you have your basic tools, and the skills to use your machine to sew straight lines and around corners and curves.
What can you make ? ๐Ÿ˜€
This post introduces the basic sewing skills used in most projects, and some starter suggestions for learning them.
It’s a long post as there is much to say, and to learn ! In fact it got so long it has now been divided in two :
first skills,
first projects.

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 for you ๐Ÿ˜€

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Basic sewing techniques

You know how to sew straight, turn corners, go round curves. How do you combine those sewing skills with cutting and pressing fabric to make something ?

Here’s a summary of the most basic techniques used, with links to posts where you can find out more.
Projects for learning them are suggested in a later section.

Cutting out, sewing seams and hems, understanding a pattern, are skills used in nearly every project

Cut and pin fabric, understand how cutting folded fabric works.

Seams and seam finishes.
The first projects need straight seams, with pivoting to go around corners. Most fabrics ravel – you need to finish the seam allowances so your make has a long life.

Later projects include curved seams, which need an extra skill. Hopefully you have practised sewing round a curve (see this post).
When sewing a curved seam, there’s an extra step – you need to clip the seam allowances so the fabric will lay flat.
Inward curves need clipping so the seam allowance releases and spreads out to go round the curve when the seam is turned out to the right side.
Outward curves need notching – clip out triangles from the seam allowance so there is no extra bulk when the seam is turned to the right side.
Much guidance on how to do both in this post from Sew4Home.

Hems and cut-on casings – simple hems and casings are made the same way, casings are for elastic or drawstrings.


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 :
– understand pattern markings,
– find what materials and notions you need for your project.
Understand fabric layouts :
– how to choose the right layout for your chosen pattern view and width of fabric.
– how to use the diagram as a guide to placing pattern pieces on your fabric.
– including how to cut out folded fabric.

No need to understand about sizes at this stage.

Paper patterns are easier to use than home-printed pdfs, but you may need to print and assemble a pdf pattern.

More sewing skills needed for simple projects, not in every project – threading through a casing, making straps, sewing patch pockets, hand sewing an opening closed

Thread elastic/drawstring through casing.
Video from Seamwork, first minute shows basic technique.
I have never had problems with doing this, but Iโ€™m a slow and ‘check everything’ sewist anyway. Many problem solving tips in this photo post from Sewaholic patterns.

You may also need to stitch the ends of the elastic together, and stitch to close the opening used for threading the elastic through the casing. Pattern instructions usually tell you how to do these.

Make a strap :
2 main methods :
– folded – easiest, most patterns have adequate instructions for this.
– turned out – often more help needed, see this post.
Similar methods used for making a belt.

Add patch pockets.

Hand sew an opening closed (see overcasting or ladder stitch).

Some fabrics are easier to sew : Fabrics for beginners, suggested by Mood Fabrics.

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Starter projects

Many people find they need to make some simple 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 patternโ€™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. If you’re registered with them you should be able to view the supporting videos – click on the continue button if need be. Patterns included, clothes for body with hips 34″-60″, 86cm-152cm.
Sew Over It also have a video class for complete beginners, it includes the cushion/ pillow cover, zippered purse, and pj pants.

If you would like someone else to choose your first fabric and supplies, there are kits : in the US from Forest & Thread, in the UK from Sew Over It.

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 (of very variable quality, one of the reasons I started this blog was to keep links to good ones).
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, shown in a diagram by a double line round the edge – 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, for example – how is the presence of a zipper or an in-seam pocket shown.

See above for links to guidance on basic sewing techniques.
There are many different methods for every sewing technique. And there are many patterns available for each of these items.
You may find a pattern gives a result which you are not happy with. For example, many beginner patterns use easy techniques which do not give a quality result. If so, look for another pattern for the same type of item. As in much of life, in sewing you often have to choose between speed/ease and quality. Hopefully you will quickly get to know which gives you pleasure ๐Ÿ˜€

Projects which need only cutting out, straight seams, seam finishes, 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, quilt, book cover, scarf.

Much glee and self-congratulation possible from making such items ๐Ÿ˜€
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 and disappointments.

Add basic casings (made the same way as simple hems), and thread a drawstring/ elastic :
drawstring bag, laundry bag, hair scrunchie.

Add straps :
totes – unlined and lined; purses and bags without fastenings – including for phones and tablets; simple aprons; easiest backpacks are just drawstring bags or totes with added straps.
Hereโ€™s a very easy tote from Sarah Kirsten.
Thereโ€™s slightly more complex lined tote with pocket from Cal Patch in a video class at Creative Bug. (Sewing a lined bag or tote entirely by machine is one of those inside-out-and-back-to-front sewing techniques which look like nonsense until the final step. Just follow the instructions and you may be surprised !)

Add square cornered patch pockets :
to many of those items.
Hereโ€™s an easy free video for a square apron with pockets from Cosmopolitan Corn Bread, scroll down for written instructions.
There are dozens of preprinted Advent Calendar fabric panels, which have 24 patch pockets to practice on ๐Ÿ˜€

Add inward and outward curved seams :
eye mask; Christmas stocking; for toys see next section.

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, scroll down that page for brief instructions – easy to make your own pattern of any size once you know the principle.
– 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.

Make the doll yourself ? Rag dolls with separate limbs (and other toys) are a little more complex than pancake dolls. 3 pattern pieces – for body+head, arms, legs, see e.g. Charlotte has detailed written instructions. Making her dress uses skills we haven’t got to yet, you could use the Kwik Sew pattern for her clothes.

You can also make people-size elastic waist skirts and pants, and peasant blouses, using these techniques, see the next post.
Sadly other simple tops need a more complex technique for finishing a curved neckline. There’s another post on some ways to make these.

Repeat until you feel confident

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 no need to feel under pressure. This is a hobby, enjoy ๐Ÿ˜€ Make another of something you’ve made before.

‘Only’ know how to make drawstring bags ? Vary the fabric for Christmas, vacation, hobbies. . . make them any size, add decorative stitches or trims. And there are many attractive patterns on the web ! Drawstring bags are my ‘go to’ make when I need a rest, so I have rather a lot of them ๐Ÿ˜€
What about a different tote for each time you go shopping, a different apron for each time you cook. . .

If you think it would be boring to repeat, here are some simple variations usable on most projects:
Change fabric colour or print (try ‘outside the box’ – the body of my favourite rag doll as a child had blue stripes).
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.
Cut out from pre-used fabric, perhaps your unworn or unusable garments, or ones from a charity shop. Try to align pattern pieces ‘with the straight of grain’. Or see what happens when you don’t !
Add trims such as :
– machine or hand sewn decorative stitches.
– lace, fringe, pom-pom trim, ric-rac, ribbon, fake fur strip. These trims just need to be attached with a line of stitching, test if it’s best to use straight stitches or zigzag. (Adding bias binding and piping are skills to learn later.)
– appliquรฉ patches – there are ones that stick on, others need zigzagging round the edge.
Add square-cornered patch pockets.
Many items – cut the fabric pieces a different size, but otherwise use the same instructions.

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Good Luck with making marvellous sewing progress at your own pace, and making the sort of items which give you joy ๐Ÿ˜€
You can stop at any point and just enjoy making.

โ™ฅ๏ธ Hopefully, each of your projects will be something you’re excited about โ™ฅ๏ธ

When you know everything here, the next step, if you want to, is to move on to making garments. The next of these posts makes some starter garment suggestions.

I’ve mainly focussed on moving towards making garments for adults, but many people love making clothes for children, home dec items, bags, toys, quilts. When you can use a sewing machine, a whole world of amazing possibilities opens up ๐Ÿ‘ ๐Ÿ‘

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