Starter projects

Many people find they need to make some simple items before starting on clothes. Easy projects help you get used to : using a machine and a pattern; cutting and handling fabric, the most basic sewing processes.

This post suggests a sequence of projects, in which each type of project involves a new making skill. We cautious learners need to acquire one new skill at a time ! I’m in awe of people who make their wedding dress as their first ever sewing project, but there’s no point me trying to force myself to do something like that. I’d get so paralysed I would never sew again !

Refer back to the previous post for links to more information about how to do the skills used in these projects.

Sew Over It pattern’s beginner e-book goes through similar projects to the ones suggested here – learn new making 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, and Iona patterns, in the UK from Sew Over It.
The best fabrics for beginners are stable, and with a slight surface texture which means that they don’t slide around. Blackbird Fabrics (in Canada) has a helpful post on what you can use. My personal preference for an easy starter knit fabric is ponte.

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 record 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 presenter’s style, 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 previous post for links to guidance on basic making techniques.
There are many different methods for nearly every 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 😀 Is your focus on ‘hey, look what I made’, on making something as quickly as possible, or do you enjoy taking care with every step of the making process ?

Projects which need only cutting out, straight seams, pivoting corners, seam finishes, hems :
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.

Enhance your sewing space with fabric boxes for tools/ supplies/ projects (see post on fusing fleece in bags).
And sewing machine covers, first 1/3 of post on drawing pattern, last 1/4 on sewing.

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 and disappointments.

Add basic casings (made the same way as simple hems), and thread a drawstring/ elastic :
drawstring bag, laundry bag, hair scrunchie
(when you can do this, you may even feel ready to move on to an elastic waist skirt or pyjama pants 😀 ).

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.
Here’s a very easy tote from Sarah Kirsten.
Or start by drafting your own tote bag pattern, free photo tutorial from Megan Nielsen.
Here’s a quick free video on making a lined tote from Whitney Sews, start at 0.40.
There’s more detail in this lined tote with pocket video class from Cal Patch at Creative Bug.
Sewing a lined bag or tote entirely by machine involves ‘bagging out’, which 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 !
You may be even more surprised that you can pluck up the courage to make a pouch/ bag with a zip, much easier than you might think 😀

This link is just a start for free apron patterns. The web is full of them, pick ones that need a small increase in skills.

Add square cornered patch pockets :
to many of the above items.
Here’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 😀

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

There are many free Christmas stocking patterns on the web, here’s a big stocking pattern with sew-along video from Sew DIY Patterns (velvet is not an easy fabric to cut or sew, use home dec fabric or canvas for a fabric with ‘body’ (thickness/ stiffness), or corduroy/needlecord if you want a substantial fabric with nap).
This video class from Craftsy (not free) includes much the same method of making a stocking, except it includes easy quilting as the way of making the stocking less flimsy.
Check the width of stocking patterns. Some are so narrow they’re obviously just intended for decoration, not for putting things in !

An apron project which includes straps, patch pocket, curved seams :
This free apron pattern with detailed photo instructions from Closet Core also includes easy facings for the armholes.

Add stuffing, sewing an opening closed :
stuffed toys with cut-on ears and limbs : McCalls’s 7451.
stuffed Christmas tree : a free pattern from team-t adventures blog (clip into the corners).
‘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. Sadly, Kwik Sew patterns have been discontinued. This is one of their Learn to Sew patterns, and the same methods are used for making simple adult clothes, so I think this pattern is worth looking out for ! Learn the most basic clothing skills while only using small amounts of fabric.
Rosie’s very easy doll clothes patterns have videos. She sometimes uses simplified methods, but they’re a way in to the ‘proper’ methods, see her patterns for : shorts, elastic waist skirts, frilly ’peasant’ style tops.

Make an 18″ doll yourself ? Rag dolls (and other toys) with separate limbs 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.

I haven’t suggested projects for adding trims and patches.
See previous post for notes on techniques for using them.
Use your own creativity guided by your loves, to add them to any of your projects (unless you’re a minimalist 😀 )
Go to a (real or on-line) haberdashery and see what trims you fall in love with.
Go to a (real or on-line) quilt shop and see what prints you would love to have a glimpse of on your projects. Quilting cotton is not ideal for making garments, it may be too stiff, or too loosely woven, but you can use quilt fabrics to make home dec items. And add them to garments as small areas such as yokes, pockets or cuffs, or appliqué patches.

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 😀 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 used to be my ‘go to’ make when I need a rest and want to just do some making where all the steps are familiar. So I have rather a lot of them 😀
Now I’ve moved onto box-bottomed totes as my relaxation makes. 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 childhood rag doll 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 and patches.
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 😀
You can stop at any point and just enjoy making.

♥️ Hopefully, each of your projects will be something you’re excited about ♥️

When you know everything here, the next step, if you want to, is to move on to making more difficult garments.
You can make people-size elastic waist skirts and pants, and peasant blouses, using the techniques learned in this post. Here’s a post on building your skills as you make a wardrobe. See the Learn to Sew link in the top menu for several other posts full of suggestions.

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

♥️ 👍 ♥️ Make Treasures ♥️ 👍 ♥️

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