The basic sewing processes, for making items from woven fabrics

So now you have your basic tools, and the machine using skills to sew straight lines and around corners and curves.
How do you combine those sewing skills with fabric to make something ? What can you make ? ๐Ÿ˜€

To make something, you need to know how to cut, fold, press, and generally manipulate fabric into the correct position for sewing – the many little steps needed to complete each specific step in making, such as sewing a seam or a hem. Which themselves build into a major part of a project.

Often the actual stitching is a small part of what is involved in making ! Speedy methods try to leave out as many of these extra processes as possible, which may not give a quality result.

This post introduces the basic making skills used in most projects, with links to posts where you can find out more.
And the next post makes some starter project suggestions for learning them.
These two posts started out as one post, but as usual it expanded until huge and unwieldy. It is also a bit inconvenient to have them separate, but anyway. . .

Many basic tips from Do It Better Yourself Club

We all have different learning preferences – some of us like to learn slowly with detailed instructions, some love to jump in and have a go. If you’re a jump-in sort of learner, you probably won’t stay with my blog for long ๐Ÿ˜€ I talk here about what works for me – I’m a cautious learner 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 making techniques

Skills used in nearly every sewing project :
cut out, sew seams and hems, understand a pattern

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 usually 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).
You sew a curved seam on the wrong side of the fabric, with right sides together. When you turn the fabric right sides out, there’s an extra step. You need to alter the seam allowances so the fabric will lay flat.

Inward curves – the cut edge needs to go from being shorter than the stitching line to being longer than the stitching line.
clip inward
Clip so the seam allowance releases and spreads out around the curve when the seam is turned out.

Outward curves – the cut edge needs to go from being longer than the stitching line to being shorter than the stitching line.
notch outward
Notching removes triangles from the seam allowance so there is no extra bulk from overlapping seam allowances when the seam is turned out.
I try to remove fabric in the notches so when turned out the seam allowances do not have either any lumps or any gaps.

Both these photos and much guidance on how to do both clipping and notching in this post from Sew4Home.

Hems and cut-on casings – simple hems and casings are both 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, which include a huge wealth of information.
– preparing for sewing (choosing a size, what you need to make the project, cutting out),
– followed by construction instructions.

So, learn to use a sewing pattern to prepare for sewing :

1. on the back of the pattern envelope :
– find what materials and notions you need for your project.

2. the first sections of the pattern pages are preparation, once you have the pattern and fabric, especially how to cut out :
– understand fabric layouts :
– – how to choose the right layout for your chosen pattern view and width of fabric.
– – how to use the layout diagram as a guide to placing pattern pieces on your fabric.
– – including how to cut out folded fabric.

3. on the pattern pieces :
– understand pattern markings, most of which are about placing fabric pieces together, more information in this post.

Once you get past all the preparation information on the back of the pattern and the first pages of instructions, you get to the construction instructions.

Pattern companies differ greatly in their sewing instructions, some instructions are just ‘what to do’ (especially in pattern magazines) and you will need a ‘sewing bible’ about how to do those steps.
Some instructions are ‘how to do it’, with differing levels of detail. Some have no illustrations, some have diagrams or photos – which may or may not be easy to understand.
Some stop giving instructions when things get difficult to describe – the opposite of what you want !
Some companies aim to have helpful instructions, and do much pattern testing before the patterns are issued, to check not only that the patterns fit well but also that the instructions are easy to understand.
Some have sew-alongs which expand on the instructions supplied. Some acknowledge that people have different learning styles, and include videos.
Some companies are obviously only interested in design, and their instructions are minimal.
Some people don’t want to follow instructions anyway.

We choose our favourite pattern companies not just by their clothes style but also by their instructions style. It may take quite a bit of exploring, until you find ones which give the sort of instructions you enjoy using.

No need to understand about sizes at this stage.

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

Skills needed for many simple projects, but not in every project :
thread through a casing, make straps, sew patch pockets, hand sew an opening closed, add trims and patches

Thread elastic/drawstring through a 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 or belt :
2 main methods :
folded – easiest, most patterns have adequate instructions for this.
turned out – often more help needed, see this post.

Add patch pockets.

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

Add trims such as :
lace strip, 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.)
machine or hand sewn decorative stitches. Find out how to use your machine to make decorative stitches, pin tucks, and use different feet and needles. There are many ways of exploring machine decorative techniques, here are a couple of video classes.
You can opt to do none of this, or spend a lifetime exploring.
See the first Techniques page for some links on Embellishment techniques, including hand embroidery.

Add appliquรฉ patches – there are bought ones that stick on, others need zigzagging round the edge.
Or make your own – just cut out a favourite piece of fabric and attach in one of these ways :
– straight stitch round the edge for ‘raw edge’ appliquรฉ.
– zigzag round the edge.
– turn in the edges and straight stitch close to the fold.
– fuse the fabric to double sided fusible web, cut out the shape and fuse it to the item you’re making. Have fun with the shape ๐Ÿ˜€

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

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I don’t do well with learning skills separately from a project in which the skill is used. For some project suggestions for learning these skills, one new step at a time, see this post.

Whee, there’s a huge amount to learn when you start sewing, but at last we’re getting somewhere ! ๐Ÿ˜€ !
Take it slowly if you like to, there are many things you can enjoy making at every stage of learning ๐Ÿ‘

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