Our first Christmas together, my husband gave my a basket of knitting materials along with a book for beginning knitters.
Learning to knit was not on my list of things to do, but knowing my interest in crafty hobbies, my husband thought it would be a good fit. I was touched by his thoughtfulness and excited at the prospect of learning such a useful and creative pastime.
A couple of months later, I sat down with needles and yarn ready to be knitted into a beautiful project. I opened the instruction book and started to read.
Aaaaannnd, it has never been more clear to me that I am NOT the kind of learner that can simply read instructions and carry them out without a problem. I need pictures. Lots of pictures. Even better, I need someone walking through each step with me until I feel comfortable enough to take over and do it on my own.
I guess you could say that the second part of this Christmas gift was my husband learning how to knit himself so that he could walk me through the steps and teach me.
A similar thing happened when I received my first sewing machine. Another Christmas gift, this time from my dad. However, being a teacher in the middle of the school year meant that there was zero opportunity (or inclination) to take on a new skill. The sewing machine sat in its box until summer break arrived with the fresh air of personal free time.
Once again, I sat down with a simple project in mind. Owner’s manual opened to the right page next to me. Fabric cut and ready to be sewn together. And the thread kept jamming. Over. And over. And over again.
I was frustrated. Despite scanning the table of possible troubleshooting solutions five times, I could not figure out what I was doing wrong.
Thankfully, my husband stepped in again. He learned how to operate my machine and took the time to teach me.
I am so glad he did.
Sewing is a lot of things. It is a creative outlet. It is a means of providing for your family in a frugal and useful way. It is a means to bless others. Not to mention, the feeling when you finish a project and see it in use or see others taking enjoyment in it…this feeling is worth all the time and effort invested.
But, if you are still reading this, you probably already know all of this. You know you want to know how to sew, but you are uncertain of how to go about learning a skill that seems rather daunting. Plus, if you are busy (who isn’t?!), it may seem impossible to take on the process of learning to sew.
Let me encourage you that there is a WEALTH of resources right at your fingertips that can help you through the process of learning to sew.
The first summer I started to sew, (you know, after my husband showed me how to work my machine), I found tutorial after tutorial on blogs which walked me through one simple project and then another. I took baby steps into learning how to sew. I could go at my pace. No one would see my wonky projects destined for the rubbish pile. And silly though it may be, I felt like I was a part of a community of other women. Sharing successes. Making service in our homes and to others possible in new ways . Helping when things seemed unclear.
So for my friends who want to sew, this post is for you.
I hear it all the time. You have a machine. Maybe your husband found one used off Craigslist and thought it would make the perfect birthday gift. But you don’t know where to begin. So the machine sits in a closet. Fabric scraps and stashes build. The list of projects you’d like to try accumulates. A failed attempt or two has left you frustrated or discouraged.
Don’t give up!
I have gathered some of the tutorials and resources that I found helpful when I was starting out. Also included is a list of the tools that I reach for on every project, as well as the ones that are less frequently used, but helpful to have around.
At the end of the post is a downloadable PDF file– one page with 4 cards to cut out and keep with your sewing things to use as quick reference help. Important sewing terms defined, common stitches explained, various ways to finish edges and seams, and a reference guide for types of popular materials. Print it out on cardstock, laminate them, use them to refer back to as you work on your first projects.
And, finally, a little grace. In no way is this meant to assume that every person should learn to sew. That every person should enjoy it. That every person should make the time. Because I know that craftiness is unappealing to many. You have other wonderful, useful skills. Embrace them and move on.
I also know that WE WILL NEVER HAVE THE TIME TO DO.ALL.THE.THINGS. It’s just not going to happen. Not now. Not ever. There are months when I don’t touch my machine because life is busy. So, consider the flow of your days. If your plate is full now, then tuck this away for another day when you can squeeze in a little time.
Now, if you are not too terribly exhausted from this thoroughly long introduction, I give you…
Resources for a Beginning Sewer
Tips to Begin
- When I first started and my machine kept jamming, the solution turned out to be an easy one. Hold the ends of the thread tight so that they are not pulled back into the machine for the first several stitches. After you are a few stitches in, you can release the thread.
- Thrifted sheets and materials make great fabric to practice on. Little investment means less pressure.
- Seam allowance (the distance from the stitching to the edge of the fabric) is important. I used to try and get really close to the edge while sewing to save fabric and be able to cut smaller pieces, but when your seams on quilts and clothes start coming out because your seam allowance is too small, you realize it’s just not worth it. Most project will call for 1/2″ seam allowance.
- Making a mistake and having to rip out seams stinks. But it happens to everyone no matter how many years they have been sewing. Don’t feel bad. (And get a good seam ripper).
- A sharp needle on your machine is really important. I didn’t realize this until a couple of years in. If the machine makes a louder-than-usual thudding noise every time to needle enters the fabric as you sew, the needle is dull and it’s time for a new one. Needles are inexpensive and easy to replace, so keep a pack on hand. You will need to change the needle after you complete several small projects or any big project.
- Some fabrics are harder to work with than others. Knits, minky (the really soft baby blanket fabric), and vinyl or laminated fabrics are going to be more of a challenge. Don’t be afraid to try, but know that it’s not just you. There are lots of good tips that can help you succeed.
Must-Have Sewing Tools (& A Few Useful Extras)
- A machine. Because, duh. Look for one used or refurbished to save money.
- An iron and an ironing board. Sewing is half ironing. If you can already iron, you’re halfway there.
- A good pair of scissors dedicated to sewing. House rule: Never ever (ever) use mom’s sewing scissors for anything else. Ever.
- A rotary cutter. (A pizza cutter for fabric). I didn’t have one of these when I first started but it is a game changer. It allows you to cut material with the fabric laying down flat and makes cutting precise lines so much easier.
- New blades for the rotary cutter. A rotary cutter should be like a hot knife in butter. If it’s not, change the blades.
- A cutting board. This is a must-have for using a rotary cutter.
- Straight pins.
- Seam ripper.
- Tape measure for sewing.
- Manual bias tape maker
- Automatic bias tape maker
- Walking foot for quilting
- Fabric pens (some fade after an hour or so, and some wash off with water)
- Drawstring bag tutorial, Dana Made It (a great first project!)
- Basic pocket tote tutorial, Dana Made It
- Cloth blocks trio, This Pilgrim Life
- Baby tag blanket, Design Dining Diapers
- Super simple tag animals, Homemade By Jill
- Car caddy for matchbox cars, Homemade By Jill
- Jersey knit skirt with knit waistband, Make It and Love It
- Simple girl’s headband, Craft Snob
- Stuffed snake toy, This Pilgrim Life
- Knit scarf, Make It and Love It
Learn A New Skill
- How to use your machine, Life is Sew Daily
- Basic Stitches, Life is Sew Daily
- How to make your own pattern, Dana Made It
- Make bias tape, Dana Made It
- Sew a zippered clutch, I Heart Naptime
- What is interfacing, fusible web, and fusible adhesive, Make It And Love It
- Sewing French seams, Make It and Love It
- All about knits, One Little Minute
- Roundup of how to sew 26 types of pockets, Ikat Bag
(click on the words for PDF copy)
Sewing Cheat Sheet
Beginners…Ready to get started? What will you try first?
Sewing pros…Is there something missing from my list? Add it below in the comments!
Melanie Moore says
I’m so thankful for this post. I plan to learn to sew and make the table runner in the next three years. First step is to get the machine. Looking forward to making a bunch of your stuff!!
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I’m one of those … sewing machine in the closet & hasn’t seen the light of day in years. It doesn’t help that my mother-in-law used to be a seamstress, and she’s so willing to help me out. I should start learning though. It would be such a useful skill to have. Thanks for the resources!