Sew, you want to learn how to sew, eh? Well, you’ve come to the right place! I love to sew, and I’ve made everything from my own bras to my wedding dress. But before you sew your first stitch, there are 5 key things you need to know…
There’s nothing like the feeling when someone says, “Oh, I just love your dress! Where did you get it?”
And what makes that feeling one thousand times better is when you can respond with:
“Well thanks! I made it myself!”
That’s where the wonderful world of sewing comes in!
If you’ve never sewn a stitch in your life, sewing can be pretty intimidating. But like any hobby or new skill, it just takes a bit of time to get the hang of it!
Now, before you sit down at the sewing machine, there are a few key things you need to know – just five to be exact!
1. How to Find and Use a Pattern
For most sewing projects, you’ll need to start with a pattern that you purchase from your local fabric store or download online.
What is a pattern?
A pattern is made up of flat pieces of paper that guide you on how to cut your fabric. These cut pieces of fabric will turn into your finished project once sewn together – pure magic!
And the good news is most patterns come with detailed instructions and are fairly easy to use.
If you are sewing any type of clothing, you’ll need to get a pattern in your size.
How to determine your size in a clothing pattern
But be warned – patterns have not been subjected to as much vanity sizing as a lot of clothing manufacturers! Instead of an arbitrary number, sizes are based on the actual measurements of your body.
For example, someone who may usually buy a size 4 or 6 in the store, will probably need a pattern in 12 or 14.
So, when you purchase a pattern, look at the back. There will be specific measurements to help you figure out the right size to get.
How to get the most out of your pattern
Most clothing patterns will also come with multiple different options from the same core pattern. For example, one blouse pattern may have a short sleeve and a long sleeve version.
When you find a pattern you like, you’ll probably be able to get more than just one finished product from the same pattern.
In fact, I have found just a few dress patterns that I really love and have made them over and over with different fabrics and slight variations.
Once you pick out your pattern, the next step is finding the perfect fabric.
2. What kind of fabric to use for your project
There are so many types of fabrics (I talk about a few of them here!). And the kind of fabric you choose will depend on your project, and your pattern will most likely recommend a few types of fabrics that will work well for your project.
When sewing garments, I recommend fashion fabrics. I can’t talk about fabric without giving you a quick word of caution: Stay away from quilting cottons if you don’t want a wrinkly mess!
Fabric comes in two widths
Most fabric comes in one of two widths: 45 inches and 60 inches. Your pattern will tell you how much fabric you’ll need to make the pattern assuming your fabric is 45 and 60 inches.
Some specialty fabrics come in other widths, but a standard commercial pattern is designed around 45 and 60 inch widths.
How to know how much fabric to cut
When you take your fabric up to the cutting counter, you learn another important word about fabric: yardage.
Yardage is the amount of fabric, in yards, that you need for your project. A yard is 3 feet, or 36 inches, of fabric.
How do you know your yardage? This is where your pattern comes in!
Your pattern will tell you how many yards, down to the 1/8th of the yard, that you need for your chosen pattern.
I typically err on the side of caution and get a little more than what I need, especially if I am working with a fabric with a direction like stripes.
Plus, there is nothing wrong with extra fabric!
Can you buy fabric online?
Although buying fabrics in stores is fun, it isn’t always feasible for those of us who live in the boonies.
That’s why I love fabrics.com! Be warned… you can spend hours on there!
3. I have a notion to talk about notions!
You have your pattern and your fabric. Now, all you need are some notions!
Notions are the bits and bobs you’ll need to finish your project like thread, zippers, buttons, snaps, etc. Your pattern will tell you if you need any type of notions for your project.
This is where you can really bring a lot of personality and customization to your pattern.
For instance, if you aren’t sure you’re up to the task of making button holes, you can do what I love to do and grab some snaps instead!
Custom edgings, flashy buttons, and other little details will help you bring your project to life and make it truly your own.
So, you’ve got your pattern, fabric, and notions. You take it all home and sit down at your sewing machine.
Oh wait, you don’t have a sewing machine? Lucky for you, I have a LOT of opinions on the best ones out there!
4. How to pick out a great sewing machine
I have a lot of opinions on a lot of things, but sewing machines are one of my most deeply-held convictions.
I haven’t tried them all, but I have a very strong suspicion that the sewing machines you’ll find in the fabric store are pretty bad.
Why I don’t recommend modern sewing machines
Why would I say that most modern sewing machines are bad?
Two words: plastic gears.
Sewing machines use gearing to take the around-and-around circular motion of a motor and convert it into the up-and-down motion of the needle.
Plastic gears will break more easily, wear out, and can be very loud and noisy. Plastic gears just won’t be able to translate as much force to the needle as metal gears can. Force is what you need to sew through more fabric and thicker types of fabric.
So, for the amount of money that you’re going to spend, I don’t think the sewing machines at the sewing store or the fabric store are going to be your best bet.
If you want a true workhorse. I strongly recommend the Kenmore 158 Series sewing machines. They are the best sewing machines that I have ever sewn on.
The Kenmore 158 Series was a sewing machine line that came out of Japan around the 1950s and ’60s. They were made in postwar factories and are heavy as tanks. The gears and everything else are metal.
These machines never lose their tension. I’ve sewn so many different things on my machines and they’ve never broken needles.
If you are serious about learning how to sew, you won’t regret this investment.
Where can you buy a vintage sewing machine?
I recommend searching on eBay. When searching, try to find one that has a lot of accessories and/or the manual. That is a good indication it has been taken care of.
Alright, rant over!
There is one final step to talk about – a few other tools that will make your sewing project easier!
5. Other must-have tools of the (sewing) trade
Here are my other must-have tools if you plan to get started sewing:
This is probably something you already have on hand.
Which is good because I cannot overstate the importance of ironing seams. It makes everything look tailored. You don’t have to invest a lot of money in an iron, but it is a very necessary tool for sewing.
(And it goes without saying, you need an ironing board, too!)
Did you know there are different kinds of pins? Some are meant for certain fabrics, such as silk.
Typically, you’ll just need basic straight pins. I prefer the pins with the plastic head on them. They are easier to see and work with, in my opinion.
I use marking chalk sparingly. But when I need it, I pretty much can’t use anything else. This is so you can mark things out on your pattern, like button holes or a zipper.
Marking chalk is useful because it will wash off the fabric (and sometimes even brush off) easily, unlike a pen that may permanently stain the fabric and be noticeable.
One of the wonderful things about sewing is you can usually undo a seam if you mess up and need to start over.
To do that, you will need a seam ripper. Seam rippers just go in the seam and rip all of the thread holding the two pieces of fabric together.
Unlike scissors, the shape of the seam ripper will make it easier to protect the fabric and only cut the threads you need to remove.
I saved one of the most important things for last – sewing scissors!
Fabric will not cut well with standard scissors.
It is important to have a dedicated pair of very sharp scissors for your sewing endeavors.
Ready to learn to sew?
If you are looking to dive more into the wonderful world of sewing and learn how to sew, you may be a perfect fit for my new course – Sewing for Beginners: Everything You Need to Get Started Sewing!
If you’ve been around for awhile, you’ve probably noticed I have a love for sewing. I sewed my own wedding dress for goodness sake!
And I want to help others learn how to sew and see how enjoyable it can be!
In the course, you’ll learn how to pick your machine, find your fabrics, and get to sewing beautiful finished products you’ll be proud to wear and display.
Plus, there will be a bonus module dedicated to bra-making! Say goodbye to bras that never fit, and make one yourself that is literally made just for you!
Ready to get sewing? Click here to join now!