I have studied English Literature, some four languages, business management and a whole lot of world history and other stuff during my college days which I have since forgotten. But I have not forgotten the day I went to the sewing machine showroom to buy my first sewing machine and all the sewing that I studied by myself. What does it say about me, I don’t know. Maybe I am what my younger one called me when she was young – a tailor and cooker.
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Learning how to sew is no rocket science ( I wouldn’t have learned it otherwise 🙂 ) It is not even as complicated as cooking. You may disagree on that but for me cooking IS complicated. To my defence you cannot go back in cooking whereas in sewing you have the seam ripper for all (most of) your mistakes.
You do not need to buy fancy patterns or the most advanced computerized sewing machine to sew your own clothes. When I started I used to sew rubbish. My sewing machine was old and extremely maddening. But after sometime I learned the basics and the magic happened.
Infact sewing as a hobby is therapeutic to me. It organises my somewhat disorganised mind. And the satisfaction of making something beautiful is beyond anything. Gifting a thing you have made yourself is also very fulfilling.
I learned a whole lot of sewing from the internet.Then I learned from books. Then I tried experimenting and learned some. It is possible for anyone with passion to sew their own clothes with the guidance and resources available today.
To make your own clothes, you just need to know how to make stitching patterns from your own measurements or an old dress, some basic sewing tools and machine and the motivation to finish the work patiently and perfectly. All the other things are bonuses you should be thankful for.
You may choose to go for a personal sewing class. In fact if you absolutely know nothing about sewing and you are eager and have the time to spare you should go for a sewing class. Check out the reputation of the class and the instructor from previous students before enrolling. Most classes take the fees upfront, leaving you no choice to opt out, if you find you are not benefiting. The good ones will start from the beginning and teach you sewing in an organised way so that you can set about sewing and designing for yourself.
Or else with some patience you can learn by yourself. If you are a self learner and confident that you can learn the nitty-gritties of sewing by yourself, there are some basic tips and techniques you should know.
How to learn to sew
All the sewing terms bandied about in the online sewing community used to boggle my mind in the early days. Most of the terms became clear to me when I wrote this comprehensive Sewing Glossary with the common sewing terms used frequently. Check it out if you are like me and would like to know more.
If you do not own a sewing machine yet, you can read the article on selecting the best sewing machine for beginners.
If you have just bought your sewing machine you may remember what the service personnel explained to you about the machine. Some basics like how to thread the sewing machine, how to adjust the thread tension, how to wind a bobbin, how to change machine feet, how to change the dial for different stitches, how to change the needle are things you will learn from the service personnel send by the sewing machine company.
But if your sewing machine has been bought for some time, maybe you do not remember anything. The stitches available to you which seemed amazing in the showroom may seem confusing when you start using your sewing machine. All those levers and feet also will look complicated. It needn’t be.
The first thing you need to know is how to thread the sewing machine properly. Refer the sewing machine manual; Infact keep it near your sewing machine all the time. Refresh your knowledge by going through the steps given in this tutorial; Familiarize yourself with the various feet available with the machine. Craftsy has a comprehensive guide here on machine foot.
Practice your sewing before attempting any project as such. Start by sewing in a straight line. You can practice this on a piece of paper on which straight lines are drawn with pencil. Then practice your sewing in a curved line.Use short stitches and long stitches and see the difference it makes to your stitching.
You must be thorough with all the sewing stitches available with your sewing machine. If you are not, refer this article on them. This will be a refresher course for you.
Try all the different decorative stitches in your sewing machine. You can try to decorate a handkerchief with these stitches; You can make a decorative stitch border to the embroidered handkerchief project here ( or even attempt to hand sew the border stitches).
You need to have some basic sewing tools along with your sewing machine. Some of them like the
scissors, pins and tape measure are indispensable but some you can do without like a rotary cutter. There are some tools which you may not have but which will completely change your sewing life if you have them. You guessed it right – the seam ripper. I get panic attack if I do not have it with me. You can guess how many mistakes I must make
Learn to read the tape measure properly if you donot know how to. To tell you the truth for a long log time I didn’t.
Keep your expectations at a reasonable level the first few projects. You need to start your sewing with some easy beginner sewing projects, then gradually try the complicated patterns.Learn as you go. Take little steps and make big progress. Graduate to jackets from baby frocks, not the other way.
Other than these easy and wonderful projects you can also try your hand at the Shirt skirt or the easy Tunic top or a Kaftan as your first project. Kimono jackets and Ponchos are also best ones to start.
As I see it, choosing the fabric to sew is the most pleasurable thing about sewing. The different types of fabrics available to sew will boggle your mind for sure. For your beginner sewing project try to choose a simple cotton fabric and appropriate thread. Checkout this post for different types of clothes you can sew – Not the most comprehensive But I have tried to list out some.
Pre washing your fabric is a necessity before sewing anything. I simply immerse the fabric in a little water. After some minutes rinse it out. Prewashing removes all the sizing which is there in the fabric and the shrinking tendency of your fabric is also tested.I am also scared about all the chemicals in the new fabric. A worst case scenario is the dyes in new fabric running and bleeding after you have stitched two bright coloured fabrics together without rinsing the dye out first.
Prewashing has too many advantages for you to do it compulsorily with every fabric you use. You definitely would want to fit into your dress after the first wash, after all the hard work.
Choose the appropriate interfacing for your fabric. There are some areas which you have to interface necessarily when sewing clothes like the button stand, button holes, zippers, collars, facings.
A most important aspect about sewing is taking the body measurements. Every one has a unique body. The reason why we sew our own clothes is to get a good fit. So learn how to take your body measurement perfectly. Whenever I am measuring myself for a close fitting garment I make sure that I will be wearing the undergarments or similar ones I mean to wear with the finished garment. That is just common sense.If you are not sure which patterns will suit you you can checkout this post which elaborates on the styles that suit according to body shapes
Pressing is an important element in sewing . Infact I think I spend almost as much time pressing (and cutting ) as much as sewing. Get some pressing tips for the correct way to press fabric while sewing.
You better learn the proper cutting techniques before even attempting to cut the first time. Infact it is nothing as lofty as it sounds – just some sound common sense advice on How to cut fabric perfectly.At times you want a garment which drapes like a dream – it is time for you to cut the fabric on the bias.
It is necessary that the inside of your garment you make is as good looking on the inside as well as the outside. You need to finish the edges of the fabric professionally. Zig zag stitch is the first option for you if you are a beginner. Or else you can try the other options for fabric edges detailed here.
Practice sewing seams – start with a plain seam with a straight stitch; learn to anchor the thread at the end of the stitching with a few back stitches. You can also try your hand at sewing a buttonhole with your sewing machine.
You also need fastenings like zippers or buttons and other notions and Fabric trims if you are using them. Buy them beforehand instead of thinking about them in the middle of the project as mentioned in this article on time saving tricks to save time when sewing. Learn the different types of fasteners you could sew on to your clothes and how to sew hooks and zippers on to your clothes or even a cute little frog closure ; Different types of Buttonholes you could sew and the way to sew a hand made buttonhole . Checkout this post on many ways to make fabric covered buttons . the 50+ different types of collars you could sew on the clothes
Learn to sew 5 types of ruffles on to your clothes by learning how to gather fabric. It is also necessary to know how to stitch plackets on to your clothes. There are also 5 types of pleats you could sew on to your garments. Different styles of pockets elaborated here also may be of interest to you and different ways to sew them on to your clothes like a side seam pocket or even a hidden pocket.
Once you have learned the basics, you need the perfect pattern to sew your clothes. You have a choice to buy the patterns or make them yourself. Checkout these Ultimate list of free sewing patterns and select the perfect one for you. You can make paper patterns and keep them for future use or mark on the fabric directly.
I would suggest that the first time you make a garment with a pattern, you should use an inexpensive fabric or muslin. Test it out, change any measurement you need, then try it on that very expensive fabric you have kept for special occasion.
Keep the goal in mind that by learning to sew you can make beautiful and fitting garments for yourself and your loved ones.