how to sew

Sewing Made Easy – A Beginner’s Guide to Sewing

Estimated read time: 9 minutes

Whether you want to learn how to sew a hem or you’re looking to create your own clothing and home décor, chances are you’ll find that sewing is a wonderful hobby that can last a lifetime. But before you embark on all your pent-up projects and unleash your imagination, you’ll need to familiarize yourself with some fundamentals. Read on to learn the basics of sewing for beginners.

Is it hard to learn how to sew?

The truth is, anyone can learn to sew. It can take practice to master the basics of machine sewing, but with time, a little patience, and the right equipment, you’ll be well on your way. To make machine sewing a little easier—and a lot more fun—be sure that you have the right resources, including a basic sewing machine (Brother offers many sewing machines for beginners), as well as instruction books and videos, and tools and notions.

If you're using a sewing machine from your grandmother's attic, recognize that it may be the source of frustrations like poor stitch tension and thread breakage. If so, you may want to consider visiting a dealer and asking to try out an entry-level sewing machine to determine whether it's you or the machine that’s having difficulties. If you fall in love at first stitch, maybe a new machine is exactly what you need to develop your sewing skills!

What's the best sewing machine for me?

The answer to this question begins with a bit of self-reflection. What do you want to do with your starter sewing machine?

  • Learn the basics of putting layers of fabric together to make clothing and other projects
  • Decorate fabrics with fancy stitches
  • Sew with stretchy knit fabrics
  • Finish the edges of fabric in seams, shawls, etc.
  • Add names to scrubs and other items
  • Create fanciful costumes from a variety of fabrics for Halloween, cosplay, or just for fun
  • Embroider large or small designs

Also consider your skill level. If you're sewing for the first time, you may want to begin with a basic sewing machine that sews straight and zigzag stitches, and can make buttonholes. That's one way to keep cost down, and you can always upgrade when you find that sewing is a hobby you want to keep pursuing. Besides, you'll be surprised how much you can do with the simplest of stitches. Shop around and try several sewing machines if you can, especially if you're moving up to embroidery. Find a machine with user-friendly controls, and ask other sewists at your local fabric store or machine dealer, or on online forums, which machines they use and recommend.

Ultimately, be sure to choose a beginner sewing machine that you're comfortable with. If you find yourself itching to get back to your machine whenever you're doing something else, that’s a sign that you've chosen well.

Besides a sewing machine, what other tools do I need to get started sewing?

In addition to fabric and thread, refer to the following list of basic tools to when you’re learning how to sew. Also, be sure to consider quality: Although It may be tempting to purchase a set of basic notions, how do you sew with dull pins, scissors that chew your fabric, and marking tools that aren't really removable? Low-quality notions can add up to frustration that can prevent you from learning to sew in the long run.

  • Machine needles: If you're just starting out, a variety pack of different sizes and types is handy. It will allow you to experiment with larger and smaller needles, or points of a different shape, as you troubleshoot sewing glitches. If you buy a new machine, it may even include a package of needles.
  • Hand-sewing needles: You can do almost everything on today's machines, but there will be times when you'll need to hand stitch. A variety pack of sewing needles is the answer again; you'll be able to make choices and balance the size of the needle with the ease of getting through your fabric. Over time, you'll probably develop favorites and can purchase more of those.
  • Pins and pincushion: Choose pins with large plastic or glass heads for visibility. (Don't iron over the plastic ones.) A length of about 1" to 1 1/4" is versatile. Be sure the pins are smooth and pointed to slide easily into your fabric.
  • Scissors and shears: Shears are the long ones used for cutting lengths of fabric or cutting around pattern pieces. Choose a pair of bent-handle dressmaker's shears that are not too heavy but are sharp along the entire blade. It's also nice to have a small pair, about 4" blade length, for snipping thread tails and clipping seam allowances. Be sure they are sharp and will cut all the way to the tip.
  • Marking tools: There are many, but a good start is a piece of white tailor's chalk (for marking dark fabrics) and a water-soluble fabric marker (usually blue; disappears with water). Always read the manufacturer's instructions and test your marking tools to be sure they will come out of your fabric completely.
  • Measuring tools: You’ll need rulers and a tape measure, and the size and type of project will dictate which size you need. Start with a tape measure and a 6" or 12" ruler marked in eighths of an inch. Check the markings to be sure they are the same on both tools; some inexpensive rulers can vary a bit.
  • Seam ripper: It's going to happen, so be prepared.
  • Iron and ironing board: Good pressing as you sew will make a huge difference in the appearance of your finished project. You don't have to buy an expensive iron, though; just look for one that will press both dry and with steam. Interestingly, the auto-shutoff feature isn't great for sewists, as we tend to plug our irons in and want them to stay hot throughout the sewing day.

There will be other tools to add to your collection along the way, depending on the projects you pursue.

  • Specialty presser feet: For everything from blind hems to zippers, there's a foot that will make the process easier and more precise.
  • Rotary-cutting equipment: A rotary cutter (45mm is a versatile size to start), self-healing mat, and one or two gridded acrylic rulers can make cutting straight lines a breeze.
  • Pinking shears: Their wavy edge is more than decorative; it keeps fabrics from unraveling.
  • Corner turner: This almost-pointed tool tidies corners where seams come together at an angle.
  • Project-specific notions: This could include fasteners like buttons, zippers, hooks and eyes, or snaps; trims such as ribbon or braid; and specialty threads for embellishment—or invisibility.

How do I choose fabric and thread?

There's no question—the simplest fabric for beginner sewers is a plain-weave cotton, like the solid fabrics quilters use. It allows you to concentrate on developing basic sewing skills without the need for fabric-wrangling tricks. That said, a confident beginner can handle other fabrics, too, such as T-shirt jersey or denim. If cosplay is your interest, you may even jump into something thick or shiny, but it's a good idea to consult with other sewists online or in person to get a few tips.

If you can shop in person, be sure to touch and handle the fabric you're considering. If it is very stretchy (it sags over the edge of your cutting table) or slippery (it slithers onto the floor as soon as you take your hand away), it's not the best fabric when you’re learning how to sew.

You'll also want to consider the project. If you're making a skirt you plan to wear often, choose something durable and washable. Pre-wash the fabric: Launder it before cutting out the pattern pieces to eliminate shrinkage and most color bleeding. If you're making home décor, such as a pillow, aim for durability. You probably won't be washing the pillow regularly, so laundry instructions aren't as important. And for cosplay, the sky is the limit, including nontraditional materials not used for general apparel.

The best choice for basic thread is a high-quality polyester all-purpose thread. The threads sold in fabric stores and in some big box retailers will work well in most machines and are great for beginners. Be sure to find a color that matches your project fabric or a contrasting color for decorative stitching.

There's no need to buy all the colors right away. Keep large spools of white, black, gray, and beige threads in your sewing kit. One will blend into almost any project, so they're perfect to keep on hand for basic sewing and repair.

What are some basic sewing skills?

One of the first skills you’ll need when learning how to sew is actually reading. When you've chosen a beginner sewing machine, be sure to read the manual carefully. When you've selected a pattern, read through all of the instructions. If the information seems overwhelming, simply take it one step at a time and start with the overview, which will help you understand the patternmaker's instructional style.

Invest in a good, basic how to sew book, or find reliable sewing tutorials online. The Brother YouTube channel, for example, features numerous sewing tutorials for beginners. Some of the basic sewing skills to learn include:

  • Threading your sewing machine, both needle and bobbin
  • Learning how to maintain your machine (for example, does it require oiling, and how should it be cleaned?)
  • Taking measurements
  • Pinning a pattern to fabric, or temporarily joining layers of fabric for sewing, placing the pins perpendicular (at a right angle to) the edges of the pattern or fabric to prevent slippage
  • Cutting fabric with long, smooth strokes (use the tip of the shears to snip into corners or cut out notches, and try to keep the shears' lower blade on the table; don't lift the fabric as you cut)

When it comes to mastering seam allowances, practice sewing an even distance from the edge of your fabric. Patterns may have 5/8", 1/2", 3/8", or 1/4" seam allowances, but it's always important to sew at a consistent seam allowance width so that the project finishes at the right size. Machine beds often have guidelines to assist you in gauging your seam allowances. Start practicing straight seams, and graduate to curves. Watch the edge of the fabric directly to the right of the needle on curves; that's the only point that has to be at the correct width when the stitch is taken, but of course, it's constantly changing.

After sewing a seam, take it to the ironing board and press by lifting and replacing the iron along the seam; don't slide the iron. Seam allowances are usually pressed open in garment sewing. Be sure that your iron is at the correct temperature for your fabric, and be sure that the fabric is flat on both sides of the seam—no pleats or tucks.

Finally, when you’re learning how to sew, try to let your machine do its job. Don't push or pull fabric under the needle; just guide it along and watch the needle magic happen. And don’t be afraid to experiment with your machine. Keep fabric scraps handy so that you can explore new techniques, and try out different features to learn how you can make them work for you.

Check out these links to a few easy sewing projects to get started:

Let's Get Sewcial!