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I Want to Learn to Sew...Now What?

(This post was originally on our blog but it’s having technical issues right now. Enjoy it here!)

So you got a sewing machine for the holidays. Congratulations! A sewing machine is a great investment!
…Now what?

1. Stock up on essential items
There are some basic things every sewist needs in their arsenal, no matter what you are sewing.

Seam ripper – every sewist has to rip something out, no matter how long they have been doing this. Everyone makes mistakes! You want to be prepared to backtrack if needed.
Scissors big and small – A good pair of scissors stays sharp for a long time. Your kitchen scissors that you keep in the junk drawer are not going to cut it this time (get it?). You want scissors that have never touched paper, and you never want to let them touch paper. You will need more than one pair, and in more than one size. Some heavier fabrics will need a larger pair, whereas some of your lighter fabrics will not need as much heft in the cut.
Extra bobbins – Bobbins are so small and so easy to lose, you are going to want some extras. You also want to be able to keep as many filled bobbins as possible so that when you need to change colors, you will have the bobbin ready. You also want to be able to fill a bobbin with the thread you are working with without having to unroll another bobbin to do so.
Needles – Chances are that your machine comes with a few extra needles for when yours breaks. However, you are going to want to use different needles for different projects. Schmetz has a great chart depicting what needles should be used for different projects, as well as this link which shows what the points of certain needles look like and what each of the band colors mean for what you are working on.
Thread – Always keep spools of black and white thread handy. Black and white are the most commonly used colors in projects, followed by neutral colors. You don’t have to match every color in every project you make, but if you love purple and know you’ll be sewing lots of purple things, then by all means get purple thread!
Tape measure – A tape measure allows you to measure areas that are not necessarily straight and flat and thus harder to measure with a ruler or yardstick. They come in 60” and 120” lengths and can often come in fun colors!
Pins or clips – No matter how much control you think you have, you will never have complete control over your fabrics. Pins keep things in place where you put them while you are working on other parts of a project. Pins keep a pattern stuck to your fabric while you are tracing it or measuring it. Clips help when you are not too keen on poking holes in your fabric or if you are working with several layers of fabric.
Pin cushion – (or other storage device) This one should be self-explanatory. No one likes stepping on a pin, do they? There are plenty of fun ways to keep your pins, from your typical tomato-shaped pin cushion to a magnetized saucer or pin cushion for your wrist.
A few other supplies you may want to try include a rotary cutter and a self-healing mat (to make cutting fabric much quicker and easier on the hands), tailor’s chalk or marking pencil/pen (for tracing patterns onto your fabric without permanently marking said fabric), the aforementioned Wonder clips, pinking shears (for cutting edges of fabric so that they do not fray), or if you do not want to get pinking shears – Fray Check (which seals the edges of your fabric).

2. Take a Class
You sit down at your machine to start a project, and a space-ship control panel looks back at you. What do these buttons do? How do I do a zig-zag stitch? What is a blind hem stitch? How do I change stitches? Overwhelmed, you stand back up and walk away, only to come back a week later to the same dilemma.

Fear not, beginner sewist! Even the most experienced seamstress had to start somewhere, and more often than not they had someone to teach them, whether it was a mother or grandmother or a Home Economics teacher. Fabric Hut offers free classes with machines purchased in its store, or you can sign up for one of our classes online or over the phone. In your class you will learn the ins and outs of your machine at a comfortable pace. Able to learn on your own? Read through the manual. Modern machine manuals tend to be very user-friendly and often explain things in layman’s terms so that when you are confused by a certain setting, you can check the manual and it will help.

3. Choose a starter project
Even if your end goal is to recreate Marie Antoinette’s most elaborate gown, you have to start small. A pillow case, a zipper pencil pouch, a drawstring bag, or a rice heating pack can all be great starting projects. Most starting projects will have very few instructions and will be fairly self-explanatory. One of the main reasons new sewists quit sewing early is that they try to get too complicated too fast.

Play with your machine. Find some scrap fabric and sew some stitches with it, seeing how it feels pulling through the machine, what certain stitches look like on cotton vs. knit vs. heavier fabrics. Get comfortable with your machine and find out all the cool things it can do, then use those features to your advantage later on when you have a more complicated project to work on. Looking for tips? Check out our Sewing Know How Pinterest board for some informative articles and necessary knowledge.

4. Find a pattern
While you may think you know how to make something as simple as a pillow case, it is always a good idea to have a pattern available – even if only for visual reference. This will keep you from having a pillow case shaped like a triangle or a zipper pouch shaped like a blob.  You can find patterns from the major companies like McCall’s and Simplicity in most fabric stores (including Fabric Hut!)

There are also lots of independent pattern companies that sell downloadable PDF patterns. An easy way to find them is to search Google or Pinterest for the type of pattern you want like “leggings sewing pattern” or “elephant stuffed animal sewing pattern” or “baby quilt pattern.”

Read the directions on the pattern. Does something look funky? Are you unsure what the numbers and letters on the back of the pattern mean? Ask questions! We get questions about patterns all the time and we are more than happy to answer them when you bring them in.

5. Dive In!

Double check before you cut. Make sure the pattern is laying the right way. Check the directions again as you go. Stitch slowly so you can control your fabric. Make sure to trim and tuck in all your threads when you’re done!

6. Be easy on yourself.
When a kid learns to do something new, they don’t care if they’re perfect the first time, they know they’re learning. You are too! Sewing is a skill that takes practice. Don’t give up if you finish your first thing and think it looks bad. It was a learning experience, and I bet you’ll have figured out at least one thing to do next time and one thing NOT to do.

7. Find a community.
Getting in touch with other people that sew is so beneficial.  If none of your friends or family members sew, see if your area has a local chapter of the American Sewing Guild or find out if there’s an “open sew” time somewhere near you. Online there are many Facebook groups devoted to different kinds of sewing and plenty of Youtube tutorials (check out our partner Dad Sews!). There are also sites like Textillia and Craftster with forums. Even Instagram is a great resource – follow hashtags like #sewing, #quilting, and #sewingtutorial.

Here at Fabric Hut we have our classroom open on Wednesday for open sewing time (bring your machine!) and host 2 American Sewing Guild chapters once a month. Interested in forming your own group to meet here? Drop us a line and let’s get something started!

Learning to sew opens up new worlds for people. Have fun! Experiment! The possibilities of fabric combinations and techniques are endless!

Have more suggestions for communities, tools and resources? Let us know in the comments!