Sewing is one of the oldest crafts in history. It is somewhat under appreciated by the general public, yet it is the very foundation of things like style and equipment in our society. Whether you are getting a tux and a dress for a gala dinner or putting on a winter jacket to explore a mountain, sewing is what has made it possible.
In this post, we are going to cover the basics of starting a sewing hobby (and maybe a profession) for those who are interested in the art. We are going to kick it off with some fun facts before we discuss the basic materials and preparations for a successful start.
Then, we are going to go over the types of stitches. If you are using a machine, then you won’t need to know how to sew by hand, but it is still an important chapter as you will need to distinguish their specific properties. We will finish with an overview of the different types of sewing machines and a recommendation on where to find more information.
Chapter 1: Fun Facts: Sewing In History
The term “sewing” is quite popular now, but it wasn’t used until the 14th century. This is rather peculiar, as sewing is one of the oldest arts involving raw materials. It can be traced all the way back to the Paleolithic era, which is part of the Stone Age.
Back then, spinning and weaving fabric was not yet invented, which is why scientists believe that people in Asia and Europe used to sew fur and skin by using needles made of bones, antlers, and ivory. For a thread, they would use a variety of body parts that could include sinew, veins, and gut.
Sewing had been a process done by hand before the invention of the sewing machine in the 19th century. Still, sewing machines were truly brought into being only after the computerization of the 20th century, which allowed for mass production.
Nonetheless, sewing is still done by hand in many places around the world. Nowadays, it is either a sign of profound poverty or significant opulence. In poorer countries, sewing machines are simply not available or hard to acquire, while in richer countries hand sewing is related to high-quality tailoring and customized, fashionable clothing.
Chapter 2: Your First Steps: The Basics
Sewing is both an awesome and practical way of artistic expression. Whether you do it by hand or via a machine, it will always be a satisfying activity—especially after you become good at it. Check out this place if you want to see some cool DIY projects that you will be able to do once you start to gain some skill and confidence.
In this chapter, we are going to give you the highlights of what you will need to embark on your sewing journey successfully.
How long does it take to learn to sew?
There are many levels of sewing proficiency. Learning to operate a sewing machine is one step, which you can easily get a hang of within a few weeks of regular use.
As you get a hang of how to use the machine, you can focus on finer details like cutting patterns accurately(you can make patterns at home too), aligning your stitches, neatness, and more complex designs.
I’d suggest you graduate from one level of complexity to the next – start with something simple, like pincushions and pillows, and gradually move on to more complicated projects as you get a feel for simpler things.
You also need to ask yourself what level of proficiency you’re looking for – simply operating a machine and making neat stitches won’t take very long – you’re only limited by your own time commitment.
The next level would be to follow complex patterns and tutorials and be able to replicate the results to near exactness – this will obviously require a lot more time and practice.
Start sewing as a hobby first, and you’ll be surprised how much you’ll improve just by working the machine regularly.
Yes, we did highlight that sewing can be done by hand. However, as you are probably a beginner, we would strongly recommend getting a sewing machine. If you are serious about starting to sew, be sure to get the best machine you can afford.
This might seem a bit excessive for someone who is just starting, but keep in mind that cheap machines, such as the ones sold at Walmart, are designed for basic tasks rather than creativity. They are for repairing ripped seams and hemming dresses and skirts. Thus, if you want to make new clothes for your family and friends (let’s be a little selfish and include yourself), you would need a machine of higher quality.
Some general tips are to make sure your machine:
- Can sew several layers of fabric
- Can work with jean materials
- Have at least some basic and zig-zag stitches built in
- Can do buttonholes
A good place to look for a new machine that is suitable for beginners is here. If you have a limited budget and need something below $100, you can check out here for some of the better options.
A Pair of Scissors
We have pretty much the same advice when it comes to scissors as for sewing: get the best pair that you can find. Get the best option you can fit into whatever budget you are working with.
An important note: do not use them for something other than sewing! No cutting of plastic materials, rubber bands, cardboard packages, trimming flowers. Heck, don’t even try cutting your hair with them. Their one and only purpose should be to cut fabric and using them for something else can prevent them from cutting smoothly.
Sewing machines and scissors are pretty popular tools, but the chances are that you have never even heard of a cutting board. Fear not, as it is not something overly expensive or complicated.
A cutting board is simply cardboard or a square plastic board with marks that you can use to measure cloth and other materials. The purpose is not only to measure the fabric more easily and accurately but to also save the tables in the house from scratches by scissors and pins. Due to its conveniently printed rulers and lines, you will also save time and material by getting it right more promptly and accurately.
Whether you are going to be sewing with a machine or by hand, you will need a bunch of hand sewing needles. They are mandatory in every scenario, as you will need to do stuff like sewing buttons, hems, and tacking facings. Our recommendation is to get a lot of them in many varying sizes. Keep them all in your sewing kit to avoid last-minute runs to the store.
Since you are going to be starting your very first sewing kit, our suggestion is to get three spools of black, white, and grey threads. Again, we emphasize the importance of quality. Don’t go for the cheap stuff from the discounted bin. Getting poor quality thread will result in poor quality clothing, the machine breaking the thread, and inability to sew fast. Not only that but such lower quality threads tend to pile up and make balls of lint next to the needle and breaking it.
There are a lot of good suppliers that offer quality thread. You can do some research of your own and decide for yourself. Our recommendation is to get something from Coats & Clark as it has a nice variety of cotton to polyester ratios.
We would recommend starting with 37% cotton and 63% polyester threads, or for smaller beginner projects, 100% polyester. The latter is going to be the sturdiest. If you get 100% cotton, the risk of a break increases significantly.
If you are not sure what you need, don’t be shy about asking a clerk in the store.
Pins and Magnets
We recommend using pins that have plastic beads on top. This not only makes them easier to locate when they fall but also reduce the chances of you stabbing yourself accidentally. Our advice is to get a lot of these. More than you would think practical even. If you are going to be serious about learning how to sew, you will quickly find out that simply taking a measurement requires a lot of pins.
Of course, with so many of them comes the responsibility of keeping them all in one place without some rogue pin stabbing you in the toe. A great way to do that is to get a magnetic bowl.
Iron and Ironing Board
Chances are you already have an iron and an ironing board. However, if you don’t, be sure to get one. It may seem unrelated, but that’s actually quite a crucial tool to have. You will need these to press the fabric, keep the seams open, do hems, and many other things. A steam iron is a good choice as it can set not only seams but also creases. The heavier, the better is the general rule. It won’t take as much effort to press that way.
The ironing board is kind of optional as you can simply lay a towel somewhere. However, in the interest of saving innocent towels and dining tables, we would recommend getting one.
Chapter 3: Know Your Stitches
As we said in the beginning, if you are going to use a sewing machine, knowing how to do stitches by hand is not going to be of much use. Why would you need to know about them, then? Well, the answer is pretty simple.
The different stitches have different properties in terms of durability, purpose, and speed. They are not only about visualization. Thus, depending on the materials you are working with, you will need to use different stitches for different purposes. There are a lot of them, almost too many to be practical to cover. This is why we have focused on the four basic types of stitches: the running, the basting, the back, and the overcast.
The running stitch is hands down the most basic of all stitches. It has many variations and is the foundation of hand sewing techniques. It is a small stitch that is sewn with a single thread in order to secure two pieces of cloth in a seam. You can also use it with a double thread but make sure to knot it securely first.
You should take several stitches with the needle at once before pulling it all the way through, as it will make the sewing both faster and stronger. Be careful, however, that the fabric doesn’t buckle or pucker, which is why it is recommended that you lay it flat.
After you begin, make sure that the thread at the end of the row is properly secured.
This is another stitch run by a single thread. Opposite to the running stitch, though, this one is used to hold fabrics temporarily until they are sewn properly either by hand or by a machine. Using a basting stitch is a great way to trace patterns and put markings for things like ornaments, hemlines, and pockets.
Start by tying a knot at the end of the thread. Proceed by piercing the needle all the way through the fabric and keep going by creating stitches approximately 3/8 inches apart. Try to find a balance. The thread shouldn’t be too loose or too tight, and the fabric shouldn’t wrinkle or pucker.
A back stitch is done with a single thread and is one of the strongest and most secure ways to seam. For this, the front stitches will need to be in a precise row, and the back should appear to have longer, overlapping stitches.
For a back stitch, you will be using a single thread that is knotted at the end, just as you did with the previous three. Start by making one stitch in and out and set the needle back into the fabric with a small stitch behind the place you took the needle out on the last stitch. Then, bring the needle out again, one stitch ahead of the last one. It sounds complicated, and it requires practice, but once you master it, the stitches will appear even. Again, make sure that the fabric is not wrinkled or puckered.
The overcast is a stitch that uses one layer of thread that is knotted at the end and is used to finish the raw edges when you are making a seam. You start by stitching from the back this time. Bring the needle all the way to the front and then over the cloth in order to stitch through the back and reach the front again.
As always, mind the tightness and ensure that the stitch is neither too tight, nor too loose. It should be even, and the cloth should stay flat. Remember to secure the thread at the end of the row.
Chapter 4: Learning to sew with a sewing machine
Sewing machines can vary greatly depending on the purpose you need them for. They can be roughly separated into two main categories: industrial and domestic. Their main differences are in size, but industrial ones are also generally better equipped for a wider variety of operations. They can be used to put collars, additional pockets, lace pants, and more.
As you are a beginner or an intermediate that doesn’t need mass production, we will focus on the domestic category.
The main elements of a sewing machine are the arms and the needle posts, which determine the four different types. Below we will discuss them one by one.
Manual Sewing Machine
This is the most basic type of machine. The manual sewers don’t even need electricity in order to run! Of course, they have fewer features and less efficiency compared to their electronic kin, but what they lack in technology, they compensate for in durability.
Nowadays, the manual machines are classified as vintage models.
They are powered by a foot pedal and a wheel, which makes them both entertaining and quite old-school. The user would pump the pedal in order to run the hand and the needle. Although such machines can work with any material, they are best suited for light- and medium-weight fabric.
Electronic Sewing Machine
These ones have, as the name suggests, a single motor that gives power directly to the needle. What might surprise you is that they also have a foot pedal, but, this time, an electronic one. It controls the speed with which the machine operates, and you can quicken or slow it down by applying and relieving pressure from the pedal. Another advantage it has over the manual sewing machine is that the user can handle the cloth with both hands.
Last but not least is the dial on the side of the electronic machine. It controls the stitch types and the length, which can come really handy for newcomers. Some of the fancier models have a tension setting, a thread cutter, and a buttonhole switch. All of them are adjusted automatically! Thus, you can have not only a machine that does a variety of stitches but can also sew multiple layers of fabric with various patterns.
Computerized Sewing Machines
Here, we are talking about the high-tech stuff. These ones are for more advanced users or, at least, for users with more advanced needs. There is no dialing or buttons involved. Instead, they operate with a LED or LCD display or a touchscreen.
As you might have guessed, these machines have a lot of different functions. For example, even the most basic computerized sewing machine can remember previous projects and automatically set the tension and do the whole process with minimum effort on the side of the user. The more advanced models can also sew embroidery.
What is truly high-tech about those machines is that they have a USB port that allows you to link them to a computer. This way, you can directly upload designs and give instructions. It is a great option for designers who do dimensions and patterns electronically and want to see results quickly. Of course, such models are way costlier than the previously discussed manual and electronic machines. Nonetheless, they are great for the ones who are looking for the very best in the face of a mix of efficiency and versatility.
Overlocker Sewing Machines
This is the perfect type of machine for operations like edging, hemming, and seaming. They are used to sew over the edge of one or two pieces of cloth and automatically cut said edges and sew. This is their most distinctive feature—the cutters.
The cutters in overlock machines allow them to create thicker seams much more efficiently. What really sets them apart is that they can hit a high speed between 1000 to 9000 rpm.
Something you should consider, however, is that such machines have fewer functions than the other types. They can use between 2 and 9 threads and multiple needles to create overcast stitches, and that’s about it. That makes them an addition to a regular machine rather than a single piece. They are a great choice for making decorations or over edging—also called overlocking, which is where their name comes from.
Sewing patterns and tutorials for beginners
There are plenty of great sewing tutorials you can find online – go through each project and you’ll be surprised how much you’ll have improved from one project to the next! Here are some of our favorites:
- Collete HQ sewing tutorials
- 12 Beginner Sewing Patterns from Simply Sewing Mag
- 25 Beginner Sewing Projects from Crazy Little Projects
- 50 Sewing Patterns from A Little Craft In Your Day
- 40 Sewing Patterns from All Free Sewing
- 5 Easy Sewing Patterns from The Creative Curator
These 150+ projects and patterns should keep you sewing for a long time indeed!
Sewing seems to be a bit more complicated than you first thought, doesn’t it? And keep in mind that we have omitted the majority of specifics and focused only on the basics! Don’t get discouraged though. With the new automated sewing machines and the material covered in this post, you are perfectly equipped to start your journey to style and practicality.
We have tracked sewing through the different eras. We started with the times when people used antlers and bones for needles and reached all the way to modern times where we have computerized machines. Before we part ways, allow us to provide you with a recap of everything we learned today:
First things first, we gave you seven tips on how to prepare for sewing:
1. Choose the right machine
2. Find good scissors
3. Get a cutting board
4. Find the right needles
5. Ensure good quality threads
6. Get a lot of pins and magnets
7. Do not overlook ironing
In addition to all that, we have also discussed the four basic types of stitches and what they are good for. Even if you are using a machine and it wouldn’t be required to know how to do them by hand, we have discovered that you still need to know their purposes and properties.
The four types of stitches are:
Last but not least, we have gone over the different types of sewing machines. As we discussed, they are split into two main categories: industrial and domestic. Since we assume you are most likely far from having industrial needs, we have recommended using one of the main domestic types:
Keep in mind that an overlocker sewing machine is more of a complimentary machine rather than the main one.
If you are interested in learning more about sewing machines or simply desire a way to get a good deal on a reliable one, we have just the place for you! 😉