Intimidated by learning to sew? These are the resources you need (with reader advice!)

August 31 2018 | bijouxandbits
Offbeat Home & Life runs these advice questions as an opportunity for our readers to share personal experiences and anecdotes. Readers are responsible for doing their own research before following any advice given here... or anywhere else on the web, for that matter.
learning to sew: beginner's advice
Vintage 1960s Simplicity 8077 from Old 2 New Memories

Back in the day we had a great discussion about sewing anxiety from a reader who wanted to learn but didn't know where to start. Our amazing readers stepped up to the plate to offer some great sewing advice on where to start and how to wrangle a needle and thread. (My favorite resource is Threadbanger on YouTube!) I pulled some of my favorite comments so that we can share in their collective sewing knowledge and start making clothes, totes, costumes, and whatever strikes your fabric fancy.

I was a theatre major and I worked in the costume shop during college and I got REALLY handy with a sewing machine. (And the industrial serger: MAN, that think was amazing). But now most of my skills have fallen off and I'm at the same place that you are, looking for inspiration and to get over my sewing anxiety. But I do have some tips, even if I'm only kinda following them myself.

1. Get to know your machine and hone your basic sewing skill set. I tend to jump into projects and learn more advanced things without picking up the basics, which is fine and lets me fake more skill than I have, but when things go wrong I have no idea how to fix them. For instance, I got super crafty and was making fancy Christmas gifts when the bobbin jammed and I shattered a needle. The machine was a gift and brand new, so I had no idea how to change it and spent more time jacking with that stupid machine than I did making things, which soured the experience. So make your equipment your partner and get to know each other!

2. Unless a major challenge thrills you, stretch your limits with each project, but don't blow too far past them. Rather than get motivated, I get disappointed when I fail miserably so knowing myself helps me choose projects that are a few steps ahead and not giant leaps.

3. Don't try to learn new things by making gifts. I do this with everything (My wedding? Let's learn some new paper crafting skills and make our invitations! An event coming up? Let's bake something I've never even tried before! Christmas? LET'S HAND MAKE EVERYTHING IN A CREATIVE FIELD I ONLY HEARD ABOUT YESTERDAY!) and am trying to break the habit, but its hard. Doing a project for a gift or event can motivate you, but if you do, at least have a back-up in cause it does not turn out how you'd like. Making your dress for your sister's wedding is awesome, but finding something to wear the day before because you couldn't get the pleats to turn out right is not.

Besides. You deserve to make something for yourself, because you did that thing the other day that was so great. You know, that thing. So make yourself something and then get you some ice cream too.

4. I don't know of any blogs, but I do embroidery and often find blogs by looking at Etsy sellers' websites. If I find a pattern I like, I'll check out their website, Twitter, or Facebook and see what they post about or who they follow. That's a good way to find similar artists who fit your personal aspiring aesthetic… or who just make cool shit. – Alyssa

The only way you're ever gonna get better is by practicing. I consider sewing a skill far more than a talent (not that it doesn't take talent to be a great seamstress! By all means, it's necessary!) But it's a learned, repetitive task.

That being said, I'm still learning. My mother absolutely detested sewing and pretty much resorted to throwing things in a fit of frustration when she had to do it. So I never learned from her, but I'd always wanted to learn to make my own clothes, so I took a few classes at JoAnn's to learn basics and I've been following a few bloggers ever since.

I've got a ginormous crush on Gertie & her skills at blog.bygertie.com/ She started her blog as a Julia/Julie type thing going through the projects in the Vogue book of better sewing. She's since put out her book of basic sewing (awesome patterns based on vintage looks) and she's in the process of putting together her second book.

I also emailed Gertie when I first started sewing (prior to her putting out her book) and she recommended this book: Sew Everything Workshop: The Complete Step-by-Step Beginner's Guide. It's a good starting place and has lots of definitions and goes through basics like what type of fabric to use for different projects, etc.

SeeKateSew is fun as well. She has lots of simple projects.

The thing is, even seasoned seamstresses have to use a seam ripper and start over. So don't get overwhelmed or upset if projects don't work out the first time. Practice makes perfect! That being said, if you need me, I'll be making my daughter's Halloween costume this weekend.

Also – press EVERYTHING! Invest in a really good iron. – Brenna

Yes, practice practice practice! Don't put too much pressure on yourself to be awesome. Start off with simple things like placemats or potholders before working your way toward dresses or quilting.

Be brave and try new things or harder projects, experiment with different fabrics, but try not to get too discouraged by failure. Even after 20+ years of sewing (geez, now I feel old!) I still get enraged at projects and have to start over or give up. It happens.

Iron everything, double-check measurements and instructions, and make sure your machine is in good condition. (I have a feeling my most recent enragement is due to my machine needing a tune up.)

My fave sewing/crafting blogs are Made Every Day (kind of an everything blog) and made-by-rae.com. – Alissa

Ok this is crazy because I was JUST talking to my friend a few minutes ago about how much I wish I could sew. My mom is always making clothes and Halloween costumes… knitting up a storm for my kids and I just don't get it. I try and try but things always turn out a little wonky! To the point where even my five-year-old says, 'mom, is that supposed to look like that?'

I'm obsessed with this blog: http://refashionista.net

So I think I'm going to start there. Go thrift a bunch of cheap clothes and just take a stab at things. If they only cost a few bucks then I can laugh at my crazy creations. Maybe with a little practice I might be able to come up with something wearable. – Zinfandelina

Make stuff for the non-humans in your life. They won't care if you fuck it up.

I made a dog bed from some foam and an old mattress pad I was just going to throw away. Using free materials frees up your mind from the terror of ruining it, and you can practice different stitches and stuff that way. And as long as it is comfy, puppy won't mind if the seams aren't perfectly straight.

I mostly sew really simple stuff like dog beds, cat beds, curtains, and gift bags. Also I have to hem most pairs of pants I get. The most complicated sewing project I ever did was a vest/skirt combo when I was nine under the supervision of a friends' mom. Then there was a 15+ year hiatus before I started to sew again, so a few things came back, but not many. I would love to sew costumes, but I feel like you really have to commit to sewing as a hobby to make more complicated things to wear. Am I wrong? I know a dressform would be incredibly helpful, but that's an investment in money and storage space! – justanothersciencenerd

If you can afford it, small sewing classes at local quilt/fabric stores are super useful — you learn how to do the basics, and then have the confidence to apply those skills to other projects. I get that that isn't for everyone, though.

She mostly concentrates on quilting, but http://www.eliseblaha.typepad.com's projects helped me jump in without worrying about it being perfect. She tends to have an emphasis on 'get it done' which is surprisingly validating when you're grudgingly spending ten minutes trying to get your corners to match up perfectly and just want to move ON already. My mum's a fantastic quilter, too, so this really helped me put aside the need to make something to her level of perfection and just do it my way. – Victoria

So I sew, um, a lot (you can find my blog here). My best advice is to just make stuff. Make lots of stuff. Fuck it up. Make more. Worry about technique later — it will come.

For me this mostly started with various goth DIY tutorials online circa 2001 or so. I strongly recommend playing with altering existing clothes. Add a band of fabric to a skirt, sew trim on something, take in a too-big t-shirt. You can get cheap clothes from the thrift store, and send them back if they don't turn out fabulous. In the age of Pinterest, there are LOTS of tutorials for projects like this. This gets you comfortable doing stuff with fabric. Search for 't-shirt hack' or 'refashion.'

Beyond that, there are lots of ways to learn technique. A basic sewing class through a shop or a community college can be very valuable, but most of the 'correct' technique stuff is about making your clothes more durable, or getting seams to lie perfectly flat. And of course there are TONS of sewing blogs and tutorials and whatnot.

You can concentrate on simple projects and easier fabric to start with, but don't worry about it too much. It's more important to make stuff that you like, and that you'll be excited about. If that means sewing with harder fabrics, go for it. But google around so you know what you're getting into.

Anyway, have fun! Clothes that aren't sewn perfectly can still look amazing, and you will get better with time! – DangerousAlice

I teach sewing (to newbies and advanced), and all these suggestions are great. Practice! The deep dark secret about what you're about to take on is that this simple solution of practice is the secret to any sewing anxiety problem. Don't like sewing collars and collar bands, cut out about five or six and sewing them one after another. Don't like plackets — cut out five or six and do them one after the other. After a few other skills (turning corners, mitered corners, etc.,) you'll get it.

Don't self-sabotage yourself. Don't try to pick out something really advanced at first. Keep it simple, then as you get one project down, pick out another that has one feature that you want to work on. There are a myriad of patterns/projects out there you can do this with.

Block out enough time to do your project — don't try to do a complete Star Trek outfit the week before Trek Con!

Those who never do anything never make mistakes. Those who do, artists, carpenters, painters, sculptors, plumbers, dancers, builders, composers — all make mistakes. If you make a mistake, take it out. If you are thinking about not taking it out and you know it will show, take it out.

Most of all, do something you love, that way your enthusiasm will last the whole way through.

Realize that when you sew you are 1. Saving Time (consider how much time it would take to go shopping for the exact item you want), 2. Saving Money (a given), 3. Being Creative, 4. Making Your Own Choice, 5. Showing Your Own Character. – Claire

If you're making clothing, you may want to consider making a toile (muslin mock-up) to better understand the construction process for that pattern and for fitting issues. Muslin is generally inexpensive and it's easy to recut something if it's fubarred beyond use.

Some helpful resources:

blog.bygertie.com/

http://lladybird.com

http://sewaholic.net

https://www.coletterie.com

http://blog.megannielsen.com

http://makezine.com/craft

An indispensable book to have is the The New Complete Guide to Sewing. – Evita

Are YOU ready to start learning to sew? Tell us about it!

  1. I'm so excited about this article! I was literally thinking about trying to learn to sew yesterday because I want to make a specific Halloween costume for my toddler.

    1 agrees
  2. My favorite online sewing magazine is Seamwork. Really good tutorials, patterns that look great and are pretty friendly for the advanced beginner. The patterns aren’t free, but the rest is. Also a good range of sizes. Also patterns from 100 acts of sewing. For beginning quilters, Missouri Star Quilt Co has good video tutorials and the Moda Bakeshop has fun things to do with precuts. But check out your local quilt shop! A lot of times they’ll have classes for garments and bags, not just quilts (awesome though those are).

  3. Love this article! I will be bookmarking to refer back to!

    I am currently learning to sew and I have found sewing reusable cloth panty liners and cloth menstrual pads really great to learn with and fun to make.
    It sounds weird, but they are so great for me to make, I like variety and big projects can take too long and I get a bit over it.

    Cloth panty liners and pads are small so don’t take hours, and if you use an all straight pattern (the Cher from Versodile for example, and it’s free so you don’t even have to buy it) it is much easier to sew and a great way to practice corners and straight lines.
    Round patterns are a good way to practice curves. And if your sewing isn’t great they’re still totally usable and no one else really has to see them to even know.

    And the fabric! You can use all the fun and nerdy cotton quilting fabrics for the top, without having to actually make a quilt. The Facebook sewing cloth pads group I am in has so many fun fabrics popping up, zombie pin up girls, sexy cowboys, pop culture, unicorns, mermaids.
    And fun novelty patterns, for Halloween, sharks for shark week, Disney princesses, unicorns (when my skills are up to it, one day I am making a unicorn).

    I am not an advertisement I promise, just slightly passionate about a still mostly under the radar sewing project 🙂

    If you’re curious about sewing some, or just curious about them in general, I recommend Amy Nix on youtube, I learned so much from her.

    (And if actually using them yourself is a stretch too far, you can donate them to charities in many different countries including the USA)

    1 agrees

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