Have Advice on Sewing for Beginners?

In some ways we're all beginners when it comes to sewing, whether we've been doing it for five days or fifty years. There's always more to  learn. Today, I'm asking, what's the best piece of advice you have on sewing for beginners?

Your new best friend.

Here's my list of advice. Read through it, then add yours!

1.   Don't bite off more than you can chew. New to quilting? Try a small wall hanging or a few patchwork blocks before setting off on that queen quilt project you've been dreaming of.

2.   Don't be afraid to make mistakes. You're going to make them, so don't sweat it. Your seam ripper will become your new best friend.

3.   Observe and learn from others. Go to shows and festivals, read books, take classes, have tea with your neighbor who happens to make her own clothes. Pick up new skills however you feel comfortable.

4.   Diversify. Once you've got a technique or project down pat, try something new, or a different way of doing things, to expand your knowledge base.

5.   Have fun! 

If you are new to sewing and getting started seems daunting, consider arming yourself with this handy LoveSewing Basic Sewing Kit available in the Sew Daily Shop.

I know there are plenty of you out there with advice for beginners. Please, don't hold back. Share your advice, tips, tricks, and stories with us all. I can't wait to hear.

Happy stitching! 


Other sewing topics you may enjoy:


Sewing Fabric & Fabric Basics
Abby Kaufman

About Abby Kaufman

Abby Kaufman is assistant editor of Stitch magazine. When she's not scoping out new fabrics for her collection, Abby enjoys outdoor activities, and spending time with her husband and two dogs. 

23 thoughts on “Have Advice on Sewing for Beginners?

  1. ***Instead of sewing basting stitches when gathering material instead sew a zig zag stitch over the top of waxed dental floss which is super strong and the waxed thread allows it to slide easily and tends not to break when gathering the material.

    **sew slowly until you have mastered the guiding of the material and keeping your seam allowance consistent. It is not a race relax and enjoy. It is easier than going fast and needing to pick out seams.

    I am opposite another poster in that I always loved sewing late into the night, but I also didn’t need to function at 6 or 7 am either. Late nights were quiet and I was uninterrupted. The key is to be rested well enough that you are not making mistakes. Rushing or trying to cut corners with projects were the things that always lead me to having more problems, such things as not ironing or skipping the step of preshrinking the material. Those steps are vital to most projects turning out as they should.

    Take your time and enjoy the creative process.

  2. 1. Know that pattern sizes are NOT the same as for ready-to-wear. Measure yourself and get the size based on those measurements.

    2. Get the type of fabric suggested on the pattern envelope. DO NOT get a knit if the pattern suggests a woven, and vice versa.

    3. Get all the notions specified on the pattern envelope before you leave the store. Otherwise, you will find yourself stalled because you have to go to the store to get something else for the project.

  3. I would suggest two things: patience. If you aren’t getting “it”, put it aside, go have a cup of tea, and come back to “it”…later or in the morning. Secondly, know when to quit. If you are frustrated, it is late at night, nothing is working, quit for the day. The project will be there tomorrow, and you will probably see what it is you couldn’t see the night before. I’m sure you have something in your closet to wear in the morning.

  4. Your seam ripper will be a very good friend, and here are some tips to make it easier.
    * Don’t use stitches so small you cant get your seam ripper under the stitch
    * Find a seam ripper with a small point so it can fit under the stitches. A sewing machine store may have ones with a skinnier blade.
    * When you start a seam, it only needs one or two back stitches to hold it, don’t make more than several back stitches or its a very big pain to rip out and shreds your fabric at that point.
    * Rip every 4-5 stitches on one side of the seam, place a piece of tape over those little pieces of thread, then pull out the long thread on the back side and then pull off the tape. The tape should contain all the little stitches you just ripped off the front. Easy clean up

  5. I’ve been teaching for several years so I have some good feedback from the sewers I’ve taught. Almost every one has said the best advice I gave them when they started was “When you make the 2nd mistake it’s time to put the sewing away for the day!”.

    The few students that didn’t say the above was the most helpful bit of beginner advice said they got the most from my other stressed advice – “Your seam ripper is your new BFF”

    All of my students are still sewing including my first one (1999) who is now a costume designer in the USA:)

  6. Basting is not a bad word, especially if you are doing something complicated. It’s easier to pull out basting than machine stitching without damaging your fabric, and it will hold things more accurately than pins.

  7. learn your sewing machine by going through the manual page by page and make swatches of each of the stitches your machine can achieve. sound boring? taking the time to stitch and varying the length and or width of each stitch shows you just what all your machine can do. you don’t have to worry about making a mistake. a “mistake” could be just what you need to show on a future project.

  8. Slow down! I walk fast, talk fast, and eat fast. I’ve learned though that sewing fast is anything BUT fast. I am not an “enjoy the process” kind of gal, more of a “hurry up and finish this fab blouse so I can wear it to dinner”. If you are like me, just stop and slow down. You, and your seam ripper, will be happy you did!

  9. While you will want to build your skills and make well crafted projects, don’t be too hard on yourself at the start. Go for “finished” instead of “perfect”!

  10. Never sew when you’re preoccupied with anything else (good or bad). If you can’t focus on your sewing, you’ll soon be focusing on your ripping!

    Try your best to match points, but don’t beat yourself up if they aren’t perfect every time. And don’t keep ripping and restitching or you’ll stretch the fabric. Remember the six-feet-away and galloping-horse adage — you won’t notice little imperfections from either!

  11. Never use a seam ripper. It’s too easy to put a hole in your fabric where a seam should be, and you tend to pull and weaken the seam line. Purchase a good pair of embroidery scissors and clip the stitches.

    As ye sew, so shall ye rip.

  12. A TOTE BAG makes a great first project for two main reasons:
    (1) It doesn’t require fitting like garments do
    (2) Because you carry around, you’re able to get compliments that will boost your confidence to tackle other projects.

    OK, THREE reasons:
    (3) You can add or subtract details to match your desired challenge level (Zippers, patch pockets, welt pockets, pleats, linings, etc…)

  13. If it is your first time with a new (more complex pattern) do not use the material that you envision yourself wearing in that pattern. start off with some other material that may be left over from other projects or some you just have stored away. Get to know the pattern this way so that your next try at it will be much easier and you can use that new beautiful material.

  14. If it is your first time with a new (more complex pattern) do not use the material that you envision yourself wearing in that pattern. start off with some other material that may be left over from other projects or some you just have stored away. Get to know the pattern this way so that your next try at it will be much easier and you can use that new beautiful material.

  15. Learning to follow a pattern is very important, but first learn what all the terms to become familiar with them and understand exactly what they mean. I went on line to learn all these for knitting, crocheting, sewing and made myself a print out of each to put into plastic sleeves and have them available in my reference binder.
    For those who have granddaughter, and daughters of course, I suggest they learn very young what sewing is all about and not wait until they are older and become intimated. My granddaughter was taught to sew starting at 3 years old when I let her into my sewing room to explore and answer every question she ask and as she became familiar with things I would encourage her to go further. I made up a little sewing kit made up of small spool of thread, 1 needle, paper tape measure, pin cushion with 4 flower pins, and childs scissors.
    The kit stayed at grandma’s house for her to use and each time she showed interest in something else I let her explore and answer her questions. She is now 9 years old, and knows how to use my baby lock, and sew by hand, and can actually design her own little stuffed animals clothes that has learned to make from old stocks, and I also have what I call a scrap bag of fabrics, is called “My Biz Bag” and each time she comes over she knows she can go through and find what she might like to use. She also knits, and crochets, and this last Christmas I gave her my fairly new spinning wheel she now uses to spin her wool, and knit from that.
    Helps with that because she lives on a farm with sheep and goats.
    Kids are like sponges and they will absorb so much at a very young age and apply that interest into their own lives. I am now starting to teach my Great Niece who is 5 how to learn to sew by hand on a tiny little hoop I gave her with a cat I drew for her design to follow. Next step coming son.
    Grandma who loves to teach the young ones.

  16. I taught sewing for several years, thru a fabric store. My students and classes ranged from 8year olds, thru teens, and adults. Most had very little or no sewing experience at all. Most had never operated a sewing machine. Some were brave and daring, some squeemish and lacking confidence in themselves.

    I showed them what the machine does and how it operates. I also, depending on the class, let them use scraps. I told them to save their scraps from any project we did, or any they had at home, and play with the scraps at home to see what their machine could do on different settings. That way, they would not waste yardage. It would help them expand their knowledge of the machine. Also practice different techniques with these scraps, ie. different hems, or seams, or a zipper, etc.

    I always recommended they get a good sewing book to refer to at home. One with good line drawings, which are often easier to interpret than photos. With a book, they could look up how to do something, remind themselves of a technique they forgot from class, find alternative ways to do things. Every good sewer has at least one good book to refer to. Without a book, you are very limited and often lost when you are learning. After you have sewn for years, you still will bring out your book to refer to for different techniques, or a refresher of how to do something you haven’t done for some time, etc.

    The other important strategy is in your choice of fabric. My advice is to stick to woven (not knit) cottons, and projects that are not too complicated. Woven cottons won’t play tricks on you. Stay away from fabrics that are slippery, shreddy, stretchy or bumpy or plaids that need matching. They will just make you throw up your hands and throw the project in the closet. Woven cottons ( in the quilting section of the stores) are easy to handle, thus you can concentrate on the sewing without the fabric fighting you. (Believe me, I have seen students who brought these difficult fabrics have so much trouble and frustration, while the other students have turned out a nice project.)

    Also, understand that patterns do not explain themselves. They are written for people who have prior knowledge of sewing, of reading and interpreting the layout diagrams, sewing instructions, etc. A good sewing book will help you thru these, or a person with experience can show you what all the sections of information on a pattern and the pattern envelope mean, and thus how to judge a pattern’s easyness or not. And just because it says EASY, or 2 HOURS, don’t think that it is for beginners. That is for someone who knows what they are doing, and the 2 hours means 2 hours actual sewing time, nevermind the layout, cutting out, or any alterations for fitting properly.
    Give yourself time to learn. Take it easy with the level of your projects. Try Halloween costumes (easy ones)- no one cares if they are not perfect. You can learn from making these. Also simple doll clothes, craft projects, wall hangings, simple clothing items, like skirts. Children’s clothing, because it usually does not need alteration for size. Pillows!
    And have Fun! It is a great skill and the sewing machine is a great machine. Hand sewing is a great skill. People have been sewing for several thousand years. You can learn too.

  17. YES to fabric appropriate to the pattern, YES to don’t sew when you are tired or distracted, YES to use your iron a lot… that’s as far as I read in the existing comments. I’ll add:

    Make sure you know and USE the basic settings, practices, and care guidelines of your best friend, the sewing machine! Meaning, know which way the bobbin should go in, use the lint brush, adjust the tension with ease, adjust the presser foot pressure (you don’t have to trust the machine’s Auto function; sometimes they *aren’t* what works), adjust stitch length to fabric and seam, and make sure that you are comfortable enough changing needles so that’s it is no more difficult than tying your shoes!

  18. Whenever making a garment from a pattern be sure to press your work after each step or where told to press. Do not skip this step. It will make all the difference between a garment that looks homemade and one that looks store bought. I think this is one of the most overlooked step in sewing.