Buying the first sewing machine is perhaps the most intimidating purchase for sewing beginners. Knowing where to start and what to look for on the market can be a real challenge. If you are a beginner however, you should always start small. There is not need to invest in a sewing machine with a variety of complex stitches and features you might never need to use. Choosing the appropriate sewing machine means finding the right balance between quality, price and the necessary sewing capabilities. You'll find that you really don't need to spend a lot to get a good quality machine that will last you years. Many advanced dressmakers still use a simple home sewing machine for all their needs. There are a number of attachments and presser feet that work with almost all models which you may purchase additionally as you become more advanced.
For now, if you are doing some research on where to start with the initial purchase, here are some of the main things to consider in your search for your first sewing machine:
The Necessary Features
All sewing machines will have the necessary features to sew a garment from start to finish. The most essential elements include: a straight stitch capability for applying permanent stitches; a zig zag stitch to clean finish the raw edges and accommodate knit fabrics, and a reverse button for back-stitching. Of course, even the most basic sewing machines available on the market will offer a few more features than just these 3 basic ones. However, as a beginner, you should start your search with the most essential and work outwards. Although, all sewing machines will probably already have similar settings, it is good to make yourself a little checklist and be able to recognize what the different notations and buttons stand for.
The Straight Stitch
It should be adjustable in stitch length to create a range from very short to a basting stitch with the longest stitch length. Stitch length is usually measured by counting how many stitches are in a 1 inch increment. The shortest stitch length will have a higher count of stitches within an 1" while a basting stitch has a lower stitch count. The shorter stitches are denser and used for finer fabrics like silk and chiffon. They can minimize tension in some very lightweight fabrics and create a durable connection. Basting stitches can either be used temporarily or permanently depending on the project. Generally, longer stitches are used for stretchier fabrics because they allow for more flexibility. For most projects, you will most likely use a medium-length stitch which is somewhere in between. A medium stitch on most sewing machines falls between the 3-4 settings. The good news is, all sewing machines on the market offer a straight stitch with length adjustments.
Basic Presser Feet
There is probably no functional sewing machine out there (no matter how basic) that does not have a regular presser foot. You really don't have to check if a sewing machine has one, but it is a good idea to know what it looks like. The regular presser foot features a flat surface on both sides of the needle that keeps the fabric layers stable while being fed through the machine in the stitching process. Two rough surfaces at the bottom further aid this process. Its front is slightly curved up to additionally ease the movement of the fabric during stitching. Every sewing machine has a presser foot-lifting handle that allows you to lift and lower the presser foot as needed.
Most basic sewing machines also include a satin presser foot. It features a beveled bottom that facilitates dense zig zag stitches (which we will discuss more bellow). You can recognize a satin presser foot by the fact that it appears wider than a regular presser foot. It also features a wider slot opening for the needle. Its bottom surface is beveled so that it feeds the thread smoother during zig zag or satin stitch applications.
A Zipper Presser Foot
As opposed to a regular presser foot, a zipper presser foot is used for sewing various styles of zippers as well as stitching next to piping, cording and raised edges. A zipper presser foot is narrow and allows the needle to align and sew right next to raised sides that a regular presser foot normally cannot move past. If you look at the image above, you will notice that it features two open slots on each side- This is where the machine needle goes. Depending on the direction necessary for sewing, you can adjust the needle to either side accordingly. Just like almost all presser feet, the zipper foot has a curved, slightly raised front to aid the movement of fabric during sewing. As you move from beginner to intermediate, you will become quite dependent of this zipper foot to sew more detailed garments and complex zippers. If your sewing machine does not come pre-equipped with an invisible zipper foot (which many basic ones don't), you can use a regular zipper foot to easily attach an invisible zipper.
A Zig Zag Stitch
A zig zag stitch on a sewing machine is most commonly used to sew stretch knits and clean finish seam allowance raw edges. It is a necessary feature for any basic sewing machine. It is also important that the zig zag stitch have a size and density adjustment. The necessary stitch length and density usually depends on the fabric. Your goal when clean finishing fabric raw edges is to contain the fraying as much as possible, and create a finish that withstands wear and care over a long period of time. A denser zig zag stitch is recommended for thicker, bulkier woven fabrics that unravel (fray) easily. The more surface you cover and the larger the stitch is, the more efficiently the fabric raw edge will be enclosed. Although a denser zig zag stitch is always a good bet whether using light or heavy weight fabrics, a less dense zig zag stitch can be used to clean finish fabrics that do not fray as much. It is always a good idea to test the edge of the fabric to make sure you are using the appropriate setting.
Additionally, a zig zag stitch is often used for sewing stretchy knits. The zig zag structure allows the stretchy-ness of the knit fabric to bounce back after being pulled. When sewing knits with a regular straight stitch, the non-stretch thread can actually break when the knit garment is pulled during wear. A zig zag stitch eliminates this issue by allowing for movement and flexibility. As you gain more knowledge, you will most likely want to experiment with various knit fabrics so learning how to apply a zig zag stitch on your machine will prove to be good practice. A zig zag can also be used as 2-in-1 solution for sewing knit seams: It permanently connects the fabric layers while also clean finishing their edges. Once the zig zag is applied, the edges of the knit fabric are trimmed close to the stitch to complete the seam. Various styles of zig zag stitches can also be utilized on the surface of fabric to fix tears.
Just as is true for straight stitches, a zig zag stitch needs to be set at the correct tension when used on woven fabrics. Most sewing machines with offer a tension setting control. Sewing machine tension can be a little complicated to understand for a sewing beginner. What you should keep in mind however is how to recognize tension issues. For a zig zag and straight stitches specifically, if it is bunching or tightening the fabric and further disrupting the smoothness of the seam, then the tension is not adjusted properly on your sewing machine. Consult your manual on how to fix it as this can vary from machine to machine.
A Reverse Button
A reverse button, whether labeled as that or not, is added to every sewing machine from the most basic to the most intricate. A reverse stitch is used to lock a straight stitch in place thus preventing it from coming undone- This is called backstitching. This machine control is most commonly depicted by a lever or button that you hold down while pressing the foot control to reverse the stitch. You might not always have this lever marked with the word "reverse" but it is quite easy to identify by the fact that its symbol is marked by a curved arrow. It is usually depicted by a lever or single button and commonly located on sewing machine's front either in the lower hand side or right above the presser foot.
A Blind Stitch Setting
Although you'll most likely learn how to sew a blind stitch by hand first, learning how to apply it with a sewing machine will facilitate sewing and save you some time in the process. Most sewing machines come equipped with this unique stitch and include a special presser foot to accompany it. You might mistake the blind stitch for funky zig zag stitch: It features a few straight stitches (usually 2) interrupted by a "V" shaped stitch. Holding the hem in a specified folded position will allow the point of the "V" stitch to catch a few threads from the wrong side of the fabric thus creating an invisible look on the face side. Look for this stitch setting on your potential machine purchase as it will really come in handy later down the road. To facilitate the application process, most sewing machines come equipped with a special blind hem presser foot. It is easy to identify by the fact that it has vertical extension at the bottom which aligns to the folded edge of the garment during sewing. It is a good idea to play around with a machine blind stitch application when you begin to feel more comfortable with basic sewing techniques. For now however, make sure you are able to recognize the look of this stitch to ensure that you invest in a sewing machine that offers it (almost all do!).
Suggested Sewing Machine Features
Now that you've learned about the most necessary features any basic sewing machine should offer, lets explore some suggested machine settings that will benefit you in the long run. A sewing machine is a long term product and should accommodate you in your beginning stages but also be appropriate to use at the intermediate-more advanced level. At a more seasoned stage, you'll explore more complex sewing techniques like adding buttonholes, applying a blind stitch, and hemming directly with your sewing machine. The good news is, you don't have to buy a new sewing machine just to get these techniques accomplished. It is suggested that your first sewing machine have some additional suggested features we'll describe bellow that should hopefully eliminate the need to upgrade later down the road.
Specialized Presser Feet
A good, basic sewing machine will include additional presser feet with the initial purchase. However, if a certain presser foot style is not provided, you may always buy it individually. They are standardized and will work with almost any home sewing machine. When purchasing special presser feet, it is a good idea to search for the ones that work with the brand of sewing machine you own. To be on the safe side, always check that any additional attachment such as needles, presser feet and bobbins always fits your brand of sewing machine.
The common presser feet you will most likely be interested in as you become more advanced are: a rolled hem presser foot (pictured bellow), an invisible zipper foot, a blind stitch presser foot (if not provided), a single step button hole presser foot, and a presser foot with attachment for sewing double-folded binding in one step.
A Buttonhole Setting
Some basic sewing machines do not offer a buttonhole setting. It is not always necessary for a sewing beginner but it does prove useful as you become more knowledgeable and looking to experiment with adding functional buttons to a garment. You do not have to base your initial purchase on whether the machine has a buttonhole setting or not. However, if you have some room in your budget, we recommend that you purchase a machine that has this additional feature. A sewing machine with a buttonhole setting will usually come with additional presser feet attachments for achieving the correct application. Using them can sometimes be a little tricky but lots of practice with trial and error will get you there in no time.
You will notice that the buttonhole setting allows you to either sew it in one step, or in 4 separate steps applied manually. The single step setting will require a specialized presser foot equipped with a button insertion slot for size reference. For the single step process, the sewing machine should also be equipped with a lever that drops down towards the presser foot. Not all basic sewing machines are supplied with this single step presser foot so it may need to be purchased separately.
Almost all basic machines that offer a buttonhole setting however, will include a simple presser foot like the one pictured above which aligns to the buttonhole lines allowing you to sew it in 4 separate steps. It is highly recommended that you practice a number of times on scrap fabric before applying the final button hole on the garment. Doing this on a home sewing machine can take some getting used to which is why this is a setting for an intermediate-advanced dressmaker.
Stretch Fabric Setting
The stretch fabric setting is available on most basic sewing machines and is used on highly stretch fabrics like those in active wear or swimwear. The stretch setting applies the appropriate tension necessary to sew such highly stretch fabrics. It works hand-in-hand with zig zag stitches to achieve the correct balance of tension and stitch flexibility.
Additional special settings offered by various sewing machines are sort of like the cherry on top. You can certainly get the job done without them but they add convenience and facilitate the sewing process. Different sewing machines have different special features depending on the brand and type of sewing machine. Embroidery sewing machines will have special features that facilitate the embroidery process, while a basic home sewing machine features additional specialized settings to facilitate basic crafts and apparel construction.
Here are some examples:
A Built-in Ruler
A built-in ruler is not a necessity, but it does create convenience. You can use it to do some quick measuring in real time without the use of a separate ruler. Not all sewing machines will have this, but it does add a nice touch which will most likely not increase the price of the sewing machine itself.
Needle Position Selector
This setting allows you to move the needle left, right or center. Most straight stitches are set to the center needle position. In some cases, having the ability to shift the needle allows you to achieve specialized sewing techniques for embroidery, top-stitching, sewing a buttonhole and even sewing a button. Not all sewing machines include this capability, but when present, it works with other settings like the buttonhole setting, embroidery and some zig zag stitches.
Embroidery stitches will most likely increase the price of the sewing machine. Embroidery sewing machines are usually computerized and can be a bit too complex for a beginner. However, if you do plan on using some embroidery in your future projects and have some extra income to spend, look for a machine that offers a few embroidery stitches as a special feature. The issue with embroidery-focused machines is that they can prove to be too confusing and difficult to use for a sewing beginner. If you have never owned a sewing machine and you want to start from the ground up, we suggest you stick to a basic to mid-range regular model before investing in an embroidery machine. Nevertheless, if embroidery is your field of choice, it might be worth the initial investment.
What Are Darts
When it comes to sewing apparel, the first thing to remember is that you are sewing for the human body which is an organic form. In order to construct a garment that is comfortable and wearable, a woven fabric's flat surface needs to be molded into a 3-dimensional shape. Darts allow you to turn an otherwise flat, non-stretch surface into a semi organic shape. They are subtle and easy to sew, and just a few simple darts can help the garment mold perfectly to the shape of the human form.
Darts are triangular in-takes that when sewn, eliminate excess in the most curved areas of the body thus conforming to the organic shape of it. Darts have a vanishing point and two identical lines of the same length called dart legs. The dart is folded along a dart fold line so that the dart legs overlap. Once they are aligned to match up in length, they are sewn together up to the vanishing point. This takes in the excess necessary to achieve the desirable 3-dimensional shape. Although darts are mostly used in more fitted woven garments, some darts (like a bust dart) are inserted not only to achieve a form-fitting structure but also for comfort and fit purposes in less fitted styles. As you start to understand the necessity of darts and how to sew them, you will get a better grip on which types of darts to use for each specific clothing item.
Types of Darts
There are two main categories of darts you should know as a sewing beginner: Double pointed darts and single pointed darts. These darts come in different lengths and widths and you can find them on a variety of different non-stretch (and some stretch) woven fabric items.
Single pointed darts have a single vanishing point and two dart legs. They look a lot like the shape of an angle. Remember drawing an angle in math class? Well, it looks exactly like that! A single pointed dart is the most commonly used dart in sewing. It is found on a number of clothing items from separates like tops and bottoms to dresses, suiting and outerwear. Some examples of single pointed darts are: bust darts, shoulder darts, waist darts, and elbow darts.
Double pointed darts have two vanishing points and two dart legs that are angular in shape. Think of it this way: If you take two single pointed darts and match their open ends together it will form the shape of a double pointed dart. Sewing a double pointed dart is like sewing two single pointed darts simultaneously. Double pointed darts are used most commonly around the waist and hip area on both front and back of a garment. They are able shape the curves of the waist and hips together in a smooth line. Double pointed darts are mostly found in form-fitting woven dresses, suits, blazers, and outerwear. Thinner double pointed darts are added to jackets and outerwear garments to achieve a more pronounced waist but that is not necessarily a completely form-fitting structure.
How to Mark and Sew Single Pointed Darts
Transferring a single pointed dart from sewing pattern onto fabric:
As a first step, transfer the dart from your sewing pattern to the fabric.
At the end of each dart leg and dart fold line you'll find a notch in the seam allowance. These notches will either be marked with a "T" shape or a triangle depending on the sewing patterns you are using.
In order to make the dart sewing process easier, a dart fold line is added right in the middle of the dart between the two dart legs. When the dart fold line is folded lengthwise it allows the two dart legs to naturally overlap and align properly for sewing.
1. Snip the "T" shape up to the vertical line, or cut out the triangle notches in order to mark each dart leg's end and dart fold line in the middle.
Follow the images bellow as a guide for both notch styles.
Once your notches are transferred, the next steps are to mark the vanishing point and transfer the actual lines of the dart legs and dart fold line onto the fabric. The easiest way to do this as a sewing beginner is by using a pin and a fabric marking pencil.
2. Put a pin through both layers of the fabric and pattern at the dart point (vanishing point of the dart).
3. Turn your pattern over so that the fabric is facing you, and mark with a fabric pencil the point where the pin comes through on the fabric, thus transferring the dart vanishing point.
Note: All your markings should be made on the wrong side of the fabric.
4. Remove all the pins and using a straight ruler and your fabric marking pencil, draw straight lines directly on the fabric from vanishing dart point to each one of the seam allowance notches. These three straight lines will form the dart legs and fold line and will later guide you in the sewing process.
Keep in mind that darts should always be marked on the wrong side of the fabric as displayed below. This not only keeps the face of the fabric clean, but the darts will be easier to sew by following the pencil markings on the wrong side of the fabric.
Sewing a single pointed dart:
1. Working on the wrong side of the fabric, fold the dart along the dart fold line in the middle.
Folding the dart fold line will naturally overlap the dart legs properly and align the dart leg notches. It also helps to iron this fold in order to keep the dart stable for sewing.
2. Place a few pins along the dart leg through both layers of fabric as shown.
3. Check that both dart legs are matching and aligned right on top of each other. The pin should go through the dart leg lines on both sides as displayed above.
4. Starting from the notch area, begin sewing right on top of the dart leg moving towards the dart vanishing point.
Make sure to keep the dart legs matching and overlapping properly while stitching.
5. Get in the habit of backstitching at the beginning of the dart. However, be careful when backstitching at the vanishing point. When working with lightweight, fine fabrics stay away from backstitching at the dart vanishing point as this can damage the fabric and cause it to crease. For sturdy, thicker fabrics you may backstitch both at the dart notches and dart vanishing point. It will take some practice to know which fabrics can handle backstitching and which don't. For the fabrics that machine backstitching may prove to be too harsh, you should backstitch by hand or knot the loose threads to stabilize the machine stitch.
Iron the dart on the face side of the garment with the excess pointing down.
How to Mark and Sew Double Pointed Darts
Transferring a double pointed dart from sewing pattern onto fabric:
A double pointed dart has two dart vanishing points and two transitional points that will need to be transfered from pattern onto fabric.
Below, we'll use the pin and fabric pencil marking technique as this is the easiest and requires the least tools.
1. Place a pin through the sewing pattern and fabric at the top dart point as displayed above.
2. Insert a pin through both fabric and sewing patterns at the transitional areas of the dart. These are the two points where the dart changes direction. They are easy to recognize by the fact that they represent the outer most points of the double pointed dart on each side.
3. Finally, insert a pin through the sewing pattern and fabric at the bottom dart point.
4. Turn the sewing pattern over so that the wrong side of the fabric is facing you, and using a fabric marking pencil, transfer each pin marking on the fabric as shown above.
5. Remove the pins, and using a straight ruler and fabric pencil, connect all the markings with straight lines.
6. Add a straight line from top dart point to bottom dart point, splitting the double pointed dart in half. This will serve as the dart fold line and will help when finally folding and sewing the dart.
Make sure that all your pencil markings are on the wrong side of the fabric.
Sewing a double pointed dart:
1. Fold along the dart fold line as displayed above.
3. Make sure the dart legs are matched properly by inserting the pin through the pencil markings on each side simultaneously.
4. Start at one dart point and stitch down towards the second dart point at the bottom. It will take some practice to make a smooth transition at the outer most part of the dart. Keep practicing and you'll achieve a smooth stitch in no time!
In the case where backstitching may damage or crease the fabric at the vanishing point (fine, lightweight fabrics), knot the loose threads to lock the machine stitch in place at each dart vanishing point.
5. Once completed, iron the double pointed dart seam on the face of the garment with the excess pointing towards the center (center front or center back). It is not necessary that you trim the excess unless the dart excess is unusually wide and requires tension release.
A multi faceted clothing item is a goldmine in a woman's closet. The best return on investment is always a garment that can withstand wear in a range of styling combinations without compromising comfort. A well-balanced design that can effectively elevate or tone down an outfit is worth a lot of praise. The Alex Cardigan fits within the category of a versatile clothing item that easily transitions from work to play without jeopardizing comfort and aesthetics. At the office, it allows for maximum comfort while maintaining a professional, business appropriate look. After work, it pairs beautifully with a pair of jeans or even a little black dress. The beauty of the Alex Cardigan, and the reason it has become one of our favorites, is because it has the ability to effectively dress up a casual outfit and vise versa, dress down something that feels too formal.
So what exactly is so special about the Alex Cardigan? Here are a few features that are bound to make you fall in love with it.
An All Day Jacket-Cardigan Feel: A versatile styling option
Some of the most valuable items in a woman's closet are those that can be styled in variety of different ways and worn to a range of different occasions. The Alex Cardigan mixes casual with dressed up to bring forth a classic silhouette with dozens of styling options without compromising comfort. It is this comfort that allows for versatility in the first place. The Alex Cardigan makes our top list because it fits the bill to a T. Featuring sweater knit ribbed sleeves and a pair of waist-high side slits it allows for all day comfort without effecting the aesthetics of the style. It makes the perfect addition to any work outfit as a layering piece whether it is combined with a skirt, dress or pair of trousers. The black and white palette mixes well with any color, offering the classic black and white combination we've come to love so much. While the color combination is undeniably a classic, the unique linear design dresses up any outfit that needs a little kick without overwhelming it. Additionally, the function of versatility is to allow a clothing item to adapt to any circumstance or setting throughout the day. Specifically, its effortless ability to transition from day to night- wear it all day at work and throw it on with your evening outfit to either dress it up or down as desired.
A Tailored Look With An Everyday Cardigan Feel
The linear silhouette and a semi structured drape give the Alex Cardigan a tailored look yet still maintains its comfort throughout. Although it imitates a tailored spring jacket, it is not fully lined which allows it to feel more like an everyday cardigan further eliminating bulk and the hassle of dry cleaning. The Alex Cardigan features a structured, sturdy facing along its front opening emphasizing its tailored edge. The facing gives the cardigan's front opening an architectural style bringing forth its linear design. The cut of the silhouette itself mixes effortlessly with the black and white plaid print which is subtle yet still aesthetically unique. The acrylic boucle fabric eliminates the need for dry cleaning by offering easy care in a comfortable, wrinkle-free style. Since boucle is normally a suiting fabric, it adds additional tailoring flare to the style. The inclusion of the sweater knit sleeves however, brings forth the comfort and casual aspect of an everyday cardigan maintaining its linear design with a thick ribbed knit fabric. Additionally, the vertical black corded stripe going down the middle of each sleeve adds a flare of elegance to the more casual knit fabric balancing it with the rest of the black and white plaid print featured in the body of the Cardigan.
What Makes it Special?
The Ribbed Sweater Knit Sleeves
The secret of the Alex Cardigan's comfort and versatility lies in the sweater knit sleeves. They soften the more tailored aspect brought forth by the black and white boucle fabric used in the body of the cardigan. The comfortable addition of the knit sleeves eliminates fit issues around the arms offering a comfortable, wearable option without compromising the aesthetic aspect of the style. Perhaps what makes them truly unique is the addition of black cording positioned vertically along the center of each sleeve. From an aesthetic perspective, the accented black stripe creates a smooth transition between the sleeve and the linear black and white print in the body of the cardigan allowing for a well balanced design. On a functional level, it is flattering and slenderizing elevating the style to match the more structured body of the cardigan. The sleeves offer just just the right amount of thickness featuring a thick ribbed knit structure. Both the sweater knit sleeves and boucle fabric have a similar fabric weight and hand which further balances the wearability of the cardigan.
The Side Slits
Along with the sweater knit sleeves, two side slits further emphasize comfort and versatility. They start at the waist and extend into a high-low hem. Design wise, they add versatility and ease of movement while their structured aspect further contribute to the tailored nature of the style. Side slits make a huge difference in a garment by elevating its comfort during wear as well allowing it to be paired with a range of styles from casual to more dressed up. While the side slits in the Alex Cardigan bring forth a more casual feel to the design, they are finishes to still maintain a semi-tailored look. In addition, combining slits with a suiting fabric like boucle is unique and allows for a more modern feel.
The Linear High-Low Hem
The linear high-low hem goes hand-in-hand with the slits to create a structured, linear style at the bottom of the cardigan. The front hem is higher than the back extending just enough to create a tunic-like length but not so much that it feels boxy. The side slits described above allow the bottom of the cardigan to feature some movement further emphasizing the hem's front-to-back length difference. Naturally, the back hem is extended to be longer, stopping at about mid-thigh. A longer back hem contributes to the comfort of the cardigan and allows for a more flattering, wearable silhouette. Although the high-low hem transition is subtle, it makes a huge difference in the design aspect of the cardigan both aesthetically and functionally. From an aesthetic point of view, it ties in all the the linear aspects of the cardigan's print and structure to create a visually pleasing design. From a functional perspective, it allows the Alex Cardigan to be versatile and flattering increasing comfort during wear.
The Textured Black and White Print
Needles to say, you can never go wrong with a classic black and white color combination. The black and white plaid-like print featured in the Alex Cardigan is quite subtle and very different from what we know as a classic plaid print. The black lines are not bold but aligned such as to create a unique yet wearable print. The thin black intersecting lines have depth and texture further emphasized by the textured quality of the boucle weaving itself. As mentioned above, the additional beauty of the fabric is its easy wear and care and it ability to maintain a wrinkle-free structure. For that reason the Alex Cardigan travels well and will maintain it's structural elements over long periods of wear.
Jeans in any style or color.
Pair it with a little a Little Black Dress.
Work separates, from formal bottoms and tops to tailored work dresses.
Casual combination of separates- Elevates the style of shorts and casual skirts and a range of casual top combinations.
If you've ever scoured stores for that particular clothing item you need and still can't find exactly what you are looking for, then learning how to sew your own clothing can be a real privilege and save you lots of money in the process. Every woman has had a moment when having this extra skill could have really come in handy. While the process may seem intimidating for a complete beginner, if you start small and grow from there, you'll find that learning how to sew is actually not as scary as you might think. Although it has it's challenges, especially when tackling more complex designs, once you know the basics you can work through almost any sewing problem.
Start With The Sewing Basics
Sewing is a little bit like math- you have to start with the most basic techniques and gradually build on them over time. It is very difficult to sew something more complex if you don not yet have a full grip on the basics. Surely you're asking yourself: So what are the basics? Well, start with the building block of all clothing items: fabric. For instance, get a better understanding of the difference between knit and woven fabrics; The location of the selvage along the fabric's edge and how it is used in relationship to sewing patterns; What classifies as the face and wrong side of fabric? Once you understand these basic concepts, it's a good idea to make a few trips to your local fabric store. The good new is that you don't have to buy anything- browsing is free. Do some window shopping and get your hands on a few different fabrics. Read the fabric content on the tags and see if you can differentiate between the different types of weaving available.
In addition to gaining some basic fabric knowledge, work on better understanding sewing patterns and their use. Think of sewing patterns as big stencils that form the building blocks of a garment. As we'll discuss below, understanding basic elements on a sewing pattern is essential when it comes to sewing the garment pieces afterwards. For example, having a general recognition of what a basic dress, skirt, or pant sewing pattern looks like is important for a sewing beginner. You do not have to get into the complexities of things (unless you want to), but being able to recognize where the neckline, armholes, waistline, and side seams are is important in the cutting and sewing process. In addition, learning more about darts in construction will open your eyes to various fit concepts and garment structure. Other more complex elements like princess seams, tucks, pleats and facings (to name just a few) are something you can learn later, when you feel more comfortable with all the basics. If you're just getting started, don't worry too much about knowing how to sew a sleeve or add various styles of zipper closures. Your first project should ideally stay away from any complex sewing techniques and focus strictly on cutting the sewing patterns, sewing the appropriate seams together and simple methods for clean finishing garment raw edges like those of seams, hems and armholes/neckline.
If you would like to get more familiar with sewing pattern elements but would rather not spend any money, you can look up some templates online or even borrow a few patterns from a friend that sews. To initially familiarize yourself with them, you just need to be able to read and recognize all their essential elements. Once you understand what goes where, you'll have an easier time choosing your first sewing pattern to buy.
Buy only the most essential tools for the initial project.
An initial intimidating factor for most sewing beginners is the pressure of buying all the initial sewing tools. Many beginners think they need a variety of complex tools in order to get started, thus they end up feeling increasingly overwhelmed in the beginning stages. This can sometimes push them to give up too soon. In reality, you should do quite the opposite. Always start with the simple and the very necessary tools for your first project. This will not only save you money, but also eliminate some of the confusion related to the initial supply purchase.
Think of your first sewing project as your first sewing lesson. Your biggest initial investment will be a sewing machine (if you don't already own one) and a good pair of fabric scissors. The good news is, you don't need an expensive sewing machine with lots of stitch options. Look for a sewing machine that can sew at least a straight stitch, a zig-zag stitch and a button hole. Unless you are planning on learning more about machine embroidery, you shouldn't complicate things with sewing machines featuring lots of complex embroidery options. You can buy additional presser feet for your sewing machine as you become more advanced and learn more complex finishes over time.
If you want to get a head start on the tool purchase, the following are the necessary and least expensive sewing tools/supplies you need as a sewing beginner:
A seam ripper: used for taking out stitches if you make a mistake (a must for sewing beginners).
Pins: used for pinning seams together and holding the fabric layers together during sewing.
Fabric marking pencil or tailors chalk: It is important that you have a non-permanent way of marking directly on the fabric without damaging it. Fabric marking pencils and tailors chalk (used on thicker fabrics) come off in the wash without damaging the fabric. If you are looking to save some money, you can always use leftover, dry soap pieces for marking. Check out 6 Sewing Hacks For The Creative Seamstress to learn more.
Fabric tracing paper and a tracing wheel (Optional but recommended): This is used to transfer darts and other markings from pattern onto fabric. It is a good idea to get these two items together for dart transfers and various pattern-making techniques. However, if you are looking to save some money, you can opt out of these two items for the time being and use just your marking pencil instead.
Hand Sewing Needles: Even though you'll be using your sewing machine for the main stitches, hand sewing needles are necessary both in the sewing process as well a variety of hand finishing techniques. As you delve deeper into the sewing process, you'll learn that in certain situations, basting by hand before applying the final stitch will save you the headache of having to redo it.
Find inexpensive fabrics.
As a rule of thumb, never start with the most expensive fabrics. As a matter of fact, think of your first sewing project as a learning experience as opposed to something you'll be able to wear right away. The reality is you will make lots of mistakes on your first try, but don't get discouraged! Making mistakes in the learning process is certainly a good thing when it comes to sewing. Keep in mind that it is quite normal not to fully understand the concept of fabric drape until you have had some practice and a bit of trial and error. This is a very common issue for beginners even after they have a couple of finished projects under their belt. Don't put too much pressure on yourself to pick the right fabric right from the start- always look at your first sewing try as a lesson/learning experience.
It is very possible that the fabrics you fall in love with most will sometimes be the most costly. Keep your eye on them but we encourage you not to use them on your first project. On the other hand, don't get discouraged if you have "ruined" a couple of your favorite fabrics- we've all done it! Your initial fabric purchase should be viewed more as practice material. We suggest you start with plain woven cotton fabrics. Although they do not always have the silky drape you might be after, they are less expensive and very easy to cut, mark and sew. You can find them in the quilting cotton section in large variety of prints and colors. These cotton wovens are a great start for any project and depending on the design you are sewing, quite wearable as well. If you are looking for actual practice material you can try muslin which is a plain woven cotton available in bleached and non-bleached options. Muslin is used in the apparel industry for prototypes before cutting the final garment fabric and is quite inexpensive. We recommend always using muslin to test all your sewing techniques before cutting out the final sewing patterns, especially when working with more expensive fabrics
If you are short on money, browse the fabric store first and get an idea of what type of fabric you are interested in using. If it's too expensive, take the name down and look it up online to see if you can find more affordable options. Although the content (polyester, cotton, silk etc.) is important, search by type of weaving/fabric (for example: challis, chiffon, corduroy, etc) when shopping online as this will ensure that you receive a similar one to the fabric store version.
If you like the tactile quality of physically shopping for fabrics but are weary of spending too much money on your first sewing projects, look for remnants or browse the sale section. The sale section still offers great quality fabrics but at a more reasonable cost for a beginner. Many fabric stores also offer remnant pieces. These are often rolled up and labeled with how much yardage each piece contains as well as additional fabric information like fiber content and weaving type. As a sewing beginner, you will most likely start with smaller yardage so using remnants allows you to find higher quality fabrics that will most likely fit within your project specification.
Tip: If you live close to a clothing manufacturing company or factory, they could possibly have some fabric remnants available for free. Don't be afraid to give them a quick call and ask!
Start with a simple dress sewing pattern.
As a beginner, you shouldn't spend all your resources on buying a variety of different sewing patterns. This not only adds up in cost, but it can also end up overwhelming you more than expected. We suggest you buy patterns in a single size. Commercial sewing patterns usually available at the fabric store, have to be broken down by size which can end up confusing a sewing novice. In addition, search for the most simple dress you can find, trying your best to avoid: sleeves, princess seams, tucks, pleats, and complicated darts. If you can manage to avoid a zipper on your first project, that would be ideal. However, a zipper might be a necessary closure for a non-stretch dress so you'll have to power through it even though it might seem a bit intimidating at first.
As an initial step, read the pattern and understand all of its basic elements before pinning and cutting the final fabric. It is much easier to understand all the components of a garment by reading the marked patterns than attempting to read the already cut fabric pieces alone. If you are starting with a simple dress, as is most recommended, you should be able to identify the necklines, armholes, waist area, the hem and all of its darts. In addition, it is important to understand the concept of seam allowance and be able to differentiate between the seam allowance along each edge. Keep in mind that you should refer back to your sewing patterns any time you forget what the seam allowance is, or if you're simply confused about matching the appropriate seams during sewing. For that reason, it is essential that you are able to read a sewing pattern and understand it as if it was a blue print for your garment prior to cutting out the final fabric.
A simple dress pattern will teach you all the elements mentioned above including notches and how to use them properly during sewing. Notches are something that every sewing pattern will most likely have, whether it is a very basic or more complicated garment. A simple sewing pattern will most likely only have 1 or 2 sets of notches which will make it less confusing for a beginner. If you start with sewing a simple dress and understand every step of the process along the way, you can later apply these techniques to sew most basic tops and various skirt styles.
Techniques Associated With Sewing a Simple Dress
The sewing techniques associated with sewing a simple dress encompass all the basics you need to know as a sewing beginner. Along with learning how to sew a simple seam, making a dress from scratch will additionally teach you more about drape, giving you a better understanding of fit along the bust, waist and hip areas. Since a dress often involves most parts of the human form, you will save some money by eliminating the need to purchase additional sewing patterns for a separate skirt and top. A plain dress will usually include the need to sew darts, finish neckline and armhole edges, as well as clean-finish the hem. These are the most used techniques in sewing that are almost always applicable to sewing other garments. Once you master these techniques you can move on to more complicated projects and learn additional sewing elements as you advance.
It is a good idea to start with a woven fabric that does not stretch. While in theory, knit items may seem easier to sew, it is woven fabrics that will help you understand the basics better. Non-stretch woven fabrics allow you to practice a multitude of common sewing techniques such as darts and certain seam finishes you cannot otherwise learn with stretch knits. Starting with non-stretch fabrics will also allow for a wider prince range thus offering inexpensive options when it comes to those first projects.
We also suggest that your first sewing project is not a maxi dress as this is not only costly but it can lead you to other challenges such as limited space for laying out the fabric and cutting your sewing patterns effectively. As mentioned above, your first go at sewing will almost always warrant some mistakes so using less amount of fabric at a lower cost is always a safer choice. Lastly, stay away from sewing styles with sleeves if you can. Sewing a basic sleeve takes some background knowledge and can be extremely overwhelming for a sewing beginner.
The following are simple (but necessary) sewing techniques you'll learn by sewing a basic dress:
- Laying out your fabric correctly for cutting.
- Pinning and cutting your sewing patterns.
- Transferring markings from the patterns onto the fabric pieces (notches, darts etc.)
- How to sew and clean-finish seams.
- At least one method for finishing a neckline edge.
- At least one method for clean finishing armhole edges.
- Technique(s) for clean finishing the hem.
- Practice using basic sewing tools, including your sewing machine.
- You may also learn essential techniques used to facilitate the actual sewing process: Basting, ironing each seam as you sew, applying interfacing, staystitching, understitching etc.
You can apply all of the sewing techniques listed above in the construction of most garments.
Using online resources.
While there are unlimited free resources and tutorials online, knowing where to look and what to look for can prove to be somewhat of a challenge for a sewing beginner. As a first step, try to be specific in your search keywords as to avoid the need to filter through a lot of general information you might not understand. Sometimes however, trying to find the best beginner sewing resources online will entail you to browse through some unfamiliar territory. Avoid this by searching each individual step at a time. The process of learning how to sew is one that requires step by step transition through each stage, so focusing on a single technique until you really understand it will save you some headache in the long run.
A few simple Google searches will lead you to some great free resources both in text and video form. Anytime you feel confused about a term or phrase, be sure to look it up even if it may seem unimportant to you. Assuming you are starting with sewing a simple dress, divide the project into multiple small tasks and tackle each one at a time. Make sure that your internet searches focus on the specifics of each task as opposed to a general guideline for sewing the entire dress. For a example, start right from the beginning by searching "how to lay out the fabric for cutting"- this will additionally teach you a few things about the fabric's selvage edge and the direction of the grain line. Next, you may focus on how to pin and cut your sewing patterns. You'll find that if you concentrate on each stage of the process consecutively and allow for enough practice and time to understand each step, the most appropriate online resources will become easier to find.
Here are a few suggestions for what to search online as a sewing beginner:
- How to cut a basic sewing pattern
- What is cut on fold and how to cut a sewing pattern on fold.
- What are darts and how to sew a simple dart.
- How to sew a seam.
- How to finish raw edges of seams.
- How to finish neckline and armhole edges.
- How to clean finish a garment's hem.
- How to transfer pattern markings to fabrics.
* Look up each sewing term individually as you come across it. This will help you understand it in the context in which it is found thus making it much easier to remember.
Try the Learn To Sew Box
If you enjoy an all-in-one solution to getting started, you may want to give the Learn To Sew Box a try. It teaches you how to sew a simple A-line dress from scratch, and includes simplified sewing patterns in your size, your choice of fabric color/print and all the simple tools necessary to get started. In addition, a simple step-by-step visual guide will efficiently get you through the sewing process. Many beginners often get overwhelmed with the amount of information out there. Browsing the fabric store for the right fabrics and tool is no walk in the park either, especially if you are completely unfamiliar with at least some sewing basics. If you feel a bit nervous about where to get started, the Box might be a good option for you.
To start with, the sewing patterns provided in the Learn To Sew Box are very simple and labeled appropriately for sewing beginners. They are also offered in your choice of size which eliminates the hassle of having to break down commercially available sewing patterns by size, as is often the case. Additionally, the fabric, available in two prints and a solid color, offers great drape for a classic A-line dress allowing you to actually wear it once completed, if so desired. As mentioned above, the best way to start is with only the basic tools. The box includes a seam ripper, matching thread, water soluble marking pencil and pins. You will also be able to use the custom-made double folded binding to clean finish the raw edges of the armholes and neckline while simultaneously learning how to apply it correctly in the process. Having a concise guide that takes you step by step through the sewing process, from cutting the fabric to finishing the garment's raw edges, allows you to lay out the building blocks for more complex techniques as you progress.
Expanding gradually into pattern-making and additional sewing techniques.
Being eager to learn to sew more complex items and draft your own patterns is every sewing beginner's dream. Realistically, that might not be fully possible right from the beginning stages. If you are just starting out, don't try to tackle complex sewing techniques until you feel truly comfortable with the basics. Move on to the next stage only when the basics start to feel boring to you- Using this simple concept will ensure that you're not getting ahead of yourself and becoming unnecessarily overwhelmed.
Once you've gotten all the basics down, get more familiar with pattern manipulation techniques like the slash-and-spread method or shifting method. Don't be afraid to experiment. At this stage, you should invest in some practice material and try your hand at more complex sewing techniques. Once you get familiar with drafting your own sewing patterns, use the pinning and cutting method you already know to test them on fabric. Moving into more complex territory will entail making a lot more learning mistakes but will also feel extremely rewarding. When it comes to mastering the art of sewing, persistence and patience always pays off in the long run.
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