This post is part of the series Learning to Sew
Other posts in this series:
I have been asked a lot lately, “I want to learn to sew, where do I start?”
First, I would like to say that getting started is not that hard nor does it need to be expensive. I personally feel that people jump in too fast and get frustrated as a result. They end up quitting before they are fully able to get the hang of it. Then they are left with a lot of sewing equipment that they will not need or use ever again.
Let me state simply, “Start with the basics!”
If you are an absolute beginner, it is crucial that your ambitions are not greater than your skill set. Keep in mind that your skill set is fairly limited in the beginning. You will not be turning out prom or wedding attire in the beginning. Accept that and the learning process will be easier.
Your initial projects, driven by your motivation to learn, should be quick and easy projects. We are talking projects that may seem quite useless to many people. This is okay! I promise you, you will be doing fancier and more complicated stuff soon enough. Start with a simple tote bag, place mats, pillow cases, or a simple pair of pajama pants/shorts. That is it! Nothing big.
To get started, you WILL NEED some basic supplies, but again, let me emphasize: “Keep it simple!”
- Sewing machine
- Bobbins for sewing machine
- Needles for sewing machine
- Needles for hand sewing
- Thread for sewing machine and hand sewing
- Sewing scissors
- Cutting board
- Sewing tape measure
- Ironing board
- Seam ripper
- Straight pins
Please note that while this list is not very long, it can get expensive very quickly if you are not mindful of what you are purchasing. Only purchase what you absolutely need. If you find you need something else, buy it when you need it or get an amazing sale on the items.
What are all these things?
I am trying to account for a wide variety of skill sets in my posts here at Stacey Sansom Designs. This means that my readers are the very new beginners all the way up to people who are very experienced. As such, I will try to account for least skilled as much as possible. My goal is to help individuals build their skills.
If you are more advanced, make sure you read past the additional details relating to the above list. We’ll cover some of the other things on getting started – very briefly. The additional information will be covered in more detailed in future posts.
Do you have suggestions? Please drop me a message with your suggestions.
In the meantime, let’s go over the items on the above list.
When I state sewing machine, I mean a simple machine. I am an accomplished sewer and I am using a basic machine. YOU DO NOT NEED A FANCY MACHINE TO BE AN AMAZING SEWER!!! Please remember that first and foremost. Most people will not out grow the features on their fairly basic machines. That is a myth that everyone states happens to them. My guess? They still don’t use or even know how to use 25-50% of the features on their machine when they declare that they have “outgrown” their machine. Do not buy into this myth that a basic machine will not last you very long. It can. It will if you let it.
I always state that the best machine is a “working machine.” Please take that to heart if your budget is not very large. Please take it to heart if your not sure you will enjoy sewing.
My recommendation is to find a brand name machine priced in the $75-300 range. I personally am sewing on a $199.99 machine. I have had it several years and I have not had a single problem with it. I love it. There are things I miss about my 30+ year old machine that died on me, but it is not enough to drive me to purchase another machine right now, today. The basic $150-200 machine is more than adequate for the average beginner. It is perfect for all beginners in my opinion.
Bobbins for Sewing Machine
I do list bobbins for the sewing machine, but they are not absolutely essential in the beginning unless your machine did not come with extras. I state this because if you are buying a brand new in the box machine, your machine should have 1-5 bobbins in the box with the machine. It varies from brand to brand. However, if you purchase a used machine, you might need to purchase additional bobbins.
Bobbins are relatively cheap in the grand scheme of things. I purchased a package with 8 Brother brand bobbins for my machine last week for less than $5. Buy a least 8 extras. I personally am on my second package of bobbins. I do not always use all the bobbin thread on the bobbin with a given project, but I often still have thread left. Confession: I have a fairly limited thread color palette. I like to just put the thread with the bobbins.
Having extra bobbins allows me to load ample bobbins for any given project without having to stop and refill them every single time that they run out. With practice you will quickly learn how many bobbins you think you’ll need to complete a given project.
If you don’t have any empty ones, you are going to have to unwind a bobbin before you can fill it with the thread color you need. Just keep extras on hand.
I do use pre-wound bobbins in my machine. Like more often than not. I love them. I do recommend them. You can usually find them for most machines. If they do not fit directly as purchased, you can often find an adapter for your bobbin case to accommodate these pre-wound bobbins. I personally have one of these adapters and I love that I am able to use the cardboard sided bobbins. Do not be afraid of plastic pre-wound bobbins. This is also a way to collect bobbins because once these are empty, you can refill them yourself.
Needles for Sewing Machine
This is IMPORTANT! You are going to need needles no matter what. These are specific to some machines. Please read your manuals for your machines to make sure you are buying the type specific to your machine if necessary.
If you are buying a new machine, there should be at least 1 in the box with the machine. Many sewing machine manufacturers include samples of the various types of needles that you can or might use on the machine. Feel free to experiment with these samples to figure out what you like best. I have found at least one good brand this way.
I like universal needles, personally. It is a preference. I do have specialty needles, but I don’t use them every single day. Having a couple of packages of good quality universal needles in more than one size is a great item to purchase. You can go to Walmart for this purchase if it is closest or easiest to get to. Even Target has a very small selection of them in some stores.
Needles for Hand Sewing
While you might be learning to sew on the sewing machine, you are still going to want a selection of hand sewing needles. You might need to sew on a button for example. A package of “sharps” is usually adequate. Please remember that they are sharp.
If you have sensitive fingers, you might want a thimble and needle grip as well. I did not have a thimble for many years. I just use needle grippers to grab and pull through harder to get through fabrics.
Purchase a multi-pack and you should be good for a long time. I personally bought one that had a little needle threader included. I recommend this as an added bonus.
Thread for Sewing Machine and Hand Sewing
The thread is not anything fancy. Do not stress over this as much as many more expert sewers will have you believe that some threads are far superior. Purchase what you can find in the colors that you need/want and let the rest go. At least in the beginning.
I have learned over time that my little sewing machine tends to produce and/or collect more lint when using certain brands of thread. It is fine as long as you are aware of this and adequately clean your machine out frequently. I still use this thread from time to time. I am not a thread snob.
Please keep in mind that some threads ARE of superior quality when it comes to durability, lint, etc. It does not mean that you have to pay $8-14 per spool of thread. I DO NOT RECOMMEND THIS! I know people that do it, but I don’t.
I try to keep my thread costs down. I prefer to buy thread when I can get it for less than $4 per spool (larger sizes) and $2 per spool (smaller sizes). These are typical sale prices and that is when I buy thread. I buy it most often when they are buy one get one free or 50% off. I also keep my thread costs lower because I do not stock up on every single color or type of thread known to man. Be reasonable!
I only buy thread in bulk in 3-4 different colors, namely: white, cream, off-white, and black. Please keep in mind that by bulk, I mean only 4 spools at a time usually. I just don’t feel the need to keep 100 spools of thread on hand. I buy all other thread colors as I need them, if I do not already have something that will work in my previously purchased/partially used stash.
I personally use the same thread for hand sewing as I do for my sewing machine. The only exception is that I do have a couple of spools of hand quilting thread. It is a little bit thicker than your sewing machine thread. Usually if I need to hand sew something, I am pulling it right off the spool I used the sew the project on the sewing machine.
When it comes to sewing, it is not a case of just any old scissors will work. Buy a decent pair of sewing scissors. Use them only for sewing tasks.
Please keep in mind that good sewing scissors do not have to cost a small fortune. They can be had at an intro level for an affordable price. We are not talking $2-5 affordable. Those work great for cutting apart pattern pieces, cutting trims, or snipping threads. They will dull too quickly to be considered good sewing scissors. You can, however, purchase a good starter pair of quality sewing scissors in the $20-25 range.
These introductory priced scissors may not be the scissors you use for the next 20 years, but then again they could. I received a pair of scissors about 20 years ago as a gift. I still use them today. They were priced in the $40-50 range. They are high quality sewing scissors. You will be able to get your good quality scissors sharpened, so consider this when purchasing.
Please keep in mind that if you are cutting a lot of materials like fleece or flannel, you NEED to consider an alternative pair of scissors for these tasks. Fleece is the absolute worst thing you can do to scissors in my opinion. Heck it even dulls a rotary blade in no time flat. These fabrics will dull your scissors prematurely.
You will want to have something to protect your table surface. This is especially true if you are using the kitchen table or hardwood floors for your cutting surface.
This does not need to be fancy. You can get a grid printed cardboard cutting board several places. These should be inexpensive as most places they run $9.99 or less. This is more than adequate when cutting with scissors.
You can purchase a rotary cutting mat to use as a cutting board, but it is pricier and ultimately overkill if you do not have a rotary cutting device. As this is addressing sewing in general and not quilting specifically, I am opting to encourage the purchase and use of sewing scissors instead of the purchase and use of a rotary cutter. I do not have anything against a rotary cutter, however, there are some things you just should not cut with a rotary cutter especially as a beginner sewer.
Sewing Tape Measure
You will need to measure if you take up sewing. Between taking body measurements, measuring elastic, etc. there is plenty of opportunity to use a sewing tape measure. They are useful around the house for other things as well.
Please keep in mind that these can be stretched so it is best that you do not allow your children to play tug-of-war with it.
Affordability is key here. They can be had for $1.99 at the base line. The longer tape measures do cost a bit more but are so worth the extra expense in my opinion.
This is essential for getting a finished look. You will press and press often when sewing.
If you already have an iron, use it. There is no need to go buy an iron outside of your standard household iron. You may decide you need to upgrade or down-grade later, but when starting there is no need to repurchase something that you already have.
If you do need to buy an iron, buy one that you are comfortable with. I personally like a heavier iron. This is your preference. Buy what feels best in your hands.
Please note that you do not need to buy an expensive iron to perform basic sewing tasks. I have purchased one that cost $8.88 before. It was not my favorite iron by any means but it got the job done for basic tasks. I did not love it because it was a very light weight iron. Remember that I prefer a heavier iron. I also felt that it did not get hot enough for more advanced sewing skills. This is actually a great iron to start with, however. I personally would never spend more than $75 on an iron. That would be pushing it. I am comfortable spending in the $30-40 range, however. This is a good price for a good iron.
I do not care which iron you purchase, it WILL NOT LAST FOREVER! All irons suffer from the same fate over time – they leak. Some leak way worse than others. Some break way faster than others. In the end, however, they all leak. The more expensive irons still leak over time. My recommendation is to purchase a “good fit iron” for you, arm strength, hands, and wrists and be prepared to replace it more frequently. I’ve had an iron last 18 months. I’ve had others last 3-4 years. It really just depends. Buy what you are comfortable spending, but be prepared to replace it before a decade is up.
With all sewing projects, you are going to need some sort of pressing or ironing surface. There are a variety of options out there. You will have to research what you think will work best for you and your situation.
I personally recommend a plain ordinary traditional ironing board. My kids laugh at me and tease that I have an ironing board fetish. This might be true. I have in my possession 4 ironing boards of different sizes. I keep going back to the traditional ironing board for my primary usage.
Many people do get by with a portable, table top ironing board. I do not encourage this if you intend to work on anything larger than a place mat or pillowcase. You need room to work. If you are just starting out or space is limited, this might be a good introductory option for you. It is just not one that I encourage.
I do not have a preference over your typical ironing board versus the new wider ironing boards. It is a preference. If you think it will work for you, then by all means get one of these. If, however, you intend to make a lot of smaller items (ie. children’s clothing), I recommend you opt for the more traditional sized board and possibly add a sleeve sized ironing board to the mix.
Even the best seamstress or experienced sewer will make mistakes. Sometimes these are just because we failed to follow the directions due to them not being concise enough. Sometimes these are because we failed to pay close enough attention to the details while we work. Sometimes it is because the sewing machine is acting wonky with the fabrics. Anything can cause little mistakes.
In comes Mr. Seam Ripper to the rescue!
There are a variety of seam rippers available on the market. You just need a basic one to begin. Some work may benefit from something a tad fancier. Worry about that when the need arises, not before.
I personally have 4-5 seam rippers. It always seems that when you need one most, there is never one to be found. They are quite elusive and are easily hidden under pattern pieces, under the edge of some sewing machines, and often just roll off the table and fall under the table.
Be sure that you check the box your sewing machine came in. Many machines come with a little packet of “goodies.” In many of these packets is a basic, but nice quality seam ripper. If you have one of these, do not feel that you need to rush right out and buy another one. It is ample to get started.
I often get asked if I “pin” or not. I respond with, “It depends.” You may or may not need to pin based on your skill set. This is perfectly fine and perfectly acceptable. However, if you do not have pins to use, you cannot use them at all. Purchase a package of them and buy more if you feel you need it later.
I personally prefer the finer point, glass head pins. They are safe to iron over. They leave tiny holes, if any. And they are sharp so they go through a lot of layers. I personally have 2 sets of these – one with all white glass heads and one with multiple colors of glass heads. I have mixed them together in the same pin holder.
Do not think that you have to have a fancy pin cushion to get started. You don’t. My preference is a magnetic dish. It works! I use a little glass decorative bowl for my sewing clips. Please note that I prefer the pins over the clips for certain tasks. Pins for matching and nesting seams. Clips for attaching hook and loop tape.
Pins can be used for more than just sewing tasks. I often pin or clip pieces of paper to my pieces as I cut them to keep straight what they are and where they go. Buy the pins.
What do I do next?
Now that you have a list of the basic materials/supplies you will need to get started, what do you do? That is actually pretty simple! Do not panic, this first step of going from a non-sewer to a beginner-sewer and beyond is quite easy. Do not make it scary!
To get started, you need to:
- Purchase basic supplies
- Read your sewing machine manual
- Get acquainted with your sewing machine
- Pick a simple project
- Purchase supplies for the project
- Look fear in the face
- Just get started
This is more of a “just do it” list than anything. It is my goal to keep things up beat and not discouraging for anyone. I firmly believe that everyone can learn a new skill or gain a new talent by simply trying new things. It might to come with the first project. Some things are hard. The old adage remains true for this: “Try, try, try again!”
Please do not give up if it does not come easily. Drop me a message if you have questions or need help on a particular topic!
Purchase Basic Supplies
Once you have purchased your basic supplies, listed above you are ready to move on to actually making your desire to learn to sew into reality. You can do this!
Read your sewing machine manual
I cannot emphasize this enough! Read your sewing machine manual. For a basic machine, this is usually not a very thick manual. We’re talking 20-50 pages in most cases. Remember most manuals are written in multiple languages so they look bigger and scarier than they really are. Keep in mind that every sewing machine manual will have lots of illustrations/images in them! This makes them look longer than they are. I promise!
Why do I think that this is so important? If you own a machine and you read the manual that goes with it, you will likely find useful tips and tricks that will make your learning process easier. Do not struggle with something that is written or illustrated right there in the manual.
I know it is not always fun to read these things, put please do it.
Get acquainted with your sewing machine
Please see the above section on reading the manual. These steps go hand in hand. Do them together.
Unfortunately, reading the manual is not enough to learn how to use your sewing machine. You have to put what you are reading into action.
DO NOT BE AFRAID OF YOUR SEWING MACHINE! Get it out of the box!
You cannot start a journey without taking the first step. Getting that thing out of the box is the first step. Take it.
Start by learning to thread the machine. Wash, rinse, repeat. I know so many people that struggle with threading their machine. It is an intensive task for some. If you don’t succeed the first time, do it again. You can do this! Even my 13 year old son showed me that he can do this. You can too.
Push all the buttons. Figure out what they do. You are not going to break the machine if you change the stitch settings and look at what options are available for each stitch. Push the buttons. Make the needle go up and down with the associated button. Turn the knob and make it go up and down manually.
Experiment with the speed settings (I recommend this) without the machine threaded. What are you comfortable with? Do you have a lead foot like me? Knowing this ahead of time will help you cope with it.
Pick a simple project
I have seen it time and time again, the beginner wants to make a fitted dress first project out the door. Often this is true with people who have sewn in the past and are picking it up again after 10, 15, or 20 plus years. You are not going to be able to sew advanced things right out of the box. This takes time to learn the different techniques involved with (1.) reading a pattern, (2.) cutting straight, (3.) sewing straight, and (4.) making it all work together. Be ambitious, but be realistic!
There are a lot of learning to sew worksheets out there. DO NOT THINK YOU ARE ABOVE THESE! Print out a few worksheets. Practice without and with your machine threaded. I will discuss these worksheets in a future post. I will provide some links, etc. This will not be ones that I have created (yet), so there will be a lot of credit given to other people. Look for this.
Things that I recommend for a first project are practice of basic skills. A lot of small things. A lot of straight stitching. Some of these may not seem like fun at all. You might not even think you’re making progress to your goal. Remember that these things are practice and allowing you to work on specific skills.
You’re looking for projects like:
- Basic tote bag
- Basic pillow case
- Basic pair of pajama pants/shorts
- Facial tissue package cover
- Business card case
Please note that this list is NOT all encompassing. There are a lot of options for starter projects. These are what you are looking for.
Purchase supplies for the project
This goes hand in hand with the above section. You cannot purchase supplies until you know what you are going to make.
A lot of people have this huge stash of supplies and fabric and beginners immediately aspire to have the same. DO NOT DO IT! Purchase what you need when you need it, especially in the beginning as you are learning.
Even after you have advanced in your skills, I do not encourage a huge stash. Things change. Styles change. Likes change. Do not stock up on things you’ll hate in 5-10 years. You will. Trust me.
That being said, depending on my project, I will BUY EXTRA! Why? Mistakes happen. Sometimes you read the pattern wrong. Sometimes you cut wrong or wonky. Sometimes you put things together wrong and it is faster to just cut new pieces instead of taking apart half the project. Sometimes… Sometimes you just cut it backwards. Plan for these “sometimes.” I typically purchase between 1/2 yard to 1 yard extra on certain fabrics.
Look fear in the face
We all have that inner voice that can be very discouraging. DO NOT LISTEN TO IT! You can do this. You can do this even if you have an abysmal failure your first try. Your master seamstresses all failed their first times. They didn’t have perfectly matched seams. They used their seam rippers. I’ll give you a little hint, master seamstresses still use their seam rippers!!!
Getting your machine out of its box an set up IS looking fear in the face. Playing with your machine trying to figure out what everything does IS looking fear in the face.
You can do this!
Just get started
You do not need someone to hold your hand. Just get started. There are so many resources available to us today. Use them. Watch some YouTube videos. Purchase a book to read about basic skills. Follow blogs that address the beginner sewer. Try a few different methods out. If one doesn’t work for you right now, it doesn’t mean it won’t work for you in the future. If one YouTube video does not help you, try one from a different presenter/creator. People present and teach in different methods, find the one that works for you.
I want everyone to have a great experience when they get started sewing. It is so overwhelming to purchase the supplies, pick a project, and learn to use a new device. Please do not let it be bigger than it really is. Stay positive. Stay ambitious. Keep practicing. You are learning a new skill. It will not come over night.
If you have specific questions, drop me a message. You can help shape these posts in the future as I address the concerns people are expressing.
Here is to a bright and happy sewing future!
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Continue reading this series:
Sewing Machine Features