Sewing is a skill. It takes time and lots and lots of practice to learn it and get it right, but we all start somewhere – everyone is a beginner at some point. One of the questions I get asked most often is what I recommend for a new sewist: the best machines, the easiest patterns, the most user-friendly fabrics. Quite frankly, I’m surprised it’s taken me the entire year and a half I’ve been blogging to address it. (I’ve been distracted by pretty fabrics!) So, I thought with the start of a new year it was a great time to talk about a few things you’ll need if you’re just starting your sewing journey.
First things first, a good quality sewing machine is absolutely essential. If you’re really serious about getting into the craft, buying the best sewing machine that your budget allows is the way to go. I always recommend that, because there are a lot of great sewing machines out there that don’t break the bank, and they do everything you need them to do. Last year, I took the HUSQVARNA VIKING® DESIGNER JADE™ 35 for a test drive, and it’s a great sewing and embroidery machine for a beginner. But if you don’t need embroidery capabilities, I would recommend the SINGER 4425 Heavy Duty sewing machine.
I own this machine, and it is reliable, sturdy, and has a lot of basic, built in functions that come in handy, like the automatic, one-step buttonhole. There’s also six basic stitches and four stretch stitches, so you can sew both wovens and knits with ease. I like the idea of a heavy duty machine for beginners because you can mess up and make mistakes (and we all do) and a machine like this is so tough it won’t miss a beat. And as you build up your confidence and gain experience, this machine comes is exactly what you need for sewing more challenging projects like handbags and jeans and heavy wool coats.
In the beginning it is really, really easy to tackle too much. When I first started sewing, I was so excited to learn and make things that I ended up with a bunch of so-so projects that were very rushed and I eventually tossed them. The best thing you can do for the first little while is go for one project at a time. I speak from experience – being overwhelmed only leads to frustration and you waste your time and fabric. Start with simple patterns, and slowly make your way up to things like zippers and buttonholes. Look for patterns with a wrap design and things that aren’t too fitted. Closures and alterations can come later.
Pajamas is a great place to start for a beginner sewist. Jammies are usually pretty straightforward (nothing too complicated to sew) and because they’re designed to be loose fitting you don’t have to worry about getting the fit just right. There’s a lot of basic concepts in pajama patterns that make a great foundation to build upon, like easy hems and seam finishes and drawstrings.
“Lifestyle” or “five easy pieces” patterns are also a great option for beginners. Oftentimes, the designs are more simple and easy to sew, so there’s usually a number of projects to choose from. I like this Vogue pattern because there’s a lot of really nice pieces in it, and not one is too complicated or difficult. The pants actually wrap around you with one button in the front and back, so there’s no worrying about a zipper, and the shell and poncho are fantastic basic pieces. How great would those pants be in linen at the beach?!
This pattern has even more concepts in it, like using bias tape, sewing French darts, attaching trim, and elastic waistbands (on the shorts), but not one of those things is something a beginner can’t tackle.
Sewing is all about concepts that build on one another. Once you’re familiar with some basics and are comfortable with the construction process, you can apply those skills to more “advanced basics” like swishy dresses with bias tape finishes and blouses with sleeves and garments with pockets and gathers.
When you’re just starting out, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by all the fabrics out there. Here’s my best advice: stick with cotton, linen, and lightweight denim and wool and ignore the rest. Just because you’re new to sewing and working with only a handful of fabrics doesn’t mean that your projects have to look like beginner projects, so don’t think that working with a few fabrics is limiting. I work with cotton and linen all the time, and I use simple patterns all the time too – simple and easy doesn’t mean it’s bad!
Save rayon, silks, sequins, and prints that require precise matching (plaid, stripes, directional prints) for later. Investing in a book that explains all the different fabrics and how to use them is a must. You’ll be glad you have that resource, and it’s something you’ll reference for years. There’s lots of great books out there, but these are two of my favorites. I own an older version of this Fabric Savvy book, and it’s a pretty comprehensive guide to fabric, and it gives you information on what size needle and interfacing to use which is really helpful.
This is also a book I’d recommend. This one is nice because it shows different fabrics as they’ve been used by designers on the runway and in collection. It’s informative and inspiring.
Just like anything else, being good at sewing takes practice and time. But it’s also not an insanely difficult thing to master. Half the battle is accurate cutting and pressing, pressing, pressing. Invest in a nice pair of scissors and a good quality iron. I use these scissors, and I love them so much I have two pairs.
As far as irons go, there are tons of good, inexpensive options. I’ve used Rowenta for years, but Reliant is also good and Black & Decker makes a good iron too. This Rowenta iron is similar to the one I have, and I love it. (I have a “Master” and this one is a “Pro Master.” Either way, both are great.)
Beginners will also want to invest in a sewing kit with a few tools like a seam ripper, hem gauge, thread, and needles. Getting into sewing will cost a little money, but you can do it without spending a fortune. Nice cotton fabrics are pretty inexpensive, and grab patterns during a sale – which happens all the time. And here’s a few tips that will help lead to sewing success:
- Take your time, and don’t rush. You’re learning, so don’t worry about doing things quickly. Speed and accuracy will come in time.
- Read the pattern and sewing instructions carefully, and don’t be upset about starting over or ripping out a seam. I think most commercial patterns have pretty good instructions whether you’re a beginner or know what you’re doing, it’s just a matter of reading and understanding the visuals.
- Take advantage of all the available resources out there: books, blogs, video tutorials, and anyone you know who may sew. Most any question you have can be answered by a quick online search – don’t be afraid to ask!
- Your iron is your bestie. Good sewing and well made garments are a direct result of careful cutting and pressing like it’s nobody’s business. Press as you go: seams, darts, facings, hems – all of it. Don’t wait and press everything at the end.
- Use good fabrics. There is nothing worse than the frustration that comes with working with poor quality, cheap fabrics. Just don’t do it. There are plenty of inexpensive fabrics out there that aren’t cheap. And the good stuff can come from anywhere. I actually found some really nice Oxford cotton at a local Goodwill store over the summer.
- Study at your favorite stores. A lot of my “shopping” trips are less about actually shopping and more about looking. I’ll pop into J. Crew or Dillard’s and look at how the garments are made. How they’ve done the hem or what type of buttons are on a blouse. Same thing applies to designer shops. I take pictures of those things too, especially if it’s something I can use on my own projects.
I’m always telling folks to “go for it!” and “keep sewing!” because I know how rewarding sewing is, and I want everyone to experience it. And that’s not to mention how fantastic it is to be able to make clothes that you can’t find anywhere else that are a true representation of who you are and what you want to say with your style.
There’s no reason whatsoever to be intimidated by sewing. Besides a few obvious things like a sewing machine and fabric, you just need a healthy amount of desire and determination to get into it. I hope this post helped answer some of the questions you have, but if there’s anything I’ve forgotten let me know. Leave a comment or shoot me an email, and I’ll get back with you. I don’t know about you, but I have never been more inspired about a new year – let’s sew!
P.S. I post updates on Instagram occasionally, but it’s been a while since I shared our first floor remodel with you here. Things are coming along, and we’ll have walls again next week. Cabinets will be installed at the end of the month, and we’ve picked paint colors and countertops. My dad was in town last week to help us, and I loved having him here. He helped me figure out a new furniture arrangement in my studio too, which was a huge help. I’ll write more about my studio in the coming weeks, but here’s a look at our house in its current state:
We’re going with white and grey, and quartz countertops. (Basically obsessed with everything in this picture!)
Ty and my dad taking out the horrible built-ins at the top of the stairs. Those are the stopping point for phase one of this whole remodel, and it’s so much brighter and open with them gone.
We’re finally getting to the point where things start to get put back and rebuilt, so I’m looking forward to the next few weeks. In the meantime, I can retreat to my studio and sew! 🙂
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