Learning How to Sew

Do you need new curtains or an outfit that doesn't look like everyone else's? Perhaps you are wishing you knew how to sew and make your own beautiful clothing and decorative home accessories, not to mention toys for the kids. This is a guide to get you started on learning to sew.


November 23, 2011 Flag

Once upon a time, every young girl (and a few boys starting in the mid-seventies) took a class at school called 'Home Economics'. The class was required for a time as part of the curriculum. It was an entire school year long. In one semester she learned to cook and build a pantry. In the other semester, she learned to sew.

In the US, this requirement became an elective, and then was done away with altogether, about the same time FFA (Future Farmers of America) disappeared from junior and senior high school campuses. Sad.

Nowadays anyone wanting to learn how to sew needs to find out what that learning involves by themselves. It isn't always an easy thing to find out how to learn to sew. It isn't a skill that has been highly valued in a world where 'ready-to-wear' clothing is both inexpensive and plentiful.

But mass-produced, cookie-cutter garments and household textiles are not always well made. These items have a nasty habit of not fitting perfectly, falling apart after the second washing, and being something every other person in your town may show up wearing, carrying, or displaying in their home. One day you think to yourself, "hmm, maybe I could make that myself, and if I did I would make it look like (insert your favourite colour and style here)."

Learning how to sew starts with knowing how to properly thread a hand needle, and continues on progressively to complex projects like tailoring, and making window coverings using a sewing machine.


There are many ways to learn how to sew. You can learn from a friend or relative willing to teach you, take a class like the one I teach, buy or get a good book from the library, or you can visit a website like:

You can use all of the above for the best results and a lifelong love for sewing:)

If you buy a new sewing machine from a sewing centre, classes on how to use the machine are usually offered as part of the purchase. These classes are a help, but if you have very little experience with sewing the best thing to do is find a class like my "Introduction to Sewing", or a friend/relative who is willing to teach you. A good teacher will put you through something like I describe below:

I start my new students with an hour long lesson on hand sewing. They learn to thread a hand needle, sew buttons on properly, and hand baste seams and gathers. These techniques are really the foundation of sewing and learning how to do these things correctly removes the frustration and disappointment that drives many people from the joy of sewing.


A good teacher will patiently take you through the ways and whys of using a bit of wax on your thread (waxed thread moves easier through fabric, and tangles less), for example; and why using a toothpick between button and fabric during the application process results in a sewn on button that is well attached yet flexible enough to withstand repeated tugging when being buttoned.

I teach my groups how to take measurements properly. They learn to take their own body measurements, the measurements of a window, and a few other typical measurements needed for sewing.

Then we move on to meeting the mechanical sewing machine; how to thread it, make a straight seam, and from there we learn about choosing a pattern. Step by step we go through the process of using those measurements to make any needed adjustments to the pattern to the hand finishing that makes a home machine sewn item look stylish and professional while uniquely yours.

Something a lot of professional home sewing teachers are doing now is adding a segment on using the 'Net as a sewing resource. It's possible now to do nearly everything online from learning to sew and finding free downloadable patterns to buying patterns-notions-fabric. We live in a wonderful time for home sewers. There are so many great websites that serve as gathering places for home sewers to learn and share!

By FrugalSunnie from Scotland

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November 30, 20110 found this helpful

My kid's school system requires the students to take a "Family Living" class in 9th grade(?), where they all (boys & girls) have to learn to cook a couple of things & sew something, usually pajama pants. I'm glad they are at least learning a little sewing, because so many young people now don't even know how to sew a button back on!

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September 30, 2014 Flag
0 found this helpful

I've recently bought a sewing machine and I'd like to start to make clothes. I've never used a machine before. What do I start with first? Recycle my old clothes? How do I start? Help would be greatly appreciated.

By Fiona

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October 1, 20140 found this helpful

It would be best to learn from someone you would know that does sew clothes and learn from them. Barring that Learn how to thread your machine and what stitches it does by reading the handbook that comes with it and use scrap fabric and get used to the feel of the machine. You can take old clothing apart and sew it back together again also get some easy patterns as they tell you how to cut the pattern and how to put anything together. Once you start sewing and learning what to do you will really enjoy sewing and there are no limits as to what can be sewn.

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October 2, 20140 found this helpful

You can also check with your local fabric/craft stores, they often have sewing classes. Enjoy your new machine!

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October 6, 20140 found this helpful

The best way to learn to sew (properly) is a class - most sewing centres have classes as do many adult education centres. You can also try looking in your local classifieds or on a community bulletin board for someone teaching classes from their home studio or a local community centre. I live in the UK now and teach from my home but when I lived in the US I taught through the local adult ed campuses. Some classes will expect you to bring your machine, some will provide machines, and costs can range from very reasonable to eye-watering!

Another way to learn is YouTube - you'd be amazed at how easy that is to use to learn to sew from watching YouTube videos! Add a good book like the Singer Complete Photo Guide to Sewing, and you're going to be sewing up a storm in no time:)

Also online is aboutDOTcom sewing pages with tonnes of great tutes, links to great tutes, and great how-to videos.

AllFreeSewing is another great online source of free-low cost sewing instruction, and of course Craftsy, McCall's, and Simplicity sites are the same. Easy to find, too - simply use your favourite search engine and the search terms 'Craftsy learn to sew', 'McCall's learn to sew', and 'Simplicity learn to sew'.

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October 7, 20140 found this helpful

If you are starting this great hobby on your own, I suggest starting out small and work up to making clothing. Projects like pillow cases, place mats, crayon rolls for the kids, tote bags, etc. will help you get comfortable with your sewing machine and you will learn some basic techniques that apply to other sewing and clothing projects. I also would start with scrap fabric that you have on hand or can get from a thrift store/yard sale, etc.

Cutting up old bed sheets will provide lots of fabric. I love to recycle/up-cycle thrift store finds. Buying fabric and patterns can be hugely expensive and frustrating if you choose a project that is beyond your skill level. You Tube has tons of free tutorials and there are sewing groups for beginners on face book where you can post questions, pictures, get feedback etc. Two of my favorite free sites on You Tube are The Crafty Gemini and Professor Pincushion. I hope you have lots of fun with your new adventure!

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September 14, 2011 Flag
0 found this helpful

I'm looking for something, rather rare. I've only seen it once in a book, but I had a fire and it got destroyed. Now I'm stuck because I don't remember the name of the book. I want to learn to sew and would like to find miniature size pattern printouts. I don't want to waste a full size pattern or a large amount of material. I would just use it to practice with as I learn to sew. Does anyone know where I can look or get printouts?

By Nicole from Cornwall, Ontario

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September 14, 20110 found this helpful

What do you mean miniature patterns, do you mean ones that you can enlarge? The smaller the item is the harder it is to sew. There really isn't anything to learning how to sew. Buy a real simple pattern; basically an A-line dress with no sleeves or collar and no zipper or buttons, then buy some really inexpensive fabric and read the directions that come with the pattern and you should be able to do the job.

For the fabric, you want to stay away from stripes, plaids or checks until you have more experience. You can also find books that teach how to sew. Your local library probably has some of them. I am 71 and started sewing when I was eight years old, by making doll clothes, and I did that, when people would give me scraps of fabric.

My late mother didn't sew, but she showed me how to fold the fabric in a rectangle and lay the doll on top of that and cut a rectangle shape, then sew the side seams, leaving openings for arm holes, then on one end sew shoulder seams and leave an opening for the neck. Then cut one side of the dress from top to bottom, so I could get it on the doll. Then hem the bottom and armholes, and neck opening. Then take a strip of the fabric to use as a belt to hold the dress on when it was on the doll.

By the time I was in middle school I was making skirts for myself without a pattern, just by taking a piece of fabric and cutting one end off, for a waistband, then folding the fabric in half short end to short end, making sure it is turned inside out, then gathering that onto the waistband, then sewing a sturdy snap fastener to the band, and hemming the bottom by hand.

By high school I was making a lot of my clothes with purchased patterns. I have never liked making doll clothes or even baby clothes because of the small seams.

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September 14, 20110 found this helpful

You could also cut squares or strips of fabric and practice sewing seams on them.

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September 14, 20110 found this helpful

I agree that you're better off not wasting your time sewing miniatures. To learn to sew on lines, and to change directions, you can trace lines on paper, and sew along them with no thread in the machine.

Once you are comfortable with stops and starts, turning, and all, choose one of the many "learn to sew" patterns that are out there. They include a lot of useful information in the directions. Choose inexpensive fabric, or use what you have on hand.

Simple items: bags, pot holders, etc. are great starter projects and buying fabric need not cost you an arm and a leg. www dot allfreesewing dot com has many, many projects and patterns for free!

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September 22, 20110 found this helpful

The sewing pages at about.com have tonnes of information and free printable patterns to learn to sew on-you'll have something usable to show for your efforts, too:)

As for fabric, a great place to buy 'fabric' to learn to sew on is the second-hand, charity, or thrift shop. Look for decent quality bed linens. Run them through the washing machine with a disinfectant and you'll have enough fabric to work on.

For example, a single sheet (twin) will get you enough fabric for a short sleeve top, a double (or full) will give you enough to make a pair of elasticated or drawstring waist lounging trousers or pyjamas. A king (queen in the US and I think Canada too) is enough for the PJ top, too, lol, and a super-king (king) will give you enough for two pair of lounging trousers and maybe a vest (tank) as well.

I've used the charity shop bed linens for lots of things; once I found a chenille bedspread that I used to make a dressing gown, and another time I found a huge fake fur dressing gown that made up into a gorgeous bunting and snowsuit for my then eight month old son.

I make most of my husband's and my clothing, and save a lot on PJs, curtains, table linens, and other things by using charity shop linens. LOL, a few weeks ago I found a huge pair of microfiber drapes that I would have used to make a winter coat (lined with repurposed charity shop sheets and padded for warmth with charity shop duvets). Someone beat me to the dang things when I left the pair on the rack as I went to consult with my husband! Sigh.

Congratulations, and best of luck to you as you learn to home sew, you will be SO glad you learned!

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