Self Assembly Required

DIY dressmaking + crafts with Emily

How to start sewing

So you want to learn to sew but you’re not quite sure where to start? Check out this guide with my tips on what to do!

1. Gather your supplies!

The basic kit should include a sewing machine, scissors, pins, needles, a measuring tape, fabric marker or chalk and a seam ripper as a bare minimum. Check out my list here for the essential (and non essential but fun) item!

Sewing machines are unfortunately not the cheapest thing in the world. If you’re looking for a cheap way to start, try asking family and friends if they’ve got a machine lying around that they don’t use and that you can borrow. You’ll be surprised at what people have in the back of their spare room or in the attic! Don’t worry if it’s an older machine, they’re sometimes some of the best! Alternatively you can try sites like Freegle or Freecycle for machines people no longer want or eBay for a cheap second hand one. If you’re buying new, I always recommend trying to buy the best one in your budget. The cheaper machines in my experience tend to be more difficult to use and you don’t want to be put off just yet! Currently I use a Bernina machine but I learnt to sew on my mum’s old Pfaff and I’ve used plenty of Janomes which I’ve liked too!

Scissors are an important part of your kit too! You get usually get some cheap fabric scissors from places like John Lewis or Hobbycraft but if you’ve got a pair of sharp scissors at home, I recommend using those. But whatever you do, don’t ty to cut fabric with blunt scissors! You might end up damaging your fabric! In time, you’ll end up with a dozen pair of scissors all for very specific things – fabric, paper, thread, embroidery, duckbill… The list goes one! But for now just a pair of really sharp ones will do.

Pins, needles, measuring tapes are all cheap and easy supplies to get hold of. The hand sewing needles will be needed for those tasks are hand sewing a hem or sewing on buttons.

A fabric marker of some kind is needed to transfer markings from a sewing pattern to the fabric. I use a washable fabric marker (essentially a felt tip) for the most part but I also like the Clover chaco liner and good ol’ tailors chalk.

A seam ripper will end up being your best friend. It makes it quick and easy to take out stitches that may not have gone quite right! That being said, don’t rely on it too much – we’re not aiming for perfection just yet!

2. Get used to using your machine!

It’s tempting but don’t dive into your first project just yet! Get some scrap fabric – old clothes you no longer wear work well – and just practice sewing with your machine. Take your time learning how to thread the machine and fill and insert the bobbin. You’ll want to try the different stitches – a straight stitch and a zigzag stitch are most important – and you’ll need to learn how to adjust the stitch length (and width for the zigzag). This is different machine to machine so I won’t go into more depth, but check the manual that comes with your machine or if you don’t have it, google the model name and number to find it online.

3. Measure up!

You’ll need your tape measure for this part! I’m adding this bit in here because you’ll need to know your measurements before picking a pattern (as they come in different sizes) and therefore also how much fabric to buy.

The main measurements you’ll need are your bust (widest part across the chest), waist (narrowest part) and hips (the widest part). Make sure your tape measure is parallel to the ground when taking them and if you need to get a friend to help! Over time you’ll find that there are lots of other body measurements that you need to take to improve the fit of your makes – things like your high bust, bicep etc.

4. Picking your first project.

You’ll want to pick something relatively simple. Try garments which have a loose fit and use a woven fabric. A lot of indie patterns are designed with beginners in mind – check out Tilly and the Buttons Stevie and Cleo patterns as an example. Paper patterns will be much easier to use than PDF so unless you’re somewhere quite remote try to get hold of a printed one.

That being said, I love the immediacy of PDF patterns and whilst a time consuming process, it’s not particularly difficult to put them together usually. Check out my tips of putting together PDFs here!

5. The fun part – picking your fabric!

Whilst there are beautiful, quality (and very expensive) fabrics available, you don’t want to be cutting into these straight off the bat! But at the same time you’ll want something that suits the project and isn’t completely hideous! If you live in or near London, some of my favourite places to grab a bargain are Walthamstow market, Lewisham market and Goldhawk Road. One way to get large amounts of cheap fabric to practice with is to use bed sheets!

Check the details on your pattern as there should be a list of recommended fabrics. It’s not imperative to stick to this guide as creative artistic licence should always be welcomed!

6. Get sewing!

Patterns should come with instructions detailing how to use it, how to lay and cut the fabric and sewing techniques. They’re unlikely to cover fitting tips though (check out my resources page here to find help fitting)! If you follow them closely, reading each step thoroughly, you’ll end up with a unique handmade garment!

Top tips:

Try to stay away from tricky fabrics to start with – anything stretchy or anything very soft/ thin can be difficult to cut and to sew.

It’s up to you whether you want to dive in and cut out your paper pattern or if you would rather trace it. I prefer to trace but it adds an extra step to the sewing process and can feel quite tedious. That being said if you’re likely to need to make the pattern in multiple sizes (i.e. for family or friends) then tracing is definitely worth it.

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes! You are learning a brand new craft and the chances are you won’t be perfect at it straightaway. No-one is going to notice if your stitching is a little wonky or the fit isn’t spot on. The important thing is that you keep going! You will improve with every item you make.

Hopefully you’ll learn to love sewing as much as I do!