How to Learn to Sew Clothes

How to Learn to Sew Clothes

Sewing your own clothing is a great little hobby and skill to have under your belt. It’s ever rising in popularity thanks to shows like The Great British Sewing Bee, and as an alternative to Fast Fashion.

It’s never been easier to get patterns and fabric that are fun to make and chic to wear, with small pattern companies popping up all the time, and fabric retailers both online and in-person. It’s easy to find sewists making clothing to inspire your crafty bones online, as well as tutorials and ideas for upcycling projects.

But how do you get started? I’ve been sewing for most of the last two decades, so here’s my advice!

Sewing Machines

Tadeáš Bednarz, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Not all sewing machines are made equally! Some are very basic, with a few simple stitch options and easy to use settings. Others have hundreds of buttons, thread themselves, and can be used for all different projects. It’s really a good idea to start with an inexpensive and simple machine, as the complicated ones can be intimidating and off-putting. You can sew a multitude of projects with just a straight stitch and zig-zag stitch!

If you have a friend or family member who sews, consider asking their opinion before buying – especially if you want them to help you learn. Although they all work similarly, different brands have slightly different set ups and it may be easier for you to buy a machine from the same company as they have.

You really don’t need to think about an Overlocker (also called a Serger) until you become more accomplished and comfortable with your regular machine. This is a specialist item that finishes the edges of the fabric by cutting the edge and binding it with 3 or 4 threads locking the raw edge to prevent fraying. For now, you can just go along the edge of your fabric with a simple zig-zag stitch or pinking shears.

Start Simple

jrouedcunliffe, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

As with any new hobby, you want to throw yourself in at the deep end and make your dream items immediately – that’s why you’re learning to sew! But it really helps you to start with something basic and work your way up. It’s very easy to get put off doing something that’s too complicated, or that you’ve done incorrectly.

In my opinion, the best starter sewing projects are:

A tote bag – straight lines, no worries about fitting well, quick to make!

Elastic waist skirt – a step up from a tote bag, ideal for both kids and adults to wear!

A loose fitting top with simple fastenings – another step up, a button and loop fastening is a perfect project to build your confidence

Zipped pouch – zips are notoriously scary to sew, at least the first few times. A zipped pouch is a great starter zip project because it’s just some simple rectangles!


Shamiu Shiaok Hungiw, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Continuing from ‘start easy’ – you don’t want to make your life harder by choosing a difficult fabric! I’ve been sewing for decades and I still avoid slippery, silky fabrics because they’re not fun to sew. For your first few projects, choose a nice stable cotton, poly cotton, or linen fabric. You won’t need to buy any specialist pins or needles, or experiment with the tension on your sewing machine with these fabrics, and they handle, iron, and wash well.

While we’re discussing fabric: don’t go out and buy fancy, expensive fabrics for your first few projects. Unless you’re incredibly lucky, your first few projects are going to be a bit wonky and you don’t want to waste your good fabric on them! I really recommend using old sheets for your first forays into sewing and dressmaking. Cotton, or cotton-blend, sheeting is a really stable and easy fabric to sew, and if you don’t have any old sheets you can buy them inexpensively from the charity shops.

Make Things You’ll Actually Wear

UNIFORM Studio, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

When you first get interested in sewing it’s easy to be swayed by the trendy sewing patterns and fabrics, but will you actually wear them? Think about what you currently wear – if you prefer tight fitting clothes, you probably won’t get much wear out of a smock dress! I noticed a lot of sewists using a crepe viscose online and every time I have to remind myself I hate how it feels on my skin before I buy a few meters!

Try Out Classes

Tadeáš Bednarz, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Both online and in-person classes can be super helpful when you’re getting to know your sewing machine. No one expects you to automatically know what all the buttons and dials do – and sewing machines can really vary anyway. Look out for beginners classes locally, or search out online classes if you’d prefer to learn from home. If you have a friend or family member who love to sew, they might be willing to help you get to grips with your machine – perhaps offer to teach them a craft you know in exchange!

Once you’ve learned the basics, many techniques can be learned by watching videos or reading tutorials in books or online.

Don’t Tell Anyone!

You’re going to be excited about your new hobby, but think really hard before telling people about it. Once people know you sew, you’ll start receiving offers to do other peoples alterations and repairs that you both don’t have the skills to do, and ultimately aren’t interested in!

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