Sewing for Beginners

The key to sewing for beginners is not to take on too much too soon. Although the urge to dive into a project beyond your skill set can be strong, you'll be learning new terminology in addition to how to operate a sewing machine, which can send even the most patient student out of the sewing room and straight to the mall for that skirt, pair of pants or pillow cover. Nurture your budding interest and grow your skill set slowly with these beginner sewing tips.

Essential Sewing Supplies
Before you get started, you'll need to gather together some basic tools. You'll find most of these available at your local fabric store or in the sewing departments of larger craft stores. If you don't have space to store your materials at home, you may also want to consider purchasing a sewing basket to keep them organized. Alternatively, work with a friend who sews and has materials you can work with as you're learning.

Basic sewing supplies include needles for tasks that require hand sewing, a pincushion, straight and basting pins, a ruler and tape measure, fabric scissors, a seam-ripper, a thimble and, of course, thread. Optional items include a hem gauge, needle-threader, pinking shears, sewing gauge and tailor's chalk or dressmaking pencils.

Borrow a sewing machine from a friend or family member until you decide if sewing is a hobby you're going to stick with. New sewing machines range in cost from $150 to several thousand dollars depending on their features and range of functionality. If you need to purchase a sewing machine to learn sewing, look for a sturdy, no-frills model and plan to upgrade later. Most machines will come equipped with all the needles to make the stitches the machine produces, while others may require you to purchase some needles separately.

Most sewing machine retailers offer free or discounted sewing classes with the purchase of one of their machines. The novice is well-advised to take advantage of this offering as instructors are usually well-versed in the operation and features of specific sewing machines.

You'll also want to have a good steam iron and ironing board on hand to make pressing seams easier. Finally, you'll want to work in a well-lit area that also gives you access to electrical outlets for your machine and/or iron.

Beginner Basics: Start Simple and Small
Sewing is a skill that takes time, patience and practice to perfect. Beginners who choose basic projects have a greater chance of success than first-timers who take on more complicated projects that can result in feelings of frustration rather than accomplishment.

When you're choosing your first project, consider things like aprons, potholders or tote bags that have simple lines, can be made from less structured fabrics and don't require you to learn the art of darts, pleats or zippers. Consider purchasing sewing kits to save you from having to choose your fabric and purchase any other materials separately.

If you don't find kits you like, take the time to research beginner sewing projects and adhere to the pattern maker's recommendations and instructions. Read the instructions carefully before you purchase anything to determine if you feel confident about completing the project. These instructions will include a list of all the materials required. Take the pattern with you to the fabric store to ensure you obtain the right yardage for your project and don't overlook any notions needed, like interfacing, seaming tape, trim, buttons or other closures.

Prepping for Your Project
Like painting a room, a great deal of your sewing efforts is devoted to prep. Most fabrics should be pre-washed before you begin to prevent shrinkage in the finished garment. Check the fabric label while you're still at the store to determine its total makeup (100% cotton versus a blend, for example). Some fabrics may need to be dry-cleaned. Don't leave the store without knowing what you need to do to prep the material for your project.

Start by unfolding your pattern and cut out the individual pattern pieces from the whole. Next, lay your fabric on a large, flat surface and pin the pattern pieces to the fabric with straight pins, following the pattern instructions. Then, using fabric scissors, you'll cut the fabric to match the pattern pieces.

If your pattern asks you to use interfacing, now is the time to attach it. There are two kinds of interfacing available: sew-in and fusible. Fusible or iron-on interfacing is easier for beginners to manage. The interfacing helps give structure and stability to your fabric.

Finally, it's time to sew. Thread your sewing machine with the desired thread and set the stitch parameters to what the pattern calls for. Pin together the pieces of the project you'll be sewing to each other. Begin stitching. When your seam is complete, trim the excess threads and press the seams flat with your iron before proceeding to the next step in your instructions.

Keep At It
Don't let one wrong project choice kill your interest. Sewing takes time and patience to master and the more you practice, the better you'll become. Even if you don't fall in love with the craft, you'll still have developed the skills you need to do basic alterations and repairs that extend the life of your clothes and cut down on tailoring costs.

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