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Sewing for Complete Beginners (a series)

I know a bunch of folks who want to get into sewing, but don’t know where to start. They find the entire industry too large and daunting, with too much conflicting information. As a self taught crafter, I get it. Where do you begin when sewing has been made out to be this big hard task, best left to industry professionals?

Easy. You start by being interested. If you are interested, then the rest will come, I promise. You just have to keep that fire lit. Whatever made you interested in sewing, keep it in mind. Return to it when you are struggling. For me, it was multiple things. I am an hourglass shape. Sounds good, until you try to buy clothes for it. My thighs and hips size me out of most ready to wear regular sized clothing, and my waist makes plus sizes fall off of me. I also don’t feel comfortable supporting slave labor in order to buy the clothes that I could afford. And, if you know me, you know that my joy in life is derived from making things myself. 🙂

First off, I want to debunk the idea that sewing is cheaper than shopping. It isn’t. Fabric is no longer cheap and easy to find in the US. Sewing machines are expensive to buy and maintain, and patterns cost money so their designers can eat food. There are cheaper ways to do it, but let’s face it, compared to the low, low prices at your local super store, sewing is expensive. HOWEVER, your clothes will last longer. They will FIT. You will be able to mend them, and you will be able to adjust them if your weight fluctuates. You will also find yourself attached to certain fabric, and repurposing your worn out clothes into smaller and smaller items. (Panties are great for getting more wear out of fabric from old knit clothing)

Now, let’s get into lesson 1. Tools. Every person sewing needs tools. You can sew by hand, but it takes a very long time. If that is how you want to roll, then do it! But I won’t be teaching that. So, you will need a machine.

Picture of a white Elna sewing machine.

Sewing machines vary a lot. Their price tags can run from $80 to into the thousands. All of them have their pros and cons. Obviously, you don’t need an $$$ industrial machine. But the $80 may not suit your needs, either. In my area, a machine tune up costs $199… so at that point it makes more sense to buy a new machine. Not very environmentally friendly.

My advice is, if you go with a lower end Brother or Singer, do so with the knowledge that it is a disposable machine. It will be good for learning on. They have all the necessary stitches, and they are good machines for a few years worth of mild use. You will be replacing it. Just plan on it. Don’t go for the cheap machines aimed at kids. They will not do what you need them to do. Ditto on the gimmick machines that are tiny and useless. At the very least, you want a straight stitch and a zigzag stitch.

Keep an eye on FB marketplace for resellers of sewing machines. Most of the time, your area will have a person who rescues machines and fixes them up to sell. They are great sources for affordable machines. MAKE SURE YOU TEST IT OUT. Bring a fabric sample with you and run through the machine. Test the stitches. Test the tension.

You may decide you like sewing knits the best (I do) then, it is probably worth investing in a serger. I have a cheap serger and I love it. But they aren’t necessary, even for sewing knits. They just allow for, in my opinion, a more professional finish.

I sew on an older model Elna. I bought her brand new for 50% off from a then local to me sew and vac store. I love her dearly, but I am not sure if I was buying today what I would buy, so I am no help there.

Once you have your machine, read the manual. Find you tube videos if reading to learn is not your forte. But make sure you thread it correctly before you use it.

Okay, on to other tools. You will need a lot of different things, depending on the ways you like to do things. But, essentially, you need needles, thread, fabric shears or a rotary cutter and mat, a seam ripper, a measuring tape, pins or clips, and a marking tool.

Your machine will come with a universal needle, most of the time. However, you will want to change the needle based on the fabric you are using. For example, knit fabrics need a jersey or ballpoint needle. Instead of stabbing through the threads, the needle shifts the threads to the side. For denim, however, you want the big fat stabby needle.

Thread is a personal choice kind of thing. And I don’t mean your personal choice. Your machine calls the shots, here. Cheaper threads leave more dust in machines, and some machines just get moody about it. My preferred thread for my elna is Guntermann. Anything cheaper than that, and my machine tends to skip stitches.

Fabric cutting tools is another personal preference, but whatever you get, get fabric cutting tools. You want them extra sharp. I prefer using nice sharp shears to a rotary cutter for clothing. The pieces are so large and I don’t want to have a cutting mat that big to deal with. I also get my shears sharpened vs replacing them constantly saves me a ton of money. Rules for cutting tools: DO NOT USE THEM FOR ANYTHING ELSE, EXCEPT FABRIC and DO NOT DROP THEM.

Ah, the seam ripper the best friend none of us wanted. Seriously, though. Get you one or two, because you will need it. You will be spending time with it. We ALL do. They also get dull and need to be replaced.

Measuring tape. Go ahead and buy two and set one aside and don’t use it. They’re cheap enough, and you will need another one, because measuring tapes stretch out. Yep. *sigh* so make sure you check your in use tape against a ruler every so often. ALSO, if you buy an extra cheap one off of the internet, check it against a ruler from the start, because the Chinese inch is different than the US inch. Like all hobbies that require measuring, it is important that you are precise.

Pins or clips hold your fabric together while you sew and keep things lined up. I use both. Clips are great for knits or leather, and pins are my go to for wovens. You could easily just have clips, though. They’re faster and you are less likely to try to sew over one. I use mini bull clips from the office supply aisle. I had the plastic ones you can buy on amazon or at fabric stores… but for some reason I kept hulk smashing them.

Marking tools are for transferring pattern information to your fabric. You want one that will be visible on your fabric, but only while you are working on it. I tend to use tailor’s chalk and water soluble fabric markers.

You also need an iron and a place to iron stuff.

And that is it. You will need space to lay out big pieces of fabric and patterns, but it doesn’t have to be a dedicated space. My sewing stuff got put up in between projects for a long time before I had space to my self.

Stay tuned for lesson 2, patterns and fabrics.

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