The Complete Beginners Guide to Sewing

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Sewing is a delightful pastime that delivers productivity and creativity in equal measure. If you enjoy fashion, or just want to look your best, being able to create your own clothing is an amazing skill and asset.

Beyond clothing, you can use your sewing skills for a range of home furnishing projects like quilts and drapery, or even extend your skills to upholstery. 

Like knitting, getting started with sewing is easy, you just need your hands, needle, and thread, or a sewing machine and you are ready to go. Once you are underway with your new hobby it will be all about extending and refining your sewing skills.

This hobby offers great scope, and you may want to complete simple projects, work to a store-bought sewing pattern, or sew original designs.

Also, you can learn about decorative sewing techniques like applique or embroidery that can be used to customize existing garments or add a flourish to a new creation.

Woman Sewing on Sewing Machine

Learn about how to cut and drape fabric for a dress or suit, and you will find that you will be in demand for alterations or special projects.

So, in this article, we are going to take a look at getting started with sewing as a hobby. We hope this helpful digest of tools, techniques, and why sewing is a great hobby will motivate you to give sewing a try. 

Sew Much Fabric, Sew Little Time…

All the more reason to make sewing your pastime of choice. This hobby has been enjoyed by people of all ages and backgrounds for centuries.

Sewing is not just for necessity, we are sure that you will enjoy downing your tech tools and working with your hands differently. 

In our fast consumer-culture, we are so used to buying our clothes and other fabric items, but your sewing hobby will certainly make you look differently at where clothing comes from and how much work goes into that new dress or pair of jeans. 

Once you master the essential sewing skills, you will have gained the lifelong skill of being able to sew for yourself and others.

If you keep learning and practicing your hobby, it will develop and expand to include skills like pattern drafting, draping, and embellishment. It’s fun trying to recreate the beautiful looks that you see in magazines or online.

Many hobbyist clothiers go on to design unique and eye eye-catching garments that display the time and effort put into their construction beautifully. 

If big projects are not for you, you can always grab the come fabric and an embroidery hoop and do embroidery or cross-stitch as part of your hobby.

What is Sewing?

Sewing is a textile craft that involves the joining or fastening of fabrics and other materials primarily with needles and thread.

It is primarily used for making or mending clothing, but also can be used for other fabric-based projects. 

The use of a needle-like object with thread for this purpose predates textile technologies like weaving or knitting as animal hides and skins were originally used for garment making.

Ivory or bone would be fashioned into needles and dried animal guts were prepared as the thread! 

Sewing Has a Rich and Interesting History

We think of sewing as the quick and easy act of sewing items together on a sewing machine, but garments and fabric items have only been made this way in the last 180 years.

That means that for centuries, beautiful, function sewn items were made by hand. As with many fundamental practical skills, early evidence of sewing by civilizations, communities, and tribes is found all over the world.

Native American people are known for their sewn paneled shelters known as Tipis and in Northern China and Siberia, thousands of remarkably precisely formed needles have been found that are many thousands of years old. 

Teepee (tipi) as used by Great Plains Native Americans

With the development of spinning and weaving as crafts became insightful and more sophisticated means of using fibers and yarns to piece panels of woven fabric together.

By the middle ages, sewing had moved outside the domestic sphere to become a service or livelihood with wealthy members of a society retaining the services of a seamstress or tailor. 

Skills with sewing were reflected in the ornate fashions and designs of cultural or national dress through the ages, which often were a display of wealth or celebration.

Industrialization, with the development of the cotton mills and factories, sewing machines completely changed what it is to sew. Mass production was the death-knell for home sewing for all but the very rich.

Many hobbyist clothiers want to recover the skills that have been largely lost today. 


4 Reasons to Make Sewing Your Hobby of Choice!

1. A sewing hobby means that you can make and wear your own clothes

Being able to make your own garments means that you can wear whatever you want.

This may not seem so special in an age where you buy just about any style of clothing you want, but you can tell the difference between mass-produced garments and something handmade.

Sewing is an outlet for expressing your individuality. If you are a fan of retro or reproduction clothing, your sewing hobby unlocks the door to making beautiful costumery that we are sure will turn heads.

For the high fashion fan, a hobbyist seamstress can trawl the annals of Vogue patterns to create their luxury designs.

Whatever your reasons for taking up this hobby, you will gain from being resourceful and enjoy the satisfaction of making something for yourself.  

2. Did you know that anyone can sew?

Sewing is a hobby that the whole family can enjoy. With a little additional time and effort, you will find lots of ways to get youngsters involved.

It's great that children learn that you do not have to buy everything from the store. They can watch and help out in making clothes at home.

Get them on the sewing machine and supervise and assist them with using scissors and a steam iron.

Many children enjoy using fabric scraps from sewing projects for making simple quilts and stuffed toys.

As home sewing was much more common in the past, many seniors do know how to sew so there is a lot of scope for intergenerational enjoyment of this classic hobby. 

Family Creative Hand-Made Hobby and Leisure

3. Great for time indoors and on rainy days

With people spending so much more time at home, sewing makes a great pastime for relaxing and making something beautiful. Sewing is not an instant gratification hobby.

Amateur sewing enthusiasts savor each step, from sourcing the pattern, fabrics, and thread to pressing the completed seams.

You will enjoy the best results with your sewing projects if you slow down and work carefully but we understand the desire to see and use your finished project as quickly as possible!

4. May not save money but you might make some

Your sewing hobby will require the expense of thread and a variety of fabrics at the very least so it may not be possible to save money on sewing your clothes rather than buying them at the store.

However, learning to sew properly does mean that you can make well-made pieces with quality materials that will fit well and last for years. Purchasing comparable items would be expensive.

Also, once people get to know that you can handle a sewing machine, requests for dressmaking, tailoring, and alterations will come rolling in.

Sewing is a classic side-hustle that may well springboard you from a hobby to a full-time career in fashion.

This Sounds Ideal for Me! How do I Start a Sewing Hobby?

Your first steps to becoming an amateur sewer extraordinaire include learning more about the world of sewing so that you can settle on the type of sewing that you might want to try.

You will find that sewing is a pastime that will keep you learning as you master different techniques and handle and use different fabrics. 

To stay creative, you can draw inspiration from so many sources, magazines, websites, museums, the styles you see others wear, and even the natural environment.

Just like the leading fashion designers, immersing yourself in art and culture proves useful for appreciating and utilizing detail as part of your new skill. 

What Kinds of Sewing Can I do as Part of My Hobby?

Hand sewing

Hand sewing may sound arduous and archaic, but people have been sewing with success this way for thousands of years.

Hand sewing is time-consuming, but it offers great flexibility in how you put garments together and exceptional attention to detail, which may not be possible with a sewing machine.

You may also need to tack together pieces of material by hand before sewing them on your machine. To sew by hand, you will need good lighting and a magnifying glass to see your stitches clearly without straining your eyes. 

There are more types of hand stitches to learn than there are sewing machine stitches. Key types of hand stitch to master include:

Sewing machine

Sewing with a sewing machine is the most common form of hobby sewing and certainly speeds up the process of making great garments and items.

With all the knobs, threads, and settings, a sewing machine can be a little daunting to the complete beginner. Learning how to use a sewing machine properly is critical to creating well-finished garments.

Once you understand the key settings of a sewing machine such as stitch length, width, and tension, you will be able to massively refine your sewing. 

Colorful threads and sewing machine on table

Tailoring

Tailoring is the art of designing, cutting, sewing, and finishing made-to-measure clothing, predominantly for males.

Professional tailoring is an old and distinguished trade, but as an amateur, this type of sewing is all about mastery of the key skills involved and improving your precision with each project.

With good tailoring skills, you can make smart suits, shirts, and slacks that will look very sharp and wear well.

There are some great handbooks on simple tailoring and alterations that outline the basics of this sewing tradition. 

Dressmaking

Dressmaking is the pastime of making clothing for women. Not just dresses: Dressmaking can include blouses, skirts, coats, and trousers.

Hobby fabricants will enjoy creating designs that fit the female form flatteringly, working with a range of fabrics, and constructing well-lined garments from scratch.

You can sew garments from patterns or improvise, using a mannequin or dress form off which the fabrics can be draped for cutting and sewing. 

Sewing soft furnishings

Sewing soft furnishings is an addictive hobby and you will never tire of producing a new cushion, curtains, or beddings with amazing fabrics.

The fabrics that you work with for upholstery projects are different from those used for dressmaking.

A great thing about soft furnishing projects is that you can experiment with embellishment techniques like applique or embroidery to add further customization and detail to your projects. 

Clothing design and pattern making

Clothing design and pattern making are ideal if you have always wanted to be a fashion designer.

Some sewing hobbyists simply make clothing from store-bought patterns, but others enjoy the project of designing an outfit and drafting on pattern paper.

This is a very technical skill and many skilled amateur pattern makers make some money on the side drafting patterns for designers or selling their creations online. 

Where Can I Learn to Sew?

The hobby seamstress or tailor has a lot of options for gaining a good foundation in the basic skills needed to sew.

Here are the best ways in which you can build expertise in sewing.

1. Books

Building a collection of instructional guides to the world of sewing is a great investment, and we are sure that you will return to them again and again.

Here are some excellent beginner guides to hobby sewing:

  • Sew Me! Sewing Basics is a great handbook for the beginner sewing enthusiast to learn as you sew. The book benefits from clear step-by-step instructions and well-photographed color illustrations. 
  • Sewing School: 21 Projects Kids Will Love to Make This is a fun sewing book for introducing children to sewing. It is great if they are a little young to handle a sewing machine or needle and thread as they will love the bright colors and pictures. The projects are easy to complete and include funky pillows and potholders. 
  • The DK Sewing Book is a fantastic compendium for the hobby seamstress who is gaining confidence in their craft. It includes clear instructional illustrations for over 300 sewing techniques. This sewing guide spans making clothes to home decor meaning you can refer to it for a range of projects. 

2. Online courses 

There are lots of online courses you can take to learn sewing to varying levels of proficiency. Sewing courses online may be live-taught or recorded.

Here are some of the best online sewing courses for beginners: 

  • The Sewing Guru is well-rated for its subscription sewing classes. As a member, you will gain access to a treasure trove of over 450 videos spanning how to use a sewing machine, pattern cutting, and a comprehensive beginner’s sewing course.

    If you want to continue learning sewing with The Sewing Guru, you can continue your monthly subscription to extend your learning with alterations and “how-to” videos that you can follow along. 
  • Udemy has over 200 online sewing courses delivered by skilled and qualified instructors. A good thing about this online learning platform is that you can choose which aspect of sewing you would like to help with and purchase the relevant course. 
  • The Creative Curator has a FREE online sewing course that is well rated and covers all the basics via a set of links. You will get an expert's take on sewing as creator Eve is a sewist, designer, and also a well-reputed pattern cutter. Her blog is also pretty neat too. 

3. Sewing blogs

Sewing blogs are packed with ideas, inspiration, and high-quality FREE tutorials. Perhaps your desire to take up sewing has been due to following one of the all-star sewing bloggers online.

Bloggers are often amateur or hobby dressmakers who have gotten better and better with time. Some of our favorites include:

  • Me Sew Crazy is authored by the sewing rabbit Jess Abbot and has hundreds of simple and easy to follow tutorials that actually will look a million dollars when worn. If you want to make great kid’s clothing, she also has plenty of great patterns to try too. 
  • Made by Rae is a cool lifestyle and sewing blog which features lots of beautiful womenswear and childrenswear patterns designed by its author Rae.
  • Serger Pepper is a near-encyclopedic catalog of everything and anything to do with sewing authored by the creative Irene.

4. Following tutorials

Following tutorials is also a great way of getting your hobby off the ground if you want to be able to sew a particular garment or object. Once you get the hang of the basics you can trawl YouTube for millions of unique projects.

Here are some of the best channels for sewing tutorials:

  • Tilly and the Buttons are the creators of some fantastic tutorials that are bright, clear, and easy to follow. They also sell digital sewing patterns of their designs that you can download and use. 

5. Local college or night school

Your local college or night school will usually offer a textiles technology class that you can attend on evenings and weekends. Some courses are accredited but you will find that most colleges offer a recreational sewing course for a fee.

With these dressmaking courses, you may be required to bring your sewing machine, thread, and fabric, or pay an enhanced fee that includes all materials for your project. 

6. The sewing shop

The sewing shop should become the local hangout of a budding dressmaker. There you will find the people in your community who have the skill and expertise to give you real-time, real-life help with your sewing.

These shops are great community hubs and deserve your patronage too if you want them to stay open. Ask questions and get the staff and owners to help you select the best fabrics and embellishments for your planned projects.

Many sewing shops offer classes after closing or are at least able to direct you to where you can go to learn. 

What Equipment do I Need for My Sewing Hobby?

  • Scissors: This sounds like a basic, but scissors make all the difference to the quality of your sewing. You need the dressmaking scissors you use to cut cloth to be for fabric only or you will blunt them. 
  • Rotary cutter: This handy tool, which looks much like a pizza cutter is excellent for making precise cuts of cloth, especially when working with patterns.
  • Cutting mat: A great surface for cutting cloth. It often comes with a grid so you can keep track of your measurements while you work. 
  • Measuring tape:  Look for a tape measure that provides both Imperial and Metric measurements for working with different patterns and yardage of fabric. 
  • Straight ruler: Great for getting precisely straight lines. You can also purchase grading set squares for sewing too. 
  • Needles:  One is unlikely to be enough, purchase a set of needles of different sizes for fast basting or tacking as well as the more detailed handiwork you may need to do. 
  • Thread: Thread is a specialty in itself and you will need to match the thread you use to the fabrics you work with, so your clothing washes and wears well over time. The most common options are synthetic fibers like polyester or natural cotton thread. Many hobbyist seamstresses use cotton-polyester as an all-around option for sewing projects. 
  • Pins and pin cushion: Depending on the size of your project you will need plenty of pins and the pincushion will help keep those sharp little things in a safe place when you are not actively using them. 
  • A steam iron: Grandma will tell you that the mark of a great dressmaker is pressing your garment as you work on it. Get a great non-stick iron to keep your clothing from getting watermarked or scorched.
  • Lint rollers: When you sew you will accumulate lots of loose threads, lint, and fabric dust that need to be kept off your completed project. 
  • Tailor’s chalk: This is used for marking out your pattern pieces on the fabric you are going to sew. It is fully washable, and one piece will last you a long time as it is not meant to be used heavily.
  • Seam ripper: Mistakes are inevitable so a seam ripper can quickly and neatly unpick seams so you can sew again. Dragging it quickly through a garment that is being sewn may damage the fabric, so care is needed. 
  • Calico: This cheap fabric is often used for running up mockups of garments that will be made using a more expensive or delicate fabric, so you can make your mistakes on the rough run. 
  • Fabrics of your choice:  Selecting a great range of fabric for your hobby sewing is probably beyond the scope of this article as there are so many natural and synthetic fabrics that you could choose to work with.

    If you have a fabric shop nearby, head on in, and ask them about what fabrics you can use. Remember Mood Fabrics in NYC, from Project Runway? Most of these fabric stores also sell cheap remnants that you can buy in bulk and experiment with!
  • And of course: A sewing machine: Like cars, a bit of research and a look under the hood goes a long way when selecting a sewing machine for your sewing hobby.

    Prices vary widely and are not necessarily reflective of performance. You can also purchase used models from dealers who will be able to supply lots of advice on selecting the best model. 

The Top 5 First Sewing Projects for the Hobbyist on YouTube

A shopping bag

A circle skirt

A pencil case

An apron

A face mask

A Very Quick Glossary of Some Key Sewing Terms

  • Bias: Any cut in the fabric that is made at a 45-degree angle to the selvage. This delivers the most stretch and movement in the garment. 
  • Darts: These are folds in fabrics that are stitched along the crease to shape the fabric or garment over a curve. 
  • Facing: A partial lining material used to reinforce edges on collars, cuffs, and armholes.
  • Jersey: A soft, stretchy knit fabric that can be made from natural or synthetic fibers.
  • Notions: These are the haberdashery items that are used to finish a garment like buttons, snaps, and hooks. If you use a pattern, the instructional insert often advises of the notions needed to complete the garment.
  • Yardage: This used to relate to the measurement of a length of fabric in yards but now can refer to any length of fabric. 
  • Selvage: This is a portion of a piece of fabric that contains its densely woven edge. The selvage will always run at right angles to the lengthwise grain of the fabric.

In Conclusion

Well done for powering through our hobby guide to sewing. As you can see, this excellent creative hobby has lots of scope for learning and creating beautiful things.

All that remains is for you to have a go at hobby sewing for yourself. We know your new hobby will make you sew happily!

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