A complete guide to sewing for beginners
Browse our complete guide to sewing for beginners to pick up all the essential knowledge you need.
Welcome to your complete guide to sewing for beginners! There's everything you need to become a sewing pro in this article with lots of practical advice, tips and video classes to help you get started. We also have lots of great tutorials across the Gathered website, so we'll direct you to more in-depth articles for the various techniques as well.
In this guide, we'll explore some basic techniques to help you learn how to sew, whether you're using a sewing machine or stitching by hand. We'll explain the materials you need to create stunning sewing projects and talk you through some basic skills – you'll be sewing like a pro in no time!
Follow the links below to jump straight to a section of our beginner's guide to sewing that you're interested in:
Sewing for beginners: where to start
- Sewing essentials for beginners
- What is the easiest thing to sew for beginners?
- Sewing patterns for beginners
- What are basic sewing skills?
- How to hand sew
- What thread should I use for sewing by hand?
- Types of hand sewing stitches
- Other sewing skills to master
- Choosing a sewing machine
- How to thread a sewing machine
- Types of sewing machine stitches
So what do I need to start sewing? Here, we'll look at what equipment you'll need before you begin. Sewing is one of the most accessible crafts to try and you can get started with minimal supplies if you want to stitch by hand. Basic sewing kits are available in craft shops and even supermarkets if you need to mend clothes in a hurry. However, if you want to do more than darn a sock then it's a good idea to assemble your own personal sewing stash.
You won't need all of the supplies listed here, but they might come in handy! Here are a few things to add to your sewing supplies:
- Pin cushion
- Sewing scissors
- Pattern weights – used to stop your fabric moving around while you're cutting out a pattern. These are easy to make yourself with our DIY pattern weights tutorial
- Measuring tape
- A needle threader
- Seam ripper – used for pulling out seams. Use this if you're reusing fabric from old clothes or if you make a mistake when working with a sewing machine
- A rotary cutter – this tool which looks a bit like a pizza cutter makes it easy to cut out your pattern pieces. We like this Fiskars rotary cutter available from Amazon for £10.16
- A sewing machine
- Fabric markers – these are used to mark your patterns onto your fabric. Check out our fabric markers guide to find the right one for you
Need more inspiration? Take a look at our sewing kits for beginners guide, which features lots of great kits and projects to help you get started.
If you're new to sewing, you're probably asking yourself: what should I learn to sew first? It can be tempting to dive straight into an ambitious project right away, but it's best to start with something small or simple and work your way up to sewing your own ballgowns!
One of the first things most sewers will learn to make is something simple like a cushion cover. This is a great project to try, because it allows you to practice basic sewing skills and whip up your first pattern very quickly. Cushion covers are a simple shape to sew and it's unlikely that any errors will be noticeable. Have a go at our how to make a cushion cover guide to discover four different ways to sew your own.
Here are a few more easy sewing patterns to inspire you…
- DIY bookends – these are simple to make and will stop your books from sliding off the shelf!
- Duffle bag pattern – this bag design is both pretty and practical.
- How to make bunting – plan a party and whip up your own bunting.
- How to make a star cushion – these stellar cushions would be perfect for a child's bedroom.
- How to sew heart fabric decorations – this easy free tutorial includes a video guide.
We've also put together a collection of sewing patterns for beginners to help you develop your sewing skills.
Read on to discover the skills you'll need to get started in this beginner's guide to sewing…
When you're learning to sew, it can feel as though there's a lot to take in, but we have lots of sewing guides for beginners to help you get started.
Start off by learning how to use a sewing pattern – an essential skill for any sewer. If there are any terms or jargon that you find confusing, then take a look at our sewing glossary to help you follow the pattern.
Before you start making a pattern, it's a good idea to check what type of fabric you should use – or your pattern might not turn out the way that you expected. Explore our sewing fabrics guide to decide which materials to use for your sewing project.
Here are 6 basic sewing skills to learn:
- How to sew a button – if you only learn one skill, then make it this one! It might save the day if you have a fashion emergency.
- How to sew buttonholes – an essential dressmaking skill.
- How to use a sewing pattern – this great guide covers everything you need to know.
- What fabric should I use? – choosing the wrong fabric can ruin your sewing projects! Learn how to pick the right fabric with this expert guide.
- How to sew jersey fabric for beginners – sewing stretchy jersey fabric is very challenging. This helpful guide will show you how to get to grips with this tricky fabric.
- Embroidery for beginners – adding a few decorative details to a sewing project can really take it to the next level. You can use embroidery to add a pretty motif, add a name to a gift or even stitch a face onto a soft toy.
As you become a more experienced sewer, you can try trickier sewing techniques and learn to adjust your own clothes to get a perfect fit.
- How to sew a hem and how to hem pants – hemming a pair of trousers is an essential skill for those of us who struggle to buy trousers off the shelf, use our step by step guide to master the technique.
- How to sew gathers – if you're a fan of the Great British Sewing Bee then you'll have seen lots of gathers on the show! Gathers can be used to create skirt waistlines, ruffled sleeves and much more. If you want to make your own clothes, this is a really handy skill to learn.
- How to sew pleats – add some style to your sewing projects by learning how to make pleats.
- How to sew an invisible zip – give your outfits a professional finish by inserting an invisible zip.
- How to sew with elastic – sewing with elastic is tricky, but this is a very useful skill to master.
- How to sew a pocket – this is a great way to upcycle a garment!
- How to make ruffles – add a flourish to your outfits with this fun technique.
Picking up a needle and thread years after school finished might seem a bit daunting – we’ve all met someone who claims to not know how to sew a button, but according to research, 60% of Brits can’t! Along with sewing a button, stitching a straight line of stitches is an incredibly useful skill to have. Learn this essential skill and you could hem a pair of trousers by hand, fix a hole in the seam of your favourite top or attach an appliqué patch to your favourite denim jacket.
Here we’re going to take you back to the classroom and explain how to hand sew…
Thread is available in many forms with the big manufacturers offering a wide range of colours to suit any project. While it might be tempting to pick up a bargain thread pack, we always recommend buying brand name threads due to their lengthy development and testing process. Thread that is weaker or poorly spun can break and tangle easily – which isn’t what you need when your concentrating on getting the perfect stitch!
Use a thread that matches your fabric as closely as possible so the stitches can’t be seen. If you’re working tacking stitches, though, it’s best to use a contrasting thread so it’s easy to see when removing them later. A polyester thread or poly-cotton mix is best as it’s stronger than pure cotton.
Brands that we love include Gutermann, Coats and Madeira. You can buy multipacks of threads if you are starting out which will come with a variety of basic colours to get you started. We recommend this Guttermann assortment pack from John Lewis.
What needle should I use for sewing?
The needle you choose is just as important as the thread, the needle will guide the thread through the fabric so it is important that it has the correct tip and eye as well as being a comfortable length to hold in your hand. Use a sharp needle with an eye large enough so the thread goes through easily, but not too big so it slips out while you’re stitching. The smaller and finer the needle the better as you’ll get neater stitches and it will pierce the fabric threads rather than snagging them. A crewel needle is ideal for this.
Before you begin sewing very carefully brush the tip of the needle over your finger, if you feel and jagged parts or notice any rust or bends along the needle shaft it’s time to grab a new needle, bent needles or needles with chipped ends could snag your fabric and cause the thread to tangle.
Needles come in a variety of sizes and lengths. You will need a different needle if you are sewing with specialist fabrics such as leather or jersey. For basic fixes on light to medium weight fabrics we love these John James needles.
How to sew by hand
- Cut a length of thread that is approximately the length of your forearm. Any longer and you will struggle to pull it all through the fabric and risk the thread getting horribly tangled.
2. Now that you’ve selected a quality needle and thread you will need to prepare for sewing. First of all we will tie a knot in the thread end. There are several ticks for doing this, but a small knot tied near the end of the thread will work just fine.
3. Now we will pass the untied end of the thread through the needle. If you’re longsighted, pop your glasses on so you can see the eye of the needle clearly! Some people find that moistening the tip of the thread can help to pass it through the eye of the needle, if after several attempts you are struggling you can trim off the frayed tip of the thread and attempt to thread the new, neater thread end again.
There are two ways of threading your needle, depending on the stitch you’re working:
- Single thread: This is used for most hand stitches, especially those that you want to be invisible. Cut the thread to the length you need then thread it through the eye and knot the end if you want to start off that way.
- Double thread: This is used for stitches that need to be strong and secure, such as running stitches for gathering. Cut the thread twice the length you need then fold it in half and thread the two ends through the eye of the needle. The loop that’s left at the other end can then be used to slip the needle through after the first stitch has been made for a really secure knotless start.
If you are really struggling you might find that a handy tool such as a Prym needle threader might get the job done quicker. A basic sewing kit will often include a needle threader and they're very handy if you find threading a needle difficult to do. Not sure how to use a needle threader? Check out our how to use a needle threader guide.
When you're sewing by hand, there are lots of stitches you can learn to make sure your projects look beautiful and neat. You can also learn embroidery to add an extra flourish to all of your makes – take a look at our embroidery for beginners guide to get started.
This stitch is handy for adding top stitching to garments, fixing rips and mending clothes and edging embroidery designs. This stitch is similar to tacking and is used for decorating a finished project or for gathering fabric. Bring your needle up and down through the fabric to create regular stitches. Make sure that all the stitches are the same length and the spaces between them are that length too for a neat stitch. Read our guide on how to do running stitch to become a pro.
Backstitch is a great stitch for mending seams in garments or for hand sewing a seam that needs to be secure. The stitches should all be the same length with no gaps between them – the smaller your stitches the more secure you will make your seam. This is a strong stitch and ideal for working any small fiddly parts of seams that you can’t reach with your sewing machine, particularly when mending. Read our guide on how to do backstitch.
Cross stitch is an embroidery stitch worked on a gridded fabric where two small stitched cross to make and ‘x’. Stitching lots of these little crosses creates beautifully detailed scenes. Learn the basics with our Cross stitch for beginners guide.
Satin stitch is a great stitch for embroidery work as it allows you to fill in an area with colour. This stitch is great for floral projects as you can work in multiple shades to build up a life-like effect. Learn how to do this stitch in our beginners guide to satin stitch.
Seed stitch is a great beginner stitch to master as it allows you to fill space in your work in an effective way. The confetti style stitch is great for shading and adding depth to the colours in your work. Check out our beginner’s guide to seed stitch.
Split stitch is a great stitch for borders or outlines and looks fantastic when used to embroider words. The textured effect of the stitch adds depth to your work. Find out how to work the stitch here.
Lazy Daisy Stitch
Lazy daisy stitch is a quick and easy stitch to master. Once you’ve got the hang of it, you’ll be stitching flowers in no time! Find our guide to lazy daisy stitch here and instructions on how to turn your stitches into a cute summer headband.
Feather stitch is a great stitch to add to your embroidery repertoire. This delicate stitch resembles, you guessed it, a feather, but is also brilliant for floral designs. Learn how to work the stitch in our feather stitch guide.
Once you’ve mastered these pretty embroidery knots using our tutorial you’ll be chuffed to bits. The small knots look brilliant in every kind of embroidery project and have got to be one of the most satisfying stitches out there!
These long knots make fantastic roses and add depth and texture to your embroidery work. Follow our guide to the stitch and learn how to make a super sweet hanging decoration in our tutorial.
If you’ve ever had a go at hand sewing a hem, mending a hole in a seam or attaching appliqué patches by hand then you’ll surely appreciate how much a sewing machine can both speed up and neaten the process.
Buying your first sewing machine is a big investment, whilst there are affordable options on the market you will be looking at spending around the £100 mark for a beginner machine so it’s important to do your research and read reviews before taking the plunge. Explore our what to look when you're buying a sewing machine guide for lots of tips to help you buy the right one.
We’ve listed three of our favourite machines below and we also have a whole article about the best sewing machines for beginners in 2021 for you to check out.
1) Singer Start 1306
The Singer Start has been designed for absolute beginners. It has a simple design, and has the basic features you need to begin machine sewing. It comes with 6 built-in stitches plus a four-step buttonhole.
2) Brother LS14S
A great choice for a beginner who wants to tackle a range of sewing projects. The machine has a choice of 14 stitches, a 4-step buttonhole and a top-loading bobbin.
3) Singer 4411 Heavy Duty Sewing Machine
The Singer 4411 is a heavy-duty sewing machine which is capable of sewing through multiple layers of fabrics or thicker fabrics such as denim or leather. This is thanks to its strong motor and extra foot height option. It has 11 stitch patterns plus a 4-step buttonhole.
You’ve finally got your new sewing machine set up and can’t wait to dive into your first project…but then you take a look and realise there are far more knobs, dials and arrows than you expected (and who has time to read the entire manual eh?) Before you dive in an end up with a tangle of threads, follow our simple guide to threading a sewing machine to get your sewing journey off on the right foot!
Most modern machines contain an illustration of the thread path to show you how to thread your sewing machine. Starting at the top of the machine and ending at the needle.
As well as our step by step can also watch the Mollie Makes Youtube video to learn the basics.
Wind the bobbin
- Place your bobbin on the bobbin winding spoke and your thread on the spool pin.
2. Pass the thread on the bobbin spool through the bobbin tension guide and towards the bobbin.
3. Wrap the thread around your bobbin a couple of times in a clockwise direction then draw it through the hole in the top of the bobbin. This will stop the thread from slipping as the bobbin is spun.
4. Trim the thread tail down so it doesn’t get caught in the spinning bobbin, then push the bobbin to the right with the bobbin in this position the needle will not move up and down as you wind the bobbin.
5. Press down on your presser foot and the bobbin will begin to wind. The machine will stop when it is full, alternatively, you can stop pressing on the foot any time you like – this is ideal if you only need to stitch a small seam in this particular
You can also watch the Mollie Makes Youtube video to learn how to wind a bobbin.
Threading the machine
Note: Always thread your machine with the power turned off. Turn the handwheel towards you until the take up lever is in the upmost position. Raise the presser foot as this will open the tension discs allowing the thread to get into the correct position.
Instructions for threading the top thread will vary slightly depending on the model of your machine, however generally the thread first pass through an upper thread guide.
Then the thread will pass down and around the U-shaped guide which contains the tension discs.
At the top of the U-shape, the thread slots into the take up lever.
The thread then continues straight down towards the needle, passing through one or two thread guides just above the needle. Bring the thread through the needle, front to back then pass it through your presser foot and pull it to the back.
You can also watch the Mollie Makes Youtube video to learn how to thread your machine.
Insert the bobbin
(top-loading machines only, refer to your user manual for front-loading machines)
Drop the bobbin into the plastic bobbin case with the thread running anti-clockwise.
Pull the thread tail through the guide as far as possible. It will slot into a notch to keep it in position.
Turn the handwheel towards you so that the needle passes through the needle plate.
The upper thread will catch the bobbin thread and draw it up to the surface of the plate.
Bring the needle up to the surface again the bobbin thread will appear above the needle plate, pull both threads towards the back of the machine (a pair of tweezers or another small tool might help you to catch the bobbin thread and pull it through). A good thread tail length is approx. 15cm (6 inches).
How to select your stitch lengths
The final step in our beginners guide to sewing is learning how to select your stitch lengths. Watch Mollie Makes' video below.
Straight stitch will be the most commonly used stitch on your machine. This basic stitch is the foundation for all seams. You can adjust the length of this stitch, 3mm is a great starting point but 4-5mm is ideal for machine tacking. If your machine allows you to change the width of this stitch this will simply alter the needle position.
Selecting this stitch will mean that your machine will automatically ‘lock’ the stitch at the start and end. This will stop the thread unravelling and eliminates messy backtacking.
Straight stitch with locking stitches
This stitch invisibly ‘locks’ the stitch at the start and end. This is similar to lock-a-matic stitch but the locking stitches are performed on-the-spot so provide a more invisible finish.
Zig zag stitch
Zig zag stitch can be used for finishing seams, for sewing with stretch fabrics such as jersey and Lycra and can also be used to attach elastic. You can alter the width and length of this stitch.
3-step zig zag stitch
3 step zig zag stitch is a less frequently used but essential stitch. It is a common addition to all but the most basic machines and is used, like zig zag stitch, to attach elastic. This stitch allows for more stretch than a regular zig zag stitch and so is great for
Lightning stitch/stretch stitch
This stitch is ideal for sewing with stretch fabrics. The lightning bolt look of the stitch almost resembles a straight stitch when it is sewn on fabric, however the slight zig zag allows the stitches to stretch with the fabric. A really useful stitch, give it a go on your next stretch fabric project.
Overlock / overedge stitch
If you don’t have an overlocker, this stitch is ideal for finishing the raw edges of fabric. Your machine might have varying overlock stitches as the basic principle is a stitch that overlaps the edge of the fabric. A special foot is usually required for this stitch, but your manual will be able to tell you which foot is needed.
Blind hem stitch
If you want to stitch a blind hem (a neat hem finish that leaves a faint stitch line on the right side of the fabric) there is a special stitch on your machine that will do this for you. The
fabric needs to be fed through the machine in a specific fold pattern so refer to your manual if you want to give this stitch a go.
Decorative stitches come in many styles, they are often used in quilting, but you can also use them to decorate home décor pieces or even garment hems! From leaves to hearts to
snowflakes, decorative stitches will be numerous on machines with a greater number of stitches.
If your machine can perform a one-step buttonhole you will need to select the specific stitch for the task. If your machine is electronic (with no screen) then you will usually need to turn a stitch selector dial to stitch the top, bottom and sides of the buttonhole separately. One-step buttonholes require you to use a specialist buttonhole foot, some machines will come with the foot so you can get started straight away.
We hope you've enjoyed our beginner's guide to sewing. If you try any of our projects share your pictures with us on Instagram using #gatheredmakers.
Simply Sewing magazine’s Technical Editor Roisin loves every part of the dressmaking process, from sketching to sewing the final design, and enjoys working with luxury fabrics such as silk and chiffon. She’s a sewing pattern pro with a skill for adjusting and hacking patterns to fit and for editing dressmaking instructions to make them accessible to sewists of all abilities. Before she came to Simply Sewing, the tea-drinking fabric-lover ran her own handmade Lingerie Etsy shop. She drinks a lot of tea and shares a mix of dressmaking projects and fashion history on her Instagram @roisin_handmade.