A guide to sewing for beginners

Browse our complete guide to sewing for beginners to pick up all the essential knowledge you need.

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sewing for beginners

Welcome to your complete guide to sewing for beginners! There’s everything you need to become a sewing pro in this post and each step is broken down with photo and video tutorials.

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Sewing for beginners guide:

How to hand sew

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 reattach 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 applique patch to your favourite denim jacket. Here we’re going to take you back to the classroom for a simple breakdown of sewing by hand. 

Types of thread

Sewing for beginners Hand Sewing

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! 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.

Choosing a needle

Sewing for beginners Hand Sewing 2

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. 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.

Getting started

  1. 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.
Sewing for beginners Hand Sewing 4

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.

Sewing for beginners Hand Sewing 3

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. If you are really struggling you might find that a handy tool such as a Prym needle threader might get the job done quicker.

Type of hand sewing stitches

1

Running stitch

This stitch is handy for adding top stitching to garments, fixing rips and mending clothes and edging embroidery designs. Read our guide on how to do running stitch to become a pro. 

2

Backstitch

Backstitch is a great stitch for mending seams in garments or for hand sewing a seam that needs to be secure. The smaller your stitches the more secure you will make your seam. Read our guide on how to do backstitch.

3

Cross stitch

 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 of cross stitch with our video tutorial.

4

Satin stitch

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. 

5

Seed 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

6

Split 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.

7

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 seed stitch here and instructions on how to turn your stitches into a cute summer headband.

8

Feather stitch

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.

9

French knots

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! 

10

Bullion knots

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

Other sewing skills to master

Here are some other skills to master along your sewing journey. Replacing a missing button is one of the first sewing skills many of us learnt in school, but how many adults can honestly say they have the tools and the know-how to mend a shirt if they needed to today?

Likewise 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 below to master the technique.

How to sew a hem – three methods

How to sew a hem

Single Fold Hem 

  1. Finish the raw edge of the fabric using an overlocker or zig zag stitch. This will stop the raw edge unravelling when the garment is worn and make the hem look nice and neat on the inside.
  2. With the garment inside out, press the hem allowance to the wrong side of the fabric. Pressing first is really important to avoid a ‘roped’ (twisted) hem.
  3. Once pressed it will be easier to pin the hem in place, and you will be sure that your pinning is even all the way around. Use sharp pins to avoid snagging your fabric.
  4. Stitch the hem in place close to the finished raw edge. Try to maintain an equal distance from the folded edge all the way around, this line of stitching will be visible on the right side of the garment so the neater and straighter your stitching, the better it will look when worn.
    How to sew a hem

    5. Press the hem to finish, use a pressing cloth if you have a particularly delicate
    fabric.

Double Fold Hem
1. Press half of the hem allowance to the wrong side. Pressing first is really important to avoid a ‘roped’ (twisted) hem.
2. Press the folded edge over once again, by half of the total hem allowance.

How to sew a hem

3. Once pressed it will be easier to pin the hem in place, and you will be sure that your pinning is even all the way around. Use sharp pins to avoid snagging your fabric.
4. Stitch the hem in place close to the open edge maintaining an equal distance from the fold all the way around.
How to sew a hem

5. Press to finish.
Narrow Hem 
1. With your garment inside out, press a 5mm (1/4in)* hem to the wrong side. Pressing first is really important to avoid a ‘roped’ (twisted) hem.

*The amount you press will depend on your garments hem allowance. Read your instructions through before narrow hemming to find out the hem allowance and make any adjustments if necessary.

2. Stitch the fold in place close to the folded edge.
3. Using small, sharp scissors, trim the excess fabric down to the stitch line being careful not to snip through any of the stitches.

How to sew a hem

4. Press this hem over to the wrong side once again and press then pin in place.
5. Stitch the hem in place close to the open edge maintaining an equal distance from the fold all the way around. This will result in a narrow hem with only one line of stitching visible on the right side of the hem.
6. Press to finish.
How to sew a hem

Sewing essentials for beginners

Want to pick up some of the basic tools to get you started? Take a look at our article 10 Beginner Sewing Kits to guide you in the right direction. We’ve listed some basic tool kits and some beginner project kits to get you off to a flying start.

Best sewing machine for beginners

If you’ve ever had a go at hand sewing a hem, mending a hole in a seam or attaching applique 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. We’ve listed three of our favourite machines below and we also have a whole article about the Best Sewing Machines for Beginners in 2020 for you to check out.

1) Singer Start 1306

Singer Start 1306 Sewing machine

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.

Buy now from Dunelm, Currys

2) Brother LS14S

Brother LS14S Metal Chassis Sewing Machine

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.

Buy now from eBay, Amazon

3) Singer 4411 Heavy Duty Sewing Machine

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.

Buy now from eBay, Amazon

We’ve also rounded up our top sewing machine tables, best sewing machines for kids and best overlockers!

How to thread your sewing machine

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!

Getting started

Most modern machines contain an illustration of the thread path. 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

Winding the bobbin
  1. Place your bobbin on the bobbin winding spoke and your thread on the spool pin.
Winding the bobbin

2. Pass the thread on the bobbin spool through the bobbin tension guide and towards the bobbin.

Winding 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.
Winding 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.

5) Threading the machine

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.

Threading the machine

Then the thread will pass down and around the U-shaped guide which contains the tension discs.

Threading the machine

At the top of the U-shape, the thread slots into the take up lever.

Threading the machine

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)

Threading the machine

Drop the bobbin into the plastic bobbin case with the thread running anti-clockwise.

Threading the machine

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.
11) Threading the machine

The upper thread will catch the bobbin thread and draw it up to the surface of the plate.
Threading the machine

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.

Types of sewing machine stitches

Straight stitch

Straight stitch

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.

Lock-a-matic stitch

Lock-a-matic stitch

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

Straight stitch with invisble locking

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

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

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

Lightning 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

Overlock stitches

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

Blind Hem Stitches

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

Decorative stitches

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.

Buttonhole stitches

Buttonhole 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.

Sewing patterns for beginners

Now that you’ve mastered the basics in our beginners guide to sewing you need a project to work on! We’ve got a whole bunch of sewing patterns here on Gathered. We’ve got everything from clothing refashions to home accessory projects.

Beginner clothing projects

Free Kimono Top Sewing Pattern for Beginners

Beginner home accessory projects

How to make a scissor keep
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We hope you’ve enjoyed our beginners guide to sewing. If you try any of our projects share your pictures with us on Instagram using #gatheredmakers.