For some of us, sewing took years of secondary school, extra years of practice and a cherry-on-top of watching YouTube ‘how-to’s’. But, luckily for you, here at The Hobby Kraze, we’ve whipped up the ultimate beginner’s guide to sewing. Complete with each stitch, machine, pedal and bobbin (don’t worry, we’ll include a glossary of terms for you).
As a beginner into the world of sewing, you’ve probably gotten to that stage in life where you’ve worn your favourite item of clothing to shreds. To literal shreds. And, you’re looking for a quick and cheap way to repair it. Well, not counting the machine, you’re on the path to sewing success. With the knowledge of sewing under your belt, you can fix garments, embellish clothes and make your own products.
So, without further ado, in this guide we’ll be covering these areas for the introduction to sewing:
- The Stitched-Up Beginnings of Sewing
- An Introduction to Sewing Jargon
- How to Know if Manual and Mechanical Tailoring is For You
- The Introduction to Sewing by Hand with Stitches in Sewing Projects for Beginners
- The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to the Sewing Machine
- The Hobby Kraze’s Top Tips to Sewing Projects for Beginners
Top tip: while the most common sewing machines on the market are the iconic Singer and Brother manufacturers, head out to your local hobby store to try and find great deals on older model alternatives for your first tailoring project. Then, when you’re comfortable and you know you’ll be sticking to the hobby, invest in the newest big boys.
The Stitched-Up Beginnings of Sewing
When people think of sewing, they very rarely think of hand-stitching. In fact, most minds wander off into the confusing realm of sewing machines and taking your fingers off with needles (that is a very rare occurrence).
However, the origin story of sewing takes us all the way back to 17,500 B.C. where archaeologists have unearthed tools that resemble the likes of sewing needles with eyes. However, that doesn’t mean that people walked around naked. There is evidence that indigenous people on the continent wore animal skins and leaves for warmth using primitive needles called awls. And, this dates over 40,000 years ago. But, the first trace of what we would call modern sewing lies in 17,500 B.C., so that’s where we’ll begin.
These sewing needles were made out of animal bone and carved using tools on the earth such as stone and rock. And, it was actually those that migrated to the cooler regions in the East that were innovating their ways to make clothes. So, the primitive awl gained an eye and the first form of a knitting needle was born.
Fun fact: during this time, the sewers of the world were not using spun wool or fibres we would see today. But, because sheep were not cultivated and cotton fields were not harvested during this time, it was flax fibres that were compressed and dyed to sew.
In fact; here’s a small history of threads and fibres:
- 100,000 B.C. There is evidence that early humans wore the skins of animas as clothing with leather.
- 40,000 B.C. Flax was used to create thread for linen clothing.
- 5,000 B.C. China began harvesting the silk from silkworms.
- 5,000 B.C. India started to use their cotton fields to spin yarn.
- 3,000 B.C. Sheep were used for their wool.
- 247 A.D. Excavations of a Roman outpost discovers the use of nalbinding fabric which is made using lime bast fibre.
- 1892 A.D. A French scientist named Hilaire de Chardonnet invented rayon fabric from wood cellulose. This is also referred to as viscose in a modern world.
- 1938 A.D. Nylon come onto the scene after DuPont had created the first non-cellulosic fibre.
- 1953 A.D. DuPont took synthetic fibres further by creating a fabric that most Western clothes are made of; polyester.
- 1958 A.D. Again, the DuPont factory is taking strides, giving women across the world confidence once again by bringing spandex to the table.
Of course, there were many innovations and discoveries that lead us to the sewing we know today. For example; the first mechanical sewing machine was invented in 1830 by a French tailoring genius named Barthélemy Thimonnier. From there, many other similar designs were emerging across the pond and beyond.
Moreover, an American machinist named Howe created one such design and was granted a patent. Then, another named Singer invented his own unique design; special in every way apart from the eye in the needle. Meaning, despite Singer’s undying success in the sewing community, he was made to pay royalties for the use of the eye in the needle.
An Introduction to Sewing Jargon
The last thing we want is to talk you through the ultimate beginner’s guide to sewing and tailoring only to find you didn’t understand some of the jargon. So, we’ve put together a small list of common terms you’ll come across in your new complete guide to sewing projects for beginners:
Also called a backstitch, this is a stitch that is done at the beginning and end of a sew. This is most often done on a sewing machine and stops the thread from pulling out by ‘anchoring’ it.
Also called tacking, this is the act of creating a hand-sewn and rough stitch to hold two pieces of fabric together before the sewing machine implants permanent stitches. These are then removed in the final piece.
The bias refers to a line drawn at a 45-degree angle to the selvage. It is often seen as a line diagonal to both the warp and weft threads.
A bobbin is a small spool inserted inside the sewing machine. This thread is then fed up and creates the underlying stitch. These are not often bought ready-spun, so need to be purposefully spun with your chosen thread before your project can start.
This is a term for a botched sewing machine job. When sewing, you will have the top stitch from the spool and the bottom stitch from the bobbin. When the tension on either of these is loose, it causes loops in the fabric and must be unpicked and resewn.
This is the term given to the act of hand-sewing – or, more accurately, hand-repairing. A darning stitch is applied to a piece of fabric with a hole. The stitch looks like a repeating number 0 in morse code, inclusive of spaces.
The edge stitch is a straight-edge stitch along the edge of a seam. This stitch is often finished with a folded edge and 1.5cm seam allowance as standard. However, for a modern aesthetic, a sewer can choose to sew an edge stitch close to a raw edge.
This is, as you may imagine, the act of embellishing a garment with additives. For example: pearls, gems, buttons, laddering, embroidery, lacework, quilting, beading, fringing, etc.
Moving away from the sewing machine, embroidery is usually completed by hand using a needle, thick thread and embroidery hoop. The embroidery hoop is two hoops that lock and stretch a desired location of the fabric to allow hand-stitching to be more accurate.
Frogging and Unpicking
Terms interchangeable with the knitting community, frogging and unpicking simply refer to the act of tearing away stitching. This is most commonly done to the basting and tacking stitches.
Gathering of fabric suggests that the fabric has come together within a short period, often over-lapping to create a ruched look. This is most commonly completed using a length of elastic. However, this can happen accidentally when a sewing machine’s feed-dogs are not passing the fabric under the presser-foot correctly.
After the edge stitch has been completed with a neat folded edge and 1.5cm seam allowance, this is a hem. The hem of a garment is the finished edge such as the bottom of a dress or the ends of sleeves.
This is a tailoring technique used to close a piece of fabric or create an invisible seam when attaching two pieces of fabric together. The stitches are made at right-angles to the fabric’s selvage.
The lining is an extra piece of fabric that is sewn alongside the main pattern. This allows for the garment to be; warmer, heavier, fully opaque and comfortable.
Needlework is another way to say hand-stitching or hand-sewing. The needlework is often associated with the design of embroidery and is frequently decorative.
‘Notions’ is a collective name given to all the extra additives that you can embellish onto your garments such as the beads, lace, pearls, gemstones, etc.
An overlocker is a special type of sewing machine that creates a specific stitch against the edge of a fabric. The sewing machine will automatically take, cut and line the edge of the fabric with a special stitch. This is most often used to help prevent fraying edges of a pattern.
Patchwork is the term given to a design of pattern-making. Patchwork often involves incorporating many small pieces of fabric and sewing them all together to create one large piece of multi-coloured fabric. Often, a lining is then sewn underneath to make the fabric more comfortable to the wearer.
The pattern is the fabric, paper or cardboard stencil that will allow you to cut the perfect shape and size of your fabric for a specific and pre-planned garment. They will often account for the 1.5cm seam allowance around every edge. Patterns can be found online, in books or in classes.
When you cut a piece of fabric, you are giving it a raw edge. With time and being handled, this raw edge will often warp and fray. This is why it is important to either sew-in an edge stitch or overlock the side to prevent fraying.
Right Side and Wrong Side
Every piece of fabric has what is called a ‘right-side’ and a ‘wrong-side’. As this is an introduction to sewing and tailoring, you need to know how to find the right side. The right side is the name given to the side of the fabric that you intend to be on the outside. This is also referred to as the ‘face’.
The seam allowance is the space provided between the edge seam and the end of the fabric. The standard seam allowance is 1.5cm but this can grow and shrink depending on the pattern, design and desired outcome of the garment.
The selvage is the natural edge and side to a piece of fabric. It’s the woven fabric’s natural and finished edges that do not fray.
A straight stitch is the most common stitch any sewer and seamstress will complete either when hand-sewing, tailoring or machine-sewing. The straight stitch runs in a line with no zig-zag features or laddering effects.
Tailor’s chalk is a specific type of chalk used to outline patterns, seam allowances and areas of importance on a piece of fabric. The tailor’s chalk comes off when the fabric is washed.
A thimble is a small metal bucket (without handle). This bucket-type product is designed to go over the finger to protect them from being harmed by a sharp needle. This can also be worn on the thumb.
Wadding is the name given to a thick, soft and fibrous material. This material is often inserted between a piece of wrong-side fabric and wrong-side lining. This will create a bulky, warm and quilted effect in the garment such as a winter puffer coat.
Warp and Weft
These two terms relate to the stitching that completes a piece of fabric when woven. When you see a piece of fabric, the warp is the horizontal thread and the weft is the vertical thread.
Yarn is an ongoing length of inter-twining and interlocking fibres such as wool, cotton and nylon. When these fibres are set together, they create a yarn that can be used to sew and stitch a garment.
How to Know if Manual and Mechanical Tailoring is For You
Both machine tailoring and hand-sewing have their pros, but often choosing between the two can be a personal decision. That’s why, in this new complete guide to sewing and tailoring, we wanted to take you through some of these benefits to allow you to choose.
Yet, there is no governing body that says you must choose. You can have both alongside knitting, lace work, crocheting and more.
Here we have a small list of benefits to hand-sewing projects for beginners:
- It is relatively cheap
- It’s affordable
- It is flexible in design
- It is portable and can be done anywhere
- It allows you to be able to fix many garments down the line
- It is manageable
- Hand-sewing and tailoring is quieter
- It can be relaxing
- It can be more precise
- It allows you to embellish garments
- It is fun
Here we have a small list of benefits to machine-sewing projects for beginners:
- It is much quicker
- The straight stitch can be more accurate
- You can sew far more products in a smaller time
- It enables you to deal with thicker fabrics such as jeans or leather
- It saves you from having to go to a tailor
- A sewing machine allows you to get any business ideas off the ground
Knowing whether you should start hand-sewing or machine-sewing projects for beginners is easy. While they may not be your forever hobby, you should always start your sewing and tailoring journey by learning how to hand-sew. Once you have mastered these few skills, you can begin to learn about the sewing machine and how it can develop and evolve your sewing.
In this new complete guide to sewing, the team here at The Hobby Kraze want to be real with you. Hand sewing can be tedious and slow. Yet, it does save the expensive investment of a sewing machine and offers calming qualities. So, always stick it out and if you believe a sewing machine is the next step in your journey of the introduction to sewing, then get going!
The Introduction to Sewing by Hand with Stitches in Sewing Projects for Beginners
So, whether you’re going to be hand-stitching or machine-stitching in your sewing and tailoring journey, you’ll always come across the same list of common stitches. So, in this ultimate beginner’s guide to sewing, we really couldn’t miss them out.
In order to practice these stitches, we suggest the following tools and equipment: A medium-sized needle, some medium or heavy-weight thread, a pair of embroidery scissors, a thimble (because these are sewing projects for beginners) and a piece of burlap or binca cloth.
Burlap cloth and binca fabric, while they don’t look like much to the eye, are the best fabrics to work with while in training. This is because the warp and weft are very prominent, easy to distinguish and is set far apart. This means it is smooth and easy to get your needle and thread through your fabric while keeping to the same measurements.
So, after you’ve got your new ‘complete guide to sewing kit’ together; you can begin to practice the following stitches. Note: for the purposes of explaining these stitching methods, we have used centimetre measurements to provide a guide on distances and sizing. Enjoy!
The running stitch is the most common stitch there is. It is easy to sew in and easy to un-pick down the line. It can offer temporary stability for fabrics to be held together and are often used as the basting stitch for this reason.
To do a running stitch, you’ll want to thread your needle, creating a knot at the end of your thread’s tail. Then starting from the wrong side of your fabric, push the needle through to the right side. Then, moving either vertically or horizontally (with the warp or weft) push your needle back through to the wrong side about 2cm away from your entry point. Then, keeping to the same direction, bring the needle back up the fabric 1cm later. And, then back down 2cm later.
Your finished running stitch should look like a long line of morse code ‘dashes’.
The backstitch provides a more sturdy and permanent fixture to your garment. As well as this, if you don’t want gaps in your embroidery, the backstitch is the way to go.
To achieve a backstitch, prepare the same as the running stitch, pushing your needle up through to the right side of the fabric. Then, move your needle 1cm in the opposite direction you decide to travel, pushing it back through the fabric. Then, travelling for 2cm along the same line in the right direction, bring your needle to the right-side. Moving backwards for 1cm on the right side of your fabric should take you back to your original entry point.
Continuing this sequence of moving backwards for 1cm on the right side of your fabric and forwards for 2cm on the wrong side of your fabric, you will have your backstitch.
The satin stitch is also known as the padded stitch. This is because it can offer a 3-dimensional aspect to your finished product. These can be great for re-enforcing weak fabric, creating structure, or tidying up an outline.
For a satin stitch, you’ll already need to have a backstitch in place with a shape. For example, if your shape is a square, you’ll want all of your threads to be going in the same direction, so you’ll do a satin stitch overlay.
Remaining on the outside of your shape, bring the prepared needle and thread through the fabric as close to a corner of your square as possible. Then, choosing a direction, take your needle and thread to the next corner (i.e. down or across, not horizontal). Thread through to the wrong side, then bringing your thread back up next to your original entry point you can complete this process until your shape is fully covered. No original stitching should be seen underneath.
The seed stich is a fantastically random way of embroidering a landscape. The idea is that the stitching should have a finished look of dropped seeds or rice grains.
To do the seed stitch, you’ll need to take your pre-prepared needle and thread from the wrong side of the fabric to the right side, then move in any direction for 1cm and go back through to the wrong side. There is your first seed.
After completing your first seed, find another random area on your fabric, close or far away, and bring your needle back through to the right side. Then, moving 1cm in any direction (it is important that your ‘seeds’ look the same size) pop your needle back through the fabric. Continue until you get tired or bored of seeding!
The cross stitch is a very common stitch to see in many sewing projects for beginners.
To begin your cross-stitching journey, its best for you to draw a few squares directly next to each other on your fabric with some tailor’s chalk. Now, looking at your square, you will have a top-right, top-left, bottom-right and bottom-left corner. We will reference these corners in the description.
With your pre-prepared needle and thread, bring your needle through the top-right corner to the right-side of the fabric. Then, take your needle and thread back down the bottom-left corner of your square. Bring the needle back up the top-left corner and then push it back down your bottom-right corner. You should now have a cross. Moving onto the next square along, you can bring your needle back up through the top-right corner and start the process again.
French knots are a fantastic way to add texture and definition to your design. While they offer no structural ground to your fabric or anything you need to repair, they will always be a welcome addition to the embroidery ring.
To do a French knot, select one spot on your piece of fabric and bring your prepared needle up through to the right-side. Then, you will need to use the tip of your needle and loop around your thread (still on the right-side of the fabric) exactly two times. Take your needle back through your original entry point and give it a tug to tighten the knot.
For a bigger knot, you can wrap more, but a traditional French knot will always have two loops.
The bullion knot can take some practice to get right, but when done correctly can look lovely when embroidering flowers and other objects onto your garment.
They are slightly different from the French knot as the finished project is a line rather than a bobble on the fabric. However, it does still involve wrapping the yarn around your needle.
The first thing you’ll want to do is mark a line on your fabric for as long as you’d like your line to be. Then, bring your prepared needle through one end of your line to the right-side. And then pass it back through the other side of your line, but don’t pull all the thread through. You’ll want to leave a large loop on the right-side of your fabric.
Bring your needle back halfway through the original entry point and then tightly wrap your loop around your needle until your wrap is the length of your line. Bring the rest of your needle through the fabric, making sure your wrapped thread stays behind. Pull everything tight and you should have your bullion knot. To finish it off, push your needle back through the fabric at the end of your line.
Much like with the cross-stitch and bullion knot, it’s best to have your tailor’s chalk to hand. Using your chalk and a ruler, draw three parallel and vertical lines each about 1cm apart.
Then, using your pre-prepared needle and thread, bring your needle through the top of the left-most line. Your needle should now be on the right-side of the fabric. Then, go back through the fabric at the top of the right-most line, making sure to leave a loop of thread left over.
Bring your needle back through to the right-side, but this will be approximately 1cm down from the top of the middle line. Sew the needle back through the fabric 1cm down, again. Make sure your thread is on top of the loop you left behind earlier. This should create a ‘Y’ shape.
To continue, simply take your thread back to the left-most line, and bring it back through to the right-side 1cm below your last thread on this line. As you continue with this pattern, you can create trees, leaves and the tips of snowflakes.
Lazy Daisy Stitch
The lazy daisy is a way to create small flowers throughout your embroidery pattern in your introduction to sewing. As you process past the sewing projects for beginners, you’ll be able to create more varied flowers such as the bullion-rose.
To do a lazy daisy stitch, you need to bring your needle through the fabric to the right-side. Take your needle back through your entry point but leaving a small loop. Approximately 1cm away, in any direction, bring the needle back to the right-side. Thread the needle through the loop from earlier and then thread it back through the place you last came through.
When complete you should have a lazy daisy stitch that looks like flower petal. You can repeat this sequence in a circle to get a flower or randomise how you see fit!
The final stitch you should learn in your ultimate beginner’s guide and introduction to sewing is the zig-zag stitch.
However, it must be noted that this stitch is usually completed with a machine to offer a sturdy and thick stitch to a fabric’s seam.
For this particular pattern, you should draw a zigzag on your fabric with tailor’s chalk. Then, make a note of each ‘point’ where the beginning of the line is point 1 and every time you change direction you add another point.
Bring your pre-prepared thread through point 2 to the right-side of the fabric. Then push the needle back down through point 1. Bring the needle up through point 3 and back down through point 2. Up through 4 and down through 3, up through 5 and down through 4, etc. When you have reached your intended length, you have successfully completed a right-side zigzag stich in your new complete guide to sewing.
The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to the Sewing Machine
If you feel like your hand-sewing has been practiced enough and remaining with embroidery stitches is not your thing, then have a go at some machine-sewing.
You’ll first want to check-out if friends or family have a sewing machine you could borrow, first. Failing which you can always have a look online to see if there are any beginner’s classes. This way you can get acquainted with a sewing machine before investing in one.
When you decide to leap into the world of fast and powerful sewing machines, we suggest looking for an investment. With amazing and reliable brands like singer and Brother, it’s hard to go wrong. While a small and cheap sewing machine might offer you stitches for mending garments and slightly altering, you’ll need something more substantial down the road as a hobbyist with the passion for creation!
So, with that in mind, once you have your sewing machine, make sure you read the instructions carefully. While most follow the same basic sequence of threading, placing the footer down and pressing a pedal, others have more complex start-up processes. Meaning, it would be pretty difficult for us to give you instructions for your personal machine.
However, what we can do, is get you through a check-list of supplies you’ll need in your introduction to sewing; machine-style:
- A Sewing Machine
- A Cutting Board
- Some Embroidery Scissors
- A Pin Cushion
- Bobbin Cases
- Needles (for Your Machine)
- Measuring Tape
- Tailor’s Chalk
- Unpicking Tool
- A Power Outlet
The Hobby Kraze’s Top Tips to Sewing Projects for Beginners
Now we’ve reached the end of the ultimate beginner’s guide to sewing and tailoring, the team here at The Hobby Kraze wanted to give you some tips for your journey.
- Read the tape measure the right way with metric and imperial numbers.
- Don’t think you’ll pick-up a needle and immediately sew like a pro.
- Try new styles of sewing and stitching with a piece of old fabric, first.
- Always keep extra bobbins to-hand.
- Stay organised by dedicating a specific area in your home to sewing.
- Pre-wash your fabric in case of shrinkage, relaxation or dye leakage.
- Have an iron and ironing board to hand for pressing seams and folds.
- Cut the fabric on the bias to prevent fraying.
- Keep a sewing journal.
- Use a magnet before and after a project to find lost pins before your feet do.
And, there you have it; the new complete guide to sewing by The Hobby Kraze. Of course, there will always be more to learn about sewing by hand and by machine. With anything from experiencing new fabrics, to trying out specialised machines and creating a new embroidery stitch that works for you.
And, if this is the case, try to keep a record of it and share this learning curve with other like-minded hobbyists in your sewing circle. With communities of avid sewers all over the internet and in your neighbourhood, you’re sure to find someone to share your skills with.
In the meantime, don’t forget to check out our other articles such as; “The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Knitting”. Or, try something completely different with our “The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Geocaching” for a fun outdoors adventure.