How hard is it to learn to sew?
March 6, 2011 12:32 PM   Subscribe

How hard is it to learn to sew? Also looking for your favorite sewing resources (books, blogs, fabric & supply websites, etc).

This is something I've wanted to learn to do for a while. I've always been pretty crafty and I'm good at making things so I'm thinking that this is something that I'd enjoy. I also think it would be a nice skill to have for practical reasons. Is this something I should take a class or two for or is it possible to learn from books?

Where should I start in regards to a machine? I don't want some piece of crap that's going to jam up on me every two minutes but I also don't want to spend an arm and a leg on something that I might not end up enjoying. Any other tips or recommendations are welcome.
posted by MaryDellamorte to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (30 answers total) 100 users marked this as a favorite
I'd buy an older, all metal machine, if you can find one. I bought a Singer that was made for school sewing classes and when I had it oiled and cleaned, the guy offered me more than the purchase price (it's circa 1984.) All the fancy embroidery stuff is nice but not really necessary. I do think that learning from a teacher or class makes it easier than learning from a book, but I'm more of a visual learner.

It's not hard to learn, but learning what fabrics work for what patterns/styles can be tricky. If you're good at spatial relationships, sewing isn't difficult. Learning all the pro tricks to fitting and tailoring can take time to master, but curtains? Easy-peasy.

Ask around at stores that cater to quilters, and see if you can find someone willing to teach you.
posted by Ideefixe at 12:39 PM on March 6, 2011

When you take classes at sewing & crafts stores, they generally have machines they'll let you use. Some places even have multiple brands available, so you can get an idea of what you prefer.
posted by SMPA at 12:49 PM on March 6, 2011

I bought my sewing machine off of Amazon, of all places. Sears also has good machines - I believe that Kenmore and Janome machines are both made by the same company.

It is possible to learn from books, but I found that taking a class helped immensely - plus it was great fun to see what everyone else was making and to talk about our projects.

It's not hard and it is great fun! This is a great starter project and these coasters make great gifts!

Get yourself a self-healing mat and a rotary cutter, too.
posted by Ostara at 12:53 PM on March 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

I finished my first real project last weekeend! I bought a pattern for an apron for $3 and went for it. Sure, some of the seams aren't as nice as they could be, and I tore out and redid some things multiple times (make sure you buy a ripper), but I ended up with a perfectly useable apron.

I borrowed a machine from someone, but you can find places that will rent you a machine so you can see if you like it. If you don't go the vintage route, Overstock sells a lot of refurbished sewing machines.

If you're good at following IKEA or LEGO directions, following a pattern isn't that much different. Youtube is full of useful videos for things like "how do I thread my machine?", and the instruction manual that came with my machine was also instructive.

I fumbled my way through learning how to use a machine in an afternoon without classes; YMMV.
posted by asphericalcow at 12:56 PM on March 6, 2011

I don't know how to sew. But I am an electrical contractor, I have a client that runs a quilting and sewing store in Central Florida. The store has a classroom area. We are always doing little jobs for her.

She has quite a few clients that are retired women, snow-birding in Florida during the winter. Lots of them arrive with no knowledge, take a couple classes (12 weeks courses), and then are producing some really impressive stuff.

We have been at the shop when the owner showed us something made by a student at home. She would brag, "2 years ago Mrs Jones didnt even know how to turn on a sewing machine. And this only her third class. And look at this (whatever) that she made for her grand-daughter. Isn't it beautiful."

As an electrician and a cotractor, I appreciate craftsmenship. All the classes at this shop are 1 hour per week for 12 weeks. I know that with the right teacher, it is possible to be producing some impressive stuff with a mere 36 or 48 hours of class time.
posted by Flood at 1:09 PM on March 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

It's easy to learn -- it just takes patience and attention to detail. I strongly second Ideefixe in getting an all-metal vintage machine -- older Kenmores have a well-earned reputation, for example. Goodwill and other thrift stores often have incredible deals on them and they are so well-built they put any (affordable) current machines to shame. Do look for one that at minimum can do a zig-zag in addition to straight stitch. Have it serviced and find/buy a manual for it.

Both Pattern Review and Stitcher's Guild have beginners' forums that can be great resources.

What are you interested in learning to sew? Home items? Fashion/tailoring? I have a long list of things I can post if they fit the direction you want to go in.

Start with something easy, use fabrics you enjoy working with and really -- it's fun!
posted by vers at 1:13 PM on March 6, 2011

It really depends on what type of learner and what type of craftsperson you are. It's not really that hard, but there's lots of different things to learn and it can be hard to prioritize by oneself. Since you say you're already crafty, you probably know best how you go about learning a new skill.

A class is a good idea for lots of reasons, but if you really don't enjoy class structures, it's not going to be too hard to teach it to yourself if you're not easily overwhelmed, and you already have some concrete ideas of what you want to make. Also, you can take a class at any skill level, so if you start out and find that you feel uncomfortable continuing by yourself, you can get help easily.

If you want to buy a sewing machine, there are plenty of affordable models that aren't going to cost you a million dollars. People get VERY opinionated about their sewing machines, but for beginner's work and for most things up until leather upholstery or like, detailed couture level stitches, a couple hundred dollars for a machine at a department store like Sears will serve you just fine. With plastic parts and automated construction, sewing machines are more reliable and less breaky than ever. If you decide to take a class, hold off until you've had a chance to learn some different models to buy, but don't worry about getting the wrong one, either. Every newer sewing machine is pretty much the same, or easy enough to figure out.

Basic hand-stitching, though, is I think more important to be good at than machine sewing, for every day household stuff. Hemming pants, darning rips and tears, reinforcing buttons & buttonholes, finishing up other textile projects like embroidery or knitting - these are all hand sewing techniques that are more useful the more you know them, and don't depend on having a machine at all. This is stuff you can learn from books and from youtube videos (there are many very helpful ones out there!) and you'll find yourself more comfortable with needle and thread without spending any money on a machine or classes at all.
posted by Mizu at 1:22 PM on March 6, 2011

This is a tiny bit silly, but I learned from The Mary Frances Sewing Book, which was intended to teach the basics of making clothing to little girls around the turn of the century. I actually got my copy from Lacis, whom I wholeheartedly recommend. Lacis also carries a 16" doll that fits the patterns in the book (go here, scroll down to "The Mary Frances experience.")

My theory was, first, if 10-year-olds could learn from this book, so could I, and second, an important way that little girls learned to sew "back in the day" was making doll clothes from scraps since you waste less fabric when you screw up and you finish the projects MUCH faster. So I worked my way through the book, mostly using stuff I picked up at the remnants table at the fabric store. You will have to work by hand; it's hard to do seams that small on a machine. But by the time I finished I had a really solid grasp of the basics of clothing construction, I did it all in a single winter, I spent minimal money on fabrics, and I'd learned some kinda cool fancier tricks too.

Thereafter I applied my skills to a machine and began making larger things and the machine was super-easy (though I had some experience in junior high school home ec), but many (most?) sewing machine stores will offer classes on how to use your machine if you buy through them. I got one of Project Runway's co-branded Brother machines (for example), which are at a lower price point because they're sort-of aimed at the casual learner or the teenaged girl with limited funds who wants to basically do fashion fabrics and clothing construction and doesn't need the heavy-duty "sew a wing on an airplane" machine. It is a really well-built machine and I have been thrilled with it, and my super-sewing friend with multiple fancy machines agrees that it's an extremely solid machine for the price. She was shocked I paid so little for it. (I became aware of it when Consumer Reports actually gave it a top-notch review and it cost HALF of what the other machines they gave top reviews to cost!) So I definitely recommend the Brother/Project Runway line.

Anyway, it's a little idiosyncratic but it worked for me and it was really fun. And then I actually used the skills I gained to teach community rec classes to little girls who wanted to learn to sew for their American Girl dolls. :) (Which are 18" dolls so I had to get different patterns, but they all oooh and aaaah over my 16" doll's wardrobe.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:23 PM on March 6, 2011 [12 favorites]

It's not hard! I did it! You can do it!

I went to Target and bought an inexpensive Brother sewing machine. It was on sale for around 99$. It's lasted me 5+ years with no trouble. I've sewn blankets, a quilt, kids' clothes and curtains for my entire house. There are much better machines out there, for sure, and sewing purists hate these cheap little machines. But in my experience they're fine for beginners.

Then I got a basic sewing book from Amazon. It was similar to this or this.

The scary thing about those books is that they were written a long time ago, and so are filled with absolutely hideous photos of disgusting fabrics and projects that I wouldn't be caught dead making. HOWEVER -- that's how I learned to sew a seam, to backstitch, to think about a seam allowance, etc. The basics were all in there, all I had to do was ignore the disgusting, outdated photos.

Then later I found these: This Lotta Jansdottor book is full of cute, modern projects that require only simple sewing. This Amy Karol book also has cool, modern projects.

And basically now I'm just a seat-of-the-pants home sewing maniac. TRY IT OUT -- It's FUN!
posted by BlahLaLa at 1:25 PM on March 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

(It appears the amazon edition of the MF sewing book is paperback and does NOT have the patterns. Get the hardcover, with patterns, from Lacis. It's also a charming little book because it's got that terrifying Edwardian sensibility towards children's books, where HORRIBLE THINGS happen to naughty people!)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:25 PM on March 6, 2011

I grew up sewing some of my own clothes and having many others sewn by my Mom. For this, among other reasons, I was not a fashionable child. My long-standing experience is that crafts are much easier to learn and do well than clothing (and probably more quickly satisfying to create). Clothing by pattern (or by making your own patterns from clothes) is difficult if you don't already sew very well and come to it with an understanding of how different fabrics respond to being sewn, by what technique, how they fall on the body, and how appropriate the pattern is for your real body and the particular fabric. So if you strike out in the direction of sewing clothes, be prepared to spend some time learning to achieve a good fit.

As for machines, my Mom used an Elna for decades which she passed on down to me and which still works well. I also have a Janome. It's been a while since I looked at machines, but Berninas seem to be the BMW of machines, with other lines like Singer, Brother, Pfaff and Viking following closely. It really depends on what kind of sewing you'll be doing, so sort that out before you look for a machine. Different manufacturers and lines will have different strengths.
posted by cocoagirl at 1:28 PM on March 6, 2011

I just took an online course with Whipstitch Fabrics. It was a good overview of the basic skills. It was a little pricy for me but it was a lot of fun. The teacher also has a book called Stitch by Stitch that covers a lot of the same material.
posted by wallaby at 1:43 PM on March 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Sewing truly is easy to learn. Really! There are so many wonderful sewing blogs out there showcasing a variety of tutorials, free patterns, and techniques, so it's easy to get started on your way. (A couple favorites: Sew Mama Sew and verypurpleperson.) If you're interested in sewing clothing, Burda Style is a great resource, with techniques, tutorials, and free patterns. YouTube tutorials are also a godsend for learning how to do different types of techniques without shelling out money for classes.

I'm echoing the above advice to purchase a vintage machine, if you can find one; an all-metal construction means that your machine will last for years if it is well-maintained. I advise against purchasing a brand-new Singer or White, since they are truly not worth it if you think it's something you'll really enjoy. While they were top-quality brands in years past, they have moved toward plastic parts which, in my experience, often break. The frustration of working on a lower-quality machine where the tension keeps shifting and the thread keeps breaking or tangling on your lovingly-pieced together project can totally suck the fun out of sewing. (Trust me: I learned to sew on an entry-level White purchased around 2001. While it is still kicking, it is a horrible, horrible beast. I thought that I hated sewing because of that machine, until I actually tried out a friend's vintage Viking machine -- and then I realized that it wasn't the process of sewing that I hated, it was the crappy machine!) Like the purchase of any other big appliance, it helps to do your research and test drive a machine before jumping in. You'll be able to try out a machine and see how it feels at a Joann Fabrics or other dealer.

Most of all: have fun! It can be an expensive hobby, but there are few things that feel as good as receiving a compliment on a purse or dress you've made yourself. :)
posted by Maya Cecile at 1:52 PM on March 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

I taught myself the basics on a very old metal White machine which could do only straight stitching. I "graduated" to a new Kenmore machine on which almost everything is plastic. Even though it can zig-zag, buttonhole, and thread its own needle, I sure miss the old one. If you have access to a vintage metal sewing machine, don't assume it's not good enough.

My Kenmore is perfectly good -- electronic but not complicated, and compact enough to be stored on its side in a drawer.
posted by wryly at 2:09 PM on March 6, 2011

I taught myself on a preloved Janome that *does* jam up every few minutes. I find it easier to design my own stuff and chalk it directly onto fabric, but I have made one dress from a pattern. My first project was a three button waist cincher, which in retrospect, wasn't making things easy for myself.

Start making skirts out of stretch material, there isn't much to it.

One fashion student I know told me, 'it isn't that I'm a great sewer, it is that my Mum is a great unpicker'. Get yourself a quick unpick Don't start with precious material.

Start to look at items. Look at what pieces make up thing, and think about how they would like sitting flat. Learn about fabric directions and how to cut.

Go for it.
posted by Trivia Newton John at 2:55 PM on March 6, 2011

I think taking a class before you buy a machine is a good idea- you'll know if you like it, know better what sort of machine to buy. Lots of people are self taught but there's a many little tips and tricks that experienced sewers know that are useful.

It's not hard to learn to use a machine, but if you want to make well fitting clothes from patterns, classes can help you learn what to do to make patterns fit correctly. If you're interested in things like pillowcases, quilts, or purses where fitting is less individual, you might not care about a class. Still, if you're going to invest in a sewing machine, you might as well learn about them first.
posted by oneirodynia at 3:18 PM on March 6, 2011

In terms of which machine to get.... I don't need mine to do much (straight stitch and zig zag) and buttonhole. Easy buttonhole function rocks my world. Perhaps also a foot for sewing in zippers too.

I think an intro class would probably be great for fundamentals. I found a nasty old book with lots of blue-eyeshadowed models that had some good tips on cutting and finishing things. People are also really generous with their knowledge online. Read blogs.
posted by Trivia Newton John at 3:23 PM on March 6, 2011

If you get a machine, make sure you get a mechanical (not computerized) machine. I have both a 50 year old singer and a new one, I love the old one a LOT. It's a tank.

Take classes. Do you want to machine sew or hand sew?

Here are some links:

The Sew Mama Sew archives have GREAT beginner projects. I recommend you look through the Handmade holidays archives, especially.

You should TOTALLY look at the Not Martha post about buying a sewing machine. EXCELLENT advice.

Hope this helps a little! Good luck! Sewing is a really rewarding thing to be able to do.
posted by bibliogrrl at 3:23 PM on March 6, 2011

I wanted to learn to sew for years. I was lucky; one of my husband's employees is a gifted design student (she won a national award for this dress) and she tutored me.

She is a design oriented person, rather than a sewing oriented person, and we agreed that irons, sewing machines, and patterns are all in desperate need of a redesign and their forms cling to no-longer-applicable systems. So my learning experience was a little unorthodox.

For starters, I never learned how to "read" a pattern. I have some, but I find it easier to just measure what I'm sewing for, look for examples/instructions on line or from a similar item, and go from there.

When I made myself pants, I took a pair of my most favorite jeans, cut them apart at the seams, and used the pieces to trace new ones out of new denim.

I just winged it making a red riding hood cape for my daughter- cut out four circles and four half circles, and sewed them together. Turned out beautifully and took me 90 minutes.

The best things you can do to learn to sew is learn about the machine. This was very intimidating to me- I am not mechanically inclined and don't even like to change my own oil. But once I learned to change the needle, adjust the tension, and just wiggle the round thing on the side if I got jammed, it was dead simple to complete projects.

I would learn to do a running backstitch by hand before trying to use the machine. You might want to check out ThreadHeads/ThreadBanger. Study things that you know you want to make, and draw their pieces on news/butcher paper. Embrace failure- you are learning.

Good luck!
posted by Leta at 3:30 PM on March 6, 2011

I have found this book to be very helpful. It has great step by step instructions with clear photographs of each step. I agree with everyone above that a class is a good idea at the beginning; I just took the basic "this is how you use you're brand new machine" at the dealer. Since then it's really just been practice (lots of trial and error) and reading, I tend to learn well from books, though.
Anyway, even if you find another way to learn the basics, I recommend that book as a reference because it goes over all the little details like different types of seams and how to sew curves, etc.
posted by purpletangerine at 3:37 PM on March 6, 2011

I have found the pdfs at to be helpful as I try to learn how to sew. I also am really liking the Lotta Jansdottir book referenced above. I am by no means an expert sewer, but I do have some recent learning-to-sew experience and therefore offer these tips:

- Start with really simple, easy, small projects. I made rectangular placemats and square fabric napkins (from the Jansdottir book) to help get comfortable using my machine. I also attempted a duvet cover, which I thought would be easy because it's just a huge rectangle, but huge turned out to be a problem. It's ungainly to move the fabric, it requires a lot more work to fix when something goes wrong 2/3 of the way through a 6-foot-long seam, and it takes long enough to finish that you don't get the frequent Yay-I-finished-something! feelings to keep you exciting about sewing. Even full-window curtains might be surprisingly daunting at first.

- My first clothing projects were ones that don't require a perfect fit. Now I have a fabulous supply of pajama pants, and I've sewed with both thin and thick (fleece) fabrics and have a sense of how they behave differently.

- Get a seam ripper and learn to use it. It's easy and actually pretty satisfying to do, which almost makes up for the annoyance of having to tear something out and do it over.

- Don't think you can get away with not using chalk or a disappearing pen when the pattern says to mark something. As a beginner I took shortcuts thinking it would be ok because I picked a simple pattern. But I always ended up regretting it.

- Your fabric store should have some very easy patterns for beginners available. These will explain what the marks mean and avoid anything too fancy, but you can always google any unfamiliar terms (seam allowance? selvege?).

Good luck! I honestly haven't gotten much further beyond the PJ pants stage of my sewing career, but I have high hopes for future projects.
posted by vytae at 3:51 PM on March 6, 2011

Your profile suggests that you should look into the American Sewing Guild's Richmond Chapter. They'd probably be a great source for local teachers/classes/clinics.
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:16 PM on March 6, 2011

I learned how to sew in 6th grade in an art class. The teacher taught us how to thread the machine, start a stitch, finish one and make tight turns. That took 10 minutes. That stuck with me for life. Later on, I learned how to sew from patterns. This is a skill unto itself. Patterns have their own little language and sometimes the topology is mind bending (I made a vest that I swore wouldn't come out but magically did).

A few things have made life easier - when I started doing patterns, I read The Complete Book of Sewing Shortcuts. The title is a lie. It is a book of sewing technique. Great book.

Take a class if it suits you. That's a great way to try out machines.

When I bought one, I went with a low-end Elna. They, of course don't make that model anymore, but this is the closest equivalent. They are very simple, straight-forward machines. It kicks the crap out of my mom's old Kenmore, and after we married, Mrs. Plinth sold her Singer, in favor of the Elna. It's light, yet sturdy.

In terms of features: here is what I've used on the machine: straight stitch, zig-zag, satin stitch, and button holes. I might have used the triple stitch once. And frankly, for most things, you don't need much more.
posted by plinth at 4:59 PM on March 6, 2011

@sprezzy - FYI - I've done a fair amount of sewing and word-working and they have a great deal in common, especially in terms of 3D thinking and visualization. Anyone who tells you that girls aren't as skilled as boys in that area needs to try both.
posted by plinth at 5:01 PM on March 6, 2011

That's interesting to hear! I've never really thought much about the commonalities between the two, but it makes sense!

I have no doubt girls can rock at anything they want to do ;)
posted by sprezzy at 5:34 PM on March 6, 2011

A good basic zigzag machine is all you really need to get started. A refurbished machine would be fine and much nicer to use than a crappy plastic new machine. Find a sewing machine dealer and ask to test-drive some refurbished machines. Don't even think about getting a serger at this point.

There are 2 related but distinct skills required to sew clothing: construction and fitting. Construction is way easier to learn, and that's why it's a good idea to start with things like placemats, curtains, and aprons. No fitting or alteration is needed, the shapes are simple, and they're pretty quick to make (no linings, facings, etc).

But you need to develop some skill and confidence in cutting fabric, sewing accurate seams and hems, pressing carefully, and a bunch of other construction techniques before you tackle something you'll be seen wearing in public ;-) Books, blogs or classes are all good, and it just depends on how you like to learn. Even if you prefer classes you'll want to have a few reference books on hand for quick questions between classes.

Once you feel pretty confident using the sewing machine and handling "easy" fabrics (plain woven cottons, cotton/poly blends, nothing too slippery or stretchy), you can try making actual clothing. Here is where you get into fitting and altering patterns. Start with simple loose-fitting garments (e.g. peasant blouses) if you can stand those styles - the less fitted a garment, the easier it is to adjust the pattern to fit your body. Sometimes you won't need to alter anything at all, but at some point you'll want to make something from a pattern that requires a lot of alteration to fit properly.

This is where things get complicated. Altering patterns requires the ability to think in 3D (which I suck at), seeing how changes in one area affect the fit everywhere else, knowing how to "read" problems in a garment and tell what needs to be adjusted ... it's a big challenge and I think that taking a class in pattern drafting and alteration may be the most efficient way to learn this. Being both stubborn and cheap, I've been trying to learn from various books on fitting, but I'm extremely tenacious and probably most people would be happier just paying somebody to show them how to do it.

Anyway, if you want to make clothes that fit beautifully you'll probably have to alter commercial patterns a whole lot, or learn to draft your own. On the bright side, most commercial patterns are drafted using very similar standard slopers, and once you figure out what alterations you need to make, you'll find that you make the exact same changes pretty much all the time. (Some indie pattern companies use very different slopers, which gets aggravating, and vintage patterns from before ~1970 also use different slopers.)

If you don't want to make clothes, or if you like loose-fitting or simple geometric garments, you'll find sewing very easy to learn. Learning how to alter patterns to fit your body is a whole different ballgame, but a satisfying challenge. I suggest going to a tailor/dressmaker and getting a custom-made basic shirt so you can see how a classic garment is supposed to fit - you may be surprised at how differently it hangs on you compared to off-the-rack garments. Then you can compare your "reference standard" shirt to a commercial shirt pattern and see where the changes should be. Make note of these, and try applying them to subsequent patterns, even for different styles.

I haven't found a single book that has explained everything I've needed to learn about pattern alteration (sleeve caps and armscyes still confound me), but these have been the best ones for me so far:

The Perfect Fit from The Singer Sewing Reference Library

Fit for Real People by Palmer and Alto

There are tons of sewing blogs, which I occasionally find useful to confirm various guesses about fitting: if the blogger looks roughly my size and shape, and I like the way her clothes fit, I see if she has run into similar fitting problems and how she solved them. I have to confess I don't like most bloggers' styles and sewing methods, but sometimes I get a good clue from one.

Finally, community colleges often have Fashion and Clothing Design programs, and that would be another place to look for classes on how to sew and draft/alter patterns. MeMail me if you want more specifics on books, blogs, patterns, etc.
posted by Quietgal at 10:00 PM on March 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

I frequently come across sewing machines that are either cheap ($5 - $10) or free. I'd get one of those, after you start to learn more about sewing you will have more of an idea what you might want in a new machine, or you may find that the machine you have works just fine for most everything you want to do.

If you can have someone familiar with sewing machines take a look at it, they can probably tell fairly quickly if it is in good shape. I've never found a sewing machine store that did anywhere near acceptable work.

Many machines at yard sales are claimed not to work. Often this is false. It is easy to jam up a machine by sewing without any fabric in it, this leads to horrible tangles. My $5 machine was claimed to be broken, but nothing was wrong with it at all, not even a tangle of thread to be removed -- the seller said she had been given the machine by her husband, and I don't think she was very keen on the concept, claiming the machine was broken so as to get it out of the house.

BTW, there is one type of a machine known as a Serger or Overlock -- ignore them for now. They are not good for learning to sew. Also, avoid machines that do "chain stitch", or advertise that they have no bobbin to wind, or are very small compared to a regular machine, or that can be powered by 4 alkaline batteries.

You can learn from books if you prefer, it's quite doable. There are also patterns intended for beginners, IIR there is even a "for dummies" series of patterns. These will be available in fabric stores. Watch for sales on patterns, often patterns with an MSRP of as much as $20 will be on sale for a dollar or two. Easiest things for beginners will tend to be square or rectangular, and not need to be shaped to fit on a human being.

Fitting can also be learned from books, and the magazine Threads often has articles on more complex sewing topics. There is also a magazine, SewStylish, that I think is aimed at beginners, although I have not looked at it enough to know if it's suitable for someone who is really just starting.

Of course there is also video, Threads magazine has a section for beginners here, and of course there are DVDs and youtube.
posted by yohko at 10:53 PM on March 6, 2011

Also chiming in to say go to a sewing machine dealer and look for a refurbished machine. Your dollar will go farther, they can help guide you to the type of machine that would suit what you want to sew, the machine will be in working order and you will know where to take it when you do have a problem. Often, they offer classes, as well.
posted by sarajane at 4:53 AM on March 7, 2011

Definitely an older, all-metal machine - you can usually find them at a sewing machine repair shop. You'll get more for your money than you would on a cheap new one.

I don't know your area in particular, but you can take classes on beginning sewing.
posted by radioamy at 3:19 PM on March 7, 2011

I have my mom's old Janome. For basic sewing projects, it serves me quite well.

I think the easiest project for a beginner is anything based on very basic shapes - start with easy stuff like pillowcases and tote bags, and then move on up to things like drawstring or elastic waist pajama pants. Don't try to make a fitted dress with darts right out of the gate.

I often refer to the Reader's Digest Complete Guide to Sewing, which is excellent for explaining things like understitching (there's a whole wealth of terms which are very simple but often aren't explained on the pattern) and includes some patterns at the back. This has been a popular book for years, and you can probably find a used copy at any good used bookstore.

If you live near a Jo-Ann fabrics, sign up for their mailing list, and you'll get an almost-annoying number of coupons in the mail. Paying full price for a pattern is for suckers.

I highly recommend that you get someone to show you in person how to wind and load a bobbin, and how to thread the needle/pull up the bottom bobbin thread. I think this is just one of those things someone has to show you.
posted by mostly vowels at 9:38 PM on March 9, 2011

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