Big but simple beginner sewing machine projects?
February 4, 2014 7:39 AM   Subscribe

I just got my sewing machine. Yay! Help me figure out what to make with her.

I'm looking for projects I can make on my new sewing machine to get some practice before I try anything really fancy or complicated (I've taken two short sewing classes so I'm almost but not quite a total novice). Here are my requirements:
  • No bags! I have too many bags. So does everyone else I know.
  • Very forgiving -- nothing like clothes where size and seams matters a lot.
  • Ideally a lot of sewing, just a lot of very simple sewing -- I'd rather do one big project than a bunch of little ones.
  • Not too finicky -- eventually I'd like to make quilts but for now I'm not up for cutting out a ton of tiny little pieces.
  • I'd rather measure than cut out or print patterns but I'm flexible on this.
I've done searches for "easy beginning sewing projects" and stuff but I get either a lot of bags or things that are very small.

What I'd really like is a big but easy and forgiving project to help me get the feel of the machine. Thanks!
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (26 answers total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
If you have a need for a duvet cover, you can make one by sewing 2 sheets together on 3 sides and adding snaps or buttons to the 4th. Long, straight lines of stitching. Lots of online tutorials.

Similar but possibly more expensive - curtains.

If you live in a cold climate - draft stoppers for windows/doors are an awesome, easy and useful project.
posted by cessair at 7:43 AM on February 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'd start with home decor items. There are quite a lot of patterns out there. Also, sleepwear is VERY forgiving for your first go-around.
posted by Sophie1 at 7:46 AM on February 4, 2014

Pillows/covers and curtains.
posted by maxg94 at 7:46 AM on February 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Could you do a big patchwork quilt? I'm just thinking simple, larger squares so the cutting is just cutting squares of the same size out of fabric you like, and then sewing those together. You can make it as big or small as you like.
posted by bibbit at 7:48 AM on February 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

I got a beginners sewing book and here are the non-clothing projects that they recommended - no patterns required, just measuring:

* Various kinds of curtains - pocket curtains, roman shades, etc
* Round or rectangular table clothes
* Two-sided table runners with piping
* Throw pillows.
posted by muddgirl at 7:52 AM on February 4, 2014

I like to recommend Brett Bara's sewing in a straight line for this sort of thing. Yes, the front half is clothing (but everything is measure x rather than cut this pattern) but the back half has a lot of useful home decor, like lined tab curtains, duvet covers, a couple quilts, pillow shams, cushion covers etc.
posted by halcyonday at 7:55 AM on February 4, 2014 [4 favorites]

Bunnies and softies! Here are some links:

Bunny Patterns
Bunny Softies
Pinterest Softies Page
posted by effigy at 7:56 AM on February 4, 2014

Quilts and curtains. Stuffed animals and dolls with outfits. (Fit for a toy isn't as critical as fit for a person but you can still learn a lot about garment construction.)

And I know you said no bags, but every so often I get a bunch of cheap fabric remnants and make gift bags out of them. You can almost never have too many and then you don't need to deal with wrapping paper, and you can get as fussy or unfussy as you like. Eventually you start getting them back but it seems to take a few years to hit saturation point.
posted by tchemgrrl at 7:59 AM on February 4, 2014

This answers your question, but in a slightly roundabout way. If I were a beginning sew-er, I'd tackle projects that taught me skills in this order:
1. Straight seams
2. Curved seams
3. Sewing on stretchy material
4. Various types of hems
5. Gathers, ruffles, incorporating elastics
6. Buttonholes
7. Flat zippers
8. Invisible zippers
9. Fitting clothes and tailoring

I remember my home ec class having us draw straight, wavy and wiggly lines on paper and then trying to sew along the lines (without thread) to get us used to how to "drive" the machines. You could easily tell where you went off track and remember to slow down at the curves.

But yeah, try curtains first. You can learn a lot from curtains: measuring and cutting, deciding on different tab or loop styles, hemming, ruffles if you go that way, etc. An apron is also a typical beginner home ec project.
posted by Liesl at 8:02 AM on February 4, 2014 [7 favorites]

Ruth Singer's The Sewing Bible is terrific and I'd highly recommend it. I personally use it mostly as a reference, but she has a series of projects designed to teach you different sewing skills -- as well as instructions on all the basics like different throw pillow construction techniques, zipped pouches, adding trim, etc, etc.

For learning curves and detail work, I like cotton sunhats. (They are small but time-consuming.) For inserting zippers and trim, pillows.

When I was in your position, I actually did use quilts to get up to speed on my machine -- mostly things like log cabins, rail fence, or even straight-up sewing squares together where you can trim the finished square to match your needs, and being perfectly even isn't a huge deal. You can learn a lot from making a baby blanket and it'll probably be just about what you need to get your seams straight and your seam allowance right.

If you don't want to cut small pieces yet, you could also buy a couple charm packs. Two charm packs stitched together into 10 rows of 8 squares is a nice size for a baby quilt, just make sure your packs have at least 80 squares total and you're good to go!
posted by pie ninja at 8:20 AM on February 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Why not a wholecloth quilt if you want to learn quilting techniques without cutting little pieces? (That's just the first Google hit, there are many possible methods.)
posted by clavicle at 8:33 AM on February 4, 2014

Also! If you want to do a TON of sewing on one thing, a hand-cut chenille baby blanket is another idea. Basically you layer three layers of flannel and one layer of a heavier fabric, and then sew channels on the bias. The three flannel layers are then cut in the channels between the stitching, and the finished blanket frays to a soft chenille in the wash. (I have one all ready to be sewn and have been putting off sewing because dude, so much sewing... but they are lovely. Lots of long straight stitching, and small wobbles won't matter much at all.)

Also, I should add -- if you try the charm pack quilt idea, make sure you use charm squares from one manufacturer, because sometimes the specific sizes can vary between manufacturers.
posted by pie ninja at 9:00 AM on February 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you have any interest in sewing clothes, pajama pants have simple construction, forgiving sizing (elastic waist!), long straight seams, and short curved seams. I am a sewing novice and I was able to make wearable pajama pants as my second project. (My first project: a tote bag, of course.)

Otherwise, pillow covers, duvet covers, and curtains are all good projects for getting comfortable with your sewing machine.
posted by esoterrica at 10:09 AM on February 4, 2014

Last year I did an infinity scarf using four or so different fabrics so it had different patterns inside & out. It was an easy and forgiving project. Looked somewhat like this size wise.

I found also sewing slippers fun. The sewing is easy but you need to keep track of the various parts etc. Here is a tutorial for a cool pair.

Agree with Sophie1 about sleepwear, make some comfy pajama pants!

EDIT: Yeah, listen to esoterrica!
posted by travelwithcats at 10:10 AM on February 4, 2014

Also! If you want to do a TON of sewing on one thing, a hand-cut chenille baby blanket is another idea. Basically you layer three layers of flannel and one layer of a heavier fabric, and then sew channels on the bias. The three flannel layers are then cut in the channels between the stitching, and the finished blanket frays to a soft chenille in the wash. (I have one all ready to be sewn and have been putting off sewing because dude, so much sewing... but they are lovely. Lots of long straight stitching, and small wobbles won't matter much at all.)

I made two of these very blankets a few months ago. Let me tell you, as a novice sewist, they were not easy. Because you are stitching along the bias, the fabric shifts and stretches as you go and the lines of stitching will become curved. I had to stop regularly (typically whenever I ran out of bobbin) to square up the lines so that I didn't magnify the problem by using the irregular stitches as a guide. If you do make this blanket, use cheap fabric and I'd recommend this tutorial (skipping the basting steps; I found basting unnecessary) just because the sewist in that one makes a few mistakes. The Aesthetic Nest tutorial is great, but a little too perfect, and made me feel somewhat defeated.

The blankets turned out fine and I would recommend the project, if you don't expect a professional result. It helps to use a top fabric that will camouflage errant stitching. The reverse side that gets sliced up doesn't matter as much. Also, you will really want a chenille cutter; I used this one because it was much cheaper than the Olfa one Aesthetic Nest recommended. It worked great on both blankets.
posted by payoto at 10:25 AM on February 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

this fox :)
posted by changeling at 10:41 AM on February 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

Thanks guys! There are a ton of good ideas here. I think I'll start with the "cut a bunch of squares and try to make a very simple, basic quilt" and come back to this afterwards. Thanks again for the responses -- keep them coming!

Also, that fox is SUPER adorable; if I can manage it I might make it for my brother's girlfriend's birthday as I think she'd love it.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 11:08 AM on February 4, 2014

I know you said you have too many bags, but here's an idea which might help you use up a few more. A friend of mine stitched up a big pile of cloth bags to use instead of wrapping paper for Christmas. Her family got tired of the giant piles of paper they had to clean up and throw away afterward, so she's been steadily making up drawstring bags in a variety of sizes they can use and re-use instead. She buys quilter's packs of cotton fabric in all kinds of weird patterns.
posted by Mars Saxman at 11:50 AM on February 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Big poofs for sitting on! I've made something like these Moroccan Poofs before. As a bonus - you can make your own pattern, no need to buy one. I also really like the Amy Butler pattern, if making your own is too intimidating.
posted by stoneweaver at 12:13 PM on February 4, 2014

Try this modern quilt: Katie did: quilt how-to. I guess it's technically a wholecloth quilt, but it's very easy to sew and it won't matter if the lines aren't straight or don't lign up or whatever. I'm just making one like this and it's fun!
posted by amf at 12:52 PM on February 4, 2014

Curtains yes, but also valances are very easy to construct. I made a simple, no-curves valance with a box pleat for my living room in a fabric I liked, and recovered the throw pillows in coordinating fabrics. It freshened up the whole room and people cannot believe I did the valance myself, but it's really easy -- just the pocket that slides over the valance hardware, and then a bunch of straight seams. I didn't use a pattern or anything, I basically just measured and then constructed it the way that seemed most logical to me. I can now think of way that I could have made it look a little neater, etc., but NEXT VALANCE.

This sort of thing, but mine isn't so fancy.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:03 PM on February 4, 2014

I learned how to sew in the 70's, so maybe this is not the best idea for now, but I made tons of wrap-around skirts. I had a whole wardrobe full :-)
posted by CathyG at 1:14 PM on February 4, 2014

You can get just as simple or as complicated as you want making aprons.
posted by SLC Mom at 1:37 PM on February 4, 2014

How about a sewing machine cover?

Sew Mama Sew has tons of tutorials for all kinds of things to make, including a section for beginners.

We All Sew has a lot of great sewing resources. Really worth exploring.

I love the designs on this site, The Purl Bee.

Make some fabric boxes, a tutorial from All Free Sewing, which also has a lot of ideas and tutorials.
posted by annsunny at 3:02 PM on February 4, 2014

OMG, napkins! Many sets of adorable napkins in all sorts of gorgeous fabrics. So easy. And tablecloths! And, yeah, curtain or other window coverings. All of these require is just hems.
posted by primate moon at 6:00 PM on February 4, 2014

Coasters or mug rugs. Super cute and very useful. I have one on my desk for my coffee or tea.
posted by barnone at 10:48 AM on February 5, 2014

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