Sewing 101
January 26, 2008 10:28 AM   Subscribe

Beginner's sewing: Please guide me to the most simple, step by step instructions on how to sew simple garments from simple patterns with a sewing machine.
posted by mistsandrain to Home & Garden (16 answers total) 61 users marked this as a favorite
Since I am a fairly visual person, I would suggest looking through youtube to find video guides.
Try this...

Another that is part of a series that looked good is here

There are lots more if you play with the obvious keywords. Hope that helps.
posted by pazoozoo at 11:10 AM on January 26, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks- indeed there is a lot to wade through from many resources- I was hoping to piggyback off of someone else's efforts in finding the best and simplest/ most basic instructions- particularly for a very basic, no-frills, minimal effort garment. ie smock, baby sleeper, shift dress etc...
posted by mistsandrain at 11:21 AM on January 26, 2008

For the absolute beginner, I would recommend finding someone who already knows how to sew and asking for some basic lessons. You can find such a person by visiting a local fabric/craft store, posting an ad on your local Craigslist, attending local sewing Meetups, and just asking around. If you have something to barter with, you may not even have to pay for sewing lessons. There are also people out there who are willing to teach sewing for free. As a bonus, I see by looking at your profile that you are located in DC. I am in Maryland, so I can possibly connect you with some experienced sewing teachers if you'd like to contact me via MeFiMail (just click on my username and click the "send mail" link in my profile).

Barring that, there are also some television shows about sewing on cable. You can also probably get the vhs or dvd versions of these shows by borrowing them from your local library.
posted by Cordelya at 11:39 AM on January 26, 2008

There are some good books about sewing that are aimed at kids.
posted by martinX's bellbottoms at 11:45 AM on January 26, 2008

Sew U is an extremely useful and well-written resource for novice sewers.
posted by padraigin at 11:45 AM on January 26, 2008

Best answer: Each brand of patterns (Vogue, Simplicity, McCalls, Butterick, etc.) has a "very easy" or "very simple" line. Shift dresses, scrubs, tops. Start with one of those.

The back of the pattern will tell you what kind of fabric you'll need (not all fabrics work well with all patterns), how much of it you'll need, and what accessories you'll need. All patterns need interfacing around arm and neck holes. Very simple patterns won't need zippers or buttons or anything like that.

After's pretty much "follow the instructions that come with the pattern." It will tell you how to lay out the tissue pieces on the fabric so the patterns line up and so you have enough fabric, then it's pretty much just a case of sewing large pieces together. The tissue pieces will have little triangles sticking out of them at certain points; you line up the triangles when you pin the pieces together.

posted by Lucinda at 11:45 AM on January 26, 2008

My mom had a sewing machine that was collecting dust and was looking for some sort of hobby. She didn't even know how to thread a bobbin, so she was definitely a beginner. At the time, Montgomery Ward offered a four-week beginning sewing course, with the promise that at the end each student would be able to make a T-shirt. From that simple course, my mom learned the basics, such as parts of the sewing machine, how to lay out a pattern, etc. She did make her T-shirt, but without any further lessons sewed a winter coat one year later that looked like it had been purchased at a department store. Check out your local fabric stores (JoAnne's, etc) and see if they have a basic one or two month sewing course. That's all you'll need to get on your way. Best of luck!
posted by Oriole Adams at 11:51 AM on January 26, 2008

why not take a class? meet other sewers in the process, trade patterns too.
posted by seawallrunner at 11:53 AM on January 26, 2008

Best answer: I highly recommend Kwik Sew Patterns. Kwik Sew patterns have the best intructions. If you want basic and step-by-step this is where you should start. You can just about learn to sew from these patterns. They also have a line of "Kwik Start" patterns designed to teach beginners how to sew.

I don't own the book, but I've heard great things about the book, Easy Sewing the Kwik Sew Way.
posted by LoriFLA at 12:03 PM on January 26, 2008 [2 favorites]

You know, I started sewing stuff when I was probably around 10 or so....I think one of the most useful things I did was to just go for it. This meant using cheap fabric, or fabric from things we were getting rid of, and eyeballing it. This taught me how the machine worked, how fabrics behaved and what it took, at the most basic level, to construct something. So I would suggest trying to make up a smock sans pattern, and see what you come up with. You didn't mention how familiar you are with machines, but if you are just learning, don't be afraid to fiddle about with them. After you get a feel for how they work, what they do, what they CAN do, then go for a pattern.

It sometimes is, in my opinion, too stressful to be enjoyable to try and create something while teaching yourself a new skill, AND trying to follow a pattern, AND trying to figure out just what the hell the pattern is trying to get you to do. (At least, this was my experience when teaching myself to crochet and knit)
posted by Bibliogeek at 12:17 PM on January 26, 2008

Lotta Jansdotter has some very simple, straightforward patterns. (Disclosure: I've worked on her books, although not that one, and often work for the company that makes them. I don't get any money from their sales. This post will not benefit me financially. Quite the opposite, actually, as I should be working right now.)
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:05 PM on January 26, 2008

Practice sewing straight lines... Boring I know!! But the ability to sew straight lines will make or break any project. (The better your first actual 'thing' turns out the more encouraging it is too :) or the opposite).

Also sometimes it helps if your brain can be processing several things at once. If operating the machine, sewing in a straight line and not sewing your fingers are not any of those things - obviously everything else will become a lot easier :)

And lastly, like with anything, the standard of the tool you use is vastly important. I'm inclined to suggest that if there was a choice between getting lessons or getting my machine serviced, all the lessons in the world aren't going to help the inescapably unfortunate looking stitching. At any point.

One more thing. :) Machines have quirks, and sewing line after line will familiarize you with the peculiarities of yours.
Rather than having to stop in the middle of a seam and spend at least half an hour trying to figure out what the hell is jamming the bobbin after just two stitches... repeatedly. (The thread had slipped off the Thread Uptake Lever. Took half a second to fix. Argh! Doh!)

Straight line and a happy machine and you can sew anything!
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 2:27 PM on January 26, 2008

Best answer: Sewing pattern instructions are terrible. Even a "very easy" skirt pattern from the companies you'll find at the fabric store would probably be overwhelming for a rank beginner.

If you really can't take a class, I second the "Sew U" recommendation from above -- it's a pretty good book.

Look out for "Sew Stylish" magazine, too -- it's annoyingly "hip," but the project instructions are simple and easy to follow.
posted by liet at 6:40 PM on January 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

Have you ever built papercraft models? Or done any carpentry? For me, sewing and carpentry are the same thing. It's all planar forms. The problem with cloth is that no matter how much you assemble it, it doesn't look like it should until you're in it. Which would make assembly difficult.
I LOVE to sew. Though I agree with liet about the sewing patterns debacle.
I learned about patterning by buying a nice simple dress at the salvation army, that looked good on my then-girlfriend (inspiration is a powerful thing) and taking it apart, using the pieces as patterns for material I'd bought at the cloth store. A few hours, and some confusion, later, it was done. This is not far from the way I've learned to build many things. It works for me. YMMV.
posted by asavage at 8:42 PM on January 26, 2008

Best answer: Depending upon how you learn, I would say get lessons or watch someone sew. I learned more from my mom just watching and having her help me do simple things than I ever learned on my own, slogging through patterns. There is a language associated with sewing that is sort of a weird shorthand, and so the pattern might say something like, "Sew the whatsit to the whosit and use a widget stitch," and that's just greek, you know? But when you have someone there who really knows what they're doing, it's much easier. I've become a bit of a pattern reading savant because of it.

I also learned a lot by just throwing myself into the fire. I mean, don't start off with a Vogue Advanced or anything, but get a simple pattern (Kwik Sew or similar, something that is labeled and actually looks easy) and just try to do it. I've made dresses and taken them apart because once I got it done, I realized what I did wrong. But actually DOING it is half the learning for me.

And, because this is the best advice I ever found in a pattern that generally sucked, ever, I will give you my favorite zipper tip. When you are ready to place the zipper, sew the seam where it will go shut using a large stitch, preferably with a contrasting thread color. A zig zag, just a topstitch, is fine. Pin the zipper to the inside of the fabric, taking care to put the teeth along the seam and keep it straight. Using your zipper foot, sew the sides of the zipper to the garment, securing the tops and bottom. When you're done, remove the zig zag stitch. Voila! You should have an invisible zipper. Have fun! (And, no, I did not get that whole maneuver right the first time, but now it's super simple. Sewing is awesome.)
posted by Medieval Maven at 8:59 PM on January 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I would look for a class, or even just find a friend or relative who sews and can help. I learned from my grandmother when I was really little, but then forgot everything and re-learned by buying a Simplicity "easy" pattern for a full skirt and muddling through it with a little over-the-shoulder help from my mom. Everything became a lot clearer when I really started looking at clothes I had bought to see where the seams and the darts were, and how the interfacing worked, the kind of hem used, etc. For me it just helps to see how clothes are put together before I try to sew them without thinking about it, if that makes sense.

Simplicity & Butterick patterns make the most sense to me; Vogue patterns confuse the hell out of me and I always have to pull out a finished garment to compare and see what they're talking about. My favorite reference books are old school, so I'd just go to a used book store and see what they have. I use "Vogue's New Book for Better Sewing" sometimes; it's dated (1952!) but has step-by-step, super detailed instructions for how to construct a garment.
posted by doubtful_guest at 9:12 PM on January 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

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