After so many years of considering if sewing is for you, you have finally decided this is the year you will sew all the things. I am so happy for you! What an exciting time in your life. I know it may sound funny, but sewing has the unique power to transform your life. More than a hobby, sewing can change your relationship with your body and nurture your mind while giving you the means to create some badass outfits that are uniquely yours. Welcome to the not-so-secret sewists club!
Before you have a closet full of your own creations that fit your body—no matter how it is shaped—there are a few things you need to take care of. You will need to make decisions about sewing equipment, fabric, and patterns. You will also need the right mindset to face some inevitable—but totally necessary—failures. Don’t worry! Let me help you with some of this stuff.
Sewing Machine or Hand Sewing Gear
Most sewists use a sewing machine to create their garments, but hand sewing is becoming more popular. If you choose the latter, all you will need is a good hand-sewing needle and some thread. I don’t hand sew as my primary method, but if you are interested, Skillshare has a great class with Bernadette Banner called Hand Sewing Basics: Work Wonders with Fabric, Needle & Thread.
If you decide you want a sewing machine, there are many ways to go about getting one. There are great sewing machines for all budgets. The less complex a machine is, the easier to use. If you don’t have the funds for a new machine, go for a used one. There are lots of places where you can find second-hand machines—FB Marketplace, OfferUp, and LetGo are a few options. No money for a machine? Ask family and friends. Or try a BuyNothing group in your area.
To start your sewing journey, you will need the following:
• A good pair of scissors or shears that you will ONLY use for fabric, and a small one (or some thread clippers) to cut thread.
• A seam ripper.
• Good-quality thread. Polyester thread is a good choice for most applications.
• Machine needles and hand sewing needles. Make sure that the machine needles you are buying are the right ones for the job. You should have at least some universal needles and some jersey/ballpoint ones.
• An accurate measuring tape. If you have no one to help you, get this one.
• Sewing rulers.
• A good iron.
• Marking pencils and pens.
• Pins—regular, silk, and ballpoint pins.
If you would like to see my list of 15 essential sewing tools, you can find it here.
Let’s be honest: When you start sewing, you will make many garments that will not make the closet cut. And that’s okay. That’s awesome, actually. This means that you are learning and that you are not afraid to fail in order to grow. There are many places where you can source cheap fabric. Thrift stores, yard sales, and bargain home goods stores (think sheets on sale!) are great options. Joann has a whole bin of Red Tag fabrics for 50% off, and the coupons from its app, weekly flyers, or mailers can make prices even lower. And once again, ask around. You will be surprised by what you can get from family and friends.
No matter where you get your fabric, make sure to stick with fabrics that sew and press easily, like cotton and linen. Slippery choices like polyester, even though cheaper, are hard to work with and will make your introduction to sewing a nightmare.
You don’t have to sew a million pillows to learn the basics of sewing. There are lots of patterns that will teach you the fundamentals without boring you to death—or leaving you without any room on the sofa.
Indie patterns (patterns created by small design houses, or patterns that are not from one of the Big 4: Simplicity, McCalls, Butterick, and Vogue) are usually better choices because of the care they take in creating detailed instructions with lots of illustrations. Many of these patterns also come with a tutorial on the company blog or classes (usually an extra charge for them) that walk you through the whole construction.
Here is a list of a few beginner patterns (all patterns are for woven fabrics):
Woven Fabric Cowl: SewGoth’s Tutorial
If you decide that you learn better with some support, you might want to take a sewing class to get started. Sewing has increased in popularity a lot, and a quick Internet search can connect you to sewing studios in your area for in-person classes. If you prefer online classes, Craftsy offers dozens of classes on sewing.
If you are somewhere in the middle—you like the comfort of online classes but want some human interaction—Seamwork Magazine has a brand new course that combines video lessons with office hours.
The most important thing to remember is that sewing is a skill, not a talent. The more you practice, the better you will get. You will fail. You will get frustrated. You might even cry (I know I have!). In order to get good at it, you will have to practice, mess up, undo, redo… and that’s going to happen even when you become a seasoned sewist. There is no growth without failure.
Another important reminder: You will have to learn how to adjust patterns to fit your body. This will come with time and experience. As you get used to each pattern designer, you will learn what kind of body they design for. You will also learn what kinds of adjustments you will have to make to have patterns fit you. There are tons of resources online to help you adjust patterns. And don’t be afraid to ask—message boards, FB groups, IG accounts. Sewists are very generous when it comes to helping other sewists.
I am so excited for you! Sewing is a hobby; it is active meditation; it is a way to take control of your body’s narrative. I cannot imagine my life without it. Have fun on this new journey. I know this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.