Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Sewing 101

When I offered the ruffled throw give-away back in October, I was surprised by how many people responded saying they loved the throw, but didn't know how to sew and wanted to enter the give-away because they couldn't make one for themselves.  That ends today - because I'm going to teach everyone how to sew!

My own history with sewing is an uneasy one.  My mom loved to sew and tried to teach me how when I was about 14.  I was stubborn, impatient, and really just not into it.  My high-school didn't offer a home-economics class where sewing was taught at the time I attended, and even if it did, I wouldn't have taken it.  My high-school graduation present from my mom was a sewing machine. All I could think at the time was, "Great, I will never use this."

It stayed in it's box until shortly after my husband and I were married.  We moved into our first hideous little apartment that we could afford on our starving-student budget, and right away I wanted to change it.  I wanted more than a place to just sleep and eat - I wanted a place that felt like my home.  I pulled my little sewing machine out of it's box and was able to remember just enough of what my mom taught me back when I was a teen to get started.  After much trial and error I managed to sew some curtains out of forest-green sheets to match our hand-me-down living room furniture.

Since then, I have come to realize that sewing is perhaps one of the most valuable skills you can have when it comes to do-it-yourself interior design.  So many options are open to you if you can sew, and closed if you can't.  A daughter always hates to admit when her mother was right, but I am so grateful that my mom took the time to show me some basic skills, and gave me my first sewing machine on the precipice of adulthood.

Now, I am not a formally trained seamstress.  Other than the little bit of instruction I received from my mom as a teen, I have picked up a few things here and there from others, and learned a lot mostly through experimentation and trial and error.  I don't necessarily know all the proper names and parts, but I can show you how to do it in simple terms that make sense.  If I can learn to sew, anyone can.


- Basic, entry-level sewing machine
- 1 Spool of all purpose thread
- 1/2 meter of cotton broadcloth
- Straight pins
- Iron
- Ironing board
- Fabric scissors
- Seam ripper


1) Acquire a Sewing Machine:
I really suggest that you start on something basic.  Brand doesn't really matter, just acquire a basic, entry-level machine.  Don't bother laying down the money for something big and fancy - it will probably just complicate things for you. Keep it simple.  $150 should get you what you need (this will be one of the best investments you'll ever make).

I suggest starting with a new machine if you can, just because all the bits and pieces will be there including an instruction manual, and it will be ready to go.  Unless you know who it's come from and that it's got everything and has been well maintained, avoid the 2nd hand machines (they will just be a frustration for you, and can cost more to fix than just going to buy a new one).

2) Get to Know Your Machine:  
Each machine will be just a little bit different, but generally speaking all of the entry-level machines will be pretty much the same.  Go through your instruction manual and familiarize yourself with the specifics of your machine.  Generally speaking you will find all of these parts in more or less the same areas:

(Each machine will be slightly different so be sure to consult your instruction manual about the specifics of your machine, but it should be pretty close to the following instructions)

1) Filling a Bobbin:

This is a bobbin.

Once you have your machine set up and have familiarized yourself with it's parts, the first thing you will need to do before you can do anything else is fill a bobbin.  I have created this short instructional video to show you how:

*Note* After you have finished filling your bobbin, remember to push your wheel back in.

2) Loading a Bobbin:
Once you have successfully filled a bobbin you will have to load it into your machine.  Here's how to do it:

3) Threading A Sewing Machine:
Once your bobbin is loaded into your machine, you will need to thread the rest of your machine.  It should go something like this:

With your machine threaded you are ready to sew!  Cut a small square of cotton broadcloth on which to practice the following stitches:

Once you've had enough practice with your machine to see how it works and are feeling comfortable with the different stitches you can move on to practice the following sewing techniques:

1) Seaming:
This is the most basic technique for sewing 2 pieces of fabric together.  You will need to cut two small squares of cotton broadcloth of equal size to get started.  Lay one piece of fabric directly on top of the other with the right-sides of the fabric together on the inside.  Pin the 2 pieces of fabric together on one edge where you are going to create your seam, and watch the following video:

When you are finished, iron out your seam.  If you have secured your seam with a zig-zag stitch, you will iron it to one side as shown here:

If you have not secured your seam with a zig-zag stitch, you can iron it to one side, or iron it in the middle (in between the flaps of fabric) so that you have equal amounts of end-fabric on either side of the seam.

2) Hemming:
Hemming is how you create a finished edge on your fabric. Creating a finished edge is important because it will keep the fabric from fraying and looks nice. When you are sewing if you are not seaming something you will probably be hemming something.  Cut another small square of fabric, plug in your iron, and watch the following video to find out how to do it:

If your hem seems a little bunchy after it is sewn, you can iron it out so that it is smooth and flat.


1) I can't seem to pick up my bobbin thread:
Make sure you have enough bobbin thread hanging out of the bobbin (a good 6 inches). Relax the top thread (ie: don't hold it so tightly) and keep trying, eventually it should come up.

2) My thread keeps slipping out of the needle when I go to sew:
Make sure you have enough thread pulled out before you start (should be about 6 inches of both bobbin thread and thread from the needle behind the sewing foot).  Make sure you are holding onto the threads while you lower your needle into the fabric.

3) I'm pushing on the pedal, but nothing is happening:
Make sure your machine is plugged in and turned on. Make sure your wheel is pushed in (you might have accidentally left it out after filling a bobbin).

4) My machine is making a terrible noise, and on the back of the fabric is a big tangled mess of thread:
hate it when this happens!  It's usually a threading/tension issue.  Go back and re-thread your machine, re-load your bobbin making sure everything is how it should be.  Pick up your bobbin thread and make sure that both threads are pulling easily. Hold on to the threads while you lower the needle into the fabric.  If that doesn't work - go over everything and re-thread again.  If it's still not working - your machine may need a tune-up!  Consult your manual for maintenance instructions or take your machine into a professional.

5) My needle is threaded and everything is going, but no stitches are being made in the fabric: 
You've lost your bobbin thread!  Either your bobbin has run out, or it's slipped out, gotten jammed etc.  Reload the bobbin, pick-up the thread, and try again, holding onto both threads while you lower the needle into the fabric.

6) I sewed the wrong thing, now what am I supposed to do?

This is a seam ripper:

Use it to pick out and cut the unwanted stitches until you can pull out all the thread.  Be careful to just get the threads and not poke the fabric! Once you are finished try again, correcting your mistake. 


Now that you know the basics, spend some time just practicing these steps on scraps of fabric and figuring out the particulars of your machine.  Don't be afraid to make mistakes - everybody does at first!  Keep working at it until you feel like you know what you're doing then come back here next week and I'll have a tutorial for a beginner sewing project ready for you to try! 

When you're ready try these:

Sewing 101: Project #1 - How To Sew A Simple Pillow Sham
Sewing 101: Project #2 - How To Sew Simple Curtains


  1. You made my day :) Thanx for the tutorials, they're super great and simple. When I buy my machine, first I'll go here and watch everything again :)


  2. This is awesome! I have wanted to learn how to sew and my own sewing machine for so long, however with a newborn a sewing class isn't really possible. Your tutorial just made my DIY dreams come true!
    Thank you!!

  3. Yes! Finally visual instructions on basic sewing. Thank you.