DIY

Sewing Basics

I promise my blog isn’t going to turn into a DIY blog… but for the past 11+ plus years, it’s followed me through every stage of my life. And right now, I’m all about the crafting. I’ve said it before, but I think right now it’s coming down to a deep, deep desire (maybe even a need) to create real, tangible things.

One of my goals for the year was to sew more (and make lunch at home more which is certainly the case). Sewing actually felt pretty lofty to me. I had no idea when or how I was going to fit it into my schedule and I was also intimidated to relearn. Anyway, here we are.

Since I’ve been posting about my sewing adventures on Instagram, I have gotten a ton of questions about where to start. To be honest, I think if you go into this with an open mind, anyone can do this. There’s a wide spectrum when it comes to sewing, like anything. Kind of like how there are different levels and types of artists? Same here. No one is expecting you to whip up a couture gown as your first project just like no one would expect you to paint a watercolor masterpiece on your first try. Maybe you’re more of a paint by numbers kind of gal, you know?

Let me preface everything by saying what I always say, I’m not an expert! I’m getting a lot of questions on how to start and I feel like I have no authority on the subject. But I’ll share my thoughts and what has helped me learn over the past few months. (One thing I will say though, I think people in the sewing community from what I’ve seen are SO helpful. People love to share resources and share tips and tricks and as a beginner, I am VERY grateful. There are other crafting communities where I feel like a lot of gatekeeping happens– hoarding tips, turning noses up at people trying to start, etc– but I haven’t experienced that in sewing at all.)

LOCAL SEWING STORES

This is maybe not ~as~ relevant right now if you are unable to visit your sewing store with closures, but I would be remiss not to include this first and foremost. Mine is Sew Jersey and the ladies that work there have been so, so helpful. From selecting fabrics to sorting out machine issues if you have any. They also host (during non-COVID times) in-person meet ups where people can help you with projects.

If you’re just starting out and feeling totally intimidated, maybe wait until you can visit your local store for personalized advice!

Sew Jersey is doing local curbside pick up too, which has been so helpful! I ran out of thread mid-mask sewing and they had an order ready to go for me for contactless pick up within an hour.

SEWING MACHINES

This is the machine I bought, it does sewing and embroidery. I don’t regret buying it, but the embroidery portion is just okay and I probably would have been better off buying two separate things if I was so committed to having embroidery. If I were doing it again, I would buy a Singer Simple or a Brother Lightweight. You don’t need anything complicated and, frankly, the more complicated things are on the machine the harder it might be to dive in.  Sewing machines are hot right now so it may be hard to find one. I would also encourage you to reach out to local Facebook groups to see if anyone is selling one.

I pored over the manual for my machine when I first got it and I still keep it next to me when I sew to refer to it if a question pops up. Actually, I should say when a question pops up. It’s the best manual I’ve ever seen for any device and I am the Queen of Manuals.

MATERIALS

I have quickly realized why people have entire rooms for sewing. Between the space I need to really get into a project and the number of things I have accumulated, it can be an undertaking. You could really buy a ton of stuff, but here’s what I think is the most helpful for me as a beginner, beyond the actual sewing machine:

Sewing Scissors

Thread Scissors

Rotary Cutter

Cutting Mat

Ruler

Tape Measure

Pins

Spools of Thread

Ironing board

Crafting iron

(I think I got everything… that you may need for beginner projects. Again… the sewing tools and gadgets can really accumulate!)

PATTERNS

I’ve been buying patterns exclusively through Etsy right now. The designers and small business owners there are creating the cutest and most modern patterns. The patterns in fabric stores often feel pretty dated to me. (Though I’d love suggestions of more places to look if you have any!) Etsy is a treasure trove and the best part is that you can download the patterns from your computer and print them out at home. At first it felt a little intimidating taping patterns together but once you get the hang of it, it’s a breeze. I typically put on an audiobook while I cut the patterns out, it’s actually kind of relaxing.

I haven’t done anything adult yet, so I can only share the children/baby patterns I purchased, but I’ve had fantastic luck with Oh Me Oh My Sewing and The Freckled Pear. The biggest tip I have (from making the mistake myself) is to GO OFF OF MEASUREMENTS. Don’t assume sizes based on the numbers…. I ended up with a toddler sized baby dress, whoops.

FABRIC

I have primarily been buying fabric also from Etsy… but would also love your recommendations for sources or brands. I’m so new that it’s hard to find the good non-cheesy stuff while shopping online. (I did pick up some beautiful fabrics from Sew Jersey this past winter… can’t wait to shop their selection in person again.)

RESOURCES

My plan was to go to in-person sessions at Sew Jersey to learn… but that was put on the back burner, of course. I turned to my usual source for learning new skills: Youtube. I pretty much just search what I’m trying to do and watch videos until I find one that has good video quality and explains things clearly. The best way to learn is through doing (in my opinion) so I think it helps to find a project that is inspiring you and then try to tackle it. Don’t expect it to be perfect, but go step by step utilizing resources as needed. For example, when I was making the first toddler dress, I had NO IDEA what an “under stitching” was, I watched a video and bam, then I knew how. I could not for the live of me figure out how to attach the sleeve to the dress, pulled up a video and bam, then I knew how. Below are some videos that I have watched and referred back to as needed:

HOW TO FOLLOW A PATTERN

HOW TO SEW A ZIPPER

HOW TO SEW A BUTTON HOLE

The key is to find someone who teaches in the way you like to learn best. I personally value better visuals over voiceovers because typically I just need to see how it’s done, but maybe you learn best by hearing or reading. You know yourself the best.

MY PROJECTS

I’m obviously still such a beginner, but here are the things I’ve done:

Tissue box cover

Lots and lots of face masks

This dress two different ways

This dress 

I’m going to keep making little baby dresses for my friends’ kids (currently making this). Everything mini is just better, right? But I think my two next personal projects are this apron and this dress. For the dress, I’ve been obsessed with following Tabitha Sewer– I want to make and wear everything she’s done. I already bought the pattern she recommended for the bodice of the tiered dress and now that I feel kind of (sort of!) more confident with zippers I’m ready to dive in… maybe that’s my project this weekend. (The hardest part for me is choosing which fabric to use! So many options…)

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21 Comments

Kristina

Thank you for showing the basics. I would love to craft more but at the moment I am not financially stable enough to make that decision. But the more I like looking how you do it! Take care.

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Ann Rogers

I think its great. Love to see the finished products. Washable linen (if you can find it) is definitely the way to go on the aprons. Christmas finished early?? There is going to be some happy littles out there. Good job.

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Melissa

My mother had a business – drapes & pillows – and she made me clothes when I was little. I don’t have the clothes making skill – she considered making my wedding dress – but I have done throw pillows & curtains for my house. My favorite project is to make baby blankets for my pregnant friends. I managed to remake the window treatments in several rooms when I was home during the lockdown. I work for a small retail clothing chain and when I was in stores, I was the one sewing buttons back on if they came loose.

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Jessie

Be careful when cutting out paper patterns— be sure to use regular paper or craft scissors, NOT your fabric scissors. Paper will dull the blades and make it difficult to cut fabric.

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carly

Great point! I think it’s second nature for me because if we EVER got caught using my mom’s sewing scissors for anything non-fabric related we were in big trouble haha

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carly

The tissue box cover or scrunchies would be a GREAT way to start. I think the key is learning the very basics (through doing) and then adding skills on top

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Laura Caroline

So happy you posted this – I just refinished my grandmother’s 1911 Singer treadle desk and want to put it to use! Also, I second the recommendation for Spoonflower – they are local to me and they are just wonderful!

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Teresa

You should check out the blog Posie Gets Cozy. Ive followed Alicia Paulson for nearly 15 years. She is an avid needlepoint, knitting, sewing, cooking, crafting and genuinely neat person.

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Sarah

Hi Carly – For fabrics, check out Hawthorne Supply Co. It’s an online store run by a husband and wife team. Fabric hoarding is real – once you start buying, it’s hard to stop. There is so much cute stuff out there and I want it all!
I would suggest adding a seam ripper to your supply list. And I use my sewing gauge for many projects.

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Jillian Williams

Great to hear about your sewing projects, Carly!
A few resources I’d recommend are:
1. Sew Over It (for adult paper and print-at-home patterns)
2. Poppy and Jazz patterns (for child and dog patterns)
3. Sew Over It Stitch School (for tutorials plus beginner to advanced projects)
4. Pauline Alice (paper and print-at-home for modern sewing patterns)
5. Blackbird Fabrics (for beautiful and eco-friendly fabrics)
Good luck with everything!

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Sarah E.

Every year I say I’m going to learn to sew and then I don’t haha! Maybe this year is the year!

I do love looking at fabrics, though. I recommend checking out Crimson Tate. It’s a store local to Indianapolis but they ship anywhere and carry a lot of the hipper fabric brands like Cotton and Steel and Rifle Paper Co. The owner also has her own line!

https://www.crimsontate.com/shop/Fabric/Show-All-Fabrics.htm?pageNum=1

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Becca Barnes

I found really cute fabric for face masks and the ends are unravelling, any idea how to keep that from happening?

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Catherine M

I love Mood Fabrics for a lot of my apparel sewing projects. There’s an awesome book by them, as well, that gives a TON of information on types of fabric and their uses.

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Caroline

For more modern (adult woman) patterns, two companies I like are Grainline Studio and Colette Patterns. I’m used to buying them in stores (I would have to buy more toner for my printer to print out any patterns, lol, I don’t print things very often) but I think both companies have an option to buy digital copies and print them off as well.
I’m with you about going off of measurements for patterns. I also think it can be helpful to pin the pattern pieces together as a way to assess what size will fit you.

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Marie Gonnet

I m going to get a sewing machine next week for birthday so I couldn’t hope for a better timing for this post!
I wanted to dive in the sewing world but I must admit I was a little bit afraid
I really really like à French website called Critonille for patterns, but I think I’m gonna start with “your scrunchie”

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Valery

I am a sewing admirer…and a little too intimidated to get started haha. But for fabrics I like cloud9 and Ruby Star Society!

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Angie

What pattern did you use for your dog’s bandanas and your hair ties with the bows? Thanks!

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