I’d love to learn how to sew but I just don’t know how to get started…
Does this sound like you? If so I'm here to help. The best way to learn is to just start. There has probably never been a better time than right now to start a hobby that you've always wanted to do, especially one that keeps you busy at home.
The benefits of sewing are many and varied and these days there is an abundance of help available. But starting something you don't know anything about is not easy and can be overwhelming. As with anything that is worth doing, it does take time, patience and practice. But it is SO worth it.
This guide aims to help you just get started, that's the hardest part. Then you can slowly grow your skills one project at a time. I have broken the process down into the simplest, most practical steps possible so that if you follow along step-by-step (and there are only 8!) you should be able set up your machine and learn to sew a straight stitch.
I do need to say that every single machine is slightly different so I can only show you my particular machine. However, they are all pretty similar as they all achieve the same end so it should still be helpful for you. Especially if you also use the manual for your particular machine if you have one. So let's go!
1. Gather your supplies
You do need some things.. but not a lot. Below is a list of the bare minimum required to just make a start.
- Sewing machine
- Scrap fabric (medium-weight cotton)
If the sewing machine you're using doesn't have these already you will also need:
- A bobbin
- A machine needle
This is ALL you need to just get started
Borrow or purchase a sewing machine if you don't have one and the rest you can get at stores like Spotlight, Lincraft or online. As with most things buying the best quality sewing machine you can afford is always a good idea BUT don't let money stop you from starting so I think it's totally okay to buy a cheap machine or even better borrow one just to learn on. All it needs to have is a straight stitch (which you will use 90% of the time), and a zigzag stitch for later projects. Then if you fall deeply in love with sewing, you can think about saving up and making the investment in a decent machine that will last you for years. I have a Brother NS35 which was a special Christmas gift from my parents about 5 years ago.
2. Find a place to sew
I am lucky enough to have a room in my house where I have a table set up that holds my sewing machine and overlocker. Some people use the dining room table and a cupboard to store their sewing stuff when not in use. Really it can be any sturdy flat surface near a power outlet that you can take over for a few hours when you want to sew.
Place the machine on the table and take the cover off. Plug in the power cord and turn the switch on at the wall and on the machine. If the light comes on, it is working! Plug in the foot pedal if it is separate from the power cord and put it on the floor where you can reach it comfortably with your foot when sitting in your chair.
3. Familiarise yourself with your sewing machine
Now you don't need to know every single feature on the machine just yet. So let's have a quick look at the parts that we will be using in this guide on my particular machine below.
- Bobbin winder
- Spool pin and cap
- Thread guides
- Pretension disc and hook
- Thread take-up lever
- Pattern selection dial
- Hand wheel
- Stitch length button
- Presser foot lever
- Needle clamp screw
- Presser foot
- Bobbin cover
4. Wind and install the bobbin
Here's how it works on my machine. Turn on the machine, place the bobbin onto the bobbin winder and push it to the right. Slide your thread onto the spool pin so that the thread unwinds to the front from underneath and secure with the spool cap. My machine has a handy number guide with a dotted line and arrows to show you how to thread the bobbin.
To begin, pass the thread through the two thread guides. Then pass it around the hook next to the pretension disc and then counterclockwise around the pretension disc. Then wind the thread clockwise around the bobbin about six times and finally thread it through the small opening at the bottom of the winder to cut the thread. I know it's a bit of a mouthful but once you have done it a few times it takes about ten seconds. Press down on the foot pedal to start the winding and take your foot off once the bobbin becomes full and the winding slows down. Now cut the thread with scissors, slide the bobbin to the left and remove it. Done!
Installing the bobbin on my machine is really easy as it has a drop-in bobbin compartment. Most older machines have a front-facing bobbin compartment and a bobbin case which is a bit more tricky to master. If you have this type then refer to your manual or google your specific machine model for instructions. Here's how it works on my machine.
Turn the machine off and remove the bobbin cover. Insert the bobbin making sure the end of the thread is on the left. The way I remember which way it goes is that it makes a P shape. Then pull the thread through the thread guides and the thread cutter. My machine has a handy picture guide to the left the bobbin compartment so you can't really go wrong. Then just replace the bobbin cover and you're done!
5. Change the machine needle
If your machine is brand new just use the one it comes with. If your machine is borrowed you should change the needle even if it comes with one as needles become blunt overtime and this will cause issues you don't need. If you need to buy new machine needles get a packet of universal size 80/12. This will be suitable for any medium-weight cotton fabric which is what we will be starting with. Here's how it works on my machine.
Turn off the sewing machine for safety. Then turn the hand wheel towards you (never backwards) until the needle is at it's highest point. Lower the presser foot with the press foot lever. Hold the needle with your left hand and loosen the needle clamp screw with your right hand by turning it towards you. Remove the needle when it comes loose and discard it safely. Insert the new needle with the flat side facing away from you and tighten the needle clamp screw.
6. Thread your machine
It's not as difficult as you think, here's how it works on my machine. Make sure the needle is raised and your thread is on the spool pin. Again, my machine has a handy number guide with a solid line and arrows to show you how to thread the machine. Begin as before by passing the thread through the two thread guides. Then pull the thread down along the first long skinny opening and up the second one. Pass the thread around the thread take-up lever hook from right to left and then back down and behind the needle bar thread guide. Pass the thread through the eye of the needle from front to back. Nothing to it!
Now on my machine you can begin sewing without pulling up the bobbin thread but on older machines you will need to pull it up manually. Luckily it's really easy. All you have to do is raise the presser foot and hold onto the upper thread while you turn the hand wheel slowly toward you. The needle will dip down and then back up again. Stop turning when it is back up at it's highest level. Now pull lightly on the upper thread and you will see the end of the bobbin thread come out. Pull both threads toward the back of the machine with the upper thread going through the middle of the presser foot. Done!
7. Set the type and length of stitch
Choose a basic straight stitch at 2.5mm length. This might already be the default selection on your machine as it is the combination most often used. Older machines will most likely have dials you turn to do this manually. Mine has a pattern selection dial to select the type of stitch with a corresponding pattern guide and a button to select the length. Once you have done that you are now ready to sew!
8. Learn how to sew a straight line
Excited? Here's how you start. You are going to cut two squares the same size out of your scrap fabric. Use a medium-weight cotton and sandwich the two pieces together so that the edges line up. Make sure the needle and presser foot are raised and place the fabric under the presser foot. Line up the right edges of the fabric with the right edge of the presser foot and the back edges of the fabric so that it is behind where the needle will come down. Lower the needle with the hand wheel and then lower the presser foot. Here we go!
Hold onto both threads at the back of the machine with your left hand and gently press down on the foot pedal to start sewing. After a few stitches, let go of the threads and as you sew use your hands to gently guide the fabric through the machine keeping it straight. Sew all the way to the end of the fabric and then release the foot pedal to stop sewing. Make sure the needle and presser foot are raised before you pull out your fabric and then cut the threads with scissors.
Congratulations you did it!
You have made your start into the wonderful world of sewing and pushed past the hardest part, which is just to start. Well done, I am so proud of you. Allow yourself to celebrate by patting yourself on the back, doing a happy dance or pouring a glass of wine.
Guess what? Now comes something even more exciting, your first proper project! I recommend something super simple like a pillowcase to practice your straight line sewing, add to your skills and feel the achievement of completing a handmade project. You'll also get to have fun choosing a gorgeous fabric to use!
Now where can you find a tutorial for a pillowcase suitable for a total beginner? Don't worry, I've got you covered. Very soon I will be releasing my free tutorial for a super simple pillowcase which I designed especially for first timers. Tip: If you sign up to my newsletter I will let you know as soon as it becomes available.
With this tutorial you will be able to up your sewing game by learning how to pin together fabric pieces, secure your stitching, sew around corners and finish seams with a zigzag stitch. I have made it as simple as is practically possible so that ANYONE can manage it, including you. Go on, give it a go!