On this page you will find a variety of resources about learning to sew including; supplies, taking measurements, reading a pattern, machine settings, stitch types, seam types, and more.
Basic Sewing Supplies
- Thread (multi colors)
- Seam Ripper
- Hem Gauge
- Ballpoint Pins
- Pin Cushion (I would also recommend getting a wrist pin cushion to always have pins handy)
- Hand Sewing Needles of Various Sizes
- Tape Measure
- 2” See-through Ruler
- Tailor’s Chalk
- Rotary Wheel
- Tracing Paper
- Rotary Cutter
- Cutting Mat
- Pinking Shears
- Dressmaker’s Shears (do not ever use on paper) (use on fabric)
- All-purpose Scissors (regular crafting scissors for cutting patterns, etc.)
- Tailor’s scissors (small 5 inch blade)
- Point turner
- Ironing Board
- Tailor’s Ham
- Dress form
- Sewing Machine Needles of Various Sizes & Feet
- Water Soluble Marking Pen
- Other Notions: Zippers, Buttons, Hook & Eyes, Snaps, Elastic, Interfacing, Boning, etc. These are project specific and I would recommend buying them for each project when you know exactly what you need.
How to Read a Pattern
- Size: There are measurements available for bust, waist, and hips that correspond to a size. If you fall in between, I would recommend choosing the larger size and simply taking it in. For example, if your hips are a size 10 but your bust is a size 8, make the size 10 because it will fit your hips and you will be able to bring it in in the waist. This can also be done through pattern alterations if you are advanced with pattern making skills.
- Fabric Yardage: after you determine what size you should buy for yourself or the recipient, there will be a corresponding number of yards of fabric to purchase. It is important to use the exact number (fractions included) or round up because that is the bare minimum amount for all of the pattern pieces to fit. There are also multiple styles within one pattern and each requires different amounts of fabric and supplies. Be careful that you are referring to the correct style. Also, keep in mind that fabric typically comes in two sizes: 45” or 60” width. This will also be listed with fabric yardage as you will have to buy more of a 45” fabric compared to a 60” in order to fit all of the pieces.
- Difficulty Level: it will say easy, medium, hard on the pattern. Know your skill level and choose patterns accordingly. Work your way up to the more challenging projects.
- Fabric Suggestions: Each pattern will tell you what types of fabric will look best with each particular design. For example, a heavy bottom weight fabric will not work for a top with a lot of drape and airiness. Pay attention to their suggestions when purchasing fabric.
- Lining: an additional fabric used mainly for making the garment look clean and finished with all seams hidden. Use the same size to again determine fabric yardage.
- Notions: thread, zippers, interfacing, buttons, elastic, boning, and closures will be listed in this section. Pay attention to the length and type of the zipper, size of the button, weight of the interfacing, width of the boning and elastic, and type of closure (snap, hook & eye, etc.) Make sure that you have all of the supplies that you need before you begin the project.
- Cutting Layout: Inside the pattern there a suggested layout of pattern pieces on the fabric. Depending on the length of the fabric you bought (45” or 60”). This shows you the most economical and fabric saving method of laying out the pieces. Another important layout part is when folding the fabric, line up the two salvage edges together (marked or embellished edges), and the two raw edges together (the sides that were cut with scissors). The grainline lines up parallel to the salvage. This is a critical because if laid out incorrectly, there will be stretch in pieces that should not stretch and firmness is pieces that are supposed to stretch. It will also affect the appearance of the drape of the fabric.Pattern Pieces and Cutting Chart: examples all of the pieces you need to cut out to create the garment and how many of each. It also includes what pieces need to be cut out of the main fabric and which ones are for the lining fabric. It also tells you want pieces require interfacing.
- Cutting: based on the size that you chose on your pattern that would best fit you, cut out that corresponding size. A pattern will have several sizes on one piece. Only cut the size that you need for your project. I would recommend pinning the pattern piece to the fabric after it has been laid out to avoid shifting.
- Markings: symbols printed on a pattern piece. Triangles are notches and you want to cut them out when cutting the fabric out. Notches are used to match up different pieces later on. X is a button. A small horizontal line is a button hole. You want to use a rotary wheel to copy these markings from the pattern onto the fabric to refer back to later on. A long solid line with one arrow down the pattern piece is the grainline. A long line with two arrows pointing to the edge of the pattern piece means to cut on the fold.
- Sewing Instructions: each pattern will give you step by step instructions for sewing all of the pieces together and pictures to follow along with. Do not get ahead or go off and do it your own way. The garment will usually not turn out correctly or you may be missing a step and have to re-do it.
Taking Accurate Measurements
(Image Via Blog For Better Sewing)
The 3 most important measurements are usually the bust, waist, and hips. Of course, it depends on the type of garment you are making. These measurements are perfect for a dress. A tailored jacket, however, would require arm length, shoulder length, etc. The pattern you are looking to create will tell you what measurements are needed to get an ideal fit. These directions in the picture will show you exactly where to place the measuring tape to avoid getting an inaccurate reading.
Sewing Machine Settings
- Back stitch: Hold it down when you begin to stitch to lock the stitch and prevent it from coming apart.
- Tension: How tight your thread is in the machine. It can be adjusted for thinner versus heavier fabrics.
- Stitch Length: Different lengths of stitches are used for different types of sewing. For example, when it says to baste a stitch in, you should use a larger stitch that is only temporarily connects two pieces. Use a smaller, more secure stitch when it says to sew it together.
- Stitch Type: A typical machine has various types of stitches. Keep it on the first setting for simple straight stitching.
- Presser Foot: Use specific feet for different types of fabric and sewing techniques. Some of the most used are the original, straight stitch foot, zipper foot, and button hole foot.
- Plain seam: right sides of the fabric together, stitch a straight stitch down the edge at the proper seam allowance listed in the instructions. For most commercial patterns, it is 5/8” and it is usually marked on your sewing machine.
- French seam: sew the wrong sides of the fabric together along the edge at ¼” seam allowance. Trim the excess. Turn inside out with the right sides together and sew again with the remaining seam allowance. The seam, if done correctly, will have no raw edges.
- Flat-felt seam: used on jeans. Sew a straight stitch seam at normal seam allowance. Cut on of the edges down and fold the longer edge over and on top of it. Stitch it down to cover both raw edges.
- Lapped Seam: used on leather jackets and outerwear. Cut down the seam allowance of one side and put it on top of the other. Topstitch on both sides to sew both pieces together into one. It cuts down bulkiness in certain fabrics that won’t fray by layering the edges.
- Straight stitch: a small-medium length stitch. The most common stitch in sewing construction.
- Back Stitch: use the back stitch button at the beginning of each time you begin to sew a new section and at the end. This will prevent the stitches from coming undone from either end.
- Basting Stitch: Use a large stitch to sew a loose, temporary seam. This is commonly used for fitting purposes. You can easily remove the seam if it needs to be adjusted.
- Stay Stitch: Used around necklines and armholes. It is a regular stitch close to the edge and is done right after the pieces are cut out to prevent the fabric from stretching out in those areas while you’re constructing the garment.
- Ease Stitch: Is a regular stitch or a large stitch used close to the edge. It allows you to pull on the threads and gather it up so that it fits with another piece. This is common when putting a sleeve in an armhole. A sleeve has extra ease in it to help the wearer move while wearing the garment and prevent ripping. An ease stitch makes it easier to fit the excess fabric in a smaller space.
- Top Stitch: stitch on the outside of the garment along a seam. Usually used for decorative reasons and flattening seams on outerwear.
- Edge Stitch: used on the inside of the garment on areas such as the necklines and armholes, where the lining or facing attaches. Stitch through the lining/facing and all seam allowance but not the main fabric. This will cause the seam to roll to the inside of the garment instead of the outside.
- Zig-Zig: Commonly used for decorative top stitching or edge finishing.
- Slip Stitch: a hand sewing technique. It is commonly used to attach two pieces together without the seam being seen. An example is attaching a lining to the edge of a collar.
- Serge: 3-4 thread overlock stitch. Used for construction and edge finishing. Requires a serger sewing machine. It cannot be done on a typical sewing machine.
- Cover Stitch: 3 thread stitch for finishing hems. It is commonly used on mass produced clothing you buy at the store. Again, you must have a serger to create the stitch, but it is a great way to make your garments look more professional.
What is a muslin mockup?
Muslin is an unfinished fabric that is typically white or beige. It is fabric in its most basic form, as it has not been dyed or chemically treated. It is usually fairly inexpensive, averaging around $2-$4 per yard. It is used for creating quick and easy samples. Making a muslin mock-up is recommended if you’re unsure how a pattern is going to fit or to visualize how it would look in a 3D form. When making a mock-up, cut out all of the basic structure pieces and sew them together. It is not a finished garment and does not need closures or finished edges. After making the mock-up, you can easily make changes and alterations based on how it fits or looks. This technique saves you from ruining your more expensive fashion fabric.