If you’re anything like me when it comes to learning something new, you feel like you need ALL of the tools and ALL of the knowledge before you actually get started, and let’s face it that is just not possible; especially as we learn so much, and better “on the job”.
So here’s a little bit about what I did – and did a little bit wrong – when I decided I wanted to learn to sew and how to only get the things you actually need and not spend a fortune on the fluff!
When I first decided I wanted to sew, I googled online sewing courses. I’m someone who quite likes to learn in private and in my own time. Being a stay at home Mum with a 2 and a half year old I have to fit everything around her, so going to a local class wasn’t really for me, no matter how much I would have loved to go to one.
I had absolutely no clue, at this point, about the incredibly wonderful and vast sewing community that is teaming with knowledge and the willingness to help.
I also didn’t have a sewing machine. I had no idea what I would need as a complete beginner, plus I have very little funds to go and spend such a big amount all in one go. I did think though, that a course would really help me learn the basics and then take me through projects to develop my skills.
The course I decided to do was the Sewing Diploma Course from the Certificate of Excellence. I was able to get the course at a discount and do it in my own time. Plus the description of the course sounded like it just fitted the bill: to quote the blurb… “Learn basic and advanced sewing techniques, a range of machine and hand stitching types, the equipment you need and how to use it, how to measure correctly and choose the right fabrics, how to follow commercial patterns and create your own, and how to build a business. You’ll even put your new-found skills to practice in 8 guided projects to get your portfolio started off”. The first 9 modules of 18 are pretty much all theory (I like theory!) It was pretty interesting and helped me get some structure to start learning.
During this time I was extremely lucky to be gifted a sewing machine. It’s a really sturdy machine; the Toyota Decomaster from 2011 and I really enjoy using it.
I won’t go too much in to it but after the theory, I was really disappointed, the projects left me feeling really frustrated after a basic cushion and I had no idea what I was actually doing. If I wasn’t a complete beginner who had never used a sewing machine in her life before, it may have been different, but sadly, this course didn’t end up inspiring me the way I had hoped.
If you do want to do an online sewing course, take it from a sewing company. I’ll name a few I think would be really helpful at the end of the post.
After that, I looked at Craftsy (which is now BluPrint). I had used it a little bit for knitting and because I had no idea about anyone in the sewing community, I searched and came across The Start Up Library: Sewing; a beginner sewing course by Sara Alm. With her course you can learn to make a tote bag and then go on to make a dress. The pattern for the tote is downloadable from the class materials and the dress is a McCall’s pattern that is sent to you. I was lucky that that was discounted too and got it for £32.27. Bingo! This was more like it.
Here’s a link to the class if you fancy a little look: there’s a trailer, overview, lesson breakdown and you can take a peak at what others have made too.
The craftsy class, for me, was brilliant and really got me moving forward and moving forward fast. My 4th make was a dress!!! I never believed that possible. I’ve also gone on from that class to sewing wallets and bags and I couldn’t be more thrilled with the results. A few of my friends and family have even asked me to make them for them too.
In terms of fabric, I spent money on random bits that I found on Amazon and the first fat quarter bundle I thought I liked but had no idea what to use it for, in Hobby Craft. Needless to say that fabric is actually still sat unused, unfortunately.
I’ll find something to do with them eventually because I don’t like waste; but the lesson here is to definitely be mindful about your purchases, especially in the beginning and especially in regards to the environment. Find your project first and then get the fabric you need to start with. Once you’re more familiar with fabric types and how much you need etc. you’ll know what to buy as soon as you see it, then find the pattern for it. However, if you do just want to get on and practice some sewing, use some old cotton tea towels, nip to the charity shop and search their bedding section – you’ll be amazed at how much fabric is in bed sheets and what you can do with them.
My recommendation for a beginner sewing machine is to go second hand. Ask your family and friends if they have a sewing machine you could have or borrow for a while if they’re not using it (stick out a plea on Facebook, you never know who has one hiding away in a cupboard or attic somewhere). If friends and family don’t have anything; try Facebook marketplace, charity shops and free-cycle etc you can really find some incredible deals if you’re lucky. Once you’ve got some sewing skills in place and know that you love the craft and want to continue, upgrade your machine and spend to your heart’s desire.
If you do want to learn online, definitely find a beginners class from someone you like, admire and enjoy watching. Spend some time getting to know a few of them and don’t be afraid to reach out and ask the community what they recommend.
I was totally afraid (still am sometimes, but I’m working on it), did a lot of finding out the hard way and spent more money than I needed to.
The reason I didn’t YouTube was because I learn best with some kind of structure, if that’s not there I get too bamboozled about what I need to learn and what I want to learn, get overwhelmed, go down the rabbit hole and get absolutely nothing done.
Listed below are the tools I’ve purchased over the last few months. For the ones I use a lot, I have included links* for your viewing pleasure. I have also included the things I’ve thought were a waste of time as a beginner sewist so you can decide whether you need them or not and save a few pennies.
*I’ve added some links for these, just to give you a quick go to. I am in no way affiliated with or responsible for any of the links provided, it is either what I use, have used or would use in future.*
What I thought I needed, I bought and never use
- Tracing wheel and coloured tracing/carbon paper
- Quilters rule
- French curves
- Scrap fabric
- Cheap fat quarters
- “How to sew” books/bibles – Although they are lovely to have, I haven’t used either of the 2 books I bought. I do however recommend Tilly and the Buttons “Love at First Stitch” and “Stretch!” Books
- Dressmaking scissors (this is a personal preference)
- Water erasable pen
- Yard stick
What I actually needed and use all the time.
- Sewing machine – See recommendation earlier
- Seam Ripper – a sewists very best friend
- Tailor’s Flexi Tape Measure
- Quilters Squares/Rulers –
- 2in wide scallop/circle ruler – I use this for help tracing patterns and for marking seam allowances all of the time.
- Self-Healing Cutting mat – I recommend buying the largest you can afford. I currently have A3 size and whilst that is fine for small projects, I do struggle with using it for dressmaking. The larger ones do come with a bit more of a price tag though.
- Rotary cutter – Rotary cutters come in various sizes 18mm, 28mm, 45mm & 60mm – the most popular size appears to be 45mm
- Small fabric scissors – I use these all the time; I prefer them for snipping away from the machine and I use them on fabric (I do use the rotary cutter for most cutting though) I just prefer the control I have over them to the larger dressmaking scissors that are out there. However, if you do decide to go for the proper shears, get a really decent pair. If you can try them out before you buy, I would do that too. They need to be comfortable or you end up with all sorts of aches and pains in your wrist and hand.
- Pins – I recommend Glass Headed long pins. The glass heads mean you can iron over them without melting them and the longer pins are just less fiddly to use.
- Wonder clips – I use these more than pins now, but you do need both. Clips won’t always reach the places pins can.
- Frixion pens – these pens are just awesome. Completely erasable on paper and on fabric. Just iron over your fabric when you want to remove any marks but be aware if you still need your markings after pressing you will have to put the markings back on or use a different type of marking for this (ie tailors tacks, chalk)
- Iron and ironing board (set up all the time next to sewing machine) Not much to add here other than have a good steam iron with variable heat settings and a sturdy board
- Tracing paper and coloured pencils – When it comes to patterns, I’m a tracer. I like to keep the original pattern in its original condition as a hard copy so that I can use it again in a different size or make it for someone else later. My weight and size also often fluctuates so I like the idea that I can make a different size without having to get another paper pattern or re-print a pdf. The coloured pencils can be anything you like really. I pinch my daughter’s and use them to trace around the pattern pieces
- Hand sewing needles – I love the sharps with the gold eyes from Prym. The threads don’t get caught going through the eye making life much easier.
- Pinking shears
- Assorted presser feet – I’ll go into detail about the different presser feet I use and what for in a later blog post, but as a beginner sewist you’ll definitely want your standard foot and a zipper foot. These should come with your machine.
You’ll also need sewing machine needles but definitely check your sewing machine manual for the type your machine needs. Using the wrong type of needle can cause breakages to the needle resulting in nicks to the sewing plate of your machine and can also mean that the machine doesn’t sew through the fabric properly, especially if you have a few layers of fabric.
Before I sign off, here are a few classes I would recommend checking out. Again, I have no affiliation with any of them and whilst I haven’t taken these classes, I do follow these people/companies and have done for a little while and would love to take any one of their online courses.
- Sew Over It – While SOI don’t have a beginner class so to speak, I definitely recommend everything that Lisa Comfort does. Give her a follow, watch some of her YouTube videos and take a look at her patterns and you won’t be disappointed.
- Sewalicious – These awesome ladies run workshops from their sewing school in Twickenham but they have a few beginner online tutorials that may be helpful. They include how to thread your machine, different seam finishes and even free patterns with instructions and sew-a-long videos.
I really hope that this covers the main essentials that you need to get started and has been helpful with where to begin.
If there is anything you would like to ask, please please don’t hesitate to get in touch; leave a comment, send me an email and I’ll do my very best to get back to you asap.
Everything I have mentioned here has been my own experience. There are definitely thing’s I’ll have missed and forgotten about, and lots and lots of different options for you to try that I haven’t yet come across; but this was my starting point and I hope that it helps and inspires you to find yours.
In my next blog post I’ll talk a little bit about what I took away from the theory part of the course I did and show you what my first makes were. Have a wonderful week beautiful people!