Learn the Basics of Sewing With This Important Tutorial

Jessica Shaw
by Jessica Shaw
14 Materials
5 Minutes

Unfortunately, Corona continues to affect our lives. For many of us that means lockdowns and quarantines, and if nothing else, that’s a great opportunity to learn new hobbies. If you’ve been using this time to get into sewing, you might find yourself a bit overwhelmed with everything you need to know. In this tutorial I’m going to break down all the basics you need to know when it comes to sewing so that you can get those quarantine projects underway in no time!

Tools and Materials:

  • Fabric scissors
  • Regular scissors
  • Small scissors
  • Clippers
  • Straight ruler
  • Curved ruler
  • Fabric measuring tape
  • Tailor’s chalk
  • Pin cushion
  • Sewing pins
  • Elastics in different widths and sizes
  • Seam ripper
  • Interfacing (used to add sturdiness)
  • Iron
  • Sewing machine

For detailed descriptions of all the materials, watch the video!

Fabrics for sewing

The first thing we’re going to talk about is fabrics, and we’re going to break that down to two categories: fiber content and construction.

Sewing basics
Fiber content

Fiber content is the fibers that your fabric is made up of. Think of it as the ingredients in a cake. The fibers in the fabric will affect how the fabric will drape and hang off your body. It determines whether it’s stretchy and/or breathable. There are two different kinds of fiber: natural and man-made. Natural fibers come from plants and animals and include fibers such as cotton, linen, hemp, bamboo, silk, wool, and tencel (also known as lyocell). Man-made fibers include polyester, nylon, spandex, acrylic, and rayon (also known as viscose).  

Sewing basics for beginners

The construction is how the fibers are turned into the fabrics. This is also divided into two different types: wovens and knits. It’s important to know which of these your fabric is because it’s a different sewing experience for each. 

Sew with woven fabrics
Woven fabrics

Woven fabrics are typically woven together on a loom and are tightly woven. They don’t have much stretch and they fray. When looking at woven fabrics, you’ll notice different grains. The straight grain, which runs lengthwise down the fabric, is called the warp. Usually you’ll cut the pattern so that the straight grain runs down your body. The cross grain, which runs horizontally across the fabric, is called the weft. It runs parallel to the selvage edges, which are the finished edges of the fabric. The last grain is the bias, running diagonally across, and it’s the stretchiest part of the fabric. If you’ve ever heard of bias tape, it refers to strips of fabric that are cut diagonally and can then be used to bind something curvy like a neckline. You’ll use a universal size needle for most lightweight wovens, a sharp needle for thinner wovens, and a thicker needle for denim or other thick fabrics. 

Knitted fabrics basics
Knitted fabrics

Knitted fabrics are made up of a bunch of loops that are looped together. It’s bouncy, stretchy, and it doesn’t fray or wrinkle. You’ll use a ballpoint needle on a heavier, looser, sweater-knit, and a stretch material if it’s a really stretchy fabric. 

Sewing machine basics
The sewing machine

Though you can, of course, hand-sew as well, I’m going to be walking you through using a sewing machine, using my Singer Talent as a model. 

Sewing machine stitches
Stitches on your sewing machine

These two dials are for your stitches. The bottom one determines the different stitches, and the top dial determines the stitch length. 2 ½ is a good setting to keep the length on.

Top of the sewing machine
Top of the sewing machine

The first dial you need to recognize on the top of your sewing machine is the one for width. This dial determines the width of your stitches. So for a straight stitch, you should keep it at zero. Then there’s the tension, which depends on the fabric you’re using. If your fabric has really tight seams, you may want to loosen your tension. If the seams are tighter, you might want to tighten your tension. 

Basic sewing methods
Control your needle

The spinning wheel on the side controls your needle, dropping it up and down as you spin it. 

Load your bobbin
Load your bobbin

This is where you load your bobbin with thread.

Drop your bobbin
Drop in your bobbin

Once your bobbin is loaded with thread, this is where you drop it.

Thread machine
Thread your machine

This contraption is where you thread your machine.

Reverse stitch
Reverse stitch

You’ll use this switch for reverse stitching. We’ll get to that soon.

Sewing machine pedal
Start and stop

You’ll use your pedal to make the machine start and stop.

Basic sewing stitches

There are three basic stitches that are important that you know as a beginner. These are the straight stitch, the reverse stitch, and the zigzag stitch. I’m going to show you how to do the straight and the zigzag, and we’ll talk about reverse stitching along with them.

Straight stitch basics
Straight stitch

First you’re going to put your fabric right sides together. That means the “pretty” side of the fabric. You’re then going to set your machine to straight stitch, and set it to the seam allowance you choose. For most store-bought patterns that’s going to be ⅝ of an inch. You’re going to insert your fabric and sew a few stitches, then you’re going to hit the reverse switch and sew a few reverse stitches before continuing downward in a straight stitch. When you get to the end you’re going to reverse stitch again. This locks in your seam. 

Zig zag stitch basics
Zig zag stitch

A zigzag stitch is used for stretchy fabrics or for finishing raw edges. To do this you’ll set your machine to zigzag stitch, and then choose your width. I set my width to three. Then put in your fabric, right sides together again, and sew. Don’t forget to reverse stitch in the beginning and end of the seam.

Basic seams
French and Felled seams

One of the most common stitches you’ll use is a plain seam. However, this will leave the inside of your garment with raw edges that can fray. So there are two types of stitches that can help with that. These are the French seam and the Felled seam. 

French seam
French seam

In order to create a French seam you’re first going to put your fabrics wrong sides together. Then you’re going to sew a very narrow seam allowance of ⅜ of an inch. After that, you’re going to use your scissors to trim the seam allowance down to about ⅛ of an inch. You’ll then flip it, so that now the right sides are together, and you’re going to sew a second row of stitching at ¼ of an inch. 

Felled seam
Felled seam

A Felled seam is a very strong seam, most often used on denim. Start by putting the wrong sides together and sewing a normal ⅝ seam allowance. You’re then going to cut only one of the seam allowances down short. Then take the longer seam allowance and fold it in, then fold it in again, and make another seam on the folds, next to the first seam. 

Basic sewing patterns

You always need a pattern. The question is whether you’re buying it or making it yourself. When I started sewing, I used store-bought patterns, and as I became more confident in myself and my sewing abilities, I started making my own modifications to the patterns. Eventually I learned how to make my own patterns from scratch. Pattern drafting is a completely different ballgame and it requires a ton of math. I’m not great at the math part, or at explaining it, so if you go to the description of the video, you’ll find a bunch of links that will be helpful to you when it comes to drafting your own patterns. 

Beginner sewing basics

Okay, you guys, now you know the basics you need in order to start sewing! So bust out that machine and put these tips to the test. I know that starting to sew can be overwhelming, so I really hope this tutorial helped you learn a bit more about it and give you a bit of encouragement to get started. Especially now, when a lot of us have a lot of free time on our hands. So dive on in and show me your quarantine projects in the comments below!

Suggested materials:
  • Fabric scissors
  • Regular scissors
  • Small scissors
See all materials

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Join the conversation
2 of 5 comments
  • Mary Mary on Oct 18, 2020

    I am using an old blanket which has come apart and lost it's edge. It has gummed up my machine (same as the one illustrated here) three times now. How can I manage such thick material. I wouldn't bother but my dogs love this blanket.

  • Kimberly Davies Maykish Kimberly Davies Maykish on Oct 20, 2020

    Thanks for sharing. I have already used the French seam on a pillow project.