Running from the Law: Sewing Basics - What You Need to Get Started

Monday, March 29, 2010

Sewing Basics - What You Need to Get Started

I've learned sew much (hahahaha) in my Beginner Sewing Class. And now I get to pass all that glorious and important information on to you! Don't you just love how the internet lets you live vicariously through other people? 

Sew anyway (hahahaha), in our first class, our instructor went over the basic tools of the trade, and what we needed to have in order to sew our first project. Whether you are learning to sew crafts, clothing, or home decor, these are the bare essentials for any sewer. You can find your essential sewing supplies at any fabric store, like JoAnn Fabrics or Hancock Fabrics. They also sell some basic sewing supplies at Hobby Lobby, Target and Wal-Mart.

1. A sewing machine - What sewing machine you buy will depend on your skill level and your budget. Sewing machines run anywhere from $75 to thousands of dollars. The fancier, the more expensive and maybe the harder for a beginner to use. If you're a beginner (like me), maybe choose an inexpensive (and basic) one to begin with until you know whether or not you're going to like sewing and continue it. You can always upgrade later and sell your machine to another beginner. Captain Magnets has a really good overview about how to go about buying a sewing machine.

2. Good scissors - Fabric cutting scissors. That are ONLY used to cut fabric. Do not use them for anything else, ever ever ever. Not paper, not tape, not anything. Get a separate pair for cutting your paper (or tissue paper) patterns. And get a couple pairs in different sizes. A little pair of scissors is nice to keep right next to your machine for clipping loose threads.

3. Thread - This is a pretty easy one. Polyester thread is a good overall multi-purpose choice. Generally, you're going to want your thread to match the color of your fabric. However, sometimes you might want to use a thread in a contrasting color to give it a pop. Either way, there are 2 ways to go about buying thread. You can buy buy a multi-pack that has a bunch of thread in it in a variety of colors. Or you can just buy thread as you go, one spool at a time based on what you're working on to match (or contrast with) your fabric. I've seen variety packs of colored thread at Hancock Fabrics that run up into the hundreds of dollars. I'm sure I'll never need all those colors or use all that thread. So, for now, I bought a very small variety pack with 10 basic colors and I'll just pick up thread to match my fabrics as I go.

4. Bobbins - In order to use your thread, you're going to need bobbins. Buy extra bobbins that are specifically made to go with your machine. I've already learned this lesson the hard way. I bought some pre-spooled black and white bobbins, just to find out that they don't fit well into my machine and snag a lot. That just won't work. Your machine will probably come with a few bobbins, but it's nice to have a few extras on-hand in the colors you're working with to save you time.

5. Straight Pins and a Pin Cushion - You're going to need straight pins. A LOT of pins. I like the colored ones because they show up better. You want something that will stand out and get your attention so you don't accidentally sew over the pins (that'll break your sewing machine needle). The instructor of my sewing class suggested getting glass head beads (as opposed to plastic), just in case they get steamed/ironed so they won't melt all over your fabric. Good idea. Buy 2 or 3 types of pins and learn what you like to work with. They are cheap, bend or dull often, and inevitably get lost in the carpet, so have plenty on hand.

6. Pinking Shears - Although my instructor claimed these weren't "necessary," they are going to save you a lot of time and energy. Use your pinking shears to cut out your patten in the fabric. Why? Because the zig-zag edge will prevent the fabric from fraying! And then you don't have to stitch all the way around every single pattern piece to prevent it from fraying. Bingo!

7. Tape Measure - Your measuring tape should be flexible, for molding it to a shape, and a standard 60" long. Synthetic (non-cloth) tapes are preferable because they don't stretch or fray.

8. Fabric - For the true beginner stick to non-stretch cotton. Remember to wash and dry it before you even think about using it so you know it won't shrink. Keep a supply of inexpensive muslin fabric to practice on. I bought a whole bolt of cheap muslin for practice and learning. Avoid textured, slippery, highly patterned (plaids, stripes), or stretchy fabric for your first few projects.

9. Hem Gauge - For measuring small precise hems. Keep this next to your ironing board so when you're pressing in your hems, you have it handy. A metal one like this with a multi-functional sliding gauge for easy marking. Use it for marking button holes, seam allowances and all hems.

10. Chalk - different fabric works with different kinds of marking devices, but for many sewers it is just personal preference. Have at least 2 colors, like white and blue, in either a chalk pencil, chalk wedge, or tracing wheel with tracing paper. You can also use a marking pen that will fade off the fabric, but I've hear rumors that sometimes the markings come back after a few washes. Marking wax is something to get when you are working with knits like wool or tweed, but not needed for a beginner.

11. Assorted Needles - You might need to do a little hand-stitching in a few places on your project, so have some needles on hand. An assortment pack is an inexpensive way to make sure you have whatever size you might need.

12. Seam Ripper - A seam ripper just needs to have a nice sharp point for digging out the mistakes you will inevitably make. If you can find one with a longer grip (they tend to be very short-handled) your hands will thank you.

13. Iron - I hate ironing, but apparently in sewing you have to press everything. Repeatedly. Have an iron and an ironing board ready. If your fabrics are wrinkled, they won't sew right. Seams have to be pressed open so the fabric lays right. Hems have to be pressed so you know where to sew. LOTS of pressing and ironing. Get used to it.

Sew that's it! Ready to start sewing?


  1. Ugh! You've reminded me that I have a sewing machine in the closet that I have never even turned on! I need to jump on this sewing band wagon. Good idea to take a class!

  2. Hello Martha Stewart! You sure don't sound like a beginner! That's a long list of supplies - I wouldn't know how to use half of that stuff. But I look forward to living vicariously through your sewing adventures!

  3. Ahhhh! So many basics! Although, I never knew pinking shears kept the edges from fraying--I just always thought they were to be pretty. :)

  4. Yup. I have all of that! I'm ready when you are:)

  5. You're too funny lady!

    I need to get back into sewing. I'm planning on sewing the sash for my dress. Oy.

  6. I am dying to learn how to sew! If only I actually had some free time.

  7. I want to learn how to sew but this seems overwhelming! Is it easy to learn?