The Complete Beginner’s Guide to Sewing: Answering the 20 Most Common Questions

Getting started with sewing can be intimidating for beginners, but asking the right questions is essential to getting off to a good start. From choosing fabric and patterns to troubleshooting your sewing machine, there are common questions and points of confusion for novice sewers.

What tools and materials are absolutely necessary? How to read a business model? Why does the thread keep breaking? What causes skipped stitches? Before embarking on projects, new sewers need to understand the mechanics of sewing machines, types of fabrics, needles to use, backstitching, hemming, gathering, etc.

A little girl smiles in a pink dress.

Learning terminology and techniques opens the door to creativity. I’ve compiled a helpful list of the 20 most important questions for beginning sewers so you can avoid frustration and set yourself up for success in sewing. Knowing what to ask will build essential sewing skills and knowledge.

  1. I just bought my first sewing machine: what now?! Take your time to read the manual to understand how to put it on and use it. Start with simple projects like pillowcases to get comfortable with sewing straight lines.
  2. Help! Why does my thread keep breaking? This is usually caused by improper threading, cheap thread, a dull or wrong-sized needle, or too much tension. Double-check that your machine is threaded correctly, change the needle, and try good quality thread.
  3. How to read a sewing pattern? Don’t be intimidated! The models feature basic parts with markings and directions. First read all the instructions and proceed step by step. Seek help from experienced tailors.
  4. What are the essential sewing tools for beginners? Invest in good fabric scissors, pins, a tape measure, a seam ripper, hand needles and a thread cutter. Quality tools will make sewing easier.
  5. Why does my sewing machine skip stitches? This can happen if the tension is too low, the needle is bent or dull, or the fabric is not feeding properly. Adjust the tension, change the needle, and rethread the top and bobbin.
  6. Help! My sewing machine is blocked! Turn off the machine and carefully remove any tangled threads. Do not pull the fabric. Check for obstructions near the needle and under the needle plate. Rethread completely.
  7. How to choose fabric for sewing projects? Natural fibers like cotton and linen are suitable for beginners. Stretchy fabrics are more delicate. Wash the fabric before cutting to allow for shrinkage.
  8. What needles should I use for sewing? Check your machine’s manual, but universal/pointed needles in sizes 11/75 or 14/90 are a good start. Change the needle with each project or when it becomes dull.
  9. Is it possible to sew without a pattern? Yes! For simple projects, measure yourself or the item you want to cover and cut the fabric to those dimensions. Add seam allowances.
  10. Help! Why are my seams puckering? This happens when the tension is too high. Loosen the thread tension slightly and make sure the upper thread and bobbin thread are inserted correctly.
  11. How to hem pants and skirts? To hand hem, bring the edge up to the desired width, press, pin, then sew a blind stitch or slip stitch. For machine hemming, use a zigzag stitch or blind hem.
  12. What is the best way to cut fabric? Use sharp fabric scissors and cut with the grain, not against it. Cut one layer at a time. Use weights, pins, or spray glue to keep the diapers from moving.
  13. How to sew knitted fabrics without stretching them? Use an expandable or ballpoint needle so that it slides between the fibers of the knit instead of piercing them. Use a zigzag stitch or overlocker. Neckline and hem interfaces.
  14. Help! Why does my bobbin thread keep piling up underneath? This is usually caused by incorrect threading. Make sure the bobbin is inserted correctly and the upper thread is between the tension discs. Rethread completely.
  15. Should I backstitch at the start and end of seams? Yes, the backstitch locks the stitches in place perfectly. Reverse backstitch approximately 1/2 inch at the start and end of each seam for durability.
  16. How to choose the interfacing? Interfacing adds body and structure to projects. Choose light fabrics for fashion fabrics, medium for stable fabrics and heavy for tailored clothing.
  17. What is the easiest thing for a beginner to sew?? Pillows, tote bags, pajama pants, skirts, and aprons are great first projects. Start with woven cottons and simple patterns with few pieces.
  18. Help! Why are the stitches on my sewing machine looping? This is due to poor tension. Make sure the presser foot is lowered, rethread the top and bobbin, and adjust the tension according to your manual.
  19. How to gather fabric? For machine gathering, use a long length of basting stitch and pull the bobbin threads to gather. For hand gathering, sew 2 rows of long stitches and pull the top threads. Adjust the gathers evenly.
  20. Why does my fabric pucker when I sew? The excess fabric is pushed into the seam allowance. Support the fabric on both sides of the presser foot and let it feed naturally. Use stabilizer on delicate fabrics.

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