Texas Living

Sew Basic

By Jennifer Norris 1.10.14

My mother-in-law gave me a sewing machine for my 33rd birthday. I was a new mom and interested in making fun, personalized baby items for this beautiful little bundle and cute skirts and tops for myself. I remember opening the gift enthusiastically, ready to create. In reality, it sat in the box for two years before this new mom had time to open it. But I did. And it has been a rewarding hobby ever since.

Burp cloths, blankets, pajamas, maxi-skirts — even a guitar strap to help fulfill a 3-year-old’s rock-star dreams — the possibilities are endless if you want to sew. Here are five basics to help you get started.

  1. Buy good equipment. You don’t need state-of-the-art anything, but you also don’t want to go the cheap route when purchasing a machine. You need a dependable machine that doesn’t jam or break down regularly. Nothing like a threaded-up mess to stifle creative (and productive) juices. Research online for quality models and keep in mind what you intend to use the sewing machine for. You’ll also need straight pins, a seam ripper, fabric pencil, shears, and a tape measure. Look for a sewing kit at your local fabric store. It should have all the basics.
  2. Find resources. I have Singer’s The Complete Guide to Sewing, and it has come in handy. More than a thousand images illustrate any questions that should arise. It shows me the different types of stitches, illustrates techniques, and educates me on terminology that I am not familiar with. And there are a lot of terms to remember. But with regular use, they become second nature.  Plus, when you find someone else who shares your understanding of bias, piping, notions, and selvage, you’ll realize you are a proud member of the sewing community.
  3. Be inspired. Sites like Pinterest and Etsy offer days worth of scrolling to find potential projects. Those Pinterest posts will connect you with blogs, some of which will become your favorite links of inspiration. Even sewing machine companies feature tutorials or project ideas.
  4. Buy the pattern. There are many sites out there that offer free tutorials or printable patterns. And those are good starting points. But nothing is as good as the old-fashioned, skin-papered pattern from the store. It’s a virtual map, with all the markings and directions, that easily walks you through a project. And if you have a question, remember that handy resource book.
  5. Practice. Practice. Practice. Every time you take out your machine and sew, you learn a trick, technique, or master a skill. But if it takes you weeks in between, you’re liable to forget a few. Keep going and build off of what you’ve learned.

Don’t forget to keep learning. Your local fabric store will have classes and communities for all sewing levels. Don’t be nervous. Book a beginner class and take advantage of the wealth of knowledge from the sewers around you.

Luckily, when I started out, I found a mentor, if you will. A woman in my office took the time to help me learn the basics. Sewing for more than 40 years, she offered tips, techniques, and pitfalls that she had gone through. Her patience was contagious and you’ll need to be patient too.  But keep at it, because as I write this, I’m wearing my first-ever sewing project — a pair of pajama bottoms that I love more than anything I could buy at the store.