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Beginning Sewing

I love working with people, especially young people, who want to get into sewing.  I work in a fabric store, and I love it when their families come in with them for their birthday to purchase a machine and everything they need for their first project.  That’s so exciting! 

We all want to make wonderful things, just like the artists on Tik Tok.  But sewing a beautiful princess gown from clearance fabric takes a little more than just jumping up and down.  Yet I see a lot of customers at the cutting counter purchasing expensive specialty fabric that I know they will never use.  I know because they say things like “I don’t have a machine because I’ve never sewn before, but I’m going to make my wedding dress this weekend.”  (True story.)

Here’s my advice for beginning sewers:


Stay away from Singers, unless it’s an antique, but you aren’t ready for that.  I learned on a Singer Scholastic in Home Ec. in the 1970s, and so always purchased Singers after that.  Sadly, the quality they were known for is no longer there, although the 20th century machines have quite a cult following.  As a beginner, you’re going to want a newer machine.

Purchase your machine from a reputable dealer if possible.  They usually have a good selection of used machines taken in trade, which usually carry the same warrantee as the new models.  You can also try them out, bring them in for instruction and repairs, and trade them in for an upgrade.  Many offer classes for free or at a discount with purchase. I love the used Kenmore that is my travel/backup machine.  Yes, I sew on vacation.

Other great brands for beginners are Brother/Babylock and Janome. Sewing machine dealers carry higher quality products that you cannot get on Amazon. It’s like the difference between buying a designer label at a big box store and from the fashion house itself.

If you are looking on Craigslist, search for “new in box” or “used once.” There are a lot of people who receive machines as gifts but don’t really want them, or thought they would have time to sew but don’t, or don’t like it, etc.

Don’t spend a lot of money on your first machine, but get one step above the basic beginner model, which aren’t very sturdy. More features = a bigger machine and price tag. Again, a dealer will be able to help you find the best machine for your needs and budget.


Please do not take on a huge project as your first.  You will end up frustrated and discouraged and out a lot of money.  If you want to get into quilting, begin with potholders, mug rugs, placemats, table runners, and then a lap or baby quilt.  Choose simple patterns and designs.

If you want to get into garment construction, begin with a plain butcher-type apron.  This copy from my Etsy shop is perfect; I’ve made it many times since Junior High!  You will learn pattern layout and how to make a pocket.  That’s awesome!  Make aprons for everyone or the local food pantry until you love your results.  Sewing takes a lot of practice.  For subsequent projects look for patterns that are labeled “beginner” and “easy.”  The fewer pattern pieces and design elements, the better.

Start with cotton fabric.  It’s really fun to sew with sequins, velvet, satin, chiffon, and knits, but they are also more difficult to work with, and take special techniques and equipment.  Cotton is also less expensive, and it’s machine washable.  I love lightweight cotton canvas for aprons and throw pillows – another easy beginner project.

The exception here is fleece.  I love working with fleece – you don’t have to prewash the fabric or finish the seams.  Just sew and go!  Everyone on my list got fleece pajama/house pants for Christmas las year. Pajama pants with an elastic waistline casing is another easy project for beginners.


It’s also fun to shop for sewing gadgets, but you really don’t need a lot of stuff, which can get expensive.  Look for those at thrift stores and garage sales.  You’ve purchased your machine, and probably already have an iron and ironing board.  There’s a lot of ironing in sewing – my SIL was amazed at how much!

You also need a good pair of scissors.  Get a brand-new pair that is only used for fabric.  Get them in a different color than the household scissors, or hide them, and let your family know never to use them on anything else. 

You’ll also need pins, a tape measure or seam gauge, a seam ripper, hand sewing needles, and a marking pencil.  That’s all you need for simple projects.

Sewing is an investment in time, money, and effort.  It’s great to be able to make things for myself and others, but it didn’t happen overnight.  Community colleges and centers often have classes, and there are a lot of great YouTube videos out there, as well as social media groups. Most houses of worship have groups that sew or quilt for charities and welcome newcomers.