How to Sew (using a Sewing Machine)




About: We share our Craftsman in the Allendale district of Oakland with three cats and a lagamorph named Shug R. Bunn. I also BookCross:

When I turned 13, my stepmom, Cassandra, got me the best birthday present ever (still, to this day, I feel), a sewing machine! I immediately taught myself to sew and over the next 27 years, created everything from tiny little purses to huge Victorian ballgowns. I want to impart my passion to others and I hope I can spark the creative juices for someone else, no matter their age. :)

This Instructable will serve as an introduction to sewing with a sewing machine. I'm aiming it for an absolute beginner, and am writing this as a really basic lesson. If you're a beginner, and a step isn't clear enough, please let me know.

p.s. There are already several good instructables on how to thread a sewing machine, so I won't be including that part.

Step 1: Tips on Acquiring a Sewing Machine

If you already have a machine, it's imperative to make sure it's been recently serviced. Doing this will ensure your mechanics (such as the Bobbin Tension and Feed Dog - the mechanism that moves the fabric when sewing) are in proper working order and any abnormality in sewing will be "pilot error", which can be corrected through practice.

If you haven't been gifted a machine and are looking to purchase your first machine, here are some hints to help you choose the right one.

a. Start by finding a reputable sewing machine repair shop.
Often they will be attached to a dealership (just like cars!). If you can find an independent repair shop, and you have a good rapport with the mechanic, you might be happier. This guy (or gal) will be straight about repairs and won't tell you to give up your old machine to buy the latest model. Also, s/he will be a good source for acquiring a good, used machine if you're on a budget. If, on the other hand you find that your local sewing machine dealer is fabulous, by all means, use your best resources and go for it.

b. Get a machine with all-metal parts.
Many cheaper model sewing machines have plastic pieces. These parts are the ones that will invariably break first. Replacement of the parts may be cheaper, but you'll end up spending far more for the labor to install new plastic parts that will break again. (SIDE NOTE: my stepmom bought me a Sears Kenmore 12-stitch: all-metal parts. It's still running strong, with only the occasional tune-up, for almost 30 years!). If the choice is an all-metal, simpler sewing machine with "only' 12 stitches and a machine with more bells and whistles (and plastic parts) for the same price, invest in the first machine.

c. When you're first starting out, consider a basic model.
In all honesty, you're likely to never require more stitches than those included with the basic 12-stitch model. If, down the road, you find your sewing becomes detailed enough that you need a more complex machine, look for a machine that'll fit those specific needs. You can then keep your first machine as a workhorse, to just do crafting, or buttonholes, or whatever. Or, you can gift your first machine to a non-profit , like your local Girls & Boys Club.

Step 2: Fabric Definitions and a Good Fabric Choice to Start With

What makes a good seamster will be familiarity of medium. The most important part about knowing how to sew on a machine is learning how to manipulate the fabric as it goes under the needle. This is where fabric choices come in.

I'll start with some definitions:

WEIGHT: Fabric come in several "weights". Generally, you have lightweight (feels thin to the touch, mostly sheer enough to see your hand through them, you can fold it many times without creating much girth - most often used for curtain sheers), midweight (feels more substantial, folding creates some girth - most often used for clothing) and heavyweight (thick, folding will create substantial girth - most often used in home decorating, like upholstery)

The STRETCH TEST: Fabric can also have stretch. How to tell a fabric stretch (or non-stretch) is by stretching it both lengthwise and widthwise (all fabric will have some amount of stretch on the diagonal, also called the bias). Non-stretch fabric will have little give on both the length and width.

FIBER CONTENT: This means what makes up the fabric. Natural fibers can be cotton, silk, linen, bamboo. Polyester and Nylon are examples of manmade fabrics.

1. Start with a medium-weight, non-stretch fabric made from natural fibers (like cotton).

2. You'll want to choose a fabric that has thin stripes that are about a half inch to an inch apart. The stripes should run down the fabric, not from selvage (the finished edge on the side) to selvage. Have at least a half yard (18") of it.

Step 3: Practicing Straight Stitches - Learning to Sew

You can start learning how to manipulate the fabric by first sewing in a straight line.

a. Take your fabric chosen from Step 2 and cut a 8" wide strip that is 18" long. Fold it in a half and make a crease (you can use an iron to create a more firm crease) at fold.

b1. Thread your machine (consult your manual or the other Instructables for this step).
b2. For this first bit of sewing, you can use a needle for mid-weight, woven fabric. (As for choice of needles, look to eventually having a variety of needles. Several things can determine the type of needle to use, such as the fabric choice or the type of stitch. When you're doing regular sewing, the fabric's weight determines the needles' size, and the type of fabric determines the shape of the needle's point.).
b3. Choose a medium stitch length, usually 2 1/2 or 3 (consult your manual for this, as well, since stitch length varies from machine to machine. Some have a knob, others have a multi-stage switch)
b4. Set your machine to Straight Stitch, which is usually the first stitch in your list

c. Begin with the Needle in the highest position (you should always start and end with the needle in this position) and draw up Presser Foot.

d. Draw out your Top and Bobbin Threads about 6 inches back from the Feed Dog. When you begin your first stitch, make sure you are holding onto your Top and Bobbin Threads, as they can be "sucked" into the machine on the first few stitches.

e. Place your fabric under the Needle, positioning it so the Needle will enter the fabric at a stripe near to the crease.

f. Bring down the Presser Foot (It's very important to have the foot down when sewing, since its down position is what creates the friction for the Feed Dog to move the fabric along as you sew).

g. A helpful hint when you're first learning (or if you find you need precise needle placement) is to hand-guide the first stitch in your fabric layers. To do this, use the Hand Wheel to lower the Needle into your fabric layers. Once you are more familiar with your machine, you can generally eyeball needle placement.

h. Put your fingers on your fabric, so as to guide it, down the stripe, under the Presser Foot. Press down gently on the Foot Pedal and start sewing.

This is where your training begins, to teach your fingers how to touch, grasp and hold your fabric layers as they are sewn together. Practicing "step h" over and over, using different fabrics, of different weights, with stretch and non-stretch, will get you familiar with how each type of fabric will need to be worked with.

i. Stop the Needle when it's in it uppermost position and draw up the Presser Foot (use the Hand Wheel, if necessary). Gently pull out your fabric, cut your threads(make sure to leave at least 6" of Top and Bobbin Threads hanging back, so you can have a "start" for your next bit of sewing).

Step 4: Check Your Work

So, you've sewn your (first?) seam! How did you do? Let's check and troubleshoot it:

a. Speed: Did you notice if you sped up and slowed down alot? Totally reasonable as you get used to how the Pedal Foot operates. You want to maintain a constant speed throughout the stitching of a seam. Maintaining a constant speed will create even stitches. Don't worry if you're slow at first; you just need to be at one speed. It's okay to stop and start, just get to one speed. Eventually, you can increase your constant speed, until you are pedal-to-the-medal.

b. Stitch Length: Is it even, or are some of the stitches longer than others? If the later is true, and you're maintaining speed, then you may be pulling at the fabric layers as they're been stitched together. Make sure you are letting the feed dog do its work and your finger are simply guiding the fabric under the pressure foot.

b. Straight on the Stripe: Were you able to sew right down the stripe or is your seam a little offsides? This will simply take practice. Keep practicing until your fingers nimbly guide the fabric straight as an arrow.

Step 5: Other Hints to Help You Sew

Other factors can be a help or hindrance when sewing. Here are a few:

a. Where to sew - Lighting: Make sure you have bright lighting available on your sewing area. Most machines will come with a "sewing light". This is a great start, but you should also invest in a gooseneck lamp that can direct more light at your Presser Foot. Position it behind and to the right of your machine, with the light directed to the sewing surface and not into your eyes at all. Additionally, if possible, have a decent room light on, so you won't be blinded by the contrast of a well-lighted work space and a dark room.

b. Where to Sew- Machine placement: Have your machine on a surface that is comfortable to work at. Too high and your shoulders and neck will cramp up. I like to have my machine at the same height as a computer keyboard should be, or possibly a little higher.

c. Where to Sew- Surface: Make sure the surface will be stable enough to handle the up and down action of the needle. If you have a very large table (like a dining room table), try to have your machine close to a table leg, where there's more stability. also, make sure the surface isn't slippery, or else you may find your machine "travelling" as you sew.

d. Use of pins: If you want to use pins to hold fabric pieces together, get into the habit early of removing them before sewing with your machine. More often than not, you'll be able to sew over a pin with no problem, but on those rare occasions when your needle hits a pin right on, the results could be disastrous.

e. (Almost) always wash your fabric before you start cutting and sewing (I say "almost" because there are specialty fabrics, like sequined, some silks and wools, etc. that are ruined if you wash them. Take special precautions when working with these unusual textiles). Most fabrics come with "sizing". By washing your fabric, you'll wash out the sizing and your fabric will show it's true shape, often much more supple and sometimes shrinking (very likely when your fabric is 100% natural fibers).

f . HAVE FUN! Really, if you're not having fun, you'll never put in enough time to get good at sewing. Don't be discouraged if you first few attempts seem like complete dreck. They're not, they're the things you've made that'll get you to understand what works and what doesn't. Nothing is a waste of time, it's a chance to learn!



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    83 Discussions


    4 months ago

    Very informative post! It will be really helpful for beginners. I also know that it is sometimes difficult for beginners to choose a sewing machine, to decide on a brand, model and functionality. After reading this article, you will understand that it is not difficult at all


    2 years ago

    great tips thanks been a beginner is hard..... and u make it a one easy to follow.....


    3 years ago

    Its really great information,thanks for sharing this blog,keep updating more threads,and also to buy a sewing machine


    3 years ago

    Very nice article and useful tips. I like sewing very much, so I find
    your information just great. I must have much persistence to cope with
    this craft, but doing your best always brings good results. Effective
    and original academic papers done by professional writers can make your
    life easier


    3 years ago

    One of the best tips!!


    3 years ago

    Dang! That was so awesome! Thanks so much for making the entry to sewing a little bit easier. Nice work!


    3 years ago

    I was given a old singer 185k along with an identical machine for parts. I went online and found out how to thread this old machine. IT WORKS. This is my first experience with a sewing machine. Now its just down to practice. I haven't known any other guys who enjoy sewing but i do know there are others out there like me who do.

    I get this satisfaction when I can repair my own things. There are a lot more then just clothing that sewing is useful for.


    4 years ago on Step 5

    hello! I just got my machine and took a class and made an apron and pot holder just like in Home Ec in 8th grade. It was lots of fun. Now I would like to sew a patch on the knee of a pair of jeans. Is there a way to get the leg on the machine so you don't sew it on both sides?

    1 reply

    Reply 3 years ago on Introduction

    That could be complicated, but your sewing machine should have an arm you may use for this specific function. If your sewing machine's 'standard' set-up is with a table, you should be able to either slide it out to the left or detach it by pulling it up to reveal the sewing arm.


    Resurrecting an old thread (har har).......

    In talking with a friend of mine (that has inspired me to invest in a good machine) he told me he uses seam tape instead of pins but that it gunks up the machine after a few hundred yards of sewing. He's sewing ripstop nylon and said he uses the tape because pinning, by nature of the project would take the finished piece (a kite) to an inch of it's life....too much perforation.

    On a dual feed machine will pinning / seam tape still be required or can one trust the dual feed to keep things even if I let the feeders do their job?

    (I know I could just try and see but I haven't picked up the new machine yet nor do I have rolls of ripstop nylon around to play with.....yet.)

    2 replies

    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    Wow! I'm doing practically the same thing 3 yeas after you. I have a Brother machine and am about to try sewing kites with ripstop. Can we exchange tips? Dan Ruck, and (864) 451-3029.


    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    Would you believe that I've YET to take the stitch ripper to the donor kite? I have however sewn up some rail covers, a bimini boat top, some outdoor curtains, replacement cushions, upholstered a couch (that is actually a coffin until you open it) and made some doll beds for my kids. But not a stitch of ripstop. I can say however that the dual feed machine of mine will still benefit from the seam tape method over pins because in most all of my long run sewing I've still noticed a little material drift.

    Here's the inspirational source for my kite making ambition -


    4 years ago on Introduction

    Grande istruzioni! Grazie per aver condiviso questo blog informativo con us.Really gente comune può imparare su come cucire con macchina da cucire. Amo il cucito, ho comprato anche un mcahine da "sewshop" negozio online, ma non sapevo come cucire a macchina da cucire.

    I bought a sewing machine about 6 or 7 years ago, the instruction book was nigh on impossible to understand (and looked like a very bad photocopy) so the sewing machine was stored away and never used. I want to try again, not having sewn for over 30 years, the last time in a needlework class at school (I can't remember the basics) can anyone recommend a book. I've bought a couple and they all assume you can thread a machine and know the basics and I don't, I'm not even sure if all machines thread the same? :)


    4 years ago

    When I was very young my mom would let me mess around with her machine. Subsequently I learned a little something. A few years back I borrowed my sisters machine to alter my curtains that the previous owner made probably back in the 80's. They were actually pretty basic. I really just needed to lose the color edge, and cut them down to fit inside the widow trim neatly. I took my time and was pretty maticulous and it worked out well. I have ten windows, so it was a fairly ambitious project for a beginner.
    I dug out an old machine that someone gave me years ago. It may have been one of my sisters, or maybe my grandmothers, nobody seems to know. It is a beauty, a Morse Fotomatic IV. I really would like to try my hand at quilting. I'm a bricklayer and have a lot of spare time on my hands during the winter


    4 years ago on Introduction

    I'm so excited to get started, and even more excited that I found this! I asked for a sewing machine for Christmas this year since I have been making beaded jewelry and learned to knit on a loom and I wanted to expand my homemade arts. I looked up some good basic machines and asked for a Singer Heavy Duty 4411. Ask and you shall receive (thank you, Santa, AKA my mom)! I'm heading to Michael's today to spend my gift card (also thank you to my mother) and needed to find some good tutorials to make sure I have everything else I need to get started. This was a sight for newbie eyes! Thank you, and I will be sure to update you with how I manage.


    4 years ago on Introduction

    Can you recommend a few good options for a beginers sewing machine?