If you’ve just decided that you want to start to sew and want to know where to start, I have a few tips for you – for I was in your exact same place not very long ago so memories are still fresh!
1. Get a sewing machine!
I know there are people who will hesitate about this. What if I lose interest in 3 days? You may still lose your interest 3 days after getting a sewing machine to be honest. There is never any guarantee that you will stick to it for the rest of your life. But without a sewing machine, everything is just an imagination.
Do your homework. You can ask Mr Google for a recommendation of a model that fits your price range. But nothing beats going to your local dealer which sells and services the machines. And have a test run on the machines. It’s OK to be completely dumbfounded when the salesperson introduces you to all the perks of different machines. But if your dealer has a good reputation, often times they will give you an honest opinion of which model(s) you should seriously consider.
THEN GO HOME.
You need time to let everything sink in. And time to decide which machine you are going to buy. Everyone has different considerations and different needs. So see what others have to say but make your own choice.
From my personal experience, I started with a mid-range mechanical machine from Janome. It was a Sewist 525S. I was told that it offered a good range of different stitches, had adjustable stitch width and length, and that it would be more than enough to begin with. The specifications of different machines are all over the Internet so you can do your own comparison.
I have since upgraded to a computerised machine but we can save that story for another time.
2. Know where to find resources
Depending on what you want to sew, you may need different “things”. Again, it is best if there are local stores nearby. But if you don’t, or prefers online shopping like I do, there are many choices out there as well. I’m located in Hong Kong and usually order from US-based sites such as Fabric.com, Nancy’s Notions and Mood Fabrics. There are many other choices, but I often stick to them because they offer international shipping / allow shipping to a forwarder address from where I can ship the items back to Hong Kong.
Apart from fabric, almost everything else you need are called “notions”. They generally include the tools that will facilitate the sewing process (think measuring tapes, different kinds of rulers, all sorts of markers) and things that form part of the finished product (e.g. thread, zippers, buttons, and interfacing).
You don’t need absolutely everything in order to begin the process. Get your basics and you will soon enough find out what else you really need. Again, Mr Google will be your best friend. Almost everything would have been reviewed by other sewists, from user-friendliness to durability. It’s a whole wide world out there.
3. Online videos!
I rarely watched YouTube videos – until I started sewing.
There are product reviews, videos showing how to thread the machine and even free sewing lessons. If you want to sew garments, try to search “sew along tutorials”. Then sit back and help yourself with thousands of videos out there!
If you would like a little more guidance and don’t mind paying a fee, there is this fantastic website called Craftsy. You sign up as a member, and then can choose different sewing classes to purchase. You will always be able to access the classes which you have purchased and can watch as many times as you want. One great feature about Craftsy is you can interact with the “instructor” in the comments section. The instructor or fellow “classmates” will answer the questions that you have posted. Their classes may seem quite expensive at their regular prices, but keep an eye out for discount seasons – I got most of my classes at US$19.99. It can save you a lot of time learning from your own mistakes.
I highly recommend a class called “The 40 Techniques Every Sewer Should Know”. It is a good introduction class and talks you through most of the things you need to know. You will see lots of technical terms like grain line, darts, bindings, facings and staystitching explained to you visually. I find that immensely useful.
4. Recycling old fabrics
Don’t waste your money on good new expensive fabrics when you are just starting. If you are like me, you won’t wear any of the things that you’ve made during your first year/month. And it is always a good idea to test run a new sewing pattern, because every body is different.
Instead of tossing old bed sheets to the trash, they give you some very good yardages to try sewing. I find small zipper bags to be a good place to start – this was the video that I recommend. It teaches you how to make a box zipper pouch, straight lines only and you also get to learn how to install a zipper. Fairly hard to fail this one and can be used to upcycle clothing which you no longer wear.
5. Sewing patterns
If you are into garment sewing, you will most likely need to get (and learn about) sewing patterns. The choices are plenty. I started with the old fashioned hardcopies from Vogue Patterns (which is in the same group as McCalls, Butterick and Kwik Sew, so items can be checked out together and you can switch between their websites with just one click at the top left corner of the webpage). Again, look out for sales. I got most of my patterns at the discounted price of US$2.49.
You just have to get by the initial intimidation stage. It is a scary large piece of flimsy paper with lots of different lines and markings. But just tell yourself it is like learning a new language. You will be able to understand it, with just a little bit of patience (and googling).
So here are my tips for the beginner of beginners. I wish I was told of all these when I just started, and hope that you will find them useful!