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5 Tips for Beginning Sewers

by Susan Beal
craft & maker

Marta Alto demonstrates tissue fitting

I learned how to sew on an aqua 1960s Singer sewing machine, and I really love those sturdy, simple mechanical machines – they are especially great for beginners! But no matter what machine you are learning to sew on there are some basics all beginner sewers can benefit from.

Here are some tips that will get you started – starting with yes, you can do it!

1. Keep your sewing machine manual close by and make notes there or in your sketchbook or sewing journal as you sew.

You can also flag or bookmark manual pages that are extra helpful, like how to adjust tension settings or FAQ/troubleshooting pages, so you can always flip right to those. If you find yourself making a project for the second time, it can be so handy to instantly remember that you successfully sewed it with a zig-zag stitch at 2.5 length, 4 width, and 5 tension settings (for example), rather than reinventing the wheel and testing it all out again.

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2. Speaking of: do try to test your stitch length, width, and tension on scraps of fabric before you start sewing your actual project.

It’s so tempting to just jump right in and start sewing, then make adjustments but getting the kinks out and making sure everything looks and sews just right first is a good habit to get into. If you’re keeping a sewing journal, you can staple these little scraps right onto the pages for a very visual reference of what worked well! I also like to staple fabric swatches into my journal so I remember the materials I used. Here’s me during my CreativeLive class showing the page I used to record all the details of my daughter’s rainbow appliqué for her backpack!

Learn to Sew: Check out Susan's 5 Tips for Beginning Sewers and her class, Simple Sewing Projects for Beginners on CreativeLive.

3. Wind extra bobbins of neutral or often-used thread colors so you always have them handy.

The Singer makes winding bobbins easy, but I often use my portable Sidewinder machine to zip through winding five or six bobbins in a row when I’m in between projects. I keep my wound bobbins in rainbow order inside a flexible ring-shaped holder, but I’ve seen friends store their bobbins under matching spools of thread on a rack, which is a great way to keep them together too!

4. Keep straight pins handy on a pretty saucer “pincushion” with a large magnet, or a set of small magnets, glued underneath.

Learn to Sew: Check out Susan's 5 Tips for Beginning Sewers and her class, Simple Sewing Projects for Beginners on CreativeLive.

The magnets not only hold your pins in place, but the open saucer is nice and accessible when you set it down on your sewing table (and even better for using on a nearby ironing board, since the magnets will cling nicely to the metal ironing board). It’s also easier to quickly reach for a pin in a saucer than pull one out of a fabric pincushion every time!

5. Speaking of pins, use a separate magnet to quickly collect fallen pins on your sewing table, or on the floor under your machine set-up.

You may also find surprise sewing machine needles or hand-sewing needles this way, which are usually a bit harder to spot than straight pins with colorful ball ends.

For more beginner sewing tips check out my class, Simple Sewing Projects for Beginners.


Learn how to customize patterns so they are perfectly suited to your body type in Tailored to Fit: The Palmer/Pletsch Tissue-Fitting Method.

The Palmer/Pletsch Tissue Fitting Method

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Susan Beal

Susan Beal is the author of eight craft books and a sewing teacher for CreativeLIVE. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her family, and her blog and books can be found at westcoastcrafty.com.