9 Sewing Tips for Beginners that I had to Learn the Hard Way

They say that part of growth is learning from your mistakes, but let me save you some time and you can learn from mine.

1. There is a correct way to pin a piece.

When I was attempting to sew ribbon onto a tunic for embellishment, I pinned the ribbon to the shirt horizontally along the ribbon. Bad move. When I ran the piece through the machine, I poked my fingers on sharp points as I fed the fabric through, or worse jammed my machine when the head of the pin inevitably got stuck. The correct way to pin is vertically, so the machine can easily glide over the pins without catching or jamming. (At least I’m great at pinning on Pinterest.)

Examples of how to pin a piece for feeding into a sewing machine. Left Pin: Incorrect way to pin. Right Pin: Correct way to pin.

2. Adjusting thread tension is important.

If your thread’s tension is off, then your stitches will not be even across the front and back of the piece. For me, I struggled with the back of the piece. In transporting my machine to a friend’s house I offset the tension dial without realizing it. When I held up my piece to admire my neat, even, and miraculously-straight stitches, I felt so proud. Short lived pride, I’m afraid. I turned the piece over to find a horrendous, ugly knot of thread on the bottom side. When this happens, the only solution is to take the stitches out with a seam ripper and start again.

3. Adjusting thread tension also requires patience (plus two hours, a phone call to Grandma, two phone calls to Mom, and a burrito).

Your sewing machine’s manual will be essential in helping to correctly adjust the tension. Go slowly, have a piece of scrap fabric that’s a close material to the one you’re working with as a final piece (example, if your working with denim, don’t test on thin cotton), and make adjustments one at a time. Reach out for help if you need it, and if all else fails take a break and come back to it. I struggled adjusting the tension and after two frustrating hours I stopped for a burrito break with my friends. When I came back to the machine I adjusted the thread perfectly on the first try. Obviously, it was the magic burrito that made this happen.

4. Measure how much fabric you’ll approximately need before going to the craft store.

It’s a little embarrassing to be up at the counter at Jo-Anne Fabric’s holding a bolt against your body trying to guesstimate how much fabric you might need. Take your measurements and have an approximate number in your head (or even better, written down!) before you get to the store.

5. Don’t settle for a material that “kind of works”

Most often, buying a back-up material in case you can’t find the one you really wanted will only be a waste of money. Either you’ll find the right material later, and have lost the receipt or be past the return policy’s window for the backup, or even worse, you’ll use the backup and won’t be happy with the finished result. Try to avoid this as best you can, time and planning are big factors in making this happen. Don’t rush through a project if you can avoid it. And if you do have to compromise for a back-up material, it’s okay, that’s called life. We can’t always get what we want, but it’s always worth the effort to try.

6. Operate the sewing machine’s pedal at a speed you’re comfortable with.

You wouldn’t go mach-10 out of the driveway, so there’s no need to also drop a lead foot on the sewing machine’s pedal. It’ll likely cause the fabric to bunch and is harder to control the direction so you’re stitches might not stay in a straight line. That being said, going too slowly can also have a similar effect if you lead the fabric to the machine too quickly. Try and operate at a moderate speed that keeps the fabric moving but you in control.

This is my mom’s sewing machine, she very kindly let me borrow for crafting.

7. Invest in quality scissors – you’ll waste less fabric this way.

Quality scissors will list on the label that they’re designed for cutting fabric, ideally multiple layers of fabric. With a pair of sharp scissors, material will cut more easily and frey less, which means that you’ll waste less fabric overall because you’re not struggling to get an even line.

8. Sewing in a straight line takes practice.

Don’t compare your stitches as a beginner to someone who has been using a machine for years. Sewing is a skill and you’ll improve over time with practice. In my most recent project, I noticed that the stitches located on the projects in the beginning are more uneven than the ones when I was near the end of the overall project. Through practice, I gained confidence in my ability to operate the machine, as well as improved my technique. I still have a lot to learn and a long way to go, but I won’t be discouraged by measuring myself against someone who excels in this skill.

9. It’s okay to rip out stitches and start over.

We all have to do it at some point. Don’t think of yourself or your project as a failure, just consider it a part of process and keep going. While it’s a pain in the moment, you’ll definitely be happier if you take the time to fix it than if you kept it as is.
Happy crafting!

2 thoughts on “9 Sewing Tips for Beginners that I had to Learn the Hard Way

  1. Beginner here. So, the gnarly knots at the back of my recent projects means that the tension is probably off and my machine doesn’t need to be chucked off the balcony for being broken? I think you may have just spared me a very expensive and foolish mistake. Thank you!


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