Blog, Sewing for Beginners

How Easy Is It to Learn How to Use a Sewing Machine?

By Jessica Strohlson

Easier than you think!

I’ve heard it multiple times—you want to start sewing, you may even have a sewing machine in the back of your closet gathering dust, but you just haven’t learned yet. You dreamed of creating super cute clothes for you or your children, of making unique napkins and purses, but you don’t know where to start.

Well today, you are going to learn how to get started sewing. Don’t let the large size of the machine intimidate you. Let’s get to it!

woman learning to sew with a whtie sewing machine

Who can learn?

Anyone with a sewing machine! And even if you don’t own one, you can borrow from a friend or relative to get started.

While sewing does tend to come more naturally for detail-oriented people, as long as you put the time and preparation into the work, you’ll be sewing in no time.

Benefits of Sewing

Still need some convincing before you start? Sewing has a plethora of both mental and physical health benefits. Who knew picking up a new hobby could change your life?

Physical benefits

  • Improved hand-eye coordination and motor skills
  • Fights dementia
  • Uses creativity which helps the brain grow new brain cells
  • Good posture 
  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Strengthens immune system

Mental benefits

  • Improved mood and happiness
  • A sense of accomplishment
  • An increase in self esteem
  • Stress relief
  • Increased focus

Other additional benefits

  • You can make alterations to clothes that almost fit
  • You have a new hobby to take up time and provide a topic for discussion
  • You help the environment by reducing the amount of clothes you buy

Starter Supplies

Before you get started, you need to acquire a few key tools for your sewing supplies. Don’t get overwhelmed, we’ll only mention the basics that you’ll need. 

wall of different types and colors of sewing thread
  • Sewing machine: Obviously, you’ll need to get your hands on one of these, whether you buy or borrow one.
  • Fabric: You’ll build up stash as you go, so don’t worry about having a large collection. Start out with calico, also known as basic cotton. It is the most common fabric in sewing stores. Only get the colors you need for your first few projects. As you get more advanced, you can buy fleece and plush fabrics for blankets and PJs, or flannel or tulle for other projects.
  • Thread: Start with white and black thread and add more colors as you go. Remember to also buy thread in the same color as the fabric you are sewing with.
  • Seam ripper: Trust me, you’ll need this, no matter how careful you are. This tool rips apart seams when you mess up.
  • Pins: These hold pieces of fabric together before you sew them. We suggest pins with large heads, since they are easier to see and grab. To store the pins, you’ll need a pin cushion as well.
  • Scissors: Make sure to get a pair of fabric-only scissors. Don’t use them on anything else! This will keep the scissors extra sharp.
  • Bobbins: A bobbin holds the thread that comes up from bottom of the machine. Since it’s time consuming to wind the bobbin every time, you can buy a set of bobbins pre-wound with different colors. Double check the manual to see if your machine uses metal or plastic bobbins.
  • Sewing machine needles: They will break, and you will want them handy. Before purchasing, check what kind your machine uses.
  • Measuring tape: This is a handy tool you’ll never regret having.

Parts of the Sewing Machine

Knowing the parts of the sewing machine can make any class or tutorial easier to understand. So, before we dive into using the machine, let’s take a look.

  • Power switch: Usually this is on the bottom right side of the machine.
  • Spool pin: This is a plastic or metal pin at top of sewing machine, that holds the thread,
  • Thread guide: The thread guide directs the thread from the spool to the bobbin. It is a metal or plastic bit near the needle and is usually marked. When threading the machine, the thread goes through this before the thread take-up lever.
  • Thread take-up lever: The lever is a small metal part on top of the machine which the thread goes through after the guide. Usually, the machine has directions for threading printed on it.
  • Bobbin winder: This piece on top of the machine lets you wind the thread onto the bobbin prior to sewing if you didn’t buy bobbins with fabric.
  • Stitch adjustment buttons: With these buttons (or a touch screen), you can choose the type of stitch, length, and direction (forward or back). Check your manual for specifics.
  • Tension dial: This is a small numbered wheel on one of the sides. It controls the tension. If the thread is too tight, the needle will go to the right. If it is too loose, the thread will loop on bottom of fabric. Most beginners don’t use it and keep it at level four.
  • Needle clamp screw: This piece holds needle in place. It lies under the arm of sewing machine and sticks out the right side of needle. It looks like a perpendicular nail. 
  • Presser foot: A metal attachment under the needle, the presser foot looks like a small ski. It holds the fabric in place and directs it through the machine.
  • Presser foot lever: This part will be on the right or back of the needle assembly. Before you begin, practice raising and lowering it.
  • Feed dog: This is the metal guide under the presser foot that moves fabric through machine. It looks like two small rows under the foot.
  • Bobbin cover and bobbin release: Under the metal plate, the bobbin cover is where the bobbin is placed and covered. The bobbin release opens it.

How to use a sewing machine and how easy it can be

man fixing a belt with a sewing machine

Now for the moment you’ve been waiting for: using the sewing machine!

Begin by placing the machine on a sturdy surface, with the needle end of the machine on the left and its body on the right.

Before plugging in the machine, install a needle with the flat side towards the back. Tighten the thumbscrew to hold it tight. Wind and insert the bobbin according to the manual’s directions. Thread the machine by taking the thread from the spool through the thread guide and then the take-up lever, using the guide printed on the machine.

Next, pull the thread through the eye of the needle front-to-back. Put the thread under the presser foot and pull it towards the back of the machine. 

With your right hand on the presser foot lever, make one complete needle up/down revolution. Pull up on the needle’s thread. It should have caught the bobbin thread. Pass a pair of scissors between the presser foot and the plate to pull the looped thread out. You should have two ends of threads, one from the needle and one from the bobbin.

Now you can plug the machine in and turn it on. Plug the petal in as well and place it under your dominant foot.

Start with a straight stich and medium length. Use scrap fabric at first.

Line the fabric under the needle and put the bulk of material to left of machine where it is open.

Lower the presser foot onto the fabric, then press on the petal like a car and guide the fabric either straight or curved. Hold the two ends for the first few stiches.

At the end of the line, sew a bit in reverse back over the last few stitches. This finishes the seam and prevents it from coming undone.

Next use the hand wheel and move the needle to highest position. Raise the presser foot, pull out the fabric and cut the thread, leaving a tail from the machine for next the seam. Move the needle to the top of its travel with the hand wheel before starting a new seam.

Try Out a Test Seam

Now you know how to sew a straight line, but what about a seam? Here, we’ll walk you through sewing a test seam.

Place two pieces of fabric together with their outsides (“right” sides) placed together. Usually, the right side is more vibrant in color.

Prepare to sew the seam 1/2inch to 5/8 inch from the edge.

Place pins to hold the fabric together. You can sew over these or remove as you go.

The seam will end up on inside of the fabric.

Sharp Corner

Ready for a challenge? Let’s try out a corner!

At the end of a row, lower the needle all the way into the fabric with the hand wheel. Raise the presser foot and rotate the fabric 90 degrees. Next, lower the presser foot and resume. That’s all there is to it!

Resources

Still think you need extra help? Don’t worry! There are plenty of resources for you and your sewing career.

Many local sewing shops offer classes for beginners. A quick Google search for sewing shops or classes near you will give you plenty of options.

If you prefer a self-guided online course, we recommend Crazy Little Projects’. It’s completely free, and it covers everything from sewing in a straight line to inserting zippers.

For a YouTube series, Good Housekeeping has plenty of videos on their channel for beginners.

Lastly, if you prefer a how-to book, First Time Sewing: The Absolute Beginner’s Guideis a simple guide to all the basics.

Beginner sewing projects

So now that you have the basics, you’re probably wondering, “What can I sew?” We advise you to start small and gradually work your way up so you don’t get overwhelmed. For your beginning projects, look on Google, YouTube, or Pinterest for

  • Anything with straight lines
  • Nothing with frills or embellishments
  • Household items—blankets, pillowcase, pillow, cloth gift bag, burp clothes, key fobs, zipper pouches, koozies, aprons, fabric napkins, tote bags

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