You want to sew your own clothes, but you’re worried it might be too difficult. We’re busy people. We have jobs, families, friends, and homes to take care of. It’s perfectly reasonable to wonder how hard it is to learn to sew.
Sewing can be as simple as fixing a hole in your favorite jeans or as challenging as piecing together a ballgown. Learning to sew is no harder than learning how to bake pastry or build a bookshelf. Like any new skill, it is best learned one step at a time, with lots of practice.
Of course, getting good at anything does take work! You might have an expensive mixer sitting on your kitchen counter. But owning the mixer doesn’t mean you can make a batch of perfect puff pastry dough It takes years of practice to develop baking skills. Likewise, owning a sewing machine won’t turn you into a professional seamstress overnight. You can become a sewing expert if you put in the time. Or you can teach yourself just enough to accomplish a simple sewing task. It’s up to you!
Is Sewing Hard to Learn?
Learning any new skill can be challenging. The good news is that there are steps you can take to avoid some of the frustrations of the learning process!
Start with why: Why do you want to learn how to sew? What do you want to accomplish? Think about what kind of sewing you want to learn. Do you want to craft the cute cross-stitch designs you’ve seen on Pinterest? Or do you just want to sew up a hole in your jeans without leaving an unsightly lump in the fabric? The single most important choice you can make at this point is deciding what kind of sewing you want to learn. That way, you can focus all your research, practice, and preparation on mastering that skill. You don’t want to try to learn everything at once!
Choose your tools: It’s also a good idea to consider whether you want to learn hand sewing or machine sewing. Hand-sewing can be easier because it is cheaper; you may only need to purchase a needle and a spool of thread to get started. On the other hand, if you want to sew clothing, you probably need to learn how to operate a sewing machine.
Pro-tip: dollar or thrift stores are a great frugal place to look for these simple tools!
Focus on the beginner steps: Anyone can learn how to sew a ballgown (really, anyone can learn how to sew anything) but you shouldn’t take this on as your first sewing project! It’s best to start with a project that allows you to practice basic skills. If you want to sew clothes, you will need to learn how to use a sewing pattern, how to cut out the pieces of your garment, and how to pin and sew the pieces together. Once you master these skills, you can sew as many ballgowns and prom dresses as you like!
Don’t give up: Remember, learning a new skill takes practice. Don’t make the classic mistake of comparing your beginner projects to an expert’s work. Yes, the textile artist you follow on Instagram probably does post gorgeous, intricately hand-stitched quilts. If you keep working at it, you might be posting those pics in a couple of years! Right now, though, you need to learn how to thread a needle. Give yourself some grace and embrace the messy stages of your learning process.
Is Sewing Worthwhile?
Now that we have the pep talk out of the way, let’s think about the fun stuff! What are the benefits of learning to sew?
- Are you a creative person? Sewing is a great way to express yourself artistically!
- Do you want to save money? If you learn how to sew, you can give hand-sewn gifts, mend your clothes, and upcycle old clothes!
- Are you energy-conscious? Sewing your own clothes and household items can be a great way to go green.
- Do you want to create your personal style? Store-bought is great, but if you like to stand out from the crowd, make yourself something that no one else is wearing!
- Want to keep your mind sharp? Learning any new skill allows your brain to build new neural connections. The more you practice, the stronger those connections get, and the easier it is to sew!
- Clothes don’t fit off the rack? Custom make or alter existing clothes to fit.
- Are you quarantining or social distancing right now? No worries, you can teach yourself how to sew with some of the helpful tools described later in this article.
How Long Does It Take to Learn to Sew?
This is the big question. You probably want to know how many minutes and hours you have to put in before you can sit down in front of your sewing machine and whip out a sundress like it’s nothing. You’re dreaming of the day your friends cast admiring looks at your outfit and ask where you bought it. You might even be practicing the way you will casually shrug while you answer, “Oh, this? I made it yesterday.”
Brace yourself: the honest answer is that it could take anywhere from a few days, several months, to a couple of years before you can create consistently excellent sewing projects.
The good news is that you can sew nice, simple projects while you are still learning. Keep in mind that following sewing directions is a lot like following a cooking recipe or woodworking plan. If you take it one step at a time and do what the cookbook or plan says, the project should turn out okay!
Can I Teach Myself to Sew?
Absolutely! Everyone has a different learning style, but here are some suggestions to get you started.
First, learn how to use your tools. If you are sewing by hand, learn what the different kinds of needles are for and how to complete basic stitches; if you are using a sewing machine, learn how to thread the machine, how to load the bobbin, and how to adjust the settings. There is nothing more frustrating than trying to untangle a piece of fabric that is sewed into a knot because the machine wasn’t set up correctly!
This is similar to the first learning step; fair warning, though, that this may well be the steepest part of the learning curve for most people. You’re going to need to learn the lingo – the world of sewing is rich with a lot of unique vocabulary! Sewing patterns use terms like “selvage”, “baste”, and “stay stitch”. Google is your friend! Look it up before you move on.
Another essential step is to find learning resources that work for you. We’ll look at these in detail below, but it’s a great idea to find an expert to explain things to you before you start. Why reinvent the wheel? If someone else has it all figured out, why not learn from their experience?
You’re almost there! The next step in your learning-to-sew process should be selecting a beginner project. If you’re wondering what an easy sewing project might be: first, look for a project with a maximum of six pieces or seams – the fewer the better. Second, select a fabric that is easy to work with. Sewing with slippery or sheer fabrics like satin and tulle to be very challenging. Making an evening gown really is an advanced project. Whatever beginner project you pick, it’s a good idea to use a sturdy, easy-to-work-with fabric like cotton.
Once you have checked those tasks off your list, be sure to read through the pattern or directions before you start sewing.
At long last, you get to start sewing. Take it slowly. Tell yourself that completing your first project is about learning key skills, not about turning out a perfect pillowcase.
If you run into trouble, retrace your steps; think through each stage of the project and see if you can spot where you went wrong. If you are using a machine, take a moment to completely rethread the machine. If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, take a break! You are learning a fun new skill. You don’t have to master it all in one sitting.
Give yourself a pat on the back when you finish your first project! No matter what it looks like, celebrate your success. You tried something new and learned a valuable skill.
How to Learn to Sew
Where can you go to learn how to sew? There are so many options! Choose one that works for you and for your budget!
Local Sewing Classes
If you can afford it, attending a local class is an excellent way to get an in-depth introduction to the basics of sewing. Here is an example of a great local sewing class. Fabric stores like Jo-Ann Fabrics typically offer beginner classes as well.
If you prefer to learn at home, there is a wealth of online courses you can choose from. Some are free and some require payment. The good thing about committing to a whole course is that it will introduce you to all the basic skills you need in a logical order, so you can build on the foundation of what you already know.
Let’s be honest: we all use YouTube when we don’t know how to fix something around the house, or tie a bowtie, or change a tire! YouTube is the perfect tool for learning any individual skill. If you want to learn how to embroider a leaf, YouTube offers thousands of videos that show you how to create the leaf, one stitch at a time.
YouTube is hands-down the best resource (besides the manual that should have come with your machine) if you are having trouble learning to use your sewing machine. If you are struggling, you’re not alone! Lots of beginners find learning the intricacies of these machines to be daunting. YouTube is the place for you! Thousands of accomplished sewists have posted instructional videos that demonstrate how to use a sewing machine.
Pinterest is a great place to compile vision boards of your dream sewing projects; it’s also a handy way to pin sewing tips and tricks to save for later.
Have a question about a sewing issue? There is a huge online community of people who sew. Someone out there undoubtedly has an answer for you! Sewingsupport.com offers a list of some of the most popular sewing forums.
What to Sew as a Beginner
Okay, you are all pumped up about learning to sew! What should you pick for your first project?
- Look for beginner-level patterns. If you want to sew clothes, the easiest piece of clothing to sew is probably an A-line skirt or pajama bottoms. Here’s a pro-tip about sewing patterns: patterns use different sizing than ready-made clothes, so it is very important to pick a sewing pattern based on your measurements, not on what size of clothing you would buy in a store.
- Choose a fabric that is easy to work with (such as cotton). Stay away from satin, tulle, and velvet. They are lovely, but these fabrics require advanced skills.
- Pick a project that is mostly straight lines, not curves (whether you are sewing by hand or by machine). A pillowcase, tea towel, or a-line skirt are all good beginner projects.
- Using upcycled fabric such as old tablecloths or curtains instead of buying new fabric can be a great way to practice, save money, and go green.
There are lots of great, frugal ways to save money while you learn to sew. That said, sewing can be a pricey hobby if you purchase all the bells and whistles. Some sewing machines cost upwards of $1000 or more! It is a good idea to dip a toe in the sewing waters and start with simple tools while you find out if sewing is a passion for you; after all, a good beginner-level sewing machine sews just as straight a seam as a fancy thousand-dollar machine.
You don’t have to be born under a special sewing star to become a talented sewist. You do have to be willing to put in the time and effort to learn new skills. Is this the right hobby for you? Are you going to take the first step down this rewarding path? Leave a comment below with your thoughts!