so, you want to start sewing. here’s what you should know
Crafty lady Ashlynne McGhee shares her top tips for beginner sewists.
Alright, let’s get really honest with each other: you’re not really here to make a flimsy tote bag with wonky seams are you? Nope? Me neither.
I reckon there are two kinds of aspiring sewists: The first is the ‘insta-spired’; your feed is full of amazing makes, beautiful fabrics and sleek hacks and honestly, it feels safer to lurk there than to venture to a machine and risk a flimsy tote bag with wonky seams. I hear ya. The second is the can-doer of the century who just jumps on in to make a ball gown that, after days of sewing, ends up looking more like a flimsy tote bag with wonky seams. Again, I hear ya.
Now, no one has anything against tote bags, but they do give them away for free. So, if you’re going to spend some time and money (and you don’t need heaps of either) taking up sewing, let’s get you making something a cut above (my only pun I promise!). Here’s my list of essentials:
A QUICK-WIN PROJECT What every beginner sewist needs is a quick win: a project that looks great, doesn’t take weeks and is pretty easy. You want that quick hit of oxytocin when someone asks you where your clothing is from, and with a bit of feigned modesty you get to say “I made it!” while doing some secret inner high-five-star-jump-shimmies.
My pick is the Tessuti Berlin jacket. It’s super quick (half a day max), there are no tricky seam finishes, just lots of straight stitching and easy-to-follow instructions. All Tessuti patterns are hand drafted and I love seeing the pen(wo)manship of the designer. This jacket has strong art teacher vibes with big pockets and goes with everything. Repeat, everything.
Pro tip: the pattern calls for boiled wool, so it doesn’t fray, but you could try an old woollen blanket and zig zag along the edges before sewing it up. It’s cheaper (maybe even free) and a great excuse to wear a blanket all day!
A MACHINE I’m a big fan of low-fi technology because there’s less to break. I use the very basic Brother machine my mum gave me 16 years ago. Pick one up on sale or raid your nanna’s den. There’s a lot of fanciness out there, but even now, when I’m making most of my own wardrobe, I rarely use anything other than the straight stitch and the zig zag.
Pro tip: If you’ve scored a free or second-hand machine, give it some love by paying for a professional service to get it lubed up and chugging along smoothly. Like babies’ bellybuttons, all sorts of gross lint lurks in there and clogs it up.SCISSORS, THREAD AND CHALK Get some sharp ones (not expensive ones) and repeat after me: thou shalt not cut paper with sewing scissors. Thou shalt not cut open snacks with sewing scissors. Really. Not even once. You need them to glide through fabric when you’re snipping.
Pro tip: Match the thread to the fabric by unwinding a bit of thread and laying it against the fabric. It’s always better to go slightly darker than lighter.
PRINTING Patterns are cheaper when you buy the digital version. You can print them on A4 and piece them together into one big page like footy banners, or you can take the cheat’s route and print A0.
Pro tip: I’m all about the cheat’s route – pay $5 to $10 at your local print shop for a low-quality 'plan print' and start sewing sooner.
AN IRON I took up sewing in my teens when, quite frankly, the iron and I were strangers. I either skipped the pattern step that said “press the seam” or I thought, heck – I’ll just press all the seams at the end. Spoiler alert: bad call. All my early makes had soft, baggy seams that just didn’t sit well. Think of pressing as settling in your stitches and making your fabric feel at home in its new folds and seams.
Pro tip: Check what type of fabric you have and how much heat it can take, then iron a scrap first. Use a little steam if your fabric can handle it.HAVE A PLAY Grab an old piece of fabric – something that’s not stretchy – and pop it under your sewing machine’s foot. Give it some gas and sew a few straight lines. Now play with the zig zag. Read your sewing machine’s manual and see what stitch length and width they recommend for each stitch.
Pro tip: Don’t forget to reverse over your stitches at the start and finish, otherwise they’ll unravel. Much sadness.
A KICK UP THE BUM I’d like you to stay here and read more frankie all day, but maybe it’s time to just get started, yeah? Cut out your paper pattern, lay it on your fabric, trace around it and cut it out. Read the instructions and follow them. Pop the fabric in the machine and off you go.
Pro tip: Come back and visit later (once you’re all snuggled up in your new coat) and tell me how it went?
Stay up to date with Ashlynne's sewing adventures at @sewinthewild.