Learning to sew may seem a bit pointless, given that you can purchase clothing almost as inexpensively as making it yourself. However, it is actually a very useful skill. If you have even the most rudimentary sewing skills, you can mend holes, sew on buttons and shorten hems. Practice a little more, and you can make your own stylish clothes, which unlike off-the-rack items, will always fit perfectly. Learning how to sew just means mastering a few basic steps:
- Choose a pattern. The first step in learning how to sew is to choose a pattern from which you will make your garment (or curtains, pillow, or whatever else strikes your fancy). For a first project, keep it simple. A vest is an ideal first project, because it lets you practice several different sewing skills, but they're all very basic. You'll need to take your body measurements so that you know what size pattern to purchase. If you need instruction on how to do this, refer to the Threads website.
- Choose a fabric. Once you've chosen your pattern, it's time to buy some fabric. When you're learning to sew, you'll probably want a fabric without a directional pattern. You may also want to purchase a bit of extra fabric, because when you're learning something new, mistakes are inevitable! Your pattern should tell you how much fabric you'll need to buy.
- Wash and iron your fabric. This step is necessary so that your fabric will not shrink after it has been sewn into a garment, and to prevent the dyes from bleeding. Ironing smoothes the fabric surface so that it's easier to cut and sew.
- Cut out the pieces of your pattern. Your pattern will probably have several outlines for each piece. Make sure that you cut along the lines for your size. You will also see an arrow on each piece. This indicates the direction of the grain. The grain of the fabric runs parallel to the selvages, which are the top and bottom edge of the fabric. Most fabric has a white band running along each selvage so that it's easy to identify. Lining up the arrows on your pattern with the grain of the fabric ensures that your garment doesn't stretch more than it's supposed to. In some cases, you may want an item to be a bit more stretchy. In this case, your pattern would instruct you to line up the pattern pieces with the "bias", which is the diagonal grain of the fabric. After you have cut out your pattern pieces, smooth them with a dry iron.
- Cut out the pieces of fabric. Lay your fabric on a large, smooth surface with the wrong side up. Lay the pattern pieces on top of the fabric. Carefully mark around the pieces with a pencil, or pin the pattern pieces to your fabric. Using a sharp pair of scissors, cut out each piece of your pattern. For some pieces, you may need more than one. If so, it should say this on the piece itself.
- Assemble the pieces of your garment. If you are hand-sewing, use a short running stitch of about a quarter-inch. Note the seam allowance on your pattern and be careful to maintain it -- otherwise, your item will not fit properly. In fact, you may not even be able to assemble it completely. You can use a pencil to lightly mark a seam allowance guideline on your fabric if necessary. When you begin a seam, use a backstitch to secure the thread -- that is, bring the needle up through the fabric, then back down slightly behind your previous stitch, then back up just ahead of your first stitch. Never use knots, as they will leave bumps in your fabric. If you are machine-sewing, set your stitch-length to about 1/4". Mark a seam allowance guideline with a small piece of masking tape on the throat plate of your sewing machine. Always assemble the pieces of your pattern in the order noted on the pattern instructions.
You should now have a completed hand-sewn (or machine-sewn) item. When you feel comfortable with these basic steps, try branching out and learning a few new skills. If you need help, or would just like some company while you sew, most fabric shops offer learn-to-sew classes. These can be a great way to meet new friends with common interests and to keep yourself motivated when you run into problems!