And so starts Part 2 of our Introduction to Sewing…If you missed part one, click here. We are going to try and teach you all you need to know to get started sewing. If you’ve tried learning how to sew before but felt like you couldn’t quite get it, hopefully we’ll be able to help you troubleshoot those issues as we go! Right now, we will go over some of the terms from Part 1. We’ll help walk you through getting the right supplies for our first project (which we’ll start in a week or two…it will be hand sewing, so you won’t need a machine just yet).
I have been told time and time again “I wish I knew how to sew” or “sewing is so hard,” or “I never really got it.” We want to help with that! Sewing does not have to be hard. I admit that it is not for everybody and that some people will “get it” faster than others. But if you have a sincere interest in sewing, you will figure it out. Personally, I think that a huge reason people think sewing is hard is because they do not have good tools or the right tools for the job.
You might think that thread is thread…it’s all the same, who cares, big whoop. Well, you’re wrong. It matters, and it matters a lot. My go-to thread is always Coats and Clark’s, and for my purposes I almost exclusively buy their all-purpose thread (unless I have a special project). My mom will venture out and use other threads, but she quilts, and for quilting purposes, there are other threads out there that are better. Her favorite brands are Signature, Aurafil, Coats & Clarks, and Connecting Threads.
There is heavy duty thread that is used for things like upholstery, leather, or denim/jean fabrics. There is quilting thread. There are metallic threads, cotton threads, and polyester threads. The all-purpose thread that I use is sometimes a mix of cotton and polyester, though sometimes it’s just cotton, and sometimes it’s just polyester. What’s the difference? Polyester has some give to it, cotton, not so much. For things that won’t encounter any kind of stretching, cotton is fine (like pillows or curtains), but for things like clothing, the polyester will help prevent popped seams. Whatever it is you are working on, you are going to want the right thread for the job. For the purposes of this “class” I would suggest you pick up some Coats and Clark’s Dual Duty all-purpose thread, unless I tell you otherwise for a specific project. Don’t get the cheap thread at Walmart, don’t try sewing with those mini thread spools that are for travel kits. You’ll regret it. It will make you hate sewing. Don’t do it! These threads are not high quality, they break and shred easily and you will find yourself re-stitching stuff. They are fine only for a temporary fix.
But wait, there’s more! (I know, I sound like an infomercial.) Really though, there’s more to know. Your spool of thread should tell you everything you need to know about that thread. It should tell you what it’s for (heavy duty, all-purpose, quilting…), it should say how much thread is on the spool in yards (remember, 3 feet to a yard) and typically there are 3 lengths that you will find: 225, 325, and 400. There are other spools out there that are much larger. Spools for quilting often come in larger sizes, and there are spools for specialized machines called sergers (though the thread can be used in other machines). Your spool will often have a sticker on both ends, and one side will sometimes give you the name of the color of your thread or the number of the color. There is also a number on a lot of spools, and that’s to differentiate between the different kinds of threads and sizes of spools…it has more to do with pricing than anything.
Your mission: Go find yourself some thread! You’re going to be picking out some fabric as well, so pick out a color that coordinates well with your fabric. Look for something all-purpose, and if you can’t find Coats and Clark thread, ask the person in the fabric department (or somebody who works in the store) what thread is the best quality all-purpose thread.
Right now, we are talking about needles for hand sewing. You are going to want to get yourself a set of needles that are for hand sewing. The package is nearly always labeled. I personally am not a huge fan of the needles that come in those little circles…they work, but I find the packaging very irritating, and sometimes they have a special eye that is supposed to make threading your needle easier, but I find that they just cause me more problems than they are worth. My personal favorite kind of needle for hand sewing are fine embroidery needles like these size 7 embroidery needles. I’d actually prefer something closer to a 5, but this will still work for most fabrics easily, and will thread much more easily than needles with very fine eyes.
I am not opposed to having a pack of multi-sized needles like the one I linked to. That’s probably a great place to start since you will be able to try out different sized needles and find one that is comfortable for you. The really small, slender needles are for fine, delicate hand sewing, but the longer ones with a slightly bigger eye are easier to handle and easier to thread. For basic hand sewing, you want a needle that’s probably about 1 1/2″ long if you are a beginner.
If you get a really thick needle, it will make your sewing life harder…thicker needles are harder to pull through your thread and are really meant for jobs like leather-work and upholstery.
Your mission: find needles that will work for you. If you’ve never used a needle..no fear! Get a pack of multiple sizes and play around with them until you figure out what you like best.
*Important*:Sewing needles are extremely easy to lose! Since they don’t have a head, they are harder to spot than a pin and they can easily roll into cracks in floorboards or get jammed into carpet without your noticing. Do yourself a favor and keep a pincushion next to you while you work. When you stick your needles into the pincushion, always leave a tail of thread on your needle to make it easier to spot. Kids make life so much harder…they will jam your needles all the way into your pincushion or take them out and drop them on the floor for you. Stepping on a pin or needle is never fun, but if you have babies crawling around, it’s extremely dangerous. Work safely!
Which brings me to our next topic…pins. Be safe with your pins. Nothing quite compares to unwittingly walking on a pin, and it can stay sore for days afterwards.
There are a few different kinds of pins for sewing. They do not all have that classic yellow ball head. When I work with clothing, I more often than not use small silver pins with a small silver head. They tend to be sharper which is important when you need to be certain that your thread will not snag the fabric (like on a wedding dress). But they are easier to lose and harder to spot while you are working. The main thing is that you find a SHARP pin. The same goes for needles. A dull pin or needle will have a much harder time piercing your fabric and can pull the fibers on fabric. My favorite pins are actually the ones with the cute, colorful heads, and are about 1 1/2-2″ in length, but yellow ones usually stand out better amidst the fabric. A longer pin is easier to work with (just like with a needle) than a shorter one. There are pins with heads that are short, and you WILL wish they were longer. Brand doesn’t matter terribly, but Dritz and Clover always have good sewing products. Singer usually has decent products, but I admit that I don’t always like their stuff…if I have the option, I buy one of the other two brands.
Your mission: If you do not already have a pack of good pins, go get some. Pins are a beginner’s best friend. I am comfortable enough sewing that I often skip the pins, but they are important for complicated piecing, cutting out patterns, and holding things down for hand sewing.
I said it above, and I will say it here. Your scissors for sewing are special. They are sacred. No, not really…but it’s really important that you treat them with tender loving care. They should be used for cutting fabric and thread, clothing pattern pieces are okay, and things like interfacing or batting or ribbons are fine too. (If you don’t know what interfacing and batting are, that’s okay, we’ll get there someday 😉 ) Don’t use them to cut regular paper, don’t use them to cut open packages in the kitchen. Don’t used them to cut wires or weird, thick, chunky things… save that for your everyday scissors.
If you get the scissors I linked to, be careful, because they are that sharp. You might just laugh maniacally at how amazingly well they work. That’s a really great price for those scissors too! I recently bought some Fiskars basic sewing scissors, and they are really nice, but for my sister’s bridal shower a few years ago, I got her the expensive super sharp Fiskars, and I remember her being floored by how sharp they were (better than the standard). If you try cutting thread or fabric with dull scissors, it will probably make you want to cry.
As I said before, here’s something a lot of people don’t know…they want to get into sewing, so they buy all of the cheapest tools and materials to get started. They think sewing is impossibly difficult, and they quit. The thing is, all of that cheap stuff is probably the cause of the problem. Dull scissors will make sewing work miserable. Dull needles and pins will make it exceedingly frustrating. Poor quality thread will most definitely lead to tears. Don’t do it. Don’t make your life miserable.
This includes sewing machines. If you get a great deal on a quality machine, that’s different, but if you want to do a lot of sewing, buy something quality (do your research!) and read your manual and maintain it properly. Quality does not always mean spending an arm and a leg, it’s reputation for a product well-made and easy to use. Remember, it’s a machine, so you need to treat it just like any other machine you own. Quality, not cost, and ease of use is what matters most. If you buy or inherit a junk machine, you will not enjoy sewing. With that said, if you inherit a machine, if you know it’s been forever since your sewist grandmother, mother or aunt used it, take it in to be cleaned, oiled and looked over at a sewing machine dealer. Sometimes something very simple like that can make an enormous difference in the way a machine sews. Dust build-up and parts sitting stagnant, possibly in a humid or dusty environment, can cause a really good machine to not sew very well.
Your mission: If you do not already own a pair of sewing scissors, get some. They do not have to be the pair I linked to, just something from the sewing department or a sewing store that will be used exclusively for sewing from here on out. It is not a bad idea to get a second pair of small scissors like these to use for clipping threads. I have a few pairs of each which come in handy when your sewing room is impossibly messy! By the way, you don’t need a sewing room 🙂
For our first project, I want you to go get 2 yards of cotton fabric. We’ll start by practicing some hand sewing, and we’ll make some cute throw pillows for your bedroom or living room or that you can give away as a gift. 2 yards should be more than enough. Pick a fabric you like, and make sure it’s 100% cotton. Don’t get an upholstery fabric, don’t get anything shiny or metallic, nothing stretchy…just basic cotton fabric. It can be any kind of print or pattern, or it can be plain. Get whatever makes you happy or will work for the room/person you are going to make your pillow(s) for. Pick out thread that will coordinate.
Irons come in different sizes and styles, and they can come with all kinds of fancy features. I’ve had a couple of different irons, and when I was working as a seamstress for somebody else, I got test out several different kinds. There was one I used as a seamstress that was more industrial that I loved, but the iron I have now is possibly my favorite thus far, and I got it for about $2 in a thrift store after I broke the one I was using prior. (It’s a Black & Decker.) There are a few things I do look for in an iron. 1) Temperature setting: You should be able to adjust the level of heat your iron puts out. 2) Steam/spray feature: Some fabrics will need steam to really press out the wrinkles, some do not. At times a spritz of water will give added pressing power to your iron. You’ll want to use water that doesn’t have a high mineral content. We filter our well water, and I’ve been using that in my iron with no issues, otherwise you’ll want to keep a jug of …water on hand for filling your iron as needed. 3) A non-stick soleplate: This is pretty standard today, but it will make your iron work more smoothly and help make cleaning your iron easier should you accidentally gunk it up with anything fusible.
Features that you might be interested are the auto shut-off. I don’t necessarily like that feature, because I actually find I am more likely to forget to unplug my iron when leaving a room. While it may shut off, that doesn’t mean it’s completely off. Your kids could turn it back on, or should you knock it over or it fall off your ironing board when you leave the room, there is that small chance it could turn back on, causing a fire. Another feature is a retractable cord. Personally, this one makes no difference to me, but for some it might.
When not in use, your iron should always be in the upright position. If you have water in your iron, it will leak out if you leave it in the downward position. This is also a safety habit you should get used to for when you are working. If you would have your iron on and leave it in the downward position, you could burn your ironing board or start a fire.
Your mission: Find an iron that has adjustable heat settings and allows you the ability to steam your fabrics. The steam feature is not a necessity, but it will make life easier for you. You could always use a spray bottle of water if you are trying to save some money.
There are a few things to know here. First, as I said before, your ironing board does NOT have to fold. I almost never fold mine up, but then again, I have a sewing room. If you have an ironing board for pressing your laundry on, it would be fine to use this…same with your iron. However, if you are going to do lots of sewing and/or you have to press lots of clothing, you may want a second ironing board for this purpose.
Typically, Walmart starts selling fun ironing boards around this time of year for the college students. The legs will come in different colors and the ironing board cover (the fabric part) will come in more varieties of print. If your ironing board cover is looking rough, you can purchase a new one online or otherwise they can often be found in the isle with laundry baskets and other laundry room items.
I have two ironing boards at the moment…one I need to get rid of. They were both inexpensive ironing boards from Walmart and have served me well. The reason I need to get rid of one is that the kids did something to jam the legs on that board, which would be fine, only now there is a thick wire that pokes up into the cover, which makes it nearly impossible to iron larger items.
I think that about covers the very basics. Those items should be enough to get you started. Oh, you should pick up a package of buttons with 4 holes, because the first thing we will work on is sewing on a button 🙂
Your mission: Find an ironing board. You don’t even need to have a full-sized one to get yourself started. Eventually, you will want a standard ironing board, but one of those small ones would work just fine for the time being.
Final Words for Today
I don’t want any of you going out and breaking the bank for this. As with any skill/hobby/profession, it takes some investment to get started. The idea with this series is that you will be able to come back and refer to any of these posts as you are ready…they’ll still be here when you are prepared, but that doesn’t mean you can’t read through them now!
If you have an old iron and ironing board, they will probably do the job just fine to start with. You don’t need a collection of thread to get going, just one spool for now should do the trick…you can even use old thread, though the older it is, the more brittle/delicate it may become with time. I know I’ve used thread that had to be at least 50 years old before without issue, but I always test it before using (how easy it is to break). Your scissors do not need to be the most expensive, but they should be used exclusively for sewing. And you can use pins and needles that are really old so long as they aren’t rusty or bent! I know a lot of people have a sewing basket sitting around somewhere that they never touch…most of that stuff should be fine for getting you started. Not sure if your pins or needles are sharp? Try pinning some fabric or poking through fabric…if it is really hard to get the pin/needle through, you are either using too thick a pin/needle, your fabric is too thick, or your pin/needle is dull. Eventually you should be able to test your pins/needles with your fingertip by gently dragging it across the tip of your finger. If you know somebody who does sew, I bet they’d even be willing to spare a few items if it meant somebody else would share their passion for sewing someday!
I would like you to start thinking about a sewing machine. Do you have one? Does it work? Do you know somebody who would let you use theirs once a week? Let you borrow it indefinitely or let you keep theirs? Yes, you can purchase a new machine (or a used one for that matter), but it’s important to know that your machine is of decent quality. The least expensive machine you find might be a fantastic machine, or it could be really cheap. Next week we will talk about what you should be looking for in a sewing machine, what to do if you are using a used machine, and we’ll show you how to sew on a button.
Since you have requested to know more about what sewing projects I’m working on…here is one of the latest! Miss Lady asked me awhile back to make her some summertime pajamas. She picked out the fabric, thread and the trim, and I dug a pattern out of my collection. It took me roughly 1 1/2 hours to make this…maybe 2 with the time it took to cut out and with interruptions from the kids.
We’d love to hear from you! Let us know if you have any questions, and we will do our best to answer them promptly. If you think there is anything we overlooked or have incorrect, we’d like to know. After all, we want to teach others, not confuse them! And please, pass this on… More people need to know how to sew 🙂 Sharing is appreciated!
Love~Danielle and Trudy