It is entirely possible to teach yourself how to sew.

I’m not sure why I was so intimidated to begin. Actually, I do. I was a horrible failure in Family and Consumer Science class back in middle school. I remember calling my teacher over several times during each class when we would work on a sewing project. My thread nested, my machine jammed– I was a mess. Unfortunately, I don’t remember being taught why my machine was jamming, or what I had done to cause the malfunction. I joke about this often, but we had to make a stuffed animal as a graded project and I had my mom complete it for me. I didn’t touch a sewing machine for a few years after that.

On my 18th birthday something inspired me to sew again. I can’t remember what it was but I decided to buy a sewing machine. I picked up a really basic Singer machine with a front-loading bobbin system; with no bells or whistles, I began sewing. I wasn’t a “natural” to begin with, I just wanted to sew.

The bobbin system makes a difference.

Believe it or not the bobbin system that you choose can make a huge difference in your initial success or frustration. Currently, sewing machines are designed with one of two bobbin styles– front loading (oscillating hook) or top loading (drop-in).  The front loading bobbins are metal and are inserted into the bobbin case before being inserted into the actual hook assembly component.  In the drop-in bobbin system, the case for the bobbin routinely stays in the machine unless you’re taking it out for a cleaning.

Looking back, I’m glad that I learned on the front loading style. It caused me so many headaches as a beginner (mainly because I underestimated how important orientation was) but I learned how to troubleshoot. I think that is one of the most important things you can learn, and you’re fortunate if you learn to troubleshoot early. I feel like a lot of beginners give up because they don’t know what to do to solve the problems that crop up when sewing. Which leads me to my next point.

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Read the manual. Seriously.

Manuals are a lifeline. When you’re new to a machine, don’t hesitate to read through the manual before getting started. I still reference my manuals. If you lost yours or inherited a machine that doesn’t have one, they can be purchased inexpensively through the internet.  I recommend referencing the manual for correct threading procedures, bobbin winding, and the correct procedure for inserting the bobbin into the housing assembly. I mentioned earlier that a lot of my initial sewing problems were caused by bobbin issues, but I’ve also threaded incorrectly, skipped tension discs, inserted my bobbin in backwards, placed my thread onto the spoolpin backwards, and the list goes on.

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Don’t watch the needle.

This might be a given, but I didn’t learn it initally. Staring at the needle moving up and down, while fascinating, is going to result in wavy stitching. I focus a small area around directly in front of the presser foot.

Sew straight lines with a guide.

To sew straight, I decide on a mark BEFORE beginning to base my stitching on. For example, if I’m topstitching around the edge of a blanket, I’ll use the 1/4″ line on the throat plate of my machine and keep the edge of my fabric aligned with that marking. You can also use the side of your presser foot as a guide. If this is something that you’ve been struggling with, I’d recommend a seam gauge or placing a piece of masking tape onto the throat plate as a guide. I’ve even used a business card before in a pinch.


Don’t pull or push the fabric.

I was working with my niece a few nights ago and as she was sewing I watched her begin to push the fabric along. This seems so intuitive to us for some reason. Your sewing machine is designed to effectively move fabric as you sew. Sometimes with thicker sections it is necessary to increase the stitch length (since we’re familiar with sewing baby carriers), but it still won’t be necessary to push or pull the fabric. Let the machine do it. The exception here is if the feed dogs are dropped for things like free motion quilting. The jagged “teeth” in the picture below are the feed dogs.

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Change needles often.

This was probably one of my worst offenses when I started sewing. I used the same needle for months, until it broke. Truly I didn’t have any other needle sizes or types on hand for the project that I was working on so I would just use whatever was inserted at the time. If you’re serious about sewing, do yourself a favor and stock up on needles. A few important ones to have on hand would be ballpoint needles for working with knit (stretchy) fabrics, and a variety of sizes in universal needles. Lighter weight fabrics require smaller needles, so if  you’re working on something really delicate, you won’t want to use a denim needle.  If the needle appears (or sounds) to be hitting something, change it. Don’t underestimate the impact that a correct needle will have on your project.

Make sure the presser foot is down when sewing.

This is easy to forget when working on thicker projects, though you’ll notice soon after when you develop a huge thread nest.

Pivot at corners.

If the project has corners, don’t try to sew straight through them. When you reach a corner, stop with the needle down in the fabric, lift the presser foot and turn the project. Then you can lower the presser foot and resume sewing. This will create perfect corners.

Slow and steady wins the race.

Don’t sacrifice seam quality for speed.  There are no awards for lead feet.  If you feel like you need to go slower for accuracy, then by all means, go slower!  I usually sew at a medium pace but that is because if I sew too slowly, I pay too much attention to each individual stitch and then end up with crooked stitching. I truly only sew fast when I am making curtains or sewing on long straight stretches.

What are some areas that have tripped you up in your sewing journey?

You can leave me additional questions in the comments below!