You’ve had the opportunity to learn about your machine and experiment with stitch length and width while sewing straight and zigzag stitches. Now, let’s talk about 8 sewing basics you need to know as a beginner.
Note: This post is part of a series called Get Ready to Sew! This series is intended for people who are either new to sewing or have limited sewing knowledge. It’s designed to help you prepare for wildly successful sewing experiences.
Sewing Basics for Beginners
Having the correct posture when you sew allows you to work comfortably and reduces the possibility of experiencing backaches. Make sure you have a chair that supports you. Place the chair in a position so you sit directly in front of the needle on your sewing machine and can sit forward. Don’t rest against the chair back. Your arms should be bent at the elbows and your hands should reach the needle plate.
Your feet should be flat on the floor. The foot you use to push the pedal should be slightly in front of the other foot. You should easily be able to reach the pedal.
2. Needle Plate Measurements
There are lines on the needle plate marked with measurements. These are stitching guidelines and help you keep the stitching parallel to the fabric’s edge by providing a reference for guiding fabric straight when you sew. It’s assumed you have the needle in the center position when you’re using the measurements on the needle plate.
The seam allowance is the distance between the edge of the fabric and the seam or stitched line that holds two pieces of fabric together. The most popular seam allowances are 1/2″ and 5/8″. Unless you are piecing blocks for quilting…then you use a 1/4″ seam allowance.
These 3 popular seam allowances are more than likely marked on the needle plate along with other measurements you may want to use.
3. Fabric Position
As you position your fabric under the needle, the bulk of your material is usually on the left side of the presser foot. That way your seam will be on the right and you can line up the edge of the fabric with the measurement marks or stitching guidelines on the needle plate. The result will be an accurate seam allowance.
4. Hand Positions
Place your right hand about 2-4 inches in front of the needle. Use this hand to guide the right edge of the fabric and keep it on the stitching guideline you need for your project.
Place your left hand lightly on top of the fabric on the left side of the presser foot. You’ll use the fingers on this hand to control the fabric as it moves through the machine.
Your arms and elbows should be lifted slightly and not resting on the table.
5. Foot Control and Sewing Speed
Sewing fast is never the goal. The goal is accuracy.
The foot control allows you to control the speed of the sewing machine. When the presser foot is down and you push on the foot control the machine will sew. When you lift up on the foot control, the machine will slow down or stop.
Some foot controls allow you to set the speed at half or full. Also, some machines have speed control on the machine. Refer to the manual for your sewing machine to see where the speed control is if this option.
6. How to Start and End a Seam
A seam is the stitched line that joins two pieces of fabric.
To start a seam lift the presser foot and make sure the needle is in its highest position by turning the flywheel toward you.
Lightly grab the upper and bobbin threads and pull them back and to the left of the presser foot so you have about a 4-5 inch tail.
Slide the fabric under the presser foot just past the needle. It should be a stitch or two over the fabric.
Line up the right edge of the fabric with the measurement on the needle plate that you need for the seam allowance (the area between the fabric’s edge and the seam).
Lower the presser foot and hold the thread ends so they don’t get pulled under the fabric when you start to sew.
Lightly step on the foot control and take a few stitches before letting go of the thread.
Sew at a steady pace. Remember, accuracy is the goal.
When you get to the end of the seam, raise the needle to its highest position and lift the presser foot.
Pull gently on the fabric to the back and left. Leave a 4-5 inch tail and clip the threads close to the fabric.
Backstitching is used to reinforce the beginning and end of a seam. Refer to your machine’s instruction manual to locate the reverse sewing lever. It may also be called the quick reverse lever or something similar.
- After taking a couple of stitches at the beginning of a seam, lift your foot off the control to stop sewing.
- Push the reverse lever and step on the foot control to go back a couple of stitches.
- Then release the lever and stitch forward to almost the end of the seam.
When you get to within a couple of stitches from the end of the seam, stop sewing, and push the reverse lever. Step on the foot control and go back a couple of inches. Release the lever and stitch forward to the end of the seam.
When you’re sewing around corners or need to change the direction of a seam, you’ll need to pivot the fabric around the needle.
To do this, sew the seam until you get to the place where it will change direction. (You can mark this point before you sew.) Before you pivot, the needle must be in the fabric.
If you stitched a little too far, use the reverse lever to backstitch a stitch or two so the needle is in the right place. If you don’t go far enough, turn the flywheel toward you to move the needle forward a stitch or two.
With the needle in the fabric, lift the presser foot and turn the fabric, pivoting it on the needle.
Lower the presser foot and begin sewing again.
The Next Step
You’ll use the knowledge and skills described in this post every time you sew. These are the sewing basics beginners need to know. It won’t take too long until they all become second nature and you won’t even think about you’re doing when you sit down in front of your sewing machine. Instead, your mind will be able to focus on making and creating things for yourself, your home, and others.
Only two more posts in the Get Ready to Sew! series. Next, you’ll learn what to do at home to keep your sewing machine clean and maintained so it stays in good working condition.
After that, you’ll finish the series by learning about the 4 zones to create in your sewing space.
Hello, I'm Nicki!
I'm a fabric lover who believes in the necessity of having a creative outlet. My goal is to educate and inspire others in sewing-related projects that are fun, functional, or both. Sign up to receive notice when new posts have been published.