Video: How to Read a Sewing Pattern

Hello sewists!

I recently shared this post on how to choose a sewing pattern for beginners and this post detailing how I applied that to purchase a sewing pattern for a market tote.

Recently someone sent me this video that does a great job of explaining in-depth how to use a sewing pattern by showing the easiest way to read and interpret a sewing pattern. It’s a pretty long video but goes into detail about the process of finding and choosing the pattern you want to try.

Next I’ll be posting a series on sewing notions. Have a great day! – Learn how to sew starting from step one
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Intro to Sewing Machines – The Basic Parts

So you’ve made the decision to buy a sewing machine and are comparing different models, but you have to ask yourself, “What exactly am I looking for?”

Most sewing machines come with a select group of basic features, while more sophisticated machines have more adjustment and stitch options, computerized controls, and more high-tech features that you don’t necessarily need right now. As a beginner, you should be looking for a standard machine with key basic features, but I wouldn’t say you should look for the bare minimum, because there are certain stitches I recommend that not every machine has. Here’s a guide to the most basic parts of a sewing machine and the features you should seek when buying a machine.

This is a basic sewing machine that can be used by any beginner learning to sew - Sew Me Your Stuff

This is a picture of the sewing machine I use. It’s a pretty standard model, so most of its features will be found on the sewing machine you decide to buy.

This is the needle area of a sewing machine, which is important for any beginner learning to sew to study - Sew Me Your Stuff

This is a close up of the portion of the machine that actually stitches the fabric. Its parts include:
1. Needle – This needle pushes the top thread through the fabric
2. Feed dogs – These move the fabric through the machine with each stitch. You just have to use your hands to keep it on the right track
3. Presser foot – This presses the fabric flat as it moves through the machine. Pictured is a standard foot, but there are a wide variety of feet for different specialized stitches such as zipper stitching and buttonhole stitching.
4. Measurement lines – If you’re trying to keep your stitches a particular distance from the edge of the fabric or otherwise need to maintain a certain width to your stitch, use these lines to maintain your width. The 5/8 mark is usually emphasized because that is the standard seam allowance width.
5. Thread Cutter – This can be used to cut your thread when finished stitching. I usually take my scissors and cut close to the fabric without using this cutter to save a little thread.
Not pictured: Presser bar lifter – On this model the lifter is on the back of the machine. This is used to raise and lower the presser foot. Make sure you lower it before you start sewing and raise it when you finish!

This is the lower bobbin and case. This can be a tricky part of the machine for a beginner learning to sew. - Sew Me Your Stuff

This is the lower bobbin, which contains the lower thread. I mentioned in a previous post that sewing machines create stitches using two threads simultaneously, and this is what I was referring to. The bobbin has to be wound before you start sewing, usually with the same thread that goes in the top needle, but not always.

These dials are very important for a beginner learning to sew to understand before you start sewing with a machine. - Sew Me Your Stuff

1. Stitch selector – Use this dial to select your stitch. My machine is currently set to overlock stitch. This part of the machine varies from model to model depending on the number of stitches your machine can perform. At the very minimum you need a straight stitch and a zigzag stitch, but I also recommend overlock as it can be very helpful in finishing raw edges without a serger.
2. Stitch length dial – This dial allows you to adjust the length of your stitches. Mine is set to special stitch, but I typically use 1-2 length for my stitches to make them feel more secure.
3. Handwheel – This can be rotated to activate the needle and stitching function without activating the machine’s motor. Use this for very precise stitches because you can move more slowly through the fabric.
Not pictured: Foot pedal – Just like driving a car, a sewing machine motor is activated by pressing a foot pedal. Press lightly to go more slowly, and press firmly to sew more quickly.

The top of a sewing machine has many tools and objects that a beginner learning to sew should study before operating a sewing machine - Sew Me Your Stuff

1. Handle – Not every machine has a handle, but it is a helpful feature.
2. Spool pin – This is where you place the spool for your top thread. The semi-conical piece holds the spool in place.
3. Bobbin winding spindle & stopper – Place your lower bobbin on the spindle to wind it, and the stopper will make it stop spinning when full.
4. Threading guides and take-up – Your thread is guided through these in sequence to maintain the right tension as it’s fed through the needle into the fabric. My machine has numbers to show the sequence of threading, but if your machine doesn’t have these you should consult your manual.
5. Top thread tension dial – This adjusts the tension of your thread. See your manual for tension recommendations. The bobbin thread tension also sometimes needs to be adjusted, but this is done differently and you should consult your manual. On my machine, it’s done by rotating the screw on the side of the bobbin case.
6. Reverse lever – Hold this down while stitching to stitch in the reverse direction. Reverse stitching at the beginning and end of your stitch will hold your stitches in place.
7. Stitch width dial– Use this to change the width of your stitches.

This is just a brief introduction to all the different parts of your machine, but they’re all parts that you should know before you start sewing. Be sure to experiment on scrap fabric to get acquainted with your machine and feel comfortable with the way it operates!

Happy sewing! – Learn how to sew starting from step one
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Fabric for Beginners Part Five: Types of Synthetic Fabrics

Hello sewists!

I hope your head isn’t spinning too badly from the three posts about common and useful cotton fabrics (one, two, three), because it’s time to talk about more fabrics! Today I’ll focus on synthetic fabrics which are often an inexpensive alternative to natural fabrics.

You probably are pretty familiar with polyester, but there are a wide variety of synthetic fabrics available that mimic or enhance natural textiles. Some are used for very specific purposes while others can be adapted to different garments and crafts and blended with other textiles to create a unique fabric. Here is a basic guide to some of the most common synthetic fabrics you’re likely to encounter.

  • Acetate
    Acetate is commonly used in garment lining, which is a handy thing to know when you're learning to sew - Sew Me Your StuffAcetate is commonly used in garment lining, which is a handy thing to know when you're learning to sew - Sew Me Your Stuff
    Acetate is a fabric made from cellulose with a silky and lustrous appearance. In clothing it is most often found as the lining for garments like dresses, skirts, and other formal or professional wear. Garments containing acetate usually have to be dry cleaned, so as a beginner you may want to stick to lining materials that can be washed in the machine.
  • Acrylic
    Acrylic fabric has some good properties, but natural fibers are probably a better option for someone learning to sew. - Sew Me Your Stuff
    Acrylic fabric is often used to imitate wool or cashmere or in babies’ clothing because it can be cleaned repeatedly without wearing as much as most fabrics. It’s more often used in knitting than in sewing and in home decor. I have never used acrylic since I started sewing, and I feel like a beginner probably will have little use for it and would be better off sticking to natural textiles.
  • Nylon
    Nylon Fabric is a very common synthetic fabric but may not be the best choice for someone learning to sew - Sew Me Your Stuff
    Nylon is one of the oldest truly synthetic fabrics, and it has a million uses. It can be found in home decor, outerwear, athletic wear, swimwear, and even bridal gowns because of its versatility. It’s highly durable and resistant to environmental damage, so it’s often used in outdoor gear. Some say that nylon is a good choice for beginners because it’s inexpensive and versatile, but lots of extra care has to be taken to sew nylon successfully. It can’t be pressed or pinned which are techniques that beginners need to learn, so I would recommend saving nylon for later!
  • Polyester
    Polyester is a really common synthetic fabric that can be very useful for beginners learning to sew - Sew Me Your StuffPolyester is a very common synthetic fabric that can be useful for beginners learning to sew - Sew Me Your Stuff
    I’ve known some girls who have tried to cut polyester from their wardrobes completely, but I’m not sure that’s possible anymore. Polyester can be found in a wide array of garments and mixed with other fibers to create many different fabrics. I think most people associate polyester with imitation silk and don’t realize how versatile it actually is (Side note: If you’re not sure if a garment is polyester or silk, set it on fire. If it burns, it’s silk; if it melts, it’s polyester. Learned that one in China!). As a beginner, polyester can be a good choice because it’s so inexpensive, but I would still recommend avoiding very stretchy knits because those are difficult for beginners. Make sure you use small needles and polyester threads – cotton thread won’t have enough stretch!
  • Rayon
    Rayon is a comfortable and inexpensive synthetic fiber but can be difficult for beginners learning to sew - Sew Me Your Stuff
    Rayon was first introduced as imitation silk, but has since become pretty well known in its own right because it drapes so well and can be used in a wide variety of garments. Rayon is very lightweight and silky which makes for great garments but can cause a lot of headaches for beginners. Beginners using rayon have difficulty cutting the fabric because it slides so much and often need to use interfacing to be able to stitch the  fabric and keep it stable. Maybe after you get more experience sewing stretchy cotton or polyester knits, rayon will be a good choice for making some beautiful garments.

That’s just a quick summary of the most common synthetic fabrics you’ll encounter at your fabric store. The one I would most recommend for beginners is polyester because it’s so inexpensive and versatile. Remember to prewash and preshrink your fabrics, no matter what you’re using!

Happy sewing! – Learn how to sew starting from step one
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July 2012 Summary

If you’ve just recently started reading the Sew Me Your Stuff blog, you might have missed some earlier posts that have really useful information for any beginner who’s just learning to sew. Since it’s the end of the month, here’s a look back at this month’s posts so you can jump to any that you might have missed and want to read.



Tools and Supplies:

Next month I’ll start tutorial videos and project guides once I finally get home from China. Thanks for reading, and I’m looking forward to a very crafty August with you! – Learn how to sew starting from step one
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Fabric for Beginners Part Four: Cotton Fabrics 103

Over the last week or so I’ve shared part one and part two of a basic guide to the most common cotton fabrics, focusing mostly on apparel fabric. Now it is time for part three to wrap it up, and next I’ll talk about some common synthetic fabrics.

If there are any fabrics in particular you would like more information about, let me know!

And now, the last few cotton apparel fabrics I think any beginner sew-er should know:

  • Seersucker
    Seersucker is a cotton fabric with a unique texture but isn't too difficult if you're learning to sew - Sew Me Your StuffSeersucker is a cotton fabric with a unique texture but isn't too difficult if you're learning to sew - Sew Me Your Stuff
    Being from the South, I’m quite familiar with seersucker garments worn in the spring and summer. Funny enough, I was actually told recently by a guy from South Carolina how the unique crinkled texture of seersucker is achieved: the yarn tension is alternated during the weaving process so that certain bunches of yarn clump together and cause the fabric to crinkle. It may look intimidating, but sewing with seersucker is not particularly difficult. It is most often used in men’s clothing but can be used for a wide variety of garments for men, women, and kids.
  • Twill
    Twill fabric is slightly heavy in weight for someone who is learning to sew - Sew Me Your StuffTwill Fabric is slightly heavy in weight for someone who is learning to sew - Sew Me Your Stuff
    Twill is most often identified by the diagonal lines across its surface. It’s most often used for dresswear such as suits and jackets but can also be found in casual bottoms like shorts. It’s a pretty flexible fabric for a lot of different projects, but it is a little heavy for a beginner who’s first learning to sew, and sometimes you have to use a nap pattern which adds a layer of difficulty. After you get the hang of sewing, twill is probably a good choice for projects in the near future!
  • Velveteen
    Velveteen fabric is not particularly difficult if you're learning to sew, but requires some special steps - Sew Me Your Stuff4Velveteen is not particularly difficult if you are learning to sew, but it does require some special steps and care - Sew Me Your Stuff
    There are fabrics made from 100% cotton sold as “velvet,” but what you’re more likely to find is velveteen. It can be used in clothing, but is also great for decorations especially around the holiday. The fabric itself is not difficult to sew, but there are extra steps you have to take to maintain the fabric. You have to lay your pattern out properly to work with the nap, edges need to be finished very well, and when pressing it’s easy to accidentally press the texture out of the fabric. I would recommend holding off on this fabric because of the extra care and sticking to something more low-maintenance. Maybe around the holidays you can grab some velveteen for crafts and projects?
  • Voile
    Voile can make some beautiful garments but is probably too delicate for someone who is learning to sew - Sew Me Your StuffVoile can be used to make beautiful garments, but is probably too delicate for someone who is learning to sew - Sew Me Your Stuff
    Voile is a very delicate sheer fabric that can be used to make draping garments and beautiful dresses. However, it is so delicate that it requires some special care that may be difficult for a beginner. Definitely experiment with this fabric in your future projects, but for now use fabrics that are more durable but still lightweight as you develop your sewing skills!

That’s about it for cotton! There are a wide variety of cotton fabrics from which to choose, but that’s a rundown of what I think are the most common apparel fabrics you’ll encounter in the fabric store. I mentioned before that I didn’t put a lot of emphasis on purely decorative fabrics for upholstery or other furniture, but in the future if you’d like I can cover those as well.

Know Before You Sew: Cotton fabrics tend to shrink when washed, so you’ll need to prewash all cotton fabrics before starting a project. When you buy a cut of fabric, the care instructions are usually written on the bolt so be sure to look at that before you leave. If you buy a remnant, the care instructions are usually on the label.

Happy sewing! – Learn how to sew starting from step one
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How to Choose from the Most Common Brands of Thread

Honestly, when I choose thread for a new project my main criteria is matching color. I’ve never stopped to think about the differences between brands and what’s right for what project until today when I decided to do a little research into the different types of thread and wow is there a lot of information out there!

To help you choose what thread you’d like while you’re standing in the fabric store, I decided to make a little guide to the most familiar brands and their different lines of thread. I’ll include some links at the bottom to more information.

  • Dual-Duty All Purpose
    Dual Duty All Purpose thread is an inexpensive option for people learning to sew - Sew Me Your Stuff
    I mentioned way back in this post that this is the only brand of thread that I’ve really used since I started learning to sew. This thread has a polyester core wrapped in polyester, and polyester thread typically is good for a wide variety of fabrics including synthetics. The polyester core gives it elasticity so the seams can work with stretchy fabric, and the polyester wrapping makes it glide easily through fabric as you sew. I have never had any problems with this thread, though I did find some claims that their sewing machines reject its cheapness. I still say it’s a good choice for a beginner!
  • Gutermann Sew-All
    Gutermann Sew-All Thread is a slightly more expensive thread but works well if you are learning to sew - Sew Me Your Stuff
    This brand is one of the more expensive options at your typical fabric store. As you can see from the picture, it is also 100% polyester. Reviews of this brand say that it is more durable than Coats and Clark, and the thread is more tightly woven so that there are fewer loose strands that can cause issues on a machine. I recommend that if or when you move from hand-sewing to machine sewing, if you’re ready to make the investment this might be a better choice for more serious projects.
  • Sulky
    Sulky thread is mostly intended for embroidery and may not be the best choice if you are learning to sew - Sew Me Your Stuff
    The first time I went to buy thread at the fabric store, I picked up Sulky because it had the closest color to my fabric. Luckily one of the employees thought to ask what I was using the thread for, and I told her I was learning to sew. She told me Sulky is best used for embroidery and isn’t intended to hold seams together. If you’re interested in embroidery, this thread is made from rayon which will lay flat where cotton threads may stand up. It’s displayed in stores right next to all-purpose threads so don’t be fooled! Unless you’re doing embroidery it’s not for you!
  • Mettler Silk Finish Cotton Thread
    Mettler Silk Finish cotton thread is made specifically for cotton fabrics, but may be an expensive choice for someone learning to sew - Sew Me Your Stuff
    This thread is a popular choice among quilters and is intended to be used to sew cotton fabrics. Cotton thread can also be used on linen and rayon, but should not be used on woven fabrics because it won’t have enough elasticity. This thread in particular gets very good reviews for both machine and hand sewing, but it is on the pricey side compared to some of your other options. I say make this purchase after you’ve built up some skill and are ready to make the investment!

So that’s just a look at some of the more common threads you’ll find if you shop in the mainstream fabric stores. I recommend as a beginner that you stick with Coats and Clark for now because it’s inexpensive but still pretty good quality for your beginner projects. When I’m ready to upgrade to a better quality brand I think my next move will be to Gutermann, and I’ll be sure to let you know how it goes!

Here are some more links if you’d like more details. Most of these sort their information by the material used to make the thread:
How to Choose the Right Sewing Thread // Types of Sewing Thread
Is There a Difference in Sewing Threads? >> This one is great because it includes microscopic images of each brand!

Happy sewing! – Learn how to sew starting from step one
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Video: Notions 101

Hello sew-ers! I have to say, it’s a little hard to think of a word to use to describe people who love to sew because I don’t want to call you sewers! We’ll have to come up with something.

The other day here in Shanghai I went to a place called the fabric market to pick up some tailor-made jackets I ordered. The place is full of different vendors trying to get you to buy their scarves or let them make you an outfit, and the walls are lined with fabric bolts and sewing notions. It makes me so homesick! I can’t wait until I get home next weekend and can start posting my own projects and videos to help you learn to sew.

Last week I shared lists of what I recommend that you buy on your first visit and second visit to the fabric store. The other day I came across this video and wanted to share it with you as well. It touches on some of the notions I recommended before and goes more in-depth with your fabric marking options.

You can see when she demonstrates marking fabric with chalk how the chalk pulls on the fabric at first and leaves a thick line. She demonstrates using tracing paper, but personally I haven’t tried tracing paper yet because my mother claimed it doesn’t work when I asked her about it. It looks like it works pretty well in this video. Maybe I can try it next time I go to the fabric store!

Happy sewing! – Learn how to sew starting from step one
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Etsy – Shop Sew Me Your Stuff