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Beginner Sewing Strategies
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Glenn S

Locale: Snowhere, MN
Beginner Sewing Strategies on 05/10/2014 21:42:39 MDT Print View

Ok, so I've owned a grand total of one spool of thread in my life. I've never sewn, but am an otherwise fairly well rounded handyman and pretty mechanically inclined, so I have confidence I could learn the skill, given time, patience, and direction.

I've recently ran into a guy at work that repairs old machines on the side. He apparently has around 15 old heavy duty machines lying around, and said he could hook me up with a good stout unit for a scary low price.

I've been hesitant about taking on sewing as a hobby, but with this new found resource, it wouldn't be a huge financial plunge to get started. So my level of interest is peaked.

So where do I begin? I've looked for beginner classes near home, and I've found only one, on weekends, when I work of course. So I thought I'd ask here. Maybe a few of you could point me in the right direction for a good web resource, some good beginners books, a simple starter project that you had good luck with, or anything else that would be worthwhile considering if I were to pick up a machine and start playing with it.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Beginner Sewing Strategies on 05/10/2014 21:54:13 MDT Print View

First of all, my theory is that sewing machine repair guys are always trying to sell secondhand sewing machines because that increases the population of old sewing machines that will require future repair by the same guys.

If you think that you sew through lots of heavy fabrics, heavy denim, leather, etc., then you can really get the advantage of the older machine with the old metal parts.

On the other hand, now that many of us sew only the lightest fabrics, cuben, silk, silnylon, etc., we don't really need all of the mechanical power of the old machines.

About four years ago, I decided that I needed my first sewing machine, so I purchased a modern (lightweight) machine for a mere $80. It has suited me fine.

I didn't see any beginner classes either, so I just taught myself the oldfashioned way. I bought some simple pattern, and I first assembled the project using cheap fabric because it turned out to be junk. Then I used the same pattern and good fabric for the second try. That turned out well, and I'm still using the result.


jerry adams
(retiredjerry) - MLife

Locale: Oregon and Washington
Re: Re: Beginner Sewing Strategies on 05/10/2014 22:27:12 MDT Print View

I agree with Bob, probably modern one is best

Ray Jardine has some tips

or has some articles



or the many articles here if you're a member

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Beginner Sewing Strategies on 05/11/2014 03:00:11 MDT Print View

Some of the old metal machines (like old Singers) can sew anything from fine silk to chaff sacks. Most modern machines can only handle the light end.

But MYOG is a terminal addiction :-)


Dustin Short
(upalachango) - MLife
Re: Beginner Sewing Strategies on 05/11/2014 11:04:06 MDT Print View

Learning is simple enough, do some mild googling of flat felled seams, then sew a 10x10 flat tarp. Once you've dealt with the issues of handling 100sq ft of slippery material, prepared and successfully sewn 10ft long straight seams, you'll be a good deal through the learning curve.

After I made my first tarp which was god awful but more than functional, most of the worry disappeared. I then just learned to take my time and plan a little bit more. Sewing is a lot more prep than it is actual skill on the machine.

Jennifer Mitol
(Jenmitol) - M

Locale: In my dreams....
Re: Re: Beginner Sewing Strategies on 05/11/2014 15:27:43 MDT Print View

You tube has been my best friend.

I also did find a class that ended up being a one-on-one for $50. And the machine she taught the class on just happened to be the same machine I had. Nice!

But lots and lots of help on you tube,

David Scheidt
(dscheidt) - F
sew. on 05/11/2014 17:50:26 MDT Print View

That's my strategy for teaching people: sew. Find something you want to do, and sew it. Don't figure you need to start out by making an apron or a pillowcase because that's what beginners do. (Of course, if you want an apron or pillowcases, by all means start there.) Stuff sacks are useful, and dead easy, but really, much MYOG is pretty easy, and as someone said, the real work is in the planning and cutting. Sewing is straightforward.

As for what machine, cheap new machines are generally crap. Some of them work well out of the box, some don't. Parts availablity sucks, and they're a pain to work on. (and taking them to a mechanic will quickly exceed both their value and the price of buying brand new one.) There are plenty of vintage machine that are crap, too, but most of them have been thrown away, so what's left are good. If you're not going to spend some money on a machine, a vintage one is the best bet. MYOG isn't usually too demanding of an activity, and all you need are a few stitches. If you trust the guy who sells the machines, you're probably better off dealing with him than spending the same money on a cheap new machine.

Paul McLaughlin
(paul) - MLife
Re: Beginner Sewing Strategies on 05/11/2014 17:55:34 MDT Print View

First I made a stuff sack. then I made a daypack. I looked carefully at how gear in the shops was sewed and tried to imitate (harder now that some stuff is welded!). An old resource but good if you can find a copy - "Lightweight Camping Gear and How to Make it" I believe by Gerry Cunningham. Gear details have changed, but seams - not so much.
Buy some fabric cheap and experiment with seams. Also some webbing or tape and experiment with reinforcing where you sew webbing to fabric. pull on it till it rips and you'll get a lot if information. Experience is a pretty good teacher.

Heavy duty machines are great for heavy stuff but for ultralight gear the fabrics are so light it doesn't take as much to do the job. Packs will have the most layers of stuff and webbing and so on. I learned (and made a lot of gear)on a 1947 Singer Featherweight (still have it) which only went forward and back, no zigzag or anything. Now I have a newer machine that does zigzag and such, and that is very handy.

Glenn S

Locale: Snowhere, MN
Re: Beginner Sewing Strategies on 05/11/2014 20:08:36 MDT Print View

Oh yeh! Some awesome ideas and threads of thought. Love it, thanks!

I've been talking to this guy and explaining what my intentions for the machine are. I brought in my MB Tachyon and showed him, as a fabric example. He says he's going fabric shopping with some gal this week, and she does lightweight stuff. He'll try some of the light fabric on the machines, to make sure it'll work for me. It won't cost me over $30, and I won't have to pay him until I'm sure I like it. This isn't a "business deal", as much as it's just one guy helping out another.

Looking like I'll need some good sheers, 100% polyester thread, a bunch of needles, and an old $1 tent from a garage sale. Then just some long hours practicing. Oh, a seam-ripper seams like something I'll certainly be needing as well!

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Re: Beginner Sewing Strategies on 05/11/2014 20:11:01 MDT Print View

This isn't obvious, but you will need to buy lots of pins.


Nick Smolinske
(Smo) - F

Locale: Rogue Panda Designs
Re: Pins on 05/11/2014 20:57:31 MDT Print View

A couple notes,

Pins are great for some things. I've learned to go without them in most situations, because they can be tedious to use. But sometimes you just need them. I've used them for a climashield quilt (essential), and I use them for tight spaces where I would need three hands to keep the fabric in place. I also would highly recommend them for sewing zippers onto stretchy tent fabrics.

If you have a Jo-ann's near you, they pretty much always have a 40% or 50% off coupon. A good place to go to get some nice shears . . . and not much else in my opinion.

And a seam ripper is great, but be extremely careful with it on lightweight fabrics. Mine will rip silnylon very easily.

David Scheidt
(dscheidt) - F
begining notions... on 05/11/2014 21:01:50 MDT Print View

A short list of things that are handy. This is, very roughly, in order of importance to me. Things at the top of the list are nearly essential, things later aren't, but a lot depends on what you're doing and preference.

* Shears (I'd start with a set of 8" bent handle shears, I like these: )
* a 60" fiberglass tape measure
* seam rippers (there are different styles, try a few to see what works for you)
* an assortment of needles (sharps or microtex in 10,12,14 would be a good start)
* a metal or plastic rule 24 or 36" long (several, in different sizes, are handy. Wood isn't any good, it warps)
* things to mark on fabric with, both permanently and not. I use washable markers for many removable marks, and grease pencils for permanent marks
* an iron and something to use it on.
* a small sewing scissors
* thread snips
* painter's tape
* very sharp pins (I have exactly six pins in my pin cushion, and almost never use them. Many people seem to use them a lot, though.)
* a pin cushion
* a few hand sewing needles
* pattern paper (brown kraft paper is okay) for making patterns and templates
* tweezers
* hemostat

Things like thread, velcro, zippers, straps, hardware, etc can be bought to suit a planned project. If you do lots of work, it's worth buying extras of the things you use, so you have spares or can whip something up on the spur of the moment.

There are lots of others things can be useful (and I'm sure I missed something essential...), but you buy those as you need them.

Taking notes is a good idea. It's also useful to take pictures of things as you work on them, so you can remember what you did.

Nick Smolinske
(Smo) - F

Locale: Rogue Panda Designs
Hemostats on 05/11/2014 22:34:35 MDT Print View

A hemostat! I had to look that up. It looks super useful. Where do you find one of those?

Also, depending on what you're going to make, a framing square is awesome. Not much use for a tarp, great for smaller stuff. Mine was 7 bucks at Home Depot. It makes it super easy to cut rectangles, trapezoids, etc. I can't believe it took me so long to buy one, as a matter of fact. If I had to have only one measuring device, the framing square would be it. That said, I have six tools to measure fabric and I use them all. Different tools for different uses.

David Scheidt
(dscheidt) - F
Re: Hemostats on 05/12/2014 08:04:48 MDT Print View

A friend who works in a hospital gave me a couple pairs, but they're readily available. I suspect drug stores sell them, and failing that, amazon does. I use curved ones more than straight, but curved are useful too. About six inches is the length I find most useful.

I have a tailor's square, like this one: and a C-thru L-square, about 8x8. Both are super handy, and the same idea as the framing square. (The tailor's square has quarter, third, half, and 2/3 scales on the back, which is useful for pattern making.)

Also, a forgot to mention a seam gauge. It's useful for lots of little things at the machine or pressing. are a good source for many of the tools I've mentioned, as well as for thread, zippers, buttons, etc. (If you know what you want, or willing to buy without seeing it.) Good prices, good service, fast cheap shipping.

I also make lots of folding and pressing jigs out of oak tag. Oaktag is what manilla file folders are made of, and it's traditionally what production patterns were made on. Get some file folders to cut up to make jigs and templates from. (Heck, if you're rich and got space, get a roll of oak tag. 100 bucks buys a 300' x 48" roll, which is a near life time supply for most non pattern makers.)

jerry adams
(retiredjerry) - MLife

Locale: Oregon and Washington
Re: Re: Hemostats on 05/12/2014 08:29:42 MDT Print View

paper bags from grocery store make good patterns

David Olsen
( - M

Locale: Channeled Scablands
Safety pins, 6 ft ruler on 05/12/2014 09:17:36 MDT Print View

I don't use pins when sewing things I have made before, as I know what part of the project to sew first. Occasionally I use small safety pins (instead of sewing pins) when doing repairs. Less likely to poke myself and they hold things together more securely.

I like a 6' yard stick that can more than span a width of the fabric.

Edited by on 05/12/2014 09:19:01 MDT.

Jennifer Mitol
(Jenmitol) - M

Locale: In my dreams....
Re: Safety pins, 6 ft ruler on 05/13/2014 07:20:59 MDT Print View

Thanks guys! This stuff is great info!!!!

Chris Zimmer is helping me try to put together my first pack. I'm super excited!!!

But I do think I want to make a summer blanket.......seems like it would be pretty darned easy, right? Just a big pillowcase with some apex in there?????

jerry adams
(retiredjerry) - MLife

Locale: Oregon and Washington
Re: Re: Safety pins, 6 ft ruler on 05/13/2014 07:33:09 MDT Print View

Sew around the perimeter through fabric/Apex/fabric

Otherwise, over time, the Apex will shift and you will have places with no Apex

Down is a little lighter weight for the same warmth, especially for a warmer quilt, so some day you may want to try that