sewing small talk: best advice for new sewists

With the Great British Sewing Bee back in action, there are bound to be lots of people wanting to learn more about sewing. What advice would you offer a new sewist? Can you share any tips or tricks you’ve learned?

And just a quick programming note: over the next two weeks, we’ll be continuing to add new content to our Liesl + Co. Neighborhood Sweatshirt + Hoodie sew-along. So you won’t see many new posts pop up here or in your email if you subscribe to the blog that way. We hope you’ll be sewing along with us! We start the sewing next Monday, so there’s still time to join if you haven’t yet.




  1. I started sewing using free tutorials online. Some were good, but more were incredibly frustrating. I ended up wasting time and fabric all in the name of saving money until I “got better.” It wasn’t until I started sewing with patterns I had paid for (which, coincidentally, happened to be O+S), that my sewing began to yield good results. So my advice is, start with a good pattern.

    1. Tracy

      Thank you for that. There are so many free patterns out there, but that doesn’t mean the directions are good or the pattern is reliable. I’ll stick to tried and true patterns with teaching instructions–I don’t need anything extra to discourage me. 🙂

  2. jax

    Advice: practice, practice, practice. I find many adult learners expect great results right away and get discouraged if their first few items look homemade, not handmade. It is the rare and very special person who is a prodigy the first time they attempt a new to them skill. So practice techniques, make doll clothes, make children’s clothes (I can recommend a fabulous line of patterns), make pouches and bags. Make smaller, low yardage items where one can practice button holes or zips or piping or whatever without a large investment of time and material if it doesn’t work out.

    1. Tracy

      Okay, Jax, I’m biting. Recommendations, please. 🙂

  3. Michelle

    I recommend, if a garment sewist, to buy one pattern that will fit you well, in a style you like, and to be prepared to make at least three in order to get the fit and techniques down. And have fun with it! Most humans won’t notice it’s the same garment in different fabrics. As for choosing the pattern, once you’ve narrowed it down, research the heck out of it. See Instagrams and blogs for others who have made it, and what changes they made.

  4. Liz

    I echo the comments above, practice and find a good ‘TNT’ pattern. I would also suggest looking through your own wardrobe to identify the colours, patterns and styles that you are drawn to or that suit your body. I started with patterned fabric before I realized all my clothes were made of solid colours! Also find someone in your community to go to for help. A fabric shop is a good place to start. It’s really helpful to speak to other sewers for advice.

    1. What does TNT stand for?

      1. Tried and true.

  5. Leigh

    Work with quality supplies. Not too expensive, but decent. Junk thread, a super cheap (don’t buy the cheapest Singer) sewing machine, regular scissors, and annoying fabric are very hard to work with even for an experienced sewist.

    Older (vintage) thread is usually not great, but most vintage sewing supplies are excellent and cost effective.

  6. Jennifer

    Don’t neglect to pin before sewing. I thought it was a waste of time when I began but o my when I started properly pinning did my sewing really look polished.

  7. Sarah

    Change your sewing machine needle often, possible every project. I don’t think this is stressed enough in apparel sewing. I groan when I think how long I used to go between changes 🙂 It wasn’t until I started quilting that I learned how critical this is. Having difficulty with a thin, fine fabric? First thing I’d try is a new needle!

    1. Jennifer

      This one is SO important!

    2. Also, get the right sized needle! You wouldn’t use the same needle on a bottom-weight corduroy as you would on super-fine rayon.

  8. Marlene Maclaren

    I agree about using a well written pattern like Oliver and S and using good fabric and supplies. I would also suggest taking a “Know your Sewing Machine” course, often offered with the purchase of a new machine or in some of the new fabric plus workroom sewing stores.

  9. Joanne

    I would say complete each project before moving onto a new one. The temptation is to stop when it gets too hard … just keep going till it’s finisged !

  10. Marly

    Hello – This is my first time commenting. Here are some tips that helped me:

    * Be meticulous about grain lines. Pin the grain line to the fabric, if you can, then pin the rest of the pattern.
    * Don’t be afraid to use as many pins as you need, just make sure to take them out as you sew.
    * Sew ultra-slow. I don’t mean just in terms of machine speed, but also spread out your sewing over several days.
    * Press, press, press. This really makes your stuff look professional.
    * Test your stitches on a scrap of the same fabric you’re using before going to town on the actual garment.
    * If you get frustrated — and you will–, set it aside and sleep on it. Sometimes pushing through a problem will just make things worse.
    * Use good fabric that feels nice to touch.
    * Wash and iron your fabric before cutting. The ironing sounds boring but it can really acquaint you with the fabric, i.e., touch, feel, a little of how it may behave, etc. Just make sure to use a pressing cloth so you don’t scorch it.
    * If you run into trouble, YouTube it.
    * And this was my NUMBER ONE BIGGEST MISTAKE: Read your sewing machine manual before you sew on a machine for the first time.

    1. Mary

      I second all of this, but would add a few things.
      -fix the things that bother you BEFORE you cut out the “precious” fabric.
      For example, if you know you are long or short waisted, change the length of the pattern piece before you cut out the fabric.
      -ask advice from family members, they may well have dealt with the exact same fitting issues.
      -use the pattern review site to see if the pattern you have in mind is worth investing in.
      -trace your pattern off using newspaper or tissue paper or plastic dropcloth, and then make all your needed fitting changes on it.
      -start with a few simple things, like a pillowcase, or an elastic waist skirt, or simple boxer shorts, or pajamas. You’ll be training your hands to do finer work than they are accustomed to, so doing it this way means you’ll make fewer wasteful mistakes.
      -the ladies at the shop will be happy to help you figure out which needles and interfacing are appropriate for your project.
      -do not expect perfection on your first few projects. Forgive yourself.
      I am not trying to be a suck-up here, but the pattern instructions written by Liesl are easy to follow. I absolutely would recommend them to beginners.

  11. Nicole

    These are perhaps even more basic, but they’re the kinds of things I learned the hard way, well after I probably should have. The hazards of learning to sew via internet, probably.

    If something is off with the way your machine is sewing, rethread your machine and re-place your bobbin. It’s amazing how often I mis-threaded my machine, or put my bobbin in backwards, when I first started sewing.

    Needle down! Yes, really!

    When starting a seam at the very edge of the fabric, hold the loose threads to provide a gentle tension. This will prevent one of the loose threads from snarling up underneath your fabric.

    When sewing across a bulky area of a seam (when crossing the leg/arm seam while hemming, for instance), fold a scrap of fabric and place it right behind the needle, under the presser foot, so the foot rides flat over the bulky area.

    1. Pam

      I very recently learned your last tip and as a self taught sewist, just thought it was a struggle I couldn’t prevent.

  12. Michelle

    I tend to get caught up in the “economics” of hobbies (including sewing), both in terms of money & opportunity cost. Here are a few lessons I’ve learned in that regard:

    1) Sewing doesn’t “make sense” economically, and it doesn’t have to. It’s a fun hobby, hobbies should be fun, not cost effective.

    2) Sewing should be fun. Don’t get caught up in the “shoulds” of handmade wardrobes, couture finishes, social media sharing. (Of course all of those are fine if they are “wants” instead of “shoulds”.) Remember the opportunity cost of your limited free time & chose to spend it in the way that brings the most satisfaction. And then buy the rest of the clothes you need, no guilt.

    3) One blouse with $12/yard fabric that you love is more cost effective than three blouses with $4/yard fabric that you don’t really like.

    4) A cute fabric doesn’t necessarily equal a cute clothing item. Assess your wardrobe and go window shopping before you buy.

    5) The “Information Age” is a boon and a bane for self taught sewists. Googling for help on a technique or fitting issue might lead you somewhere helpful or toward sloppy results & frustration. The local library can be a great (free?) resource for learning, as sewing & fitting instructions that are published are usually pretty trustworthy advice.

    1. Satah

      Section 1) just made you my hero.

  13. If at all possible try to set up a dedicated space to sew and have all your tools handy. It makes so much difference to have everything ready to go when you are!

  14. Holly

    Clover pins
    Bernina old school sewing machine
    Mettler thread
    Fiskar scissors
    A basic skirt pattern with tutorial
    A bottom weight fabric that you have washed and dried and ironed as you will in the future
    Mark your size, read the directions.
    Measure yourself and the pattern
    If your parrern has a zipper, buy two and practice installing in scrap fabric
    Practice every new technique on a scrap.
    Wear proudly
    Lather rinse repeat. In 20 years, you will have a wardrobe that fits you, no matter how much you change. And you will have fun.

  15. Trust the pattern to the letter until you are VERY experienced, and cut and sew precisely to avoid compounding mistakes! Also, some pattern companies write better patterns than others–you have to just try them and see. Oh, and if it is ill-fitting in the pattern company’s photo, it will be in real life!

  16. Tracy

    These are all so good, everyone! I really appreciate you taking time to share your wisdom learned through experience. 🙂

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