A Beginners Guide To Sewing By Hand And Machine

December 12, 2020

Introduction: In Stitches

In an age where fast fashion is the norm, one may not find much of a need for sewing. We are past the days where sewing was an essential skill learned at school, a skill necessary for people to have garments to wear. 

Beginners Guide To Sewing By Hand And Machine
illustration of small people with a sewing machine

Of course, for many, fast fashion is not the answer. That’s why you’re here, isn’t it?

There are a plethora of reasons as to why someone would want to get into sewing. Not only is it economical in the long run, but it’s also a great way to express yourself in a way that simply picking up an item on a clothing rack never could allow. It’s even a pretty therapeutic experience (though, it can be frustrating when you first start!).

In this guide, we’re going to walk you through how to sew, stitch by stitch. We hope by the end that you can create your own beautiful garments by hand or machine. Maybe you’ll even get people to buy your own designs some day! 

Where Did Sewing Come From? 

Sewing has a vast history over the years. It’s an art that has somewhat died out among the general population today, but it was once a vital skill taught in schools. 

Sewing dates back as far back as 20,000 years ago. Archaeological evidence suggests that bone needles were circulating at this time. It is suggested that sewing with cloth originated in the Middle East.

Through the years, sewing has evolved closer to what we know today, though it hasn’t always been an affordable endeavor. Back in the Middle ages, wealthier Europeans would hire tailors and seamstresses to make and fix their favorite garments. It was initially considered a woman’s job to sew

During the middle ages, sewing was more of practical skill, but decorative kinds of needlework such as embroidery were highly sought skills. 

The textile industry began to boom during the Industrial Revolution. At this point, the first sewing machine was patented and by the 1850s, sewing machines were readily made and suitable for home use. Unfortunately, this also meant that many underpaid sewing machine operators were hired in large cities. 

Since the 20th Century, sewing machines have become much more affordable, and intricate sewing patterns have made their way into the market. In fact, sewing patterns were once incredibly popular in women’s magazines. 

Today sewing is much more affordable than ever before, and with so much information and so many more patterns available, it’s a very enjoyable experience for anyone considering getting into the activity. 

Techniques: How Can You Sew? 

There are two main techniques when it comes to sewing: sewing by hand and sewing with a machine. Of course, each of these techniques has its own benefits and drawbacks, so here’s what you need to know.

Sewing By Hand

Sewing by hand is the longest running technique of the two options we’ve mentioned here.

It’s not the easiest technique to master, but you’ll certainly be glad if you persevere with it.

When you’re first starting out with sewing by hand, there are some main stitches you need to master.

Let’s start with the simplest: the running stitch. 

First of all, thread your needle - this can be a little tricky at first, but it can sometimes help to lightly wet the end of the thread and then push it through the eye of your needle. 

Grab two pieces of fabric, then push the needle through the two pieces of fabric, then push it through again a quarter inch over. Repeat this process until you reach the end of the seam.

Then push the needle through the fabric, not pulling the thread the whole way to make a loop at the end. Then, you need to pull the needle through the fabric and the loop to knot it a few times to finish the stitch. 

The other main stitch is the back stitch. This is similar to the running stitch, except you bring the needle back towards the initial stitch you made and repeat. 

There are many other stitches to learn, but these are the two main techniques to master when you’re first starting out.

Sewing by hand requires a lot more precision in many respects than sewing by machine, but there are a lot of benefits of learning to sew by hand.

Improved Coordination

When you’re sewing you need to put a lot of thought into what you’re doing, while also making your hands work as you want them to. This requires a lot of coordination between your brain and your fingers


While a sewing machine is often more convenient, it’s hard to carry one around with you all the time. When you’re sewing by hand, it’s just a matter of getting the needle, thread, scissors and fabric and you’re good to go. No hefty machinery is required.

More Control

Machines can often break when you least expect it. When your sewing machine breaks it can even ruin your entire project, worst case scenario. This is not an issue you need to worry about with hand sewing, and there’s no need to mess around with settings or attachments. It’s just you and the fabric!


There are a lot of things to buy when it comes to purchasing a sewing machine - you need a decent table, bobbins and storage, needles for the machine, the machine itself… All of this can get a little expensive.

Sewing by hand makes the sewing hobby very affordable for beginners interested in the hobby. All you have to do is grab some sewing needles, threads and a decent workspace and you should be ready to start creating some masterpieces.

Better for fragile fabrics

Some fabrics are just better suited to hand sewing rather than a sewing machine, especially if they can warp or stretch easily. You’ll likely get much better results from hand sewing this way, anyway. 


Sewing is a pretty relaxing activity, and it’s a great way to kill some time and escape reality. It can even lower your stress levels. What more reason is there to get into this handy skill?

Minimal Noise

Sewing machines can be pretty noisy, which may not be ideal if you have especially thin walls or young children. Hand sewing doesn’t make any noise, so you can work away at your fabric with a nice playlist on in the background, or whatever else takes your fancy.

Sewing With a Machine

We’ve got to admit that sewing with a machine is a pretty appealing option.

Often, when it comes to sewing machines you just need to learn about how your individual machine works, how to set it up and you can get on with your work.

You will need to learn how to do things like setting up the thread and how to program your machine to sew the stitch that you want. 

There are several benefits to sewing with a sewing machine.


There is little doubt that sewing by hand can be a time consuming task. While this may be fine for many, some people may not want to spend that time sewing by hand. A sewing machine makes the task consume far less time, giving you faster results. 

Ideal for commercial projects

Because sewing machines are faster, it means that if you need to mass produce a certain kind of garment, you can do so more efficiently than you would be able to if you were sewing by hand.


When it comes to using a sewing machine, it’s mainly just a matter of getting to know the functions of the machine and learning how to use the many parts of the sewing machine to accomplish a specific task.

For instance, learning how to thread the bobbing and using the presser foot. After you’ve figured this out, it’s pretty simple to use a sewing machine, making it much easier to efficiently get projects done.

Ideal for all kinds of fabric

It can be harder to sew certain fabrics by hand because they are thick - for instance, denim and canvas. With a sewing machine, you can sew these sorts of fabrics without much of a problem.


The beauty of using a sewing machine is that it is programmed to accomplish one specific task: precisely combining two pieces of fabric together with a stitch.

This means after selecting the stitch you need the sewing machine takes over and flawlessly executes the selected stitch pattern every time you need it. All you have to do is to guide the sewing machine with your creativity.

Tools and Supplies for Sewing

To get started on your sewing journey, you first need the correct tools for the job. With so many options out there, It can often be overwhelming to know how to  figure out exactly the tools you need if you’ve never sewn before. So we have compiled a list of some of the most essential supplies and tools that you will need to begin your new sewing project. 


Your sewing needles are perhaps the most important tool you’ll need to create spectacular sewing projects.

Of course, it’s not just a matter of picking up any set of sewing needles from Amazon. No - you need to make sure that you have the right sewing needles that fit the needs of your project. . 

Different kinds of needles are used for different stitches. These are the main kinds of needles you need to know about:

SharpsAll-purpose - needed for dress making and different kinds of knots. Can also be used for Applique. 
Beading NeedlesUsed to put beads onto beaded embroidery. Feature a long, thin appearance with a minuscule eye
Chenille needlesFeature large eyes and sharp points. Used for silk ribbons
Darning needlesHave big eyes so they are good for thicker yarn and ribbons. Designed for darning and doll making.
Embroidery NeedlesVery sharp and narrow eyes - designed for embroidery. Sizes 1-10 available, though 6-8 are the ones used most often
Quilting NeedlesDesigned for quilting - have long shanks and can go through quilts. They’re pretty short and have small eyes
Canvas NeedlesUsed for plastic canvas - can also be used to join knitted fabric together
Felting NeedlesDesigned for felting
BodkinsDesigned for threading things like elastic, cords and ribbons through casings. Features a long, blunt and thick needle. 
Curved NeedlesThese needles are designed to repair and mend things like upholstery. Handy for reaching tough to get to seams
Milliners needlesDesigned for doing decorative stitches, such as making bullion knots
Leather NeedlesFeature a sharp tip - used for sewing thick leather
Betweens NeedlesDesigned for hand quilting
Flat NeedlesUsed with plate metallic embroidery thread
Self Threading NeedleDesigned with a specific pattern in the eye for easy threading.
Tapestry NeedlesBlunt point and big eye, sizes range from 13-28. Usually used for needlepoint, cross stitch and certain types of embroidery

It’s best to assess what you need in advance so you can buy the right needles in advance, though it’s best to have at least one of each for different kinds of projects. If you are using a sewing machine, you also need to consider what needles your sewing machine is designed to use.


As you can imagine, it’s pretty tricky to sew without some decent thread.

It’s quite essential to ensure that you pick the right thread for your project.

There are a few considerations that you need to make before you buy your thread.

The first thing that you need to think about is the type of fabric that you are going to be working with.

For instance, a heavier, thicker fabric like denim is going to require a different kind of thread than what you would use with a lighter fabric such as cotton. 

You also need to think about what sort of stitch you’re planning on making. For instance, your thread is going to need to be smoother if you’re doing more decorative stitches.

The color of the thread is also pretty important. In theory, all you need to do is grab a thread that will blend well with your fabric - a good rule of thumb is to get a color that’s a little darker than the fabric. Light colors don’t look as good up against the fabric. If the fabric consists of numerous colors, then look for a thread that resembles the background color of the fabric. 

Ideally, when you’re buying thread you should be willing to pay a little more money - if you buy the cheapest option out there, you may end up with a weaker seam.

When shopping for thread in person  it’s advisable to bring a bit of the fabric with you to see what color thread will look best. Investing in a few neutral colored threads that you can always keep at home is also a good idea. You should also look online to see what kind of thread will work best with your chosen fabric since there are a lot more options available online. 


The market is flooded with different kinds of sewing scissors, so it can sometimes be a little tricky to know where to start. It’s worth considering a few different things before buying them, however.

First of all, you need to think about the kind of scissors you need. Do you need them for dressmaking?

Do you plan on using them for other projects, such as for quilting or embroidering? There are all sorts of sewing scissors out there, from patchwork scissors, to dressmaking scissors and embroidery scissors. You can also get general purpose scissors.

Consider your dominant hand - there are sewing scissors that are designed for left handed people, and for right handed people. It’s worth checking this first. 

If you’re buying a pair of sewing scissors and you’re just starting out, two pairs of scissors are more than enough. You will need to ensure that you have a big pair of scissors for when you want to cut fabric, and a small pair of scissors designed for cutting threads.

You must never allow people to use your fabric scissors to cut paper though, as this can make your scissors blunt, which can make cutting fabric an arduous task.

Rotary Cutters

Rotary cutters are pretty handy, and can allow you to cut through fabrics much more easily.

It looks a little like a pizza cutter usually, and it’s a more accurate way of cutting fabrics than using a pair of scissors as your hands won’t suddenly move the fabric as you cut.

There are a few things that you should keep in mind when buying a rotary cutter.

First of all, safety is paramount.

You need to ensure that the rotary cutter features a safe blade, and will let you withdraw the blade when it isn’t being used. It’s also best to buy rotary cutters that are made out of titanium if possible, as these tend to be more durable.

The size of rotary cutter blade that you get will largely depend on how you plan to use it. For instance, a smaller blade would be best for making detailed curves and shapes.

A larger blade is a little more versatile otherwise, allowing you to cut in straight lines much more easily. You should also select a rotary cutter that feels comfortable in your hands especially if you plan on using the cutter a lot. You can usually choose from 18mm, 28mm, 45mm and 60mm blades. 

Sewing Notions

Sewing notions are essentially smaller objects that you will attach to the project for various reasons.

There are a few different kinds of sewing notions that are handy to invest in as you are sewing. They can be quite helpful and can make the sewing process much faster.

The first kind of sewing notion is pins.

Pins can really help when you are working on a project by  allowing you to hold two pieces of fabric together that you aren’t currently working on. 

Sure, you could just hold the fabric together with your fingers but that can take a lot more time, not to mention the chances of sewing the project inaccurately are much higher. There are a range of different pins on the market designed for different projects. You should also be looking for a pin cushion so you can keep all of your pins in one place.

Marking tools are also pretty handy. There are a lot of different ones out there, such as ones that create a vivid line which will disappear when you iron the fabric. There are also tapes that you can use and so much more. Marking your work helps to ensure that you are getting the exact shape and size that you need for your project.

It’s also worth investing in a thimble if you’re sewing by hand. You can get thimbles in metal, ceramic, plastic and silicon versions based on your preference. Finally, it’s also worth investing in a seam ripper just in case you make any mistakes in your sewing and you need to start over. 


The fabric of your sewing project is perhaps the most important part.

It’s ultimately what everyone is going to see if you are making a garment. 

Of course, for a beginner it can be a lot harder to select the right fabric to start with, so here are just a few things to keep in mind.

How to Choose Your First Fabric

If you want to make sure that your first ever sewing project doesn’t end up being a total disaster, it’s important to ensure that you choose the right fabric right off the bat.

Before you even think about buying your sewing fabric, you should first make sure that you have a pattern ready that you want to follow.

A sewing pattern will give you an indication of what sorts of fabrics you should be investing in. Certain patterns just aren’t going to work well with some types of fabric, so this is something to keep in mind.

When shopping for the fabric, you should also look at the label. Double check the fibre content of the material, as you may find that it’s not possible to wash certain types of  fabrics in a washing machine. To save yourself a lot of trouble later on, it’s best to avoid materials that aren’t machine washable unless you plan on dry cleaning your masterpiece. 

Check that the fabric will give you the results that you wish to achieve. Look for fabrics that will suit you and your taste.

You should also have a look at how wide the fabric is. Consult your pattern to find out how long the fabric will need to be. It’s also a good idea to make sure that you buy ample fabric in case the garment shrinks in the wash - 10% shrinkage is normally good to aim for when creating a new garment.

Best Fabric for Beginners

To make life easier for you, it’s best to opt for a fabric this will be easy to work with. There are some fabrics - which we will get into later - that can be hard work to sew with when you first start out.

There are plenty of affordable fabrics on the market that are simple to sew that won’t cost a fortune. Affordability is a good consideration when you first start out as you may end up making mistakes on a lot of fabrics due to inexperience.

You should ideally be looking for a woven fabric such as linen, cotton or cotton nylon. These fabrics usually don’t stretch a massive amount when you are trying to sew them.

It’s also a good idea to start off with plain colors or fabrics with smaller prints. This is because larger patterns can be more difficult to assemble when you’re starting. 

The fabrics should also not weigh a tonne, because they can be harder to work with. Light or medium weight fabrics are the best choice when you’re first starting out. 

Ultimately, cotton is likely the best choice when you’re starting to learn to sew. One thing to keep in mind with cotton though is that it can sometimes shrink when you wash it for the first time, which is why you need to buy more than you think you may need.

Pre-shrinking cotton  is also advised, otherwise the garment  will shrink the first time that you wash it and might not even fit you afterwards.

Fabrics to Avoid

When you’re first starting to learn to sew, you should stay away from certain fabrics simply because they’re a lot more difficult to work with.

You’re better off staying away from the following fabrics when you first start out.

Silk and Satin

Fabrics that are shiny and luscious like silk and satin may seem like a good idea to experiment with, but you should work with these fabrics when you have a little bit more experience. 

This is because these fabrics can be quite slippery, which makes them quite challenging to sew. They can also fray and snag incredibly easily, making the sewing experience rather challenging.

This, coupled with a beginner trying to figure out how to sew in a straight line can spell disaster. Not only that but these fabrics are expensive, so it’s really not worth it if you’re more prone to making mistakes. 


You can never have too many denim pants and skirts, but it may be worth staying away from that denim if you’re just starting out. Denim can be hard work to sew because it’s so thick. It can even be rather challenging to sew with a sewing machine. Not only that, but denim can have a pesky habit of breaking sewing needles.

Denim can also fray quite easily too, so if you’re struggling to get your seams perfect then it may be a good idea to stay away from this fabric for a while.

Stretchy Knits

Stretchy knits can be pretty handy - they’re ideal for loose fitting clothes or clothes that are designed with the intention of the owner being able to “grow into it” With that being said, they can be rather difficult to work with when you’re a beginner. 

The first reason for this is because these fabrics can pucker easily. They can also gather and look lumpy sometimes, which can make your project look completely different than you want it to. Wait until you’re more experienced to tackle this fabric.

Sheer Fabrics

Sheer fabrics can be pretty slippery, and this makes them more challenging to sew. Not only that but if you make an error you’ll be able to see it from miles away because the fabric is more transparent. They are also much harder to cut too. 

Working With Patterns

Patterns are like your best friend when you first start learning to sew. Patterns are guides to tell you how to sew a garment at a size you want. It usually comes with a bunch of flat pieces that are drawn on paper. Once you have cut out the pieces, you then assemble them together using the instructions shown in the pattern to make your garment.

Sounds pretty simple in practice, but if you’ve never worked with a pattern before, it can be a little bit tricky to know what you’re doing.

Before You Start

The first thing to remember is to read the pattern before you start. Take a moment to look over the pattern - this will also help you to prepare your fabric and thread. It’s important to look at how the pieces look before you set them up together.

Not all sizes have the same pattern layout so you will need to check that you are laying out the pattern in the correct size when you’re working with a pattern.

The patterns generally tend to have a number of sizes marked up on one pattern, shown by different kinds of lines. It’s important that you cut on the right lines when working with patterns otherwise you may not get the results you want. The pattern usually also has marks on it to show you where you should shorten or lengthen the item. 

Above all else, make sure that you find a pattern that’s beginner friendly. For instance, layering fabrics may be something that you wish to avoid if you’re first starting out as it can get a little tricky.

When you’re laying fabrics, there’s a little more room for error as you’re working with more fabrics. When you start out, it’s best to keep it simple and then gradually make things more difficult as you improve

Pinning the Pattern

You should also make sure that you’re extra careful when pinning your pattern. Follow the instructions on the pattern - the pattern will have marks to show you where all of the pieces should be placed. Make sure that you measure the distance to the selvedge and the grainline. 

Don’t be scared to use a lot of pins either. Your pins should be placed in a parallel position to the cutting line to ensure that the pattern will stay close to the fabric when you’re cutting it. Try not to cut close to the pins too, as this can damage your scissors. 

From there, you then need to cut your garment. Follow the instructions for the pattern to do this.

Transferring the Marks

After you’ve cut the fabric, you should then transfer the marks from the pattern onto your chosen fabric.  The marks that you need to move onto the fabric are any ones that are mandatory for the garment to look the way that it should.

These could be areas where there are pockets, or dots that will show you where you need to put your darts. They may also show you where your buttons or zippers need to go.

Make sure that you mark both sides of the pattern you’re working on if it’s been cut from two different pieces of fabric. It’s also important to put any marks onto the wrong side of the fabric. The wrong side of a fabric is the part of the fabric that you don't want to be seen and the right side of the fabric is the part of the fabric you want to be seen. 

The Sewing Process

From there, you simply need to follow the directions on the pattern. The pattern will usually tell you what kinds of stitches you need to use for the project. 

The biggest challenge is to make it a point to sew in a straight line if you happen to be sewing the pattern by hand 

If you’re lucky to be using a sewing machine for your project, you can program the sewing machine to produce the stitches (seam stitches, top stitching etc) shown in the pattern you are following.

Some of the most common stitches you may find on sewing machines include straight stitches, plain zigzag stitches, three stitch zigzag, stretch stitch, overlock stitch and blind hem.

Commonly Used Sewing Terminology

If you’ve never ventured into the sewing world before, it can be a little overwhelming. Afterall, not all beginners know their backstitch from their baste. We have compiled  some of the key terms you should know to make your plunge into the sewing hobby a lot easier:

  • Backstitch - A backstitch is essentially overlapping a bunch of stitches at the start and the end of the stitching line. It’s used to secure your stitches. 
  • Applique - Applique is sewing a bit of fabric on top of another piece of fabric. This is ideal for when you want to add some extra character to a pattern. 
  • Bobbin - bobbins are essentially bits of thread that emerge from the bottom and meet with the spool’s thread to make your stitch.
  • Gather - If you want to create a garment with ruffles, you need to gather the fabric. This involves basting stitches on the fabric and pulling the top threads on the end of the baste. You will need to steady the bottom thread. Then you just need to sew the gathered fabric in place.
  • Hem - Often patterns will instruct you to hem the bottom of a piece of clothing. To do this, you just need to fold the fabric about half an inch over then keep it in place with a hinge. Fold it by another half an inch so you can’t see any raw edges and press it into place again. Then stitch this in place to create a hem.
  • Right/Wrong Side - The vast majority of fabrics out there have a right and a wrong side. The right side is essentially the side that you want everyone to see once your garment is complete. It’s usually the side that looks much brighter in color. It can sometimes be difficult to tell which side is right or wrong on fabrics like cotton. 
  • Selvedge - The selvedge is essentially an edge that goes along two longer edges of a piece of fabric. It’s basically a finished edge that helps to stop the fabric from fraying. 
  • Diagonal - The diagonal of a fabric is essentially a line that will run at roughly 45 degrees across the fabric. You sometimes need to cut certain pattern pieces on the diagonal for the garment to turn out as intended. 
  • Nap - a fabric naps is basically an area on the surface of some kinds of material that are raised slightly. 
  • Seam allowance - this is the amount of fabric that exists between the seam and the edge of a piece of fabric. 
  • Baste - basting is when you sew with longer stitches to hold two pieces of fabric together temporarily. This keeps them in place while you are trying to put the fabric together.
  • Pleat - pleating is when you create a fold by doubling up the fabric on top of itself and then stitching it together. 

Summary: The Final Stitch

If you’re just starting out with learning to sew it can sometimes seem like quite a daunting thing. Thankfully, once you get to grips with sewing by hand or machine, you can create beautiful garments that will cost you about a fraction of the price of what you could buy on the high street.

Of course, there are a few key things to remember. Having a basic understanding  of your key sewing terms is a good starting point for learning how to sew, as this will make following a pattern much easier for you. Investing in some good patterns designed for beginners is also advisable.

Hopefully this guide has helped you to understand a little bit more about sewing so you can be on your way to designing and creating your own garments in no time.

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