As someone who is just starting out, I know how daunting this world can be. Even with the very little knowledge I have acquired, I now have an arsenal of sewing jargon that amazes my non-sewing friends. Here are 4 tools that helped me acquire the necessary knowledge to begin sewing:
1. Books- I checked out a few books from my local library that helped me. I looked for books about sewing that stated they were at the beginner level. The three that I found most helpful were "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Sewing"by Missy Shepler and Rebecca Brent, "The Burdastyle Sewing Handbook" by Nora Abousteit and Allison Kelly, and "Fabric by Fabric: One Yard Wonders" by Rebecca Yaker and Patricia Hoskins. The latter two I ended up buying because I felt that they were going to continue being useful to me as my skill level grew. All included step-by-step instructions with the assumption that you had never even plugged-in a sewing machine before.
"The Complete Idiot's Guide to Sewing" If you haven't used a Complete Idiots Guide book before, you can find titles on a wide variety of topics and should go look at them now. This edition follows the usual format of the series. Don't be put off by the inclusion of idiot in the title title. I didn't find that the authors talked down to the readers in any way. The book is written in an exhaustive style, making sure to explain and define every new concept or term that the reader may come across. It does include some simple projects as well as an introduction to technique for both hand and machine sewing. However, I felt that most of the projects they included were a bit dull. This may be in some part due to the plain gray-scale photographs that accompanied, but all in all this book was an excellent resource for a new sewist.
"The Burdastyle Sewing Handbook" If you are a visual learner, like me, then you will love this spiral bound book. It introduces the tools and language of garment sewing in a slightly less comprehensive manner than the Idiots Guide, but still assumes that the reader is new to the topics. It also includes beautiful full color illustrations and photos of tools and projects. The included projects and patterns, which make up the majority of the book, are stylish and relevant and range in difficulty from beginner to advanced focusing mainly on machine-sewing techniques. The most unique feature of this book is that with each pattern and set of instructions is a variation by a member of the Burdastyle online community. It is really helpful to see how much simple variations in fabric type, color, and embellishment can completely change the look of a garment.
"Fabric by Fabric: One Yard Wonders" If you are looking for a set of projects which will allow you to spend little money on fabric and materials as you are learning to sew, this is the book for you. All of the projects in this book require one yard or less of fabric to make. The book is organized by fabric type, and offers insight into working with different fabric types as well as outlining what kinds of fabrics are best for different applications. Once again, this book is great for the visually oriented learner with both photos and step-by-step illustrations for each project. The projects focus on machine sewing, with some limited hand sewing as well.
2. The Internet- The internet is obviously an excellent resource for the beginning sewist. An added benefit is the continuous dialogue between website managers, bloggers, and readers. The content of sites such as Burdastyle and Sew-Mama-Sew are largely user generated, and therefore set up in basic language that should be accessible to most new sewists. For example, I found the Sew-Mama-Sew post about non-serger seam finishes to be extremely helpful, as are the many youtube videos on how to read a sewing pattern. Furthermore, the blogosphere is full of sewing information directed toward any number of interest specific areas. I spend hours skimming blogs dedicated to sewing vintage style clothing. And don't forget to read the comments too, there can be valuable tips in that dialogue.
3. Classes- In my experience, there are two kinds of sewing classes available project-specific or general instruction. A project-specific class has a predetermined curriculum involving the whole class completing a project or projects together as a group. A general instruction class briefly introduces whatever the instructor or institution deems the basics, then lets each student pick their own project to complete within the frame of the class. I have attended both types, and in my opinion the project-specific class is more helpful to the beginning sewist. The general instruction class tends to be a larger classroom setting, and usually through a school type entity with classes lasting for multiple sessions. In my case it was a high-school sewing class that lasted for a full semester. The variability of a dozen or more students each picking a different project means that the instructor has less ability to help each individual student. In a project-specific class, everyone is working on the same project, so the instructor can assist each student more efficiently because they are already familiar with the project, and they can address the answer to the whole class incase anyone else needs the same help. That's just my opinion though. The other benefit of a project specific class is that they are often only one or two sessions, which will limit the cost. I was lucky enough to be able to take a single session class with my local sewing machine supplier through a Groupon deal. The class met for one 2-hour session in which we each made a tote bag. There were about 8 students to one instructor, so there was still plenty of ability for students to get one-on-one help and to work at a slightly different pace. The fact that they picked a project that can be completed in the course of a couple hours definitely helped my confidence.
4. Beginner Sewing Patterns- I find that sewing with envelope/ printed patterns is a bit easier for the beginning sewist. And there are a lot of options specifically for beginners. Most of the major pattern suppliers list the level of experience needed on their patterns. Some have lines that are meant to be learning tools. For example, one of the first garments I made was from a Simplicity Learn-to-Sew skirt pattern. These patterns often list what new material you will learn right on the front of the envelope. However its also a good idea to look at the instructions and line drawings inside the envelope to asses the level of difficulty specific to your existing knowledge. Also, look for pattern sales at your local craft and fabric supplier. Many large supply stores have a rotating pattern sale schedule allowing you to buy patterns at as little as $1 each. At regular price these patterns can be anywhere from $5 to $15 each!
Alright! I hope that you will be able to use these resources to build more confidence in your ability to learn to sew! Good luck