Thursday, October 13, 2011

sewing basics:: the essentials

I have gotten a lot of emails asking for tips for a beginner sewer.  I am no pro by any stretch of the imagination, but I do have a system down now of what I like to use when I sew, certain stitches for different types of fabrics, etc.  So I'll tell you all my tips and tricks throughout a series of posts I'm going to call SEWING BASICS.

Today I'm going to cover the essentials: meaning, all of the tools that I use every single time I sew.  Having the right types of tools will really help you with your sewing experience.  Now I know that there are plenty more sewing tools out there than what I have listed, but here is what has worked for me.

*cue a chorus of angels singing*

The Sewing Machine
  There are tons of different kinds in all sorts of price ranges, but I have loved every second with mine and would recommend it in a heartbeat.  My mom gave it to me for my college graduation and it is one of the best gifts I have ever received.  

My sewing machine is a Janome DC2007LE.  My mom got it from Nuttall's in American Fork.  It came with 4 free sewing lessons that I never used and have always regretted.  I've read my manual from cover to cover, but it would have been nice to actually have someone walk me through my machine.  But it is really user friendly.

*One tip that I didn't realize until a little over a year ago, is that you have an option to load your sewing thread horizontal (which I started off doing) or vertical.  It comes with a separate attachment to switch to vertical and it has made a world of difference for me.  When my thread was laying sideways it would always catch for some reason and drove me through the roof.  I haven't had a problem since I switched to sewing with my thread sitting vertically.  

It's really easy to change to different stitches, change the length of your zigzag, etc. The stitches I use most are 1 (straight stitch), 8 (basic zigzag), 13 (blind hem), and 16 (basic button hole).  I have also used some of the decorative stitches on baby quilts and things like that and have really liked having those options.

Now this machine isn't essential for everyone, but I wouldn't be able to sew without it.  I like all of my garments to be completely finished, and you can't get a professional look without one.  I have use my mom's old Juki serger.  It's old....but it runs like a dream.  I know there are various serges that are really thin, or only use 3 threads, etc.  I wish I knew how to do those!  But the instruction manual is really old and I haven't been able to figure it out.  But I have learned (through a series of stuck strings, strange noises, and swear words) how to thread this sucker.  It is HARD.

Sergers are very temperamental, and if the balance is a little off, you could wind up with a snapped thread and have to figure out how to re-thread it.  The first time it came unthread I took it down to The Cotton Shop and a nice lady there spent a good 30 minutes re-threading it for free.  So you can always try that if you really get in a bind.

A Rotary Cutter, Cutting Mat, and Clear Cutting Edge Ruler
I went waaay too long without these tools!  You WILL be cutting straight lines, and your time WILL be cut in half with this little trio.  I got them all at Joanns.  I would also highly recommend a suction gripper  that sticks to your clear ruler.  It makes it so much easier to hold the ruler in place as I cut. 

a GOOD pair of Scissors
I emphasize the word "good" because I've used crappy scissors and they are no good.  I invested in a pair of good quality Fiskars scissors because they were nice and heavy, sharp, and cheaper than Ginghers.  Use your 40% off coupon for an even better deal.

Seam Ripper 
When you make a sewing mistake....which you will, you will become fast frenemies with your seam ripper.  I have spent many a night curled up on the couch in front of Project Runway with a botched skirt and my trusty seam ripper.

You may think I don't have an opinion on pins, but I do.  I started out with the sorry little miniscule silver pins, but made the change to the long pins with colorful balls at the end and they are so much easier to hold, remove, and spot on the carpet so your toddler doesn't puncture his foot. . . . oh wait . . that last part happened yesterday.  Worst mom in the world, right here.
I also found that they are the cheapest at Wal-Mart.

Seam Gauge
I use my seam gauge as much as I use my pins.  I am constantly measuring and remeasuring hems, pleats, or seam allowances.  It is a great little tool since you work with small measurements constantly.

Vinyl Tape Measure
I don't have an opinion on which one of these to get.  Just get one.  And you look really professional if you always work with it draped over your neck, like moi.

Tailor's Chalk
I like this chalk a lot more than a marking pencil.  It shows up a lot easier and lasts forever.  But I have been known to use highlighters and pens as marking tools just as often as the chalk.

Extra Bobbins
I always have extra bobbins on hand in case I need to change thread colors.  I have wound the same bobbin with 2 different colors before because I was desperate, but it just makes things messy.  I would recommend sticking with 1 color of thread per bobbin.
(make sure you check the packaging on your bobbins to see if it is compatible with your machine)

Extra Needles
There is nothing worse than breaking a needle and not being able to continue because you don't have any extra.

Last but not least, get a good storage system for all of your supplies to help you stay organized!

I used to just have a sewing box, but it became full and crowded quickly and I got sick of always digging through it to hunt things down.  So I opted for this shoe rack.  it gives me plenty of compartments, and it's all see through, so I never have to spend time trying to find something.  Plus, it is all out of Bradley's reach, so I never have to worry about him getting into things.

 Let me know if you have any other ideas for this series!  Like I said before, I am no expert, but am happy to share things that I have picked up along the way.

I will try to do a sewing basics post once every couple weeks.  If I try and say you will get this kind of a post every Friday I would fail miserably. 


  1. Thanx for sharing all that, I'm a beginner seamstress and this really helps to hear from someone with so much experience! Thanx!


  2. I love that you use an over the door shoe organizer for your sewing suppliesI agree that they are the essentials, I don't have a serger yet and although they are not absolutely necessary they do help make a garment look truly finished unless you want to take the time to do french seams, which I also love and use.

  3. Yay! I am super excited about this. My mom gave me her super duper nice Husqvarna embroidery machine and I am dying to use it. I took a basic sewing class in July, but I haven't touched the machine since then and I am sure I've forgotten a ton. I'd love to learn more and get some practice time in. I'm sure your tips will be super helpful! :D

  4. Thanks for the tips! I will definitely have to get the suction gripper and also the seam gauge. Genius!

  5. Wow great tips! I love your storage idea...everything is in sight!

  6. I have a Janome DC 2010 that I just got a few months ago and really like it. It's a step up from the Magnolia, which I guess was a Consumer Reports best buy. It looks a lot like your machine. In case anyone's shopping around, though, Janome makes Kenmore's sewing machines (the ones at Sears) and there's a model that looks just like mine (and thus similar to yours) that generally retails for about $50 less.

  7. Your essentials are perfect! The 'pins' part made me laugh because anyone that sews more than two projects wants to kill those cheap little silver pins and scraps them quickly! Loved the storage idea...thanks for the tips. And I'm excited to say I bought two different fabrics for making a maxi skirt this week!

  8. this was so amazingly helpful! i didn't know any of this stuff. i feel a little intimidated still but i'm really excited to learn!

  9. It's so fun to see what you use! By the way, a thing I learned with the sewing classes I took when I got my machine (from Nutall's too) is that the horizontal thread attachment is for use with Gutermann threads (and there's another brand similar, I guess they're European threads?) because they are wound differently in the criss cross pattern so it comes off the spool easier horizontally. The vertical thread peg is for the threads wound straight on the spool, like Coats and Clark and most other brands. I have never had a problem with using the horizontal thread peg, but I usually use the Gutermann thread. Just another random bit of sewing knowledge that I thought you'd find interesting :)

  10. Thank you so much! I'm glad to now know what those tools are used for! I wish I had more time to sew because it is so fun but it is very time consuming!

  11. related to beginning sewing but not really sewing supplies, I have found it absolutely necessary to have my iron and ironing board at the ready when doing projects. It's made my life so much easier. On light fabric I do like the marker with the disappearing ink for making lines but I often go right back to the tailors chalk :P

    I want a serger so badly!

  12. Love that storage solution. Now if I only had a place to hang it...

  13. thank you for doing this! i've been dying to learn how to sew and can't find a class anywhere! it's good to know the basics! can't wait to read more!

  14. I have that same exact serger, handed down from a friend. I'm not gonna lie, I'm afraid of it!! One day I'll get it figured out...once I get over the fear ;-)

  15. This is a great list! I think I have everything but the gripper. I went an embarrassingly long time without a clear ruler and now you've convinced me to get a gripper

    Also, my 15 month old boy stepped on a pin last week too and I felt like the worst mother ever when I had to yank it out of the bottom of his footie pajamas :(

  16. I am going out to get a gripper tomorrow, I didn't even know something like that existed. It will help me SO MUCH. Moving my ruler is such a pain now.

  17. Great timing! After reading this, I went to reluctantly to see how much I'd have to pay to get a cutting board and rotary cutter. But hey, they're 50% off right now, so I can get the whole kit (mat, cutter and see-through ruler) for under $25! I can't wait -- these items will make things so much easier and more accurate.

  18. Great post. I really like your blog.^^

    my blog♥mfashionfreak

    Please follow me if you're not already so I could make a GIVEAWAY. I'd love to get more followers! I'll follow you back.

  19. Great blog, Leanne! Next time you are home I should show you some of the crazy tools I have collected that you don't even know I have,but you have done so much with just the basics...good job:)

  20. I especially like the tip about where to buy cheap pins. I forget to take them out before I stitch and sometimes bend them with my sewing machine. I know, it's a bad habit.

    I totally agree that good sewing shears are vital. See my blog for more info. about buying and caring for sewing shears.


  21. All you have to do to use only 3 threads is leave the left needle unthreaded!! Its what my mum did and now when my husband (I tried boo-koo times.grr.) threaded it he did it with just 3 and it works like a dream!!! I love your tutorials!!!

  22. what a great intro to sewing! :) i'm a beginner sewer & got my machine in japan. but due to the language, i've not been able to attend classes or read my manual. so this is extra useful!

    thanks so much!

  23. i love janome! i have two janome machines and couldn't be happier! they're a great quality machine!

  24. I've just now found your blog and am so excited to delve more into it. As a VERY beginner at all this sewing stuff I just jumped in with both feet and am neck high in water now haha! It has been very refreshing to see a simple list of good tools - so thank you!

  25. Hey there. Thank you so much for this post. I am a complete beginner. I got a sewing machine for Christmas after finishing my first project on my mother I laws machine and fell I love with sewing. I found your blog via Pinterest from your cardigan post. I adore it. Thanks and am a adoring fan now :)

  26. Hi,
    I loved your blog from first sight. This post reminded me how I get my sewing machine. My father gave it to me when I graduate high school in memory of my grandfather. After 12 years I still use it, although I'm not sure it's the best one. It's Singer.


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