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I remember sitting at my dining room table during one of Lincoln’s naps just staring. Staring at the machine with what seemed like a million buttons and knobs and a sharp needle and arrows that made absolutely no sense to me. I tried googling and watching some videos but felt even more confused, so I gave my mom a call. My mom explained the terminology and purpose for the basic parts of the sewing machine over Facetime, which was interesting to say the least. Trying to operate a machine I had no idea how to use with one hand, while attempting to hold my phone’s camera in just the right spot took a lot of skill that I didn’t have. But, I finally learned how to turn on my sewing machine, how to thread a bobbin, how to use the presser foot, and how to feed fabric through without losing a finger.
It took a lot of frustrating moments at naptime, bedtime, and on weekends, but I slowly got the hang of it. And I quickly became addicted to learning everything there was to know about sewing. I made a lot of mistakes and wasted some money on cheap products that broke after a few uses, so I wanted to share what I learned with the hope that other people would know which items to prioritize. Here’s what I wish I had when I first learned to sew:
Decide What Fabric You Want to Use
First of all, you need to decide what type of fabric you want to work with–woven or knit. Knit fabric is often soft and stretchy, ranging from t-shirt materials to sweats to loungewear. Woven fabric ranges from linen to cotton to wool to flannel etc. According to revolutionfabrics.com, “The main difference between knit vs woven fabrics is how they are constructed. Woven fabrics are created using several warps, or longitudinal yarns, and wefts, or latitudinal yarns. Knitting involves interloping or interlacing a single yarn or thread.” I mostly work with knit fabric and actually think it’s easier because it has some stretch, but a lot of people think woven is more simple. If you have the right machines, knit fabric really isn’t too difficult!
Although you technically don’t have to have a special machine for knit fabric, I highly, highly recommend a serger in addition to a basic sewing machine. My regular machine eats knit fabric like crazy and a serger also gives a much more professional finish. I also use it when I sew woven fabric, so I think it was definitely worth the investment. But, if you can’t afford a serger at the beginning, you can definitely use a regular sewing machine for different types of fabric.
15 Must-Have Sewing Supplies for Garment Sewing
I was really blessed to receive a few machines secondhand from my grandma and great-grandma. I use a Bernina and Singer Heavy Duty. I use my serger more often than my sewing machines now, but I still use my sewing machines for many of the projects that I complete!
I use my serger for sewing inside seams and connecting various parts of a garment. I started with a Brother serger that I got off of Facebook Marketplace. It felt like driving a clunky, oversized van that was significantly out of alignment, but it did the job most of the time for several months. After not very much use, it started having major issues and it would have cost almost as much to repair it as I paid for it. I eventually upgraded to a Juki and it is a world of difference! The Juki is quiet and runs so smoothly. It’s a little more difficult to thread, but I think it’s definitely worth it! I bought a second Juki secondhand to use as a backup because I have a small shop and often have machines go out when I have a long list of orders. I linked the machine I have on Amazon, but I highly recommend checking local sewing shops and dealerships which often have better prices.
You need different needles for different types of fabric. I use universal needles when working with woven fabric and ball point or stretch needles when working with knit.
I used to use really cheap thread but I got tired really quickly when I had to re-thread my entire machine over and over when it kept breaking. I like using thread from WAWAK and have a mix of different threads but prefer Gutermann.
I don’t use my scissors to cut out patterns, but I do use it to cut smaller yardage when working with a lot of fabric. I think my mom bought my scissors for me as a gift years and years ago, so I honestly don’t remember what brand they are. These scissors have good reviews for a beginner model.
I just got my cutting mat from Hobby Lobby with one of their 40% off coupons. I actually use 2 because I often cut large pieces of fabric for adult clothing, but you could probably get by with just one and then move your fabric if you run out of room.
I use my rotary cutter ALL. OF. THE. TIME. It is so much easier than cutting with scissors and is great for children’s clothing because it’s easy to maneuver around tight corners.
I always keep extra blades on hand because it’s really difficult to cut fabric with a dull blade!
I am also addicted to buying fabric. I’m currently on a fabric buying freeze because I have more than I’ll probably be able to sew in a year, but once you start–it will be hard to stop! If you want to sew with knit fabric and want to use American-milled (some of these include organic), I recommend checking out Bundle Fabric, Isee Fabric, Millie & Dot, or Ollie & Annie Collection. They are all small businesses that ethically source the majority of their fabric from a mill in the U.S. that uses ethical practices during production. I have also heard great things about Sitka Fabric, Merchant & Mills, and Blackbird Fabric.
Although I have bought a few patterns that are not printable, I usually use printable patterns. They take a while to cut out, but you can easily grade between sizes if you fall between multiple sizes on the chart. Some pattern companies I love are Lowland Kids, Brindille & Twig, Hubba Ding, Elbe Textiles, Anna Allen Clothing, and Swim Style Patterns.
If you intend to buy printable patterns, you will probably want a printer! We have this one and only have to replace the ink about once a year, and I have to do a lot of printing for my shop!
I started out using pins, but clips are so much easier… especially when working with knit fabric! I would recommend pins if you’re working with an extra thin or slippery fabric.
If you intent to make clothing, you’ll want a measuring tape to get precise measurements for getting just the right fit. Most RTW (ready to wear or store bought clothing) is designed to fit one body type; hence, that is why you might feel like jeans fit you in the thighs but not the waist or a shirt may be too wide in some areas but too narrow in others. A benefit of learning to sew is that you can make fabric tailored to perfectly-fit YOU!
After serging, I have to cut away the project from the thread. I like using small scissors like these because they are less clunky than large sewing scissors.
I wish I didn’t have to add this one, but whether you’re a newbie or pro… you’re bound to need a seam ripper at some point!
The Truth About Sewing Your Own Clothes
I’m planning on offering more tips and tricks for teaching yourself to sew, but I hope this list can help you get started! One of the main reasons I started my small shop was to help pay for all of the materials needed because it is an investment. Some people think that it is cheaper to sew your own clothes but it is actually quite a bit more expensive. Sure, I can sew an ethical wardrobe myself for less than I could buy it, but I will still be paying more for ethically-sourced fabric than I would pay for a shirt on sale at a local store.
But, if you are passionate about learning to sew and want to pursue ethical, handmade fashion–there are ways to go about this even without a lot of funds. Shop sales. Buy second-hand. Start a side-hustle to fund the materials you will need. Sell items in your home that you don’t use. Use thrifted tablecloths or blankets to turn into new clothing items instead of buying new fabric. I didn’t buy all of these things at once–I just started with a sewing machine, one spool of thread, a few needles, an old measuring tape, and some scissors. I now have quite a few other items that I didn’t mention above that I use for more specialized pieces, but if you are wanting to learn to sew your own clothes I highly recommend saving up for the items mentioned above and you will be able to create so many items with just those things!
Have you ever tried sewing? If you learn, what’s something you really want to make? Let me know below and tag me on Instagram @themilleracres if you learn to sew something! I’d love to see and share it on my stories!