According to INSEE, there are an estimated 580,000 jobs in the fashion sector. This figure rises to 1 million if we count all the positions related directly or indirectly to the fashion world (communication & commerce).

But before getting into the fashion business, you have to start with the basics of beginner's sewing.

Sewing equipment at the ready! Here we teach you how to use your sewing machine without tearing your hair out!

Why not have a go at making your own bits and pieces after some embroidery classes.

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The Basic Functions of a Sewing Machine for Beginners

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Before buying a sewing machine, there are a few things to note. Source: Visual Hunt

Before diving straight in, you have to buy a sewing machine and when you don't know much about them, it's not an easy task. We would advise you to opt for a household machine, basically something is be portable rather than an industrial machine which is placed on a table and is particularly cumbersome.

Remember to choose a sewing machine that will last well: the weight (it must be quite heavy) and the price of the machine (more than £150) are good indicators of its robustness.

Here are the 10 essential features you need to locate when using a sewing machine:

  • The running stitch: the most basic stitch which you will use in 90% of cases. There's no way your sewing machines won't be equipped to perform this stitch,
  • The zigzag stitch: this is the second stitch that all machines are able to carry out whether it's domestic or industrial, manual or electronic,
  • Adjusting the tension: some machines adjust the tension of the thread automatically but be careful, you have to be able to do it manually too,
  • Setting the stitch length: there's a wheel that adjusts the stitch length. Of course you will end up using the same setting, but through trial and error, you'll see what suits you best. Make sure to choose a machine that offers this setting,
  • The free arm: this is usually when you arrange your accessories. When the hood of the machine is lifted you can put the legs of a pair of trousers or the sleeves of a jacket around this arm to sew all around the leg/sleeve,
  • The automatic buttonhole: even if technically the automatic buttonhole is a very tight zigzag stitch, you can do it without this feature, it's still just as easy!
  • The overlock stitch: it does the work of the serger, it's worth buying one,
  • The elastic stitch: to assemble elastic fabrics such as stretch or jersey. There are several options, the main thing is to have at least one,
  • The adjustable pressure foot: really useful for elastic and very fine fabrics,
  • The piqué zigzag stitch: a dashed zigzag stitch, very useful for elastics that are used a lot. It's a very strong stitch.

You will understand that choosing a sewing machine requires research but with these tips, you'll already have a fair idea of what to get.

Choose a well-known brand of sewing machines and spend around £200 (the entry level for most leading brands) for a machine that lasts. When you're starting off, opt for a manual machine. It's better to learn how to use all the basic features before switching to an electronic machine.

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The zigzag stitch is one of the most fundamental stitches found on a sewing machine. Source: Visual Hunt

The Must-have Accessories for Your New Sewing Machine

A sewing machine has different add-ons, which are not all completely necessary.

Don't be fooled by a advert for a sewing machine with 168 accessories when in fact only 12 of those are actually essential.

The same advice applies if you find a great used machine but it don't have all the fancy add-ons, don't worry. It is easy to buy these separately for around the same cost.

Here are the sewing accessories a beginner needs for their machine:

  • A presser foot,
  • A bobbin case,
  • A zipper foot,
  • A buttonhole foot,
  • A screwdriver adapted to your machine,
  • A small oilcan,
  • Bobbins,
  • Standard replacement needles,
  • "Jeans" needles and "stretch" needles,
  • An invisible zipper foot,
  • A small brush to clean inside (now and again),
  • Bonus: the foot transporter.
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Bobbins are must-have four your sewing machine. Make sure to get plenty of them. Source: Visual Hunt

Now that you know a little more about the sewing machine essentials, you're ready to take sewing classes. At first you should learn to use your sewing machine and make good use of your purchase.

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The Essential Steps to Learn to Sew on the Machine

The Thrifty Stitcher website offers online sewing classes for beginners wanting to get used to working a sewing machine. Remember that before starting to sew, embroider or make clothes properly, you have to be familiar with your machine.

Step 1: put your thread into the upper thread spool and position the bobbin. Top tip: to ensure the seams are even, the bobbin and bobbin thread must be of similar quality.

You will also learn how to prepare and insert a bobbin (vertical and horizontal), selecting and adjusting stitches, stretching thread, and inserting and changing a needle, presser foot or double needle. See the video for further guidance!

Practise to improve your sewing technique.
Learning to sew requires hard-work and patience! Source: Visual Hunt

For a notice, it's easy to be intimidated by your sewing machine and not know where to start at all. Fortunately, sewing tutorials to help you with steps are readily available. So you can kickstart your hobby with confidence.

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Learn to Sew on the Machine: the Different Ways of Sewing

Because sewing patterns are all different and it is not exciting to always sew the same way, it is essential to practise on scraps of fabric. The Couture blog Etoile de Coton (what else?) Offers video tutorials to better learn how to sew in different ways with its machine:

  • Running stitch: it may seem obvious and boring, but sewing straight has to be learned and is not as easy as it seems,
  • Right angle weave stitch: Do you want to sew a bag? There is a good chance that there is a need to sew at a right angle which isn't necessarily obvious when you start off.
  • Dashed line stitch: if you want to sew accessories or patches like a star, you will need to know how to make a dotted line with your machine,
  • Circle stitch: just be steady, go smoothly and follow the fabric and everything will be perfect!
  • Remove a seam: yes, when you start you'll make mistakes, and that's normal, it's how you progress and learn. Removing stitches, cleanly taking out a seam without damaging the fabric, is a real skill.
  • Sew an appliqué: for a more advanced level, but you can get there quickly. First of all, you need to know how to sew on the wrong side and flip your project,
  • Sew a buttonhole: even if your machine does it by itself, you'll need to learn how to do it,
  • Overcast: to sew seam margins. Do not overlook this step, it will prevent the fabric fraying with wear.

Discover our best tips for learning how to sew...

Learn to Use your Sewing Machine: Take a Sewing Class

Even if you are persistent to learn how to sew on your own, taking a sewing class when you first start is a great idea. Why should you take sewing lessons to learn how to use your machine?

  • Because operating instructions and internet tutorials are not always enough to understand how to use a sewing machine,
  • Because it's not necessarily obvious what to do,
  • Because you will save time (and avoid a nervous breakdown) when learning to sew quickly,
  • Because you can ask all the questions you have to the fashion designer or the professional seamstress taking the class,
  • Because you will avoid making mistakes or skipping an important step.

And it doesn't tend to cost very much. In your area, find clubs and associations that offer free or affordable sewing courses.

Avoid making mistakes by getting professional sewing lessons.
Get creative with your mannequins! Source: Visual Hunt

On Superprof, you have the choice of around 67 sewing teachers throughout the UK to help you learn how to make a hem, sew a button or cushion cover with a machine. Classes start at £6 an hour according to your needs and more often than not the first class is free.

In summary:

  • First of all, you have to choose your sewing machine well, according to its features, cost and accessories.
  • Understanding how your machine works is the second step. You have to learn how to thread your machine, insert the bobbin, change the needles, etc. More than all the steps needed to create your garment (tracing, pinning, sewing, embroidering, etc.), adjusting your machine is essential.
  • Of course, as a beginner you should start with the basics. Firstly, you should learn to sew straight and practice on spare fabric.
  • Finally, if you are really having trouble understanding how to use your machine, signing up to a sewing course with a professional teacher is the best solution.

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A French/Spanish to English translator, Sarah is currently enjoying travelling around Europe with her work.