11 tips & tricks for sewing machine beginners

tips and tricks for sewing machine beginners

Are you a sewing machine newbie? Then read this article!

I’ve listed below a few tips and tricks from my own personal experience that are easy to apply and will ensure you get the best out of your sewing machine.

Let’s get started!

1) Choose the right machine

Obviously if you already own a sewing machine, you can skip this (and make do with what you have). However if you still need to buy one, there are sewing machines best suited to beginners to choose from.

2) Use matching threads

Matching spool and bobbin threads

A sewing machine uses two threads. You should always use the same type of thread (same material, same thickness*) on the top and the bottom to avoid uneven tension, jams, and breakages.

*You can mix colours of course (to match the inner and outer fabric, or create decorative stitching), just as long as it’s the same kind of thread.

The easiest way to match threads is to start each project with an empty bobbin and fill it from the spool. If you often use the same spool, go ahead and fill several bobbins at once to avoid re-threading your machine every time. Just make sure to keep track of where they came from! (label each bobbin or store it with its spool).

3) Keep your lines straight and your curves neat

Curved seam
Source: wiki

This can seem hard if you’ve never used a sewing machine before, but fear not it’s actually quite simple (although you’ll definitely need some practice).

To stitch a straight line, place the edge of your fabric along one of the lines* on the needle plate, and keep that alignment while you stitch.

*Most sewing machines have these lines. If not, you can “draw” one by sticking a bit of tape on the needle plate.

Go slowly at first then increase your speed as you gain confidence. Always focus on the alignment, not the needle or the stitching: they move too fast for your eyes to follow plus it prevents you from seeing the bigger picture.

To make a smooth curve, stitch slowly while rotating the fabric using both hands. Do this in a steady, continuous movement if you can, and if you can’t (or if you need to make a sharp turn) always stop with the needle down into the fabric. This allows you to pivot the fabric around the last stitch ensuring a neat curve.

4) Keep hold of the threads’ tails at the start

Holding sewing machine threads

The threads’ tails are loose before you make the first stitches. This can cause them to get tangled in the machine’s mechanism and even pull the fabric in with them (especially light thin fabrics).

To avoid this mess (and possibly having to cut a hole in your fabric to solve it), always hold the threads’ tails with your left hand while making the first stitches.

5) Flatten your fabrics before sewing them

Ironing fabric of a sewing project
Source: Lenore Edman

Avoid the crooked stitches that come from sewing scrunched up fabric by flattening it before. Simply use your hands if that’s enough to smooth out all the lines (even the neat folding ones) or iron it if needed.

It’s a bit of extra work to begin with, but in the end it will make your life easier.

6) Practice, practice, practice

Practicing sewing on paper

Practice makes perfect, and that’s what you want your work to look like right?

I know it’s tempting to jump right in and get going. But be aware that every type of fabric, thread and stitch has its own characteristics. Different threads need different tensions; thin fabric can be fragile whereas thick fabric requires a thick, strong needle; stitches come in all shapes and sizes; etc.

By taking a couple of minutes to practice on a spare bit of fabric, you can make adjustments without ruining your work. Obviously you need to recreate your project’s circumstances for this to make sense. So be sure to use the same fabric (and the same number of layers), thread and machine configuration for your test and your project.

Complete beginners can also practice on printed paper first to get the hang of it. There are loads of free patterns online (lines, curves, even drawings) that you can print at home and exercise with.

7) Keep your scraps of fabric

Scraps of fabric
Source: Merete Veian

How will you practice (c.f. tip #6) without them?

Plus they can be useful for smaller projects, or even to add a bit of a twist on larger ones.

8) Don’t be a slob

Dirty sewing machine mechanism

Clean your machine from time to time.

Fluff gets caught in the mechanism when you sew. It can affect your machine’s performance (even if you don’t always feel it) and noise level (which you should notice, otherwise maybe clean your ears too :P).

It’s also good to protect your machine from dust by covering it. Most machines are sold with a slipcover or case, but if you don’t have one they’re easy to make!

Good upkeep may also spare you a trip to the repair shop.

9) Maintain ideal sewing conditions

You would be amazed at how many times mechanic glitches can be fixed by cleaning the machine, rethreading it, or changing the needle.

I have covered the cleanliness part already.

Rethreading is another useful maintenance operation to apply. If you can’t seem to get the tension right, if the thread keeps jamming or breaking, if anything feels wonky, try rethreading everything (spool and bobbin). That will often solve your problem.

As for needles, be sure to use the proper one for each project. Universal needles are good in many situations but they aren’t the universal best choice. They won’t work as well on very thin or thick fabrics than thinner/thicker needles will. Jeans for example may be your everyday wear, but they require more than your everyday needle!

Needles also become blunt or bent fairly quickly. This can lead to thread jams or, worse, the needle crashing into the needle plate instead of going through the hole (and consequently breaking). Change it regularly for better, safer stitching.

10) Make sure you have enough thread

Source: Tenor – Watch Dexter if you haven’t already!

Before starting a new project (or a major part of a project), check the state of your bobbin.

You want to make sure there’s enough thread on it that you won’t run out in the middle of a neat seam or complicated stitch.

If the bobbin is nearly empty, better to change it from the start than deal with it midway.

11) Slow down!

Slow down
Source: Tristan Schmurr

Operating a sewing machine is like driving a car (okay not quite, but bear with me): you need to be smooth with the gas pedal.

Don’t suddenly push it all the way down (or risk completely losing control of your stitching). Go slow for precise manoeuvres. Practice at a reasonable pace.

Some machines are equipped with a speed control button that allows you to set a maximum speed. It’s super practical for beginners or touchy pedals.

Another trick is to sew barefoot (or with socks on, basically just remove your shoes). The extra sensitivity helps controlling the pedal.

More tips?

Do you have other tips to share? Please do so in the comments!

7 thoughts on “11 tips & tricks for sewing machine beginners”

  1. This is some really good information about sewing machines. It is good to know that it would be smart to make sure that you keep track of the thread. That does seem like a good thing to be aware of when you need to keep your sewing machine looking well.

  2. You mentioned that we should keep our scraps of fabric. It makes sense that this can be helpful in the long run and useful for smaller projects, as you said. My daughter is getting really interested in sewing. She learned how to sew in school! I’ll start looking for a sewing machine in our area so that she can continue to practice her skills.

  3. That’s a good idea to practice on some print outs. That way you would be able to know what you need to do when you actually start sewing. I’ll have to remember that as I start to learn how to sew.

  4. I appreciate the tip about how you need to be smooth with the pedal when using a sewing machine. My wife found an old sewing machine in our attic that she would like to learn how to use. I think it is broken, so she will probably have to find a place where she can get it repaired first.

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