11 tips & 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.
I'm not going to go into detail here about the advantages of those models but I strongly invite you to go read a few of product descriptions to get the gist.
2) Use matching 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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!
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.
Many computerized 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.
Do you have other tips to share? Please do so in the comments!