39 Must-Learn Basic Sewing Skills for Beginners

Sewing opens up a world of possibilities. With a little bit of knowledge, you can alter store-bought pieces to perfect the fit. You can make decorations, accessories, and everyday essentials just the way you like. Or you can completely create customized garments, crafts, home goods, and more. While learning to sew may seem intimidating at first, it only takes grasping a few fundamental skills to get started. From there, you can slowly build on techniques that increase your abilities over time. These 39 must-learn basic sewing skills form the foundation every beginner should start with.

Learn How to Thread a Sewing Machine

The most essential sewing skill is knowing how to properly thread a sewing machine. Understanding how the top thread and bobbin work together to create stitches will make every other technique easier moving forward. So let’s identify the key components and walk through the threading steps.

Identifying Key Components

Start by becoming familiar with the main external parts of your machine. You’ll need to know the location of the spool pins, thread guides, tension discs, take-up lever, and needle. Pay special attention to the presser foot lever and any threading diagrams as well.

Walkthrough of Threading Steps

The basic process for threading a sewing machine is:

  1. Raise the presser foot to release tension discs.
  2. Place the thread spool on the appropriate spool pin.
  3. Draw thread tail up through take-up lever checking guides.
  4. Pull the thread down through the final thread guide above the needle.

Refer to your machine’s specific threading diagram if unsure. Don’t be afraid to thread, unthread, and re-thread several times slowly to familiarize yourself with the path.

Troubleshooting Threading Issues

Common threading frustration points include skipped thread guides, not seating thread behind the needle clamp correctly, and incorrectly wound bobbins. Go step-by-step to pinpoint the spot causing uneven tension or nests underneath.

Master Hand Sewing Stitches

Before touching a sewing machine, get comfortable with some basic hand-sewing stitches. Learning proper hand technique establishes good habits. And hand-sewing gives flexibility for making quick repairs and adding decorative embellishments, bindings, and other touches by hand later on.

Running Stitch and Variations

This simple “in-out” stitch is the foundation. Keep stitches evenly spaced and of similar length for the best appearance. Once comfortable, try varying thickness and symmetry. Combine with embroidery floss for decorative effects. Lean slight backstitches at the end to secure threads.

Backstitch for Seams

Take a tiny stitch backward to “lock” each running stitch in place. This prevents stretching and unraveling along a hand-sewn seam line. The backstitch also adds seam strength. Use contrasting thread colors in front and back to teach yourself stitch alignment.

Basting Stitch Uses

This very long, easily removable stitch temporarily holds pieces together while fitting, sewing, quilting, and embroidery. Make stitches 5mm-10mm in length, with 1⁄4 inch gaps between, only catching a few threads with each pass.

Whip Stitch

Wrapping the thread once around the fabric edge before bringing the needle back through the layers joins them together. Ideal for sewing the ends of binding or joining two fully finished edges.

Slip Stitch

Barely visible, tiny stitches secure the inner folded edges. Work right to left concealing thread inside the fold or hem allowance only grabbing a few threads to join layers invisibly from the outside.

Ladder Stitch

Much like the slip stitch but spaced further apart, more like a basting stitch. Use this versatile stitch to close openings, join edges, or gather fabric.

Sew Straight Lines

One of the first machine sewing skills beginners should focus on is maintaining straight stitching. While it sounds basic, keeping lines straight imparts control for every other technique moving forward. Let’s explore some methods to help.

Choosing a Stitch Length

Set your stitch length between 1.5-3 mm for smooth straight stitching depending on fabric weight. Very short stitches or very long stitches pucker more along the edges.

Utilizing Tape Guidelines

Masking tape, washable marker, and specialty presser feet with built-in guidelines all assist with visual straight stitching. Line the guide up with the raw edge or seam line as you sew.

Preventing Uneven Feeding

Feed dogs underneath the throat plate grip and move the fabric along as you sew. To prevent puckering along straight lines check that the gap around the throat plate is closed. Interface sticky fabrics first too.

Apply Seam Finishes

Raw fabric edges fray and unravel decreasing garment durability and appearance over time. Protect inner seams with appropriate seam finish techniques suited to fabric type.

Pinking for Woven Fabrics

Cutting the edge with pinking shears in tiny zigzags prevents fraying on most stable woven fabrics like cotton or linens without added bulk.

Zig Zag for Stretch Fabrics

The zig-zag machine stitch allows the knit fabric to still comfortably stretch while securing the edge some from unraveling during wear.

French Seams

First, sew the seam wrong sides together, then trim close along the stitching line. Next press open and sew a second line with fabrics now right sides together, fully enclosing raw edges inside.

Hong Kong Seams

This finish encases an extra fold of fabric for added strength and a beautifully neat appearance inside. Determine the desired seam width and multiply the finish by two. Sew the right sides together. Press open. Turn under and top stitch down twice.

Serged Seams

Serging simultaneously sews a seam while trimming the edge for perfectly finished professional results in one step. Use an overlock sewing machine or take projects to a serger specialty shop.

Sew Around Curves and Corners

Sewing straight lines can be challenging enough for beginners. Maneuvering fabric around curves and corners brings a whole new set of difficulties from keeping seams smooth to stitching exact angles.

Strategic Clipping

Trim inward into concave curves so the edges can spread properly while pinning and sewing. Make small 1/4-inch cuts frequently, without going through the stitching line, so the seam allowance can open up enough along tight inner curves.

Pinning and Easing

Use plenty of pins around trickier outer curves and corners to match notches and hold the fabric edge in place while manipulating tight turns. Allow longer fabric edges to gently “ease” around shorter edges preventing puckers.

Pivoting Techniques

Stop stitching with the needle firmly in the fabric at the exact corner point. Raise the presser foot leaving those last few stitches loose underneath. Rotate the project slightly, lowering the presser foot to sew around the corner.

Create Gathers and Ruffles

Full sweeping ruffles require yardage, but small gathered sections add shape to fabric using your machine settings without cutting more fabric. Try gathering sleeve caps, skirt waistbands, and bust areas.

Adjusting Tension Settings

Loosen the top tension to allow more slack so the bottom bobbin thread can pull on the top thread to gather it. Return the tension knob to the original setting after sewing the gathers.

Determining Stitch Type and Length

Use a straight stitch between 3-5mm long. The extra length makes threads easy to grab and pull for gathering. Shorter normal-length stitches gather too tightly into small puckers instead of soft waves.

Gathering by Hand

Mark two parallel rows of gathering stitches leaving long thread tails. Knot the 4 threads securely, then pull on the top and bottom threads simultaneously, sliding knots along to evenly distribute gathers across the area between rows.

Hem Knits and Wovens

Hems don’t have to be boring twin-needle topstitched affairs. Explore blind hemming stitches or hand finishes for nearly invisible hems on skirts, pants, and sleeves allowing fabric drape and stretch.

Twin Needle Hems Provide Stability

Two parallel rows of straight stitching prevent stretching along hem edges. Pop a twin needle into your sewing machine and edgestitch garment hems from the right side. Increase stitch length to 2.5-5mm for smooth feeding through multiple thicknesses.

Blind Hemming Preserves Drape

This popular finish for skirts and dresses conceals hems from the right side for zero visible stitches. Fold up hem allowance to desired depth and edgestitch bottom fold in place. Then working right to left, catch just one or two fabric threads with each pass of the needle, barely grabbing the inside fold.

Catch Stitching is a Hand Sewn Hem

Use a single thread and needle. Take a diagonal stitch to grab just a couple of threads then cross over to the opposite side for another small stitch moving along the edge. The tricky sequence of crossing back and forth catches threads without passing through to the front visible side.

Sew Darts for Shaping

All body shapes require subtle dart shaping for garments to fit curves gracefully. Don’t be afraid to sew darts- just take it slow. Their angled stitching lines may seem complicated but break down into three simple steps.

Transferring Markings

Use paper pattern markings, tailor’s tack holes, chalk, or tracing paper to accurately mark dart stitching lines onto your fabric. Clear guidelines prevent veering off course mid-stitch.

Stitching Order

Begin sewing a few inches down from the wide dart end, not at the very tip which tends to get sucked down unevenly creating puckers. Stitch slowly and smoothly into the narrow point marked on the fabric, tapering stitching to nothing.

Pressing Direction

Pressing completed darts flat sets them into the fabric permanently and allows them to lay smoothly against the body without bumps seen from the outside of a finished garment. Press toward the center front or back, perpendicular to the bust point for bodices, or down toward the hem for skirts.

Take in or Let Out Seams

Ready-to-wear pieces found at thrift stores or in your closet often fit perfectly except for being slightly too small or too large along a vertical seam. Learn techniques for customizing fit by taking garments in or letting them out along these key joins.

When to Alter Seams

Take in seams on loose tops, dresses, and pants up to an inch total for a slimmer silhouette. Let outside seams up to 1⁄2 inch total to accommodate curves on fitted styles. Beyond that, it’s better to fit from new larger or smaller pattern sizes.

Stitch Rip and Re-Sew Method

Unpick the original seam stitches using a seam ripper tool. Press seam allowances open. At the sewing machine, lay one followed by the other seam allowance under the presser foot trimming any excess width exceeding the original seam allowance depth as you go.

Opening the Seam Allowance

For minor tight fits, create subtle extra width by simply pressing seam allowances apart rather than removing stitches. Use steam, a pressing cloth, and/or the blunt end of your seam ripper handle to push layers slightly open, then press flat.

Troubleshoot Issues

From skipped stitches and tangled threads to uneven fabric feeding causing frustrating puckers, all sewers invariably encounter common issues. The key for beginners is learning tricks to diagnose and problem-solve solutions when challenges pop up.

Fabric Pucker Remedies

Loosen top thread tension, change to appropriate size needle, check bobbin and spool thread match, clean lint from feed dogs, use interfacing on delicate fabrics, change to longer stitch length, pin then sew directional fabrics only.

Machine Tension Fixes

Rethread top and bobbin. Clean between tension discs. Replace needle hitting needle plate hole wrong. Let heavy seam layers hang off the back edge while sewing. Check tension discs close securely while sewing.

Sewing Thick Fabrics

Use leather, denim, or quilting needles. Lower presser foot pressure as able. Place heavyweight dissolving stabilizer underneath. Lengthen stitch size to the maximum for your machine. Use a bigger size thread in the top and bobbin.


Don’t let the sewing basics above overwhelm you when learning. Set aside a little time each day to try out stitches, play with scraps, and build slowly. Reference techniques here whenever one skill gives you trouble or you need a next step to expand your abilities. You’ll gain confidence stitch by stitch working on projects you love until one day sewing feels like second nature. Then you get the exciting reward of making clothing and decor all your own.


What are the best stitches for a complete beginner to start practicing?

Focus first on mastering the straight and zig-zag stitches since they form the basis of construction and decorative work. Then try out the basting, blind hem, and buttonhole functions your machine offers.

Should I practice on paper or scrap fabric when starting?

The fabric feeds much differently than paper, so it’s best to get fabric experience right away. Use old bed sheets or t-shirt scraps to get the hang of guiding materials.

How long does it take to learn sewing well enough to make clothes?

Expect it to take around 50 total hours of practice to become comfortable with basic garment construction techniques. Complex skills like tailored jackets may take years more to perfect.

What inexpensive machine is good for beginners?

Entry-level computerized machines from Brother, Singer, and Janome all adequately handle basics for less than $200. Check for built-in stitches, easy threading, and adjustable presser foot pressure.

Should I give up if I can’t get the hang of sewing at first?

Frustrations and mistakes are completely normal in the first 20 hours. Stick with it, problem-solve issues, and celebrate small wins. Making progress just takes patience and determination.

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