The Beginner's Guide to Sewing So You Can Stitch with Confidence

Instead of paying a hefty price for custom home decor, learn simple sewing skills so you can make it yourself.

Like any DIY project, sewing is easier when you have the right tools. We're sharing everything you need to start sewing at home. Start by stocking a basic sewing kit with our editor-approved picks for must-haves like scissors, shears, and needles. Next, we'll walk you through simple sewing machine basics including a handy guide to needles, fabric, and thread. Lastly, we're sharing demystifying images of six common stitches. Once you've mastered these sewing basics, try making one of our easy sewing projects like a handmade canvas tote bag, DIY utensil wraps, or tackle a large project like custom hidden-tab curtains.

assorted sewing supplies on black and white mat
Jacob Fox

Materials 101

Collect these items to round out your basic sewing kit.

  1. Tape measure: Take measurements around dimensional objects, such as pillows, with this plastic or fabric tape.
  2. Cutting mat: Use a self-healing mat to protect your work surface when using a rotary cutter.
  3. Fabric shears: Reserve one pair of shears for fabric only—no paper allowed. We like the RazorEdge Softgrip Fabric Shears, $18, Joann.
  4. Iron, hand-sewing needles, and needle threader
  5. Rotary cutter: This pizza cutter lookalike cuts several fabric layers. In our studio, we use the Olfa 45mm Rotary Cutter, $40, Joann.
  6. Sewing gauge: Use this metal ruler to double-check your seam allowances when sewing or to check your hem measurements when pressing.
  7. Water-soluble markers: Marks made with these are removed with water (don't iron over the marks—they may become permanent).
  8. Seam ripper: Rip out seams and pick out individual threads when the need arises.
  9. Embroidery scissors: Clip threads with these small, sharp scissors.
  10. Glass-head pins: Unlike plastic-head pins, these Extra-Fine Glasshead Pins from Dritz Quilting won't melt if touched by an iron.
  11. Seam sealant: Prevent raw edges or knots from fraying with this clear liquid.
  12. Acrylic ruler: Roll a rotary cutter (like this Fiskars 6×24-inch Folding Ruler, $32, Fiskars) along a ruler to get straight edges and protect your fingers.
Schmetz Microtex Needles
Adam Albright

Needle Guide

Sewing machine needles come in several different types; here are a few of the more popular. Use sharps for woven fabrics, ballpoints for stretch fabrics, or a universal needle, which is a compromise between the two. Pay attention to the numbers at the bottom of the needle packaging—the higher the number, the larger the needle. Use size 70/10 or smaller for lightweight fabrics, 80/12 for regular sewing, and 90/14 or larger for heavyweight fabrics. Be good to yourself—and your machine—by inserting a new needle with every project.

Coats Thread samples
Jacob Fox

Thread Guide

With so many kinds to choose from, looking at the assortment of thread at the fabric store can be dizzying. Luckily, some brands label their threads with clear-cut names, such as "outdoor," "all-purpose," or "heavy-duty." For general-purpose sewing, look for a 40-weight thread in cotton or polyester. One rule of thumb to remember: The lower the number, the thicker the thread.

assorted sewing machine presser feet
Jacob Fox

Presser Feet

Most sewing machines come with a variety of presser feet to accomplish various stitches. Your manual is the ultimate resource for your machine, but here's a basic guide to what you'll find.

  1. Stitch guide foot: Line up the edge of the fabric with the chosen line to keep a consistent seam.
  2. Buttonhole: A built-in button guide measures your button to set the perfect size buttonhole.
  3. Quilting: Use this attachment for free-motion quilting (moving multiple fabric layers freely in any direction).
  4. Zigzag: A good all-around foot, the opening can accommodate straight and wide stitches.
  5. Overcasting: Use this foot when overcasting—sewing over the edge of a fabric to prevent it from fraying.
  6. Monogramming: Use this foot when sewing decorative stitches that are denser, such as a satin stitch or lettering.
  7. Zipper: This foot allows you to sew close to the left or right side of a raised area, such as on a zipper.
  8. Blind stitch: The guide on this foot will help you just barely catch the edge of the fold when doing blind-hem stitching.
  9. Button fitting: This foot holds a button while you stitch it in place.
  10. 1/4-inch quilting: Use the edges of this foot as a guide for perfect 1/4-inch seam allowances.
  11. Walking: Used for straight lines of quilting, this attachment moves the top layer of a quilt evenly with the bottom layers.
red and white sewing machine
Jacob Fox

Machine Anatomy

Whether you're buying your first sewing machine (like this Brother CS6000I, $220, The Home Depot) or upgrading to a better model, here are some areas to know and features to look for.

  1. Presser foot: This holds the fabric down while you're sewing. Several may come with your machine.
  2. Feed dogs: These metal teeth grip the fabric and move it with each stitch.
  3. Bobbin cover: The bobbin (a plastic or metal disk of the thread) can either be a drop-in type or front-loading.
  4. Thread guide: Follow the manual to be sure you're threading correctly through all of the thread guides.
  5. Upper tension control: Adjust the tension (tightness or looseness) of the upper thread.
  6. Sewing speed controller: Set the maximum speed your machine will go—a good idea if you have a lead foot.
  7. Needle position button: Set the needle to automatically stop when the needle is at its highest or lowest point.
  8. Spool pin: The thread spool sits on a horizontal or vertical pin and feeds into the needle after a series of guides.
  9. Bobbin winder: Wind thread onto a bobbin to use for the lower thread in the machine.
  10. Handwheel: Use this wheel to manually raise or lower the needle.
  11. Stitches: Machines vary widely in the number of built-in stitches they have.
  12. Foot controller: Use this pedal to activate the machine while you guide the fabric with your hands.
assorted patterned fabrics
Jacob Fox

Fabric Types

Fabrics stores are filled with materials in all sorts of weights, prints, and textures. Here is a guide to some of the most commonly used for home decorating projects.

  1. Upholstery weight: Use this heavier home decor fabric for slipcovers and cushions.
  2. Linen/Linenlike: Linen blends offer the look of linen without the high price or tendency to wrinkle.
  3. Sheer: For a little privacy without blocking sunlight, use sheer drapes.
  4. Faux suede: This synthetic fabric is tough and a good choice for upholstery.
  5. Home decor weight: Home decor fabrics can be used for drapes, pillows, and most anything. Available in a wide array of prints and weights.
  6. Velvet: Natural or synthetic velvet offers a luxe look and feel.
  7. Cotton: Medium-weight cotton solids and prints are other options for decor projects.
  8. Wool/Woven: Weaves such as classic herringbone or nubby twills add texture.
  9. Knit: For a change, try sewing accessories with comfy knits.
  10. Outdoor: These fabrics have a finish that makes them water-resistant and/or less susceptible to sun damage.
assorted stitch patterns
Jacob Fox

Stitch Types

Although a basic straight stitch is what you'll find yourself using most, here are a few additional helpful stitches for home decor sewing.

  1. Satin scallop: Use decorative stitches like this on areas such as hems.
  2. Blind-hem: This stitch creates professional-looking hems in much less time than hand-sewing.
  3. Appliqué: Secure the raw edges of a fabric shape onto a background with this stitch.
  4. Triple stretch: This straight stitch provides a secure seam with a little give for sewing on knits and reinforcing seams subject to strain.
  5. Zigzag: Use this stitch for finishing raw edges, attaching elastic, or couching over yarn or other trim.
  6. Fagoting: Some decorative stitches mimic the look of hand embroidery.
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