Learn to Sew: Your Questions Answered

pink dress with applique

Blogger Elena Tran

by Elena Tran
February 26, 2021


What age should you start sewing?

As soon as you can handle the needle and thread safely and understand the sewing instructions, you are set to go. As a parent, if you notice that your child expresses interest in fabrics and sewing, then you should nurture that interest as much as you can.

Let me tell you a story from my childhood. My grandmother used to bring fabric remnants home from work and my sisters and I loved looking at these colorful pieces, playing with them, trying them on our dolls. We started sewing simple clothes for our dolls by hand at first using basic needle and thread. No one showed us how to do straight stitch, because our grandma and mother were busy. We kind of just figured it out on our own and taught each other. As we got older, we were allowed to use our mother’s sewing machine. One of my sisters went far with her sewing and became a professional fashion designer and a sewing instructor. 

Can you start sewing in your later years?

Absolutely, and I am the living proof of that. I discovered sewing as a serious hobby in my late 40s despite the back and neck pain I developed after working for years in the office coupled with my congenital eye problem. But nothing could stop me from enjoying my love of sewing. One important point: you have to understand and accept your limitations. The eye sight and arthritis problems may be of particular concern to dressmakers. If your disability is serious and it prevents you from sewing, then you need to find another way of enjoying your hobby.

hand sewing


There are many benefits you can derived from sewing, such as stress relief, improved blood pressure and improved brain function. However, it is important to be kind to yourself and not get frustrated when the thread doesn’t quite glide into the eye of a needle. There are aids that you can get to help you. The sewing hobby has improved since Victorian era. You can buy lamp magnifiers in different sizes, including the ones you wear on your head. Check out better lighting options, ergonomic furniture, magnetic sewing pins, fabric weights and wonder clips, self-threading sewing machines and other gadgets.

Can I teach myself to sew?

Although most people need a bit of help, you actually can be completely self-taught. If you are a complete novice, however, and if you don’t have anyone in the family to show you the basics, I would suggest taking the first couple of classes at a local college. It is important to get a good start so you don’t get frustrated. There are so many YouTube videos available as well, but nothing beats a live instructor.

The reason why I was taking structured sewing courses was because it was important to me to get the answers to all my questions right on the spot and to get immediate feedback. 

sew my own clothes

The wonderful thing about this hobby is that learning materials are easily available. Just purchase sewing patterns that you like and every pattern has detailed sewing instructions with pictures. When you get stuck on something, just go online and find a YouTube video showing that particular technique. It’s like learning a new language. Read, listen, repeat.

My first sewing pattern was McCall’s vintage Givenchy day dress. I made two of those to practice. I still wear them proudly to this day, and although I notice my errors, I want to keep these two dresses just as they are to remind me of how I started.

Givenchy day dress pattern

Can I learn to sew online?

The short answer is yes, you can. There are great quality sewing courses available for a small fee on craftsy.com and similar sites and, depending on your learning style, you can excel in these very quickly.

learn sewing online

However, if you have learning difficulties or disabilities, I suggest taking a couple of basic sewing courses at your local college. Sewing should be a fun and enjoyable hobby. It is very important to have the right learning support when you need it, and also the opportunity for social interaction with people who love doing the same thing as you do. When you receive praise and encouragement from your peers, it motivates you to keep going.

What should I sew as a beginner?

Never set limits for themselves before you even start. Ask yourself, what do you want to make? What would motivate you to finish your project? If you want to make something practical that you can complete in a day or two, like table napkins or pillow cases, then this is what you need to start with. Choose a pattern that you really, really like because this will guarantee your perseverance. But, like all artists, you need to always remember to learn from your mistakes and to challenge yourself constantly in order to grow.

sewing as a beginner

Can I sew my own clothes?

For many people this is the main reason why they start sewing. As the English proverb says, necessity is the mother of inventions. I remember coming home from shopping for clothes one day and looking at my enormous bill for just a couple of items. I thought how great it would be to be able to make my own clothes for a fraction of that bill. After all, the polyester dress and faux leather bag were just a shadow of what I really wanted to buy but couldn’t find nor afford.

If you are like me, you would want to create something very beautiful to keep motivated. I wasn’t interested in a plain skirt or an apron. I might have started something like that in the past and never finished it because it didn’t look beautiful or glamorous enough for me to continue. But when I bought a vintage pattern for a Givenchy day dress, I was determined to make it.

learn to sew for beginners

Against all experts' advice, the fabric I chose was expensive and the buttons were one-of-a-kind. It wasn’t easy, and it took me forever to finish the dress because every step was slow and I was so scared to mess up. But the motivation to complete the project was enormous and my couture dress was slowly progressing day by day. I was extremely proud of the outcome.

How do I start learning to sew?

Before you start learning to sew, you will need a few basic tools, like a ruler, a good pair of fabric scissors, fabric marking pencils, sets of sewing needles, sewing machine, fabric and thread. You can buy other items as you need them, and always look out for a good sale.

Then you need to decide what to sew and get a pattern. A word of advice: don’t cut the pieces of your paper pattern. Make a copy of each piece instead using Pellon Easy Pattern. Patterns become more expensive on the resale market as they age. If you take good care of your patterns, your grandkids can benefit from selling them as vintage patterns one day. I keep all my patterns folded neatly in separate envelopes away from light, heat and humidity.

copy of vintage pattern

Work on your pattern one step at a time and follow instructions to the letter until you sew a few items and understand the sewing process for each type of garment. The more you sew, the more confident you will become and eventually you will not need to constantly look at the instructions. You will know exactly what to do. But in the beginning, if you don’t understand something, stop and go online. There is the answer to practically every problem there. Go for the videos first, if there are any. If you don’t find your answer online, try the sewing books and sewing blogs next.

How long does it take to learn to sew?

Not very long, trust me. Once you make your first piece, you will already be empowered. The rest is just practice, which, of course, makes all of us perfect. And remember that everyone started with basics at some point. If I could do it, so can you and everyone else who wants to sew.

sewing project for beginners

Is sewing an expensive hobby?

It could be, because as you learn, you get excited and very passionate about your hobby. The same applies to woodworking, painting, aquarium fish, gardening or any other hobby.  There comes a point when money becomes no object. However, you need to stay grounded and keep track of your expenses. But if you are patient, you can buy practically all supplies you need at a huge discount. Check out garage sales, discount stores like Salvation Army and Goodwill, Habitat for Humanity stores. Don’t buy used or refurbished sewing machines though. Invest in a brand new sewing machine and take good care of it. This is a non-negotiable expense. Get the best machine that you money can buy. Janome and Bernina are gold standards.

I got Brothers and Janome serger sewing machine at home. Brothers was purchased from Walmart and Janome from Amazon. One word of advice: the modern sewing machines, like any other appliances, will not last forever. When your machine eventually breaks down, just replace it with a brand new one. Fixing the sewing machine is difficult and in my experience it will not bring the machine back to the way it worked before it broke down. As painful as it is to let your favourite baby sewing machine go, the aggravation of constant problems will be worse.

sewing machine to learn to sew

Fabrics can be expensive if you want quality or rare designer fabrics. You get what you pay for when it comes to fabrics. Pure silk, linen and wool fabrics from Europe are always expensive. Cotton fabrics are easily available everywhere and you can get them on sale. Just beware of the negative environmental impact from textiles like cotton and polyester. Make sure you think about how you plan to recycle your fabric remnants and stick to your plan. Don’t throw the fabrics in the garbage; some of them are not bio-degradable. For instance, it takes polyester fabrics 20 to 200 years to break down.

What should I do with fabric trimmings/scraps?

Use your fabric scraps to stuff pin cushions or toys. Use them for interesting textile art projects, quilted blankets and woven rugs. You can use bigger trimmings for testing buttonholes and some hand stitches and finishes.
I know that fabric scraps accumulate eventually and invade your living or working space. Get yourself organized by sorting your fabric remnants by color and store them in storage containers or woven baskets.

rug from fabric trimmings, rug from fabric scraps
what to do with fabric remnants

Also in Couture Sewing Blog

Chanel black and white tweed
Facts and Fiction Behind Chanel's Iconic Tweed Fabric

You may love, or hate, or be totally indifferent about Mademoiselle Coco Chanel. She had good taste. She was an opportunist and a shrewd business woman. She was a woman who understood the power of mystery and the importance of discretion. She reinvented her past to elevate herself to the highest ranks of the society.

Continue Reading

Sewing tutorial about couture three piece sleeves for Chanel inspired jacket
Three-piece sleeves for Chanel inspired jacket or dress

The trickiest part of the Chanel-inspired jacket is the three-piece sleeve. I am sharing my personal tips on how to make perfect sleeves for your Chanel-inspired dress or jacket. But you can use the same techniques for your other projects.

Continue Reading

sewing tutorial about how to sew Chanel trim
Trim with Rhinestones for Chanel Inspired Jacket or Dress

This sewing tutorial is about how to make a trim for Chanel inspired jacket or Chanel inspired dress. This trim has two contrasting fabrics and sew-on rhinestones.

Continue Reading