The Basics of Sewing

Although sewing can be a very complex skill, many of the basics are easy and enjoyable to learn. Whether you're making something as complicated as a wedding dress or as simple as a pillowcase, knowing how to do an easy running or blanket stitch are vital to the construction of your creation. This page will hopefully show you the basics of hand stitching and using a sewing machine. Both videos have links below them that will take you to pages with more intricate instructions on specific stitches/construction procedures.

If you need any new ideas for projects to make, check out for inspiration.

How to Hand Sew (Edited from Popular Mechanics Tutorial):

1. A Needle: You'll want sewing sharps, a type of needle with a pointed end that glides through fabric without damaging it.
2. Thread: Polyester or all-purpose thread works for most projects.
3. Sewing Shears: Dull scissors make cutting fabric messy and difficult, so investing in a pair of fabric scissors may be helpful, but not necessary.
4. Seam Ripper: A small, fork-shaped tool with a blade in the crux, used to remove unwanted stitches. To use, slip the pointed prong underneath a bad stitch, then pull upward to cut the thread.
How to Thread the Needle:
Instructions: Snip a length of thread, then thread it through the eye (the hole) of the needle. To sew a button, use 24 inches. For other projects, measure the length of the area you want to sew, double it, and then add a few inches. Pull your thread through the needle until you have equal lengths on each side, then tie off the ends by looping the threads into a circle and drawing the ends through the loop. The knot will stop the thread from slipping through the fabric as you sew.
Two Simple Stitch Instructions:
The Running Stitch:

Description: Used to bind two pieces of fabric together. Handy for shortening clothing, fixing a falling hem, or adding a patch to a bomber jacket.

Instructions: Poke the needle through both pieces of fabric, then push it back through the fabric a quarter-inch over. This creates one stitch. Continue to the end of the seam. To close the stitches, push the needle through the fabric without pulling the thread all the way through to create a loop. Run the needle back through the fabric and loop to create a knot. Repeat two to four times.

The Backstitch:

Description: Creates a strong, flexible bind between two pieces of fabric. Use it to mend the busted seam of a dress shirt, reattach a backpack strap, or attach a patch over a hole in your jeans.

Instructions: Make one quarter-inch stitch, like you did in the running stitch. Then bring the needle back toward the first stitch, poking it through a quarter-inch away from the start of the first. Bring the needle back down through the fabric to close the gap.


More Tutorials on Specific Stitches

How to Operate a Sewing Machine (Edited From Treasurie's Blog Instructions:

The first thing you need to know is that every sewing machine is different, so this page is going to show you what you need to know, but it will probably vary a little bit for your machine. Your user’s guide will be your new best friend.


On/off switch – Start by knowing where the machine is switched on and off. This is generally on the side of the machine.

Bulb – The light bulb in the needle area. Try it out. If your light is not bright enough you may need to move your machine nearer to a window for some additional natural light.

Pedal – The foot pedal that operates the machine…your accelerator!

The speed regulator so that you don’t break the speed limit. Some machines will have a switch on the foot allowing you to choose between high and low speeds.

Stitches – Stitch length and width buttons including decorative stitches and zigzag. Many cheaper beginner sewing machines will have set stitches and lengths whereas more expensive machines will allow you to set length and width independently. This includes the buttonhole stitch settings

Tension wheels – usually at the front or top of the machine. These are important for getting nice even stitching with no loops.
Presser foot and the plate with the stitch guides.

Needle and small screw that holds the needle in place. You will need to know where this is to change needles.

Bobbin – The lid that opens to expose the bobbin case and the bobbin itself.

Bobbin tension screw –These are generally found on the bobbin case of front loading machines.

Threading A Sewing Machine:

Start by looking at the upper threading and follow your manual as you trace the steps the thread goes through. The thread will start at the top of the machine where the spool goes, all the way down to the bottom where the thread meets the needle.

Most machines all follow the same path through hooks and tension wheels until they reach the needle. The thread must enter the needle from the front to the back and should pull through nicely with a bit of tension but not too tight.

If you don’t have a manual for your machine see the link below to get an online one.



The lower threads and tension are linked to the bobbin. Be sure to check your manual carefully as different machines have different bobbins and casings. The bobbin may be inserted from the top or the front of the machine.

Top loading bobbins go straight into a casing (photo on right) which is attached to the machine. Front loading bobbins first go into a case (photo on left) and then that is loaded into the machine.

Winding the bobbin is an important part of the process, so be sure that you know how to wind a bobbin too.

This is generally done by placing your main thread on the spool pin, winding it around a thread guide and across to the bobbin winder. All bobbins will have a hole in the top through which you can insert the thread to start it off.

Push the bobbin winder across and start winding! Some machines will also require you to disengage the flywheel to stop the needle going up and down while you are winding.

How to Use a Sewing Machine:


When the upper and lower threads have been sorted, it is time to join the two together and start learning how to use a sewing machine.

Turn the flywheel (the large round wheel on the right) of the machine towards you. It may also be labeled as a hand wheel in your manual. This will allow the top threaded needle to travel to the bobbin area.

Watch how easily the upper thread curls around the lower thread and pulls it up to the upper level of the machine. Always remember to turn the wheel towards yourself until you can see that lower thread emerging. Pull the lower thread out and then keep the threads together towards the back of the machine.


It is always a good idea to test drive your machine on a sample of fabric first. The best fabric to get started with would be stiff cotton. Quilting cotton is always easy to sew and can be purchased in fat quarters which are a small piece of pre-cut fabric. Calico is also a cheap easy to sew fabric for beginners. This cream-colored fabric is usually a little stiff and because it is a light color, you can make notes on the samples as you go.

Double Fabric – Always test the machine on a double piece of fabric because sewing seams and making articles for your home will always require fabric doubled. You will find that a little extra thickness is much easier.

Speed – Now before you do anything, check if your foot pedal has a speed control. Not all machines have a slow stitch function, but if yours does it really can help with your first seams. Set it to SLOW. If your machine has no speed adjustment, just put your foot down on the pedal really gently when it is time to sew.

Settings – For your first seam, put your machine on a straight stitch with a width of 0 and a length of 3.0. If your machine has preset settings and is not adjustable, then use a medium length straight stitch.

1. LIFT FOOT – Lift the presser foot (usually a lever to the back or side) and put your fabric sample underneath. Most sewing patterns will specify how far from the raw edge you will be sewing. For example, it might say the seam allowance is 1/2 inch (12mm). If you are just doing a test, put the fabric 5/8 inch (15mm) from the right side of the foot. This is a little wider and will be a bit easier for beginners.

2. PULL – Pull the threads to the back. We do this so the threads don’t get tangled and stop us from sewing forwards. Threads that get caught in the feet or dog feed underneath can cause machine jams.

3. LOWER – Lower the presser foot. Forgetting to lower the presser foot is a common mistake beginners make.

4. RELEASE – Hold the threads for the first few stitches only just to get started. You can then let go.

5. SECURE – After you have done a few stitches, press reverse and stitch backward a few stitches to where you started. This will prevent your stitches from coming undone at the beginning and end. It is called backstitching.

6. STITCHING – Release the reverse stitch and start stitching forwards.

7. FINISHING – When you get to the end press reverse again a do a few backward stitches to secure the seam.


Specific Machine User Guides