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How to sew clothes (the basics)

Discover the basics of how to sew and get ready to create your own bespoke clothes at home.

Updated By Wiki Tips English Team

closeup of hands sewing a yellow bolt of fabric

To be able to sew clothes, you need to first know the basics of how to sew. In this guide, we'll help you learn the skills you need to begin taking steps towards understanding how to sew a dress, pair of trousers or other items of clothing.

Key Steps

  • To use a sewing machine, always refer to the manual as each machine is different.

  • Start by practising on smaller items with straight lines such as pillowcases.

  • Avoid making items with lots of embellishments as these add complexity.    

  • Learn how to hand sew for help when mending clothes.

How to sew: A guide to the basics

When you are learning the basics of how to sew a dress, pillowcase, or other items, it’s important you have the right equipment as well as skills to be able to sew by hand or machine.

Now it’s time to learn the basic skills behind how to sew by hand or machine.

Before you start to sew your garment, have a practice run of the stitches and seams you wish to create using a scrap of fabric, to perfect your craft.

You will need:

  • Sewing machine
  • Needles
  • Bobbins
  • Seam ripper
  • Embroidery scissors
  • A variety of thread colours
  • Fabric

How to use a sewing machine: A step-by-step guide

Being able to use a sewing machine will give you the skills you need to begin to learn how to sew an elastic waistband or make your own shirt!

  1. Each sewing machine is slightly different.

    We recommend you use the manual to find out the exact instructions for your machine.

  2. In general, you will need to place the foot down.

    This will reveal the needle eye.

  3. Choose your thread.

    Thread it through the machine and into the needle.

  4. Here's how to thread your bobbin:

    Notice the hole on the side of the bobbin? Thread the hole from the inside to the outside. If it doesn’t have a hole, wind the thread around a few times. Place the bobbin on the bobbin winder spindle. Engage the bobbin winding setting on your machine. If you’re not sure where that is, refer to your manual.

    Step 4: how-to-sew-04
  5. Select your stitch and plug in!

    Select your stitch, plug in your foot peddle and plug in your machine.

  6. Place your bobbin into the machine

    Keeping a length of thread loose from the bobbin, move the threaded needle down slowly and back up again; it should pick up the bobbin thread and bring it out of the bobbin section. Pull it all up and leave it loose underneath the needle.

    Step 6: how-to-sew-06

How to hand sew: A step-by-step guide

Hand sewing is a skill that will serve you well, especially if you want to mend clothes.

  1. Start by threading the needle.

    There are a few steps that could make this easier! Pop the needle over the top of a piece of white paper to make it easier to see the eye. Use a sharp pair of scissors to cut the end of the thread and prevent frayed ends, or use saliva, water or wax to stiffen the end of the thread. If you find it really difficult, you can invest in a needle threader.

    Step 1: how-to-hand-sew-01
  2. To mend seams or replace zips, use a backstitch. Here's how:

    Insert the needle where you wish the seam to begin. Pull the needle back through both layers of fabric, approximately 5mm in front of the first stitch. Here’s where the backstitch comes in. Push your needle into the fabric through the middle of your first stitch. Pull it back through both layers of fabric another 5mm along. Continue this pattern for the full length of the area you wish to sew.

    Step 2: how-to-hand-sew-02
  3. To sew a hem, use a slip stitch. Here’s how:

    Knot the end of the thread. Place the knot in a hidden spot on your fabric. Use the needle to pick up a few fabric threads beneath the knot. Pull the needle through the fabric towards the edge of the hem. Insert your needle to create a stitch under the hem edge by inserting it directly into the hem edge. Repeat for the full length of the hem.

    Step 3: how-to-hand-sew-03
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The dos and don’ts of learning how to sew clothes

  • DO choose simple projects to start with. Projects with straight lines will be the easiest.

  • DO consider smaller items such as cushions or scarves before learning how to sew a shirt, skirt or another item of clothing.     

  • DON’T choose an item which requires a lot of embellishment when you are starting out.  

  • DON’T let yourself get frustrated. Sewing should be fun, so go at your own pace and don’t be afraid to use the seam ripper and start over.

With this guide, you now have all the information you need to be able to start understanding how to sew trousers, dresses and other clothing. Once you’re done making your clothes, protect them by washing them in mild detergent and good quality fabric conditioner such as Comfort Intense Fushia Passion.

Read other articles from the Clothing Care category

How to get colour run out of clothes

What do the symbols on washing machines mean

How to remove static from clothes

How to stop clothes bobbling

How to make clothes smell good and stay fresh

Originally published