Basic Sewing Guides

Sewing Scissors


Sewing Scissors

No matter what you’re making, whether you hand sew or use a machine,.  you need sewing scissors. Now, you can go and buy a pack of 3 at Poundland but I guarantee you’ll be swearing before you’ve finished your first garment! It’s worth investing in a good pair of dress-making scissors. ssewing cissorsMy own were a birthday present 10yrs ago, have never needed sharpening and cut perfectly, I LOVE them, I also love my Fiskar scissors, pinking shears!

My dressmaking scissors are KAI PROFESSIONAL TAILOR’S SHEARS | 25 CM which are widely available, these were a present but I believe they were bought locally.

Tip – Do not let anyone borrow your scissors under any circumstances, they’ll get used for cutting paper which is a death knell to that crisp sharp edge you want to achieve!

There are a few good brands out there but one of the best known are Fiskars, who make a wide range of scissors suitable for every task.

Another really useful tool is a pair of pinking shears (they were invented by Louise Austin in 1893). Mine are Fiskars, another birthday present and I use them in most projects. If you don’t have an overlocker they a great for finishing off seams to stop fraying and where it’s not practical to use an overlocker. You can also use them to create fancy edging for finishing trims. Amazon do a great deal on these!


Lastly, a pair of snips for cutting thread. Again, you don’t want to go cheap here there’s nothing worse trying snip threads with blunt scissors. At best you’ll get an untidy frayed edge, at worst you’ll have to saw to break the thread, taking up your precious time. Mine are Fiskars (can you tell I like the Fiskar brand!)

Mine were purchased from Ebay many years ago and have served me well. This is another pair I don’t lend out, take heed of the tip above!

For the wee thread scissors expect to pay between £6-£8, for quality pinking sheers, £15-£30 and dressmaking scissors £15-£40 but always look out for bargains there’s plenty to be found. If you can only afford 1 good pair go for the dressmaking scissors, they can be used for snipping threads too.

Finally, look after your purchase:

  •     Don’t use them for anything except fabric and thread.
  •     Wipe clean after each use.
  •     Keep the pivot screw tightened and periodically add a drop of oil wiping off any excess.
  •     Keep them sharp either by using a home sharpening tool or take them to a professional (they’ll do a better job).

Sewing Pins


Sewing PinsNow, you might think a sewing pins a sewing pin but I’ve learnt from experience (sometimes harsh) that this isn’t the case. As with everything there are different types, lengths, materials used and importantly, price. Better quality sewing pins will have sharper points which also stay sharp for longer. Trying to put a blunt pin through paper and fabric can be a frustrating experience!

Glass Headed Pins (nickle plated steel)- My preferred sewing pin for a number of reasons:

  • You can iron round them without worrying they’re going to melt and stick to your iron (yes I’ve done this!).
  • When you drop them (and you will) they are easy to see, getting a sewing pin in your foot is a painful experience (yes I’ve done this too!)
  • They are easy to grasp especially if you go straight from pinning to sewing and are removing pins as you sew.
  • They don’t rust.

You can buy these in different lengths, I prefer longer ones but like to keep a few short ones for tiny projects. This is the type I generally use, available through Amazon.


Plastic Headed Pins – Similar to the glass headed pins, cheaper than glass ones and a good alternative if you’re very careful with your iron.

Standard Straight PinsTraditional pins you would have seen your Gran or Mum using (depending on your age). Some people prefer to use these when going straight from pinning to sewing as you’re less likely to break a needle.


It comes down to personal preference. I drop my pins more often than breaking a needle hence my choice. All styles of pins can be bought in different lengths but for general sewing 34mm to 38mm is fine. You can also buy pins with fancy heads, they look fab but can be expensive if you’re on a budget. I found an article on how to make your own here if you fancy giving it a try.

One final tip, use a pin cushion, mine is probably the most used item in my sewing kit. You can easily make one by following this fab tutorial here .

pretty pin cushion



Choosing a sewing machine


vintage sewing machineAn important piece of your sewing kit will
be a sewing machine and like most gadgets these days there are so many to choose from. Here I’m going to give you some tips on choosing a sewing machine and I’ll gradually add reviews to help you make an informed choice. Remember, now is a perfect time to start dropping hints about your Christmas present!

First of all you need to ask some questions.

  1. What is your budget?
  2. What is your level of expertise?
  3. What do you want to do with it?
  4. What extra features are you looking for?

You want to get the best you can for your budget and this doesn’t always mean one with lots of features but a machine that’s made with quality parts. Prices range from as little as £50 up into the thousands. A £50 machine will do the basics, straight stitch, zig zag and reverse and probably won’t be of great quality but if you’re on a tight budget it will do the job for occasional use.

I have a friend who recently purchased a £50 machine (review here), she only wants to do the occasional alteration so her clothes fit better and small simple items. She is a complete novice and this machine was very simple to use so perfect for the job.

The next level will be a better quality machine with a few more features like automatic buttonholes and then onto features like embroidery stitches and quilting capabilities. Keep going up in price and you get into the computerised range which will have lots of stitch options, a memory (like your pc!) being able to fill the bobbin without removing it, the list goes on. Remember though, the more features the more complex the instructions.

You can also consider a second Old Bernina Record 730 sewing machinehand machine, I have a trusty old Bernina which I picked up at an auction house for a few £, guess there weren’t many sewers in there that night! The downside to these vintage machines is their weight, they are HEAVY something to take into consideration! Take into account the cost of taking it to a reputable agent to get it serviced and the electrics checked over.



I’ve recently started quilting so will be looking at machines with features like a large throat space and the ability to drop the feed dogs. I do like to use fancy stitches like on this bookmark and have neat button holes. If I had the budget I’d go for a top of the range computerised model, but wouldn’t we all! At the moment I use the old Bernina and the Brother overlocker (reviewed here) but I do have other machines I bring out depending on what I’m making.

If you’re planning on taking up quilting then you need to invest considerably more for something that does the job well. This one Janome XL601 Sewing Machine is at the low budget end but has some decent reviews.

Pfaff are known for their quality machines, particularly for quilting, this is their non computerised model Pfaff Select 4.0 (IDT) Sewing Machine
and at the top end and definitely on my wish list is this super deal! Pfaff Quilt Expression 4.0 IDT. GUR Limited Offer £1,099. Includes FREE Quilt Fabrics & Gold Pack. While Stocks Last.

Lastly, do the research, don’t get taken in by sales talk when choosing a sewing machine, keep in mind the bullet points above and feel free to contact me for advice.



Basic Sewing Stitches


There are many different kinds of stitches so Threaded Sewing needleI thought it would be useful to have a page detailing the basic sewing stitches for beginners. Some can be done on your sewing machine and some are for hand stitching.

TIP – Always make sure your needle is sharp and clean whether you’re using a sewing machine or hand sewing. Old rusty needles just don’t cut the mustard!

A point to remember is that the same stitch can have different names, for example, “basting” is the same as “tacking”. I was taught to tack and had no idea what basting was when I first saw it on a pattern. To make it easy I’ve found some video clip tutorials, click on the blue text for the link.

  • Basting/TackingThis is used to temporarily join pieces together before sewing the permanent stitch or to gather fabric.
  • Running StitchThe technique is the same as basting only you do shorter stitches closer together. I’ll use it if I want tighter gathers than you get with the basting stitch. The video shows it being used for embroidery but it’s a good, easy to understand demonstration.
  • Back Stitch It looks the same as the basic stitch on your sewing machine and is stronger than the running stitch. You can adjust the size according to the needs of the project and fabric . Again, the video shows it being used for embroidery.
  • Zig Zag –  Even the most basic machine will have this stitch and it’s generally used to finish off a seam to prevent the ends fraying. I sometimes use it as a decorative stitch to embellish my creations. The video shows how to use the zig zag stitch to finish off a seam.
  • Overcast – This is the hand stitch used for finishing off a seam instead of the zig zag stitch. It can also be used as another way of joining 2 pieces together.
  • Hem Stitch – Hand stitch used for sewing a hem that is barely visible on the right side.
  • Blind Hem Stitch – Some sewing machines come with a special foot and settings for sewing a blind hem. Again, this is for sewing an invisible hem. The video is for a Janome sewing machine, check the instruction manual for the correct settings on your machine

These are the most commonly used basic sewing stitches and really all you need for most projects.


Banner with scrap fabric, threads, ribbons and buttons


How to Read Sewing Patterns


In this article I’ll explain how How to read sewing patternsto read sewing patterns, they can be confusing if you’ve never used one before. I’ll explain the basics with images to help. The 2 most important things:

  • Buy a pattern suitable to your level of expertise.
  • Check the back to make sure you have materials needed.



I like Burda Patterns, they are easy to understand and very competitively priced.



On most sewing pattern Burda and Simplicity sewing patternwebsites there’ll be a selecter for choosing which level you want which is also shown on the front of the pattern. On the front you’ll also see different variations (called views) which are alphabetically labeled.





Turn the pattern envelopeSewing pattern Back over and on the back it’ll show you how much fabric is needed depending on which size and view you choose. It will also recommend fabric type and which haberdashery items are needed such as buttons and interfacing.







Inside the envelope will be InseideThe sewing pattern Envelopepaper instructions and tissue paper marked with your pattern pieces. The tissue paper can be a very large piece so you might need to clear a space on the floor to get it spread out ready for cutting!








The single most important thing Instructionsbefore you start cutting is READ THE INSTRUCTIONS! Seriously even the most experienced sewers will tell you this. It will start with giving you a guide to the symbols you’ll see on the tissue paper pattern.

On the left hand side is where you’ll see which pieces to cut out of fabric and which ones out of interfacing.




Instructions2 Instructions4


Once you’ve read everything through and made sure you have everything you need it’s time to spread out the tissue paper and cut out your pieces.

TIP – Watch this video to see how to transfer your pattern onto sturdier paper for repeated use.


On the tissue paper there’ll a Laying The Pieces instructionsdiagram showing you how the pattern is layed on the fabric, make sure you keep hold of this bit for when you’re ready to start cutting the fabric. It’s easy to throw this bit in the bin thinking it’s not important (yes I’ve done this!)





All patterns will cover a range of sizesTissue paper Pattern sewing pieces and the pattern pieces are marked with the size round the cutting edge. Cut out the pieces you’ll need for your “view” following the line marked with your size.


TIP Lightly iron the creases out of the cut out paper pieces.






You’ll see lots of symbols which again are explained in the instructions (see how important it is to read them!)

Once you have all your paper pieces cut out you’re ready to pin them to the fabric and this is where you’ll need to pay attention to the symbols. A few of the more common ones:

  • fold-arrowThis is a fold arrow and you lay the pattern piece onto the fabric with this symbol on the fold.
  • double-notch Notches are used used to line up two or more separate fabric pieces when starting to sew your garment. You can mark these points with tailors chalk or by cutting a small triangle.
  • circlesSmall circles show where darts (used for shaping), button placement and things like waistline placings are, it will tell you the pattern. I use tailor tacks to mark these, this video shows you how.


Now you’re ready to pin your pattern How to lay sewing pattern on fabric pieces on the fabric following the guide I advised you not to throw away! Click on the thumbnail for a close up of the layout cutting guide. Make sure the fold line marked on your paper piece is on the fold of the fabric.



Once you have all your pieces cut out it’s time to construct your garment. Follow the instructions on the pattern step by step, (they’re written in that order for a reason!) and you’ll have a perfectly sewn garment in no time.

This is just a basic guide on how to read sewing patterns, if there’s anything else you’d like me to cover please feel free to leave a comment or contact me.












Top Stitching with a Sewing Machine


With any upcyling you want totop stitching with a sewing machine add those wee extra touches that finish the garment off. I’m a great fan of top stitching with a sewing machine, yes it take a little more thread and time but worth in the end, it just gives that extra bit of finish to your upcycled project


What is Top Stitching?


If you’ve never heard of topCross dress finished back with matching pants stitching it’s a sewing technique that can be used in 2 ways. You can use it round edges such as necklines and hems with a straight stitch. It’ll also help facings to stay in place and gives a nice crisp edge like the dresses here and a pretty summer outfit made a few weeks ago.



Ways to use Top Stitching

If you make a dress with TopStitch2plain fabric you can top stitch it with different coloured thread, it makes a very effective embellishment.











BookmarkThe other way is to use it is as a decorative stitching which shows and is very effective using fancy thread or with a decorative stitch. This is the first thing I made when trying out the fancy stitches on my vintage Bernina sewing machine (more about that later). The bookmark was very easy to make with some scrap fabric left from a project (more upcycling!) and a great wee gift to pop in someone’s stocking. You can see how I made the bookmark here.


Tip: If your machine doesn’t do fancy stitches use different coloured thread and zig zag to create nice effects.

If you can sew a neat hand stitch then this is another way to get that nice crisp finish. You would use the back stitch listed in the basic sewing stitches article here.


Top stitching with a sewing machine is one of the quickest and most effective ways of finishing off your garments.