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Sewing Tips: Practicing your Sewing Stitches (including the back-stitch)

Ooooh, okay, so many more of you told me that you received a new sewing machine for Christmas.

Or a serger.  Or some new sewing supplies.

Yay!!  Now, it’s time to practice.

Many of you are very new to this crazy sewing thing so let me give you a really quick pep talk.

Okay.  You are not going to be super good at this your first time.  (Well, maybe you will be.  And if so, you should sign up for Project Runway!!)  So, sew your little heart out and try a few things.  Be happy with what you make and give yourself some credit for that first project.  Sewing does take practice but it also doesn’t take years and years of sewing to get good at it.  Also, don’t feel tied down to rules.  If something works for you, go for it.  Especially if you figure out a shortcut…..go for it!  And if someone tells you that everyone’s first project should be a pillowcase and you hate the idea of making a boring ‘ol pillow case, don’t make one.  Make a case for your iPad or make a pillow for your couch.  Do something fun!  Oh, and if someone tells you what a good job you’re doing, say “thank you”.  Not, “but, did you see my crooked lines or the bunchy bobbin threads on the back?!”.  Nope, none of that hoopla.  Only positive talk, got it?  :)

One more thing, if you think something is too hard to try, then yep, it’ll always be too hard to try.  But why not just give it a try?  Use some cheap fabric and just give it a go.  I cannot tell you how many times I sit at my sewing machine and grin from ear to ear as I look at something that actually worked.  I always hop up from  my seat and go show somebody (usually that dear husband of mine) and say, “look, can you believe this actually worked out?”. 

It surprises me.  Every. Time.

Okay, enough pep-talking.  Now for a few sewing practice tips.

I know this first tip is so lame and you already know it……but practice.

You may not be perfect your first time revving up your machine……but you will get better, I promise.  And if you don’t want to practice on an actual project, grab some scrap fabric and start using your machine.

Okay, first real lesson: the Back-Stitch

A back-stitch is how you secure the beginning and end of your stitch.  (Or, you can tie both ends of your thread into a square knot with your hands…..but a back-stitch on your sewing machine is MUCH easier.)  To begin, put your needle down in to your fabric where you want to being your line of stitches.  (Generally, there is a wheel on the right side of your machine.  Turn it towards you until the needle goes down into your machine.)  Then put your presser foot down (that flat metal thing that pushes down on the fabric).

Now, sew a few stitches forward, stop, push your back-stitch button (it will be some sort of knob/button/lever) and hold it down and then start sewing again.  The needle should start sewing backwards now.  Stop when you get back to the beginning of your line of stitches.  (I lifted up my presser foot just to take the picture but it should be down while sewing.)

Now, continue sewing right over that row of stitches and continue on the path that you were wanting to sew.  When you reach the end of your row of stitching, push your back-stitch button/lever/knob and sew backwards a few stitches, resume to forward stitching and return to the end of the row of stitches that you made.

Why Back-Stitch????  Well, this will knot your threads in place.  There’s no need to tie anything in knots now and your seams will not unravel.  Yay.

Next up?  Sewing STRAIGHT Lines.

Sometimes you may find that you are a bit unsteady and your lines aren’t straight enough.  Well, it’s time to practice.  I think the best way is to try and sew on top of some lines while still a beginner.  So, draw some lines with a pencil and ruler and then just sew right on top of the lines.  Try to keep right on top of the lines and keep your lines really steady.  Then practice speeding up and slowing down and see if you can stay on your lines.

And since you know how to back-stitch now, practice using your back-stitch at the beginning and end of each seam.

And if you don’t want to draw lines and you have some striped fabric, use the stripes as a guide to sew your straight lines.

Sewing Around Curves and Corners

After you get nice and comfortable with those straight lines, sew around random shapes on your fabric, or draw some on your fabric.  WIth curves, you can’t sew as fast……so ease up on that foot pedal.  And as you sew, you may have to lift up your presser foot, readjust your fabric, and then continue on.  When I sewed that cloud looking shape, I only sewed 2-3 stitches and then readjusted my fabric and then sewed 2-3 more………all around those curves.  So, take your time!

And let’s have one more quick pep-talk…….it’s okay if your lines are squiggly and you can’t quite keep your needle right on the line.  You’re just practicing.  And you’ll get better.  Promise.  (And even after you’re done practicing and you sew your first project, and it looks squiggly, promise me you’ll cherish those imperfect lines and just be so pleased with yourself for making your first sewn item.  And email me, I’ll congratulate you!!!!!)

The Zig-Zag Stitch

Now, take a look at your machine and see what other things it can do. Most likely, you will find a zig-zag stitch.  It’ll probably show an image of just that, a zig-zag line.  I talk a little bit more about the zig-zag stitch and how adjusting the stitch width and the stitch length will change the look of your zig-zag, here.  So check that out too!

But here, I just changed the stitch width………see how different each row of zig-zags look?  Practice them.  And change your settings a bit.  You’ll see how cool it is to make nice and uniform little zig-zag stitches.

And there are many uses for the zig-zag stitch but one of the most common is zig-zagging a raw edge (so that it won’t unravel).  Generally, I will either zig-zag right on the edge (shown on the left) and the fabric will automatically just fold up under the stitching………or I will zig-zag a little bit away from the edge and then trim off that extra fabric right up next to the zig-zags.

Now practice sewing zig-zags along your edge of fabric.

Extra Stitches on Your Machine

Okay, now every machine is different and has different bells and whistles.  The machine I have has hundreds of different fancy stitches.  I have to plug in the number that I want it to do and then it sews that stitch over and over while the foot pedal is down.  Pretty cool.  (But honestly, I don’t use random stitches very often so don’t worry if your machine doesn’t have fancy stitches.)  So even if you have a really simple machine, take a look and see what it does have.  And then practice them.  And then adjust the stitch length and the stitch width.  And then sew it along a curve, etc.

Now, one last thing: Sewing 2 Pieces of Fabric Together.

Grab two little scraps and line up two edges that you want to sew together.  (Most often when sewing, you place 2 pieces together with the “right” sides of the fabric together.  This is because when you open it up, the raw edges are on the back.)  Start at one end and put your needle down in the fabric.

Then line up the right edges up with one of the markers on your machine.  This is called your “seam allowance”.  The line that I’m following on the right (where the arrow is pointing, is 5/8 of an inch from the needle.  So when a pattern tells me to use a 5/8″ seam allowance, I make sure my edges stay right along that line as I sew.

Take your time and use your hands as a guide.  Your machine will pull your fabric on its own so you don’t want to tug.  Just use your hands as a guide to keep the fabric straight, following the line over to the right if needs be.

Then, if you open those two pieces up that you just sewed together, you will see a nice clean line where the two pieces of fabric were joined.

And that’s enough for today.  Hopefully that will help you brand new sewists who are trying to get used to your machine.  (Or those of you who just need a bit more practice.)

Now, rev up that machine and sew your little heart out.  And then feel happy with what you’ve done.

And then challenge yourself and make something that you never thought you would even attempt.

Good luck!

Ashley Johnston

Administrator at Make It & Love It
Ashley Johnston is a professional DIY costume maker, sewist, crafter, and owner of Make It & Love It. She is a mom of 5 and a wife to a very patient (with the craft clutter) husband. In case you’re wondering, she always chooses crafting/sewing/designing over mopping/dusting/wiping base boards……but bathrooms/laundry/full bellies are always attended to. Whew!

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Hi, I'm Ashley

Hi, I’m Ashley—the DIY-enthusiast behind this crazy blog!

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