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Top 10 Essential Guidelines for Becoming a Better Sewist

Sewing has been a part of my life since high school. After so many years years of sewing (I won’t say how many!), I’ve definitely gotten better, and you can view some of my projects here My Work – Adventures in Handmade Fashion.

As I grew more experienced, I realized that I had accumulated a wealth of knowledge and techniques that could help others on their own sewing journeys. That’s why I decided to start my own website, where I share tips, tricks, and tutorials to help people improve their sewing skills. How much I wish this kind of info was available when I started sewing!

An Author with her sewing machine Brother Luminaire in her sewing room

Of course, even with all my years of experience, I’m still constantly looking for new techniques and ways to approach my projects. That’s one of the things I love most about sewing – there’s always something new to try. 

But today, I want to focus on the key factors that have helped me become a better sewist over the years. In this article,  I want to share with you the top 10 things that have really helped me improve my sewing skills. I hope these tips will be useful to you too.

#1. Use a High-Quality Sewing Machine

When I started sewing, I had a hand crank sewing machine from my grandmother. Learning how to get better at sewing was a real challenge with such a limited machine. It could only do a straight stitch. I didn’t even have a zigzag stitch. I couldn’t change the presser foot. Could I do many things with it? Nope. I had to do overcasting by hand sewing. I could only use my left hand for holding the fabric going under the presser foot because my right hand was moving the wheel. It was so slooow… Make buttonholes? By hand, of course. Attaching a zipper? No way. Here’s what my first sewing machine looked like.

My first sewing machine - a hand crank, with my old cat sitting on the machine

Now I have two great machines that can do wonders. The Janome Memory Craft 6600P is a real workhorse designed for serious sewists. It has many features, including a built-in AcuFeed system that ensures even fabric feeding. This is just fantastic for quilting and working with multiple layers. The machine offers many types of stitches and even programmable stitch sequences. It has a needle threader, thread cutter, and I can easily change presser feet for different projects. And it has served me well for 15 years already. I love sewing with this machine because it really helps improve my sewing skills. I wrote a detailed review of this machine in this article – The best sewing machine for advanced sewers: Janome Memory Craft 6600P

Note: Some of the links on this page are affiliate links. This means I will receive a commission if you order a product through one of my links. I only recommend products I believe in and use myself. 

My machine is relatively old and is not manufactured anymore, but the ones below are excellent choices too. You can find them on Amazon.

Another machine, the Brother Luminaire is a marvel of modern technology. It’s like having a sewing, quilting, and embroidery machine all in one. It has a big LCD touchscreen that makes picking and customizing stitches super easy. Plus, it has cool embroidery features like a built-in camera and projector, so you can place and align designs perfectly. It also has an automatic needle threader, thread cutter, loads of decorative stitches, and tons of other features I am still trying to master. I wrote a guide on my site about all those features of modern sewing machines. You can read more about it in this article – 19 Advanced Features of Modern Sewing Machines

My sewing machine Brother Luminaire in my sewing room

The following is a personal opinion: You can’t just go to Walmart and buy any cheap sewing machine if you are serious about sewing. Machines from big-box stores are practically toys, not tools. They may be good for fixing a hem or doing some simple alterations – when you sew once in a while, like once a month or once every six months. Or they are good for kids to learn the basics of sewing. But if you love sewing and want to improve your sewing skills, investing in a good quality machine is essential.

It doesn’t need to be prohibitively expensive; there are affordable, high-quality machines available, and they often go on sale. However, these aren’t the $100 machines you might find at a discount store. High-quality machines offer better stitch quality, durability, and a range of features that make sewing more efficient and enjoyable. Investing in a reliable sewing machine is a step toward producing professional-looking projects and expanding your creative possibilities.

Two examples I like are below. I tried one Singer mechanical machine ( the 4411 model, Amazon link here) which is the cheapest of the series and while it does work well, you get what you pay for: fewer functions and relatively noisy.

Note: if you do buy a sewing machine, make sure you buy from a reputable dealer or a store which accepts returns, and also test the machine at home immediately. Most electronic devices fail soon after first use, if they are going to fail, testing them immediately protects you against getting a lemon.

Having a high-quality sewing machine means I can focus on creativity and precision rather than struggling with the limitations of my tools. So, if you’re serious about sewing, investing in a good machine is definitely worth it.

#2. Invest in a Serger/Overlock Machine

When I didn’t have a serger (also known as an overlock machine) finishing seams was always a bit of a hassle. I used to spend so much time doing overcasting by hand or later using zigzag stitches to prevent fraying. It worked, but it wasn’t the most efficient or professional-looking solution.

Then I got my first serger, and wow, what a difference! A serger trims the fabric edge and encloses it with a thread, all in one go. It’s perfect for giving your projects a clean, professional finish. Plus, it’s incredibly fast. What used to take me ages now takes just a few minutes.

Here you can see the inside of my blouse, with all seams finished by a serger. It looks professional, doesn’t it?

the inside of a blouse I made - all seams are finished by serger

Sergers are especially great for sewing knits and stretchy fabrics. They handle these materials much better than a regular sewing machine, maintaining the fabric’s stretch and preventing seams from popping. If you love sewing clothes, a serger is a must-have. It makes sewing garments so much easier and the end result looks store-bought.

You can read more about it in my article – Serger vs. sewing machine

Sure, there’s a bit of a learning curve when you first get a serger. Threading it can seem complicated, and figuring out the tension settings might take some practice. But once you get the hang of it, you’ll wonder how you ever managed without one.

I have to add a thought here: sergers have evolved tremendously since their introduction for the home use (1960s). Initially, they were very simple and difficult to thread. Modern sergers are actually not difficult to thread anymore and can do a number of things; some sergers can even do coverstitch functions!

✅ Related tutorial: Coverstitch vs. Serger

Investing in a serger doesn’t mean you have to break the bank. There are plenty of affordable options out there that offer great features and reliability. Keep an eye out for sales, and you might snag a good deal. Trust me, adding a serger to your sewing arsenal is a great way to improve your sewing skills and get better at sewing. 

So, if you want to buy a serger, here is my buying guide – Best Serger For Beginners: Serger Buying Guide in 2024. But, as with the sewing machine, I always recommend buying the best machine that you can afford. Higher end machines are always better quality and will definitely give you more satisfaction. You can read my Review of JUKI serger MO-2000 QVP, I like this machine very much.

My favorite serger JUKI MO-2000 in my sewing room
My favorite serger JUKI MO-2000

#3. Invest in Modern Sewing Tools

Of course, we know that fabric scissors, needles, presser feet, measuring tapes, pins, irons, and chalk are essential tools, and you certainly have them. But there are so many modern tools you may not have even heard about that can greatly improve your sewing skills and make you a better sewists.

One example is modern specialized presser feet. Take an invisible zipper foot for example. It allows you to install invisible zippers seamlessly, giving your garments a professional finish. Read more about it in my tutorial Think You Know Zippers? This Installation Guide Might Surprise You.

A vinyl foot is another great tool that helps you sew vinyl, leather, and other sticky fabrics without them getting stuck to the foot. You can read more about all interesting presser feet in my guide – Sewing Machine Presser Foot Guide: Types to Elevate Your Projects

When it comes to needles, stretch needles are very good for sewing knits fabrics like jersey or spandex. These needles feature a unique ball point tip that gently parts the fabric fibers instead of piercing them, which helps to prevent holes and skipped stitches. Here is my guide – The Ultimate Guide to Stretch Needles.

Twin needles are another fantastic tool that allows you to create parallel rows of stitching, perfect for hems on stretchy fabrics or decorative stitching. I wrote about them too – Twin needle sewing machine – everything you need to know about sewing with a twin neelde

A Martelli rotary cutter is a high-quality cutting tool that makes cutting fabric effortless and precise. It features a comfortable ergonomic handle that fits comfortably in your hand, reducing fatigue and strain during extended cutting sessions. The handle’s unique shape provide excellent control and maneuverability, so you can cut intricate shapes and navigate curves with ease. Pair it with a modern, clear quilting ruler for precise measuring and cutting.

Modern marking tools like disappearing ink pens and heat-erasable pens are essential for accurate pattern marking. These pens make clear, thin lines that disappear either with time or when heat is applied, leaving no trace on your fabric.

High-quality, modern threads can make a big difference in the durability and appearance of your stitches. Invest in good all-purpose polyester thread, as well as specialty threads like elastic or embroidery thread.

Keep your bobbins organized and untangled with modern bobbin organizers. These can be as simple as a plastic case or as advanced as a bobbin towel holder that keeps your bobbins from unwinding.

bobbin organizer in my sewing room filled with many bobbins

✅ Related tutorial: Top Bobbin Thread Holders and Organizers

Sewing clips are a great alternative to pins, especially when working with thicker fabrics or multiple layers. They hold fabric securely without leaving holes and are easy to remove as you sew.

✅ Related tutorial: Sewing Clips vs. Pins | Which To Choose?

A magnetic pincushion is a handy tool that keeps your pins within reach and prevents them from scattering. The strong magnet holds the pins securely, and the cushion protects the tips.

A cordless mini vacuum is a must-have tool for keeping your sewing machine clean. It can get into all the nooks, removing lint and dust that can interfere with your machine’s performance.

A wool pressing mat is an excellent tool for pressing your fabric. It helps distribute heat evenly and holds steam, making your pressing more effective. A cordless iron is another modern convenience that allows you to move around easily without being tethered to a cord.

These are just a small list of the many modern sewing tools available. I reviewed some of them in this article – 17 Fantastic Sewing Tools And Notions To Boost Your Creativity

Even regular tools we are used to are changing – instead of just pins, you have so many different types for every kind of project; you will be amazed. 

Also, if you love sewing, you don’t buy sewing tools from a dollar store. You don’t want pins to make big holes in your fabric or catch fabric fibers – you buy them from Amazon or special stores like Joann.

So, by investing in these modern, high-quality sewing tools, you can take your sewing skills to new heights. 

#4. Understand Fabric Types

If you want to sew better, it’s essential to have a good understanding of different fabric types. 

Each fabric has its own unique properties, such as drape, stretch, and weight. By understanding these characteristics, you can select the most appropriate fabric for your specific project. For example, if you’re making a flowy summer dress, you’ll want to choose a lightweight, breathable fabric like cotton voile or rayon challis. On the other hand, if you’re sewing a structured jacket, you might get a heavier, more stable fabric like wool or denim.

Each fabric type requires specific sewing techniques to achieve the best results. Understanding the fabric’s properties will help you determine the appropriate needle size, stitch length, and tension settings on your sewing machine. For instance, when sewing with stretchy knit fabrics, you’ll need to use a stretch needle and a narrow zigzag stitch or a special stretch stitch to allow the seam to stretch with the fabric.

Different fabrics have varying levels of durability and washability. Understanding these properties will help you choose fabrics that will withstand the intended use and care of your garment. For instance, if you’re sewing children’s clothing, you’ll want to choose fabrics that are durable, easy to clean, and can withstand frequent washing and rough play.

As you become more familiar with different fabric types, you’ll be able to manage a wider range of sewing projects with confidence. You’ll know how to work with delicate fabrics like silk and chiffon, as well as heavier fabrics like denim and canvas. This knowledge will allow you to create a diverse range of garments and accessories, from evening gowns to outdoor gear.

When you encounter issues while sewing, such as puckering, slipping, or uneven stitches, understanding the fabric’s properties can help you identify the cause and find a solution. 

This knowledge will help you grow as a sewist and enable you to confidently take on increasingly complex projects with skill and expertise.

#5. Master All Kinds of Seams and Stitches

Mastering all types of seams and stitches is essential to becoming a better sewist. 

Different stitches serve different purposes, and some are better suited for certain fabrics or seam types. Understanding which stitch to use can greatly improve the quality and durability of your sewing projects. 

Here are a few examples. A straight stitch is ideal for sewing straight seams on woven fabrics. Stretch stitches are designed to stretch along with the fabric. They are used for sewing knit fabrics or any material that needs to retain its elasticity. Overcasting stitches are used to finish the edges of fabric to prevent fraying. 

Decorative stitches can add unique interesting details to your projects. You can combine different stitches to create unique textures, patterns, and embellishments.

When it comes to seams, a French seam is ideal for creating clean, finished edges on lightweight fabrics, while a flat-felled seam is perfect for heavy-duty fabrics that require extra strength, such as denim or canvas.

As you master different types of stitches, you’ll be able to work with a wider range of fabrics, from delicate silks to heavy-duty denim. Each fabric type requires specific stitches to achieve the best results, and by knowing which stitch to use, you’ll be able to sew with confidence, regardless of the material.

When you encounter issues while sewing, such as puckering, bunching, or uneven stitches, understanding the different types of stitches can help you identify the cause and find a solution. For example, if you’re experiencing skipped stitches while sewing a stretchy fabric, you might need to switch to a stretch stitch and a ballpoint needle.

#6. Measure Twice, Cut Once

When it comes to better sewing, precision is key. One of the best habits I’ve learned is to measure twice and cut once. It’s a guideline I always follow, whether I’m cutting fabric for a quilt, a dress, or a simple patch.

I have also heard a variation of this very popular say: “Measure twice, cut once, curse, repeat!”

This is a well-known adage in the sewing world, and for good reason. Measuring twice helps prevent errors that would require you to recut your fabric or even start over from scratch, saving you valuable time and materials in the long run.

Precise measurements are essential for creating garments that fit well. Taking the time to measure carefully and double-check your numbers will result in a more comfortable and flattering fit.

As you become more disciplined in your measuring and cutting, you’ll find that your sewing projects become more polished and professional-looking, with fewer mistakes and inconsistencies.

As you practice measuring twice and cutting once, you’ll develop a keen eye for detail and a greater appreciation for the importance of precision in sewing. This attention to detail will serve you well in all aspects of your sewing journey, from choosing the right fabrics and notions to executing complex techniques and finishing touches.

#7. Continue Learning and Practice

As with any skill, the more you learn and practice, the more proficient you’ll become. 

The world of sewing is vast, with countless techniques, fabrics, and styles to explore. By continuously learning through online tutorials, workshops, or sewing classes, you’ll expand your knowledge and skills, enabling you to take on more complex projects and achieve better results. Continuous learning also helps you stay up-to-date with the latest trends, tools, and techniques in the sewing community.

Related – Top 10 Hottest Sewing Trends to Watch in 2024

The more you practice sewing, the more comfortable and efficient you’ll become with your tools and techniques.

Continuous learning and practice will help you develop problem-solving and troubleshooting skills. As you encounter challenges in your sewing projects, you’ll learn how to identify issues and find creative solutions. This problem-solving ability will serve you well as you take on more complex projects and work with a wider range of fabrics and techniques.

You’ll have the opportunity to connect with other sewists who share your passion. Whether through online forums, social media groups, or local sewing circles, being part of a community of sewists can provide inspiration, support, and valuable advice as you continue to grow and develop your skills.

Every project is an opportunity to learn, grow, and refine your skills, so approach each one with a willingness to experiment, make mistakes, and try new things. With dedication and a commitment to lifelong learning, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a skilled and confident sewist.

#8. Embrace Innovation

Let’s talk about why trying new things is super important if you want to get better at sewing. 

The world of fabric is always changing, with new materials popping up that can do really neat things, like keep you cool, protect you from the sun, or last forever. Playing around with these new fabrics can help you create some seriously cool and practical stuff.

Fashion is also always changing, and people are coming up with new designs, fun zippers and buttons, amazing embellishments. By staying on top of these trends and trying them out in your own sewing, you can make some really unique and stylish pieces that show off your creativity.

More and more sewists are finding ways to be more sustainable, eco-friendly, like upcycling old clothes to make new stuff, using fabric scraps, trying zero-waste patterns that don’t waste fabric, and choosing materials that are gentle on the earth. I always try to incorporate plant-based sustainable fabrics into my projects. Materials like organic cotton and recycled fibers not only feel great but also reduce our environmental footprint.

Whether you’re chatting with folks online, going to workshops, or just hanging out with other sewing enthusiasts, you can pick up all sorts of fresh ideas, tips, and tricks that can help you grow and get better at what you do.

The bottom line is, trying new things doesn’t mean you have to ditch everything you already know and love about sewing. It’s all about mixing the old with the new to help you become a more well-rounded, creative, and skilled sewist in today’s always-changing world of fashion. 

#9. Learn Pattern Drafting and Alteration

These are super important skills to have if you want to get better at sewing.

If you learn to alter and draft patterns, you’ll be able to create clothes that fit you perfectly. No more settling for ill-fitting store-bought clothes or struggling with patterns that don’t quite work for your body shape.

When you understand how patterns work and how to change them, you can start getting creative with your sewing projects. You can mix and match elements from different patterns, add your own personal touches, and really make each piece your own.

Pattern drafting and alteration require a good understanding of sewing techniques, fabric properties, and garment construction. As you practice these skills, you’ll naturally become a better sewist overall.

Pattern drafting gives you complete creative control over your sewing projects. You can design your own garments from scratch, add your own personal touches, and really let your imagination run wild.

To draft a pattern, you need to have a deep understanding of how garments are constructed. You need to know about things like ease, seam allowances, grainlines, etc.  By learning pattern drafting, you’ll gain a much better understanding of these concepts, which will make you a more skilled and knowledgeable sewist.

Pattern drafting often involves a lot of problem-solving. You might need to figure out how to create a certain shape or how to make a garment drape a certain way. As you practice pattern drafting, you’ll develop strong problem-solving skills that can be applied to all sorts of sewing challenges.

There’s something really empowering about being able to create your own patterns from scratch. When you have this skill, you’ll feel like there’s nothing you can’t sew. You’ll have the confidence to tackle any sewing project, no matter how complex or ambitious.

There’s nothing quite like the feeling of creating a garment that fits you perfectly and looks exactly how you want it to. By mastering sewing patterns, you’ll gain a lot of confidence in your sewing abilities, which can spill over into other areas of your life.

#10. Learn from Your Mistakes

Everyone makes mistakes when they’re sewing. It’s totally normal and nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, making mistakes is actually a good thing because it means you’re pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and trying new things.

The key is to not let those mistakes get you down. Instead, try to see them as opportunities to learn and grow. Ask yourself what went wrong and how you can avoid making the same mistake in the future. Tracing your steps to figure out where things went off track can be super helpful.

Another important thing to remember is that everyone’s sewing journey is different. Don’t compare yourself to others or get discouraged if your projects don’t turn out perfect right away. It takes time and practice to get good at sewing, and that’s totally okay.

Don’t be afraid to experiment with different techniques, fabrics, and patterns. Sure, some of your projects might not turn out the way you hoped, but that’s all part of the learning process.

It’s also important to be patient with yourself and celebrate your successes. Did you finally nail that tricky invisible zipper installation? Awesome! Did you manage to sew a lining for a jacket? That’s a win in my book!

So don’t get discouraged if things don’t go perfectly every time. Just keep stitching, keep growing, and most importantly, keep having fun!

Being a better sewist doesn’t mean you don’t make mistakes. Mistakes happen all the time, even to the most experienced sewists. I make mistakes too. The key difference lies in how you handle those mistakes.

Do you take your seam ripper and redo the seam, or do you shrug it off and think, “Hmm, it’s not visible anyway, it can stay like this”? Personally, I always redo my work if I make a mistake. If a seam isn’t straight, I redo it. If my topstitching is off, I redo it. If the hem is uneven, I redo it.

This commitment to fixing errors is necessary if you want to improve your sewing skills. So, if you want to become a better sewist, don’t settle for “good enough.” Always strive for the best and don’t hesitate to redo your work when necessary.

Did you find this guide helpful? If you did, make sure to save this pin (located below) on your sewing board on Pinterest so that you can easily access the article later whenever you need this information on how to get better at sewing. Also, don’t forget to follow me on Pinterest for more tips, tutorials, and inspiration.

An Author with her sewing machine Brother Luminaire in her sewing room

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