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The Reader’s Digest New Complete Guide to Sewing: Step-by-Step Techniques

beginner sewing projectsbeginner sewing projects

If you’re searching for a comprehensive sewing book, then the Reader’s Digest Complete Guide to Sewing is your perfect guide.

Tim Gunn, co-host of Project Runway says “and I always recommend the Reader’s Digest Guide to Sewing. It’s very comprehensive and very user-friendly.”

Inside this book you’ll find colorful step by step illustrations for making clothes and home accessories. It has something for the beginner sewer as well as an experienced seamstress. Not only will you understand the terminology but you’ll see the techniques as well.

With more than 350 pages and 11 chapters, you’ll find information on..

  • Selecting the proper equipment and supplies
  • How to care for natural and man-made fabrics
  • Taking your proper measurements (step by step picture instructions)
  • Comprehensive pattern symbols and fabric width conversions
  • Basic and advanced pattern alternations
  • How to prepare fabrics for cutting
  • Over 40 different hand stitches
  • Diagram of different machine stitches and finishes
  • Two different projects you can complete at home along with the Simplicity pattern number
  • Advanced finishes such as necklines, waistlines, sleeves, pockets, hems and fastenings
  • There’s even a chapter on Tailoring

Check out the Reader’s Digest Complete Guide to Sewing and you’ll be pleasantly surprised with this great book.

Measuring Tools

Taking accurate body and pattern measurements require measuring tools.  To make sure you get the best fit, take your time and measure often and accurately.










Yardstick – is for general marking and for measuring fabric grain line when layout the pattern.  It should be made of smooth hardwood or metal.








See-through ruler – lets you see what you measure or mark.  This ruler is used to check fabric grain lines and to mark buttonholes, tucks and pleats. It can also be used as a cutting guide with a rotary cutter.








Tape measure –Can be used for taking body measurements and measuring fabric. They are usually made with plastic or fiberglass. Choose a tape measure that is 60” long tape with metal tips.  It should be reversible, with inch markings on one side and centimeters on the other.








Ruler – used for general measuring and marking. The most useful sizes are 12” or 18” long.







Seam gauge – this 6” metal or plastic ruler has a sliding marker that is helpful for taking hem measurements, buttonholes and pleats.








See-through T-square – can be used to locate cross grains, alter patterns, and square off straight edges.

Pressing tools

Pressing is an important step when sewing.  It’s essential to press at each stage during construction to ensure a perfectly finished garment.  Keep your pressing equipment close to your sewing machine to remind yourself to press after each step. When you press your material, you should move the iron very little when it is in contact with the fabric.

Press in the direction of the fabric grain and each stitched seam before crossing with another. Make sure to press on the wrong side of the fabric to prevent iron shine. Below are some basic and extra pressing tools.





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Steam/spray iron – choose an iron that has a wide variety of heat settings to accommodate for different fabric types. You should be able to use the iron and steamer on any temperature setting.

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Tailor’s ham – used when pressing shaped areas such as curved seams, bust darts, collars or sleeve caps.  The ham is a hard packed cushion with rounded curves. One side is cotton while the other is covered with wool to retain more steam. This pressing tool makes it easier to shape garment pieces when pressing seams.

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Press cloth – used to prevent iron shine and is used when applying fusible interfacing.  The cloth is transparent which allows you to see if the fabric is smooth or if the interfacing is properly aligned. It is also useful for using iron-on products.

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Sleeve board – looks like a miniature ironing board. It is used when pressing seams and details of small or narrow areas such as sleeves, pant legs, necklines and sleeve caps.

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Point presser/clapper – made from hardwood and is used for pressing seams open in corners and points.  The clapper flattens seams by holding steam and heat in the fabric.  This tool is used in tailoring to achieve a flat finish and sharp edges on hard-surfaced fabrics.

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Seam roll – is a firmly packed cylindrical cushion for pressing seams.  The bulk of the fabric falls to the sides and never touches the iron, preventing the seam from making an imprint on the right side of the fabric.


Sewing Cutting Tools

When purchasing cutting tools, cheaper is generally not better. You want to invest in good quality scissors or shears to cut accurately, save time and frustration. Invest in a pair of all-steel, chrome-plated shears for heavy-duty cutting. The lighter shears with stainless steel blades and plastic handles are satisfactory for less-frequent sewing or light-weight fabrics. Fabrics scissors or shears should only be used to cut fabric, not paper or other household items.

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Bent-handled dressmaker’s shears – are best for pattern cutting because the angle of the lower blade lets fabric lie flat on the cutting surface. Blade lengths of 7” ad 8” are most popular, but lengths up to 12” are available. Select a blade length appropriate to the size of your hand and one that fits comfortably.

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Sewing scissors – have one pointed and one round tip for lightweight sewing tasks such as trimming and clipping seams and facings. The 6” blade is most practical.

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Embroidery scissors – have 4” or 5” finely tapered blades. Both points are sharp for use in hand work and precision cutting.

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Seam ripper – quickly rips seams, open buttonholes and removes stitches.

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Thread clipper – useful for cutting stray threads. It has a with spring-action blade.

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Pinking shears or scalloping shears – have a saw-tooth blade that cuts a zigzag or scalloped edge instead of a straight one. Used to finish seams and raw edges on many types of fabric to prevent unraveling. Use can also be used for a decorative finish.

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Rotary cutter – is used for cutting precise fabric strips or cutting straight lines. When using the rotary cutter, make sure you have a special plastic mat to protect the cutting surface and the blade. A special locking mechanism retracts the blade for safety.

Sewing Machine Accessories

Sewing machines have a variety of available accessories to perform different projects. The zipper foot and buttonhole attachment fit any machine.  However for most attachments, it’s important to know if your machine has a high shank, low shank or slanted shank. The shank is the distance from the attachment screw to the bottom of the presser foot.

Your machine will generally come with the general purpose foot and zigzag plate.  The user manual will show the various attachments available and how to use them on your machine.

Below are some of the various attachments that can be used to save time when sewing.



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Zipper foot – used to insert zippers, stitch cording or for any seam that is more bulker on side. Allows you to stitch close to the zipper without having the zipper’s teeth under the presser foot. Can be used for either side of the needle.

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Blind stitch hem/Edging foot – has a vertical plate, is used for edge stitching and blind hemming. Alternative to hemming by hand.

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Straight stitch/General/All-purpose foot and plate – used for basting, straight stitching and some decorative stitching. The needle hole in the plate does not allow for any side stitching.

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Button/zigzag foot and plate – has a horizontal slot to allow for the swing of the needle. It holds flat buttons in position for attaching with machine zigzag stitch. It has two grooves underneath to guide rows of fabric back and forth leaving a small opening for cutting. Can also be used for general purpose sewing.

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Walking/quilting/Even-feed foot – feeds top and bottom lays together so seams start and end evenly and avoid bunching. Use it for vinyl, pile fabrics, bulky knits, or other fabrics that tend to stick, slip or stretch.

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Special purpose – grooved bottom to allow for thread build-up in decorative stitches.

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Darning foot – used for machine darning and free-style machine embroidery.

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Over edge foot – keeps stitch at full width and prevents curling of flat edges when sewing over edge stitches. Stitches are formed over a wire on the inside edge of the foot.


Brother SA145 Clearview Horizontal Footsewing machine accessories

Clear-view foot – allows you to see where you are stitching. Used for bulky fabrics.

Brother SA126 7mm Narrow Hem Footsewing machine accessories

Hemming foot – rolls the fabric into a narrow hem and stitches all in one step. Can be used to create a hem on fine fabrics.

Marking Tools for Sewing

Marking tools are used to transfer the pattern symbols onto the fabric to accurately make the garment. It is essential to transfer these symbols for correct fitting and sewing.

Below are some tools used to help transfer the pattern markings onto the fabric.

Tracing wheel – available in a serrated or smooth edge. The serrated edge is used to make a dotted link marking in most fabrics; however it may piece delicate ones. The smooth edge makes a solid line marking and is used for delicate fabrics such as silk and chiffon.

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Dressmaker’s carbon/tracing paper – used to transfer the tracing wheel’s line to the wrong side of the fabric. Select a color close to your fabric, yet visible enough to see.

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Tailor’s chalk – can be used to mark directly onto the fabric. It does not need sharpening like a chalk pencil. Great for dark, heavy fabrics where a traditional water soluble marking pen may not show up.

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Chalk pencil – filled with chalk at one end of the pencil and a brush at the other end to remove chalk marks.

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Liquid marking pens – used to mark tucks, darts, pleats and pockets. One type disappears after about 48 hours. Another type washes off with water.

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Simple Sewing Patterns – A Fantastic Way to Start Sewing

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Sewing is a wonderful hobby to develop and when you learn to sew, it can save you a lot of money. After you learn how to read simple sewing patterns, you can adjust the hems on your skirts or even make a cute new outfit.

Quick to finish

Simple sewing patterns do not take too much time to complete. That is why they are great for beginners. Once you lay out the patterns and start sewing, the whole process shouldn’t take more than a few hours. Even if you’ve never sewn before, reading the instructions on the pattern can be done by anyone. If you’re uncomfortable sewing for the first time, make a test garment first.

Where to find

Simple sewing patterns are easy to find. Most craft stores have a sewing section. Inside that section they have simple or easy sewing patterns. The majority if not all of sewing pattern manufacturers have easy, fast or simple sewing patterns. Even if you’re not able to make it to the craft store, you can find simple sewing patterns online. You may be able to find patterns at the thrift store, consignment shop, or even your local Wal-Mart.


The great thing about simple sewing patterns is that you’re not limited to only making clothes. You can also make different household décor. These types of patterns can even be completed by children because of their simplicity.
Easy or simple sewing projects are great for beginners because they quick to complete, are widely available and come in a variety of patterns. Have a look at a basic sewing pattern for your next sewing challenge and you will no doubt be pleased with the results.

Five Quick Sewing Projects for Beginners

A lot of people are afraid of the concept of creating their first sewing project. Quite a few think they may mess up or get it wrong. Nevertheless, if you pick an easy sewing pattern, it leaves little room for problems.

Below I listed five basic sewing projects for beginners. After you complete these projects you will become more accustomed to reading simple sewing patterns and completing projects that will be useful and fun.

1. Pillow – A pillow is a fantastic project for beginners. In the event you’re trying to find the ideal accent pillow and you cannot find it yet, you can create your own. Any local fabric store has many distinct fabrics to choose from. You may make either a detachable cover or one that is permanent. Once you’ve cut out your material and began to sew, many pillows shouldn’t take more than 5 minutes to complete.

2. Coasters: Another excellent beginner project is coasters. Making a coaster is a good basic project because much like pillows, they don’t take much time to finish. You may also select the fabric to coordinate your room’s décor. Coasters can be made for housewarming presents for loved ones.

3. Tote bag: These bags are great because they have many different uses. You can use them for groceries, traveling, as a diaper bag..the possibilities are endless. Just think of all the different colors and prints you can choose from.

4. Table runner: Table runners are a great accent piece to any table. You can make a larger one for your dining room table or even a smaller one for your coffee table. You can choose the same fabric and make matching throw pillows as well.

5. Headband: Headbands are very cute and very easy to make. They’re perfect for woman as well as little girls. You can make them in different colors to match your wardrobe. Some simple sewing patterns also come with instructions on adding elastic. They’re a great project for teaching little girls how to sew.

For more resources on beginner sewing projects, check out these articles.



Sewing Basics

Learning a brand new skill or craft could be relaxing and rewarding. Sewing is a great skill to have that will benefit the entire family and it’s also fun. Simple sewing patterns are a great introduction to sewing.

It can be difficult to learn anything brand new, like a craft. You can start to feel overwhelmed really fast as there is so much material in books and online. Spend some time and study the very basics first, and then build on that knowledge.

Sewing Lessons – Classroom or Friend?

When you learn how to sew, you need to get behind the sewing machine. One way to do this is by going to your local craft store and registering for a course. Some classes are offered free, while others have a small fee. These stores should have sewing machines to work with when you are learning.

The majority of community colleges offer continuing education classes. These kinds of courses typically include sewing lessons at various times as well as a reasonable fee.

Most people have a friend or maybe a relative that knows how to sew. Ask for his or her assistance in doing a simple sewing project so that you can get used to the fundamentals. No doubt they would be glad to help you in learning how to sew.

If you live within an outlying region or one that doesn’t have sewing training, you can get totally free and inexpensive training on the internet. These types of lessons commonly consist of step by step directions, as well as a video tutorial. Just do a fast Google search for “online sewing lessons” and you’ll have numerous different sites to choose from.

A new vocabulary?

Just like other types crafts or hobbies, sewing has its own vocabulary. It could be helpful to go to your local library or buy a book about simple sewing projects or beginner sewing. Once you learn this completely new “language”, it will be much easier to read the patterns and stick to the directions.

Fast and simple

When deciding on a pattern, select a simple sewing pattern for beginners. Your first project doesn’t need to be clothes. It could be a handbag, tote, pillow case or curtains. Once you have the fundamentals down, you’ll be able to go on to more advanced projects.

Whether your main goal is to learn how to reattach a button or maybe create a wedding dress, be reassured that you can learn to sew. It’s a fantastic skill to master and having a little training along with patience, you will become a pro before you know it!