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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.





sewing toolssewing tools

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.

sewing toolssewing tools

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.

sewing toolssewing tools

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.

sewing tools

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.

sewing toolssewing tools

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.

sewing toolssewing tools

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.

sewing toolssewing tools

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.

sewing toolssewing tools

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.

sewing toolssewing tools

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

sewing toolssewing tools

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

sewing toolssewing tools

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

sewing toolssewing tools

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.

sewing toolssewing toolssewing toolssewing tools

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.



sewing machine accessoriessewing machine accessories

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.

sewing machine accessoriessewing machine accessories

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

sewing machine accessories







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.

sewing machine accessories







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.

sewing machine accessories






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.

sewing machine accessoriessewing machine accessories

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

sewing machine accessoriessewing machine accessories

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

sewing machine accessories







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.