Learn about sewing: What it is, a brief history, where fabric comes from, how to learn to sew, and beginner project ideas!
What is Sewing
Sewing: The art of stitching together pieces of fabric to create new items. Sewing projects can be purely decorative, or you can create clothing and other items to improve your life. People hand stitch or use sewing machines to sew.
Ever heard the word “sow?” It’s not the same thing. Sowing is when a farmer (or gardener) plants seeds in their soil.
But Where Does Fabric Come From?
Fabric creation is a FASCINATING topic. It was something that I didn’t consider until I found a children’s book on the topic at the local library.
Different fabric types are created in different ways, but threads of the materials used to make the fabric are woven or knit together to create the larger piece of cloth.
This is a great video showing how fabric is made, but keep in mind that it doesn’t cover how they get the original materials. Cotton comes from cotton plants, silk from the silk of spider webs, etc. So consider how many steps each piece of fabric takes before it gets to your doorstep! It’s AMAZING.
A Brief History of Sewing
Hand sewing has been around forever. It is how humans have historically created bedding and clothing for themselves and their families, as well as how many people earned a living. Some ancient sewing needles found date back 25,000 years!
Sewing machines were invented in 1846 by Elias Howe. Early sewing machines did not run off electricity, but were powered by humans who used a pedal or hand crank to keep the machine running. They only did a straight stitch. For those of you who don’t sew yet, the straight stitch looks like this:
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Later machines eventually ran on electricity and we started seeing sewing machines in homes around 1889. Electric sewing machines began to be more commonly found in homes by 1905. Here’s a really good historical guide to sewing machines.
What are the Types of Sewing?
Using a needle and thread that are made for hand sewing (machines use different supplies) to sew.
Using a needle, thread, and bobbin in a sewing machine to sew.
This can be done by hand or on a machine. There are even specialized machines for large scale quilting. Quilting involves sewing together pieces of fabric, or sewing fabric to a padding. Often the stitching is also decorative and part of the art of quilting. This piano quilt went viral a few years ago and is a great example of beautiful stitching.
Specialized machines can embroider designs on fabric. These machines require less interaction during the process of embroidering (your hands are off the machine), but require more knowledge to understand how to successful create and setup the items you want to embroider.
Why is Sewing Important?
Without sewing, we wouldn’t have clothing, bedding, curtains, or anything else made of fabric. Your couch and probably your ottoman are sewn. And don’t forget the importance of doctors being able to sew you back together when you get a bad cut! It’s easy to forget sewing is used in medicine too!
Being able to sew your own items can help save money- sometimes- but the major benefit to learning to sew is that you can take control of customizing clothing and other items to fit your life. Usually the selection of fabrics available is better than the selection of curtains available in the store. You can make your own in any style you want, without being limited by the store’s stock.
Love clothes? Have you ever had the PERFECT pair of jeans? Did you kill them eventually and desperately search to find another pair? When you sew, you can CREATE your own perfectly fitted clothing.
Have special needs? One of my favorite things about sewing is creating items that fit any special needs that come up in my life. For example, let’s say it’s winter and you break a leg. You could create a pair of pants that fits over your cast or adjust your current pants to fit over it.
Being able to sew removes LIMITS. And that’s why I love being a sewist.
Is it Cheaper to Sew or Buy Clothes?
Sewing your own clothing is only as inexpensive as the fabric you buy and the amount of fabric the clothing piece requires. For example, a pair of pants or a full length dress with long sleeves requires more fabric than a tank top.
Fabric can also range in cost. Some specialty fabrics can range from $20+ per yard. Upholstery fabric is particularly expensive.
The benefit is that clothes that are made with quality fabrics, cared for properly, and sewn well will last longer, fit better, and be better loved than the items that are sloppily made with cheap fabric.
Many people find that they can save money sewing their own clothes by upcycling fabric from other items or shopping for fabric while it’s on sale.
Want to know more about sewing clothing? Check out my post How to Cut & Sew Clothes for Beginners.
There is a great diversity of fabrics now compared to years ago when our grandparents or great grandparents are sewing. Fabrics are design from different materials, including synthetic materials and organic materials.
Organic fabrics include silk, cotton, jute, and wool. Silk is made from the cocoons of the mulberry-loving silkworm. Cotton is made from cotton that you’d grow in a field. Wool is made from sheep wool. Jute is also made from a plant.
Those type of fabrics are made from materials accessible in nature and most have been used in different cultures for a long time.
Synthetic materials are a newer phenomena. Nylon, Rayon, Polyester, Polyurethane Laminate (PUL), and Spandex are examples of synthetic/man made fabrics. Some are made of products like plastic.
One of the downfalls of synthetic fabric is that they don’t break down like organic materials would so they more quickly fill a landfill than a wool fabric. Pure organic fabrics will break down over time if composted.
You can purchase sewing patterns, either in the store as a tissue paper pattern, or online as a PDF. PDF patterns are printed at home and taped together to use. You cut out your size.
Tissue paper patterns, the traditional option, are put together already and you can unfold and cut out your size. Some patterns only cover certain clothing sizes, however, so you need to make sure you pick the correct pattern for your measurements. Ie. They might sell a shirt pattern for Small and Medium in one folder, then the Large and Extra Large in another.
Here are a few tools and tutorials on how to use them.
- Sewing Needles: Everything you need to know
- Twin Needles for Sewing Knits
- Tips for using a rotary cutter (which helps speed up cutting fabric)
- Sewing Tools
- How to Install Snaps
- Sewing Thread: Everything you need to know
Sewing notions are items that are necessary or helpful when sewing. They can include needles, thread, zippers, buttons, snaps, and other items that aren’t the fabric or the machine.
Sewing Basics Tutorials
The following are some basic sewing tutorials that will help get you started. These are the best posts to read before you jump into sewing your first project.
- Choosing a Sewing Machine
- Prewashing Fabric
- How to Thread a Sewing Machine & Bobbin
- Understanding Sewing Machine Tension
- The Best Sewing Books for Beginners
- 18 Sewing Tips & Tricks for Beginners
- How to Measure Yourself
- How to Cut & Sew Clothes for Beginners
- Sewing Phone App
Way to Make Money by Sewing
- Altering clothing: Hemming pants, taking in wedding dresses, etc.
- Pattern makers create patterns for clothing and other products. Those patterns can be sold.
- Selling homemade products on Etsy or at craft fairs
- Teaching other people to sew via classes or a blog
How to Learn to Sew
There are many options if you want to learn to sew. Here are a few ways many people learn to sew.
Watching YouTube Tutorials or Reading Blogs
Many people nowadays learn to sew by watching tutorials on blogs or YouTube. This is a great way to learn from home FREE. The downfall is that you may not always learn the correct way and there may be larger gaps in your education than in a formal setting.
Online classes with sites like BluPrint can be a great way to learn sewing skills in a more formal setting so you can get the solid basics down. You can take video courses about sewing machine basics or, if you’re more advanced, do more complicated courses about learning to make custom garments. Click here to try BluPrint for FREE for 7 Days.
In Person Classes
Local sewing stores or Joann Fabrics sometimes offer classes that you can take to improve your sewing skills. Personally, I find hauling my sewing machine to a class to be daunting, but it’s also nice to have someone there to help make suggestions if I mess up.
You can also check with local colleges to see if they offer courses.
Hire a Tutor
Hire a sewing tutor to come to your home to teach you to sew. I LOVE the idea of this, although I haven’t tried to find someone. I like this because the person can help you with what YOU need to know- so you don’t have to waste time with anything you’ve learned already. The 1:1 attention would be a fantastic way to learn fast.
I’ve considered trying to host a sewing meetup with a small group of women to see if we could hire a tutor who could float around the room, giving suggestions and advice when needed. It would be a nice way to save money and also get any help we need.
Host or Attend Meetups
Your other option is to host or attend sewing meetups with friends or strangers! You can learn from each other. The downfall to this is that the most knowledgeable person may not enjoy themselves if they’re doing a lot of assisting others, and it doesn’t necessarily give that person an opportunity to learn. But I think teaching has a way of educating even the teacher, and it’s wonderful to have a social circle to sew with.
YouTube Tutorials about Sewing
The embedded playlist below includes all of my sewing tutorial videos. These focus predominantly on specific projects that you can make, but each has an attached photo tutorial on this blog so you can cross reference details like sizes, patterns, etc.
Setting up a Sewing Room
It’s important to setup a space to sew so you can keep everything organized and easy to find. It’s particularly important to baby proof that sewing space if you have children or pets.
Many people use their dining rooms and have hidden storage, but eventually it’s nice to setup an exclusive area for your hobby.
My goal is to eventually have my own space by adding on to our home or setting up a she shed. Read more about setting up a Fabric-Friendly She Shed.
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Danielle Pientka is the sewing and DIY blogger behind DIYDanielle.com. She taught herself to sew in 2011 when she wanted to make cloth diapers for her first son. She’s been sewing everything from ecofriendly items to kids products to clothing since, as it has become a passion. She loves learning how to do new things and teaching others in the process. She hopes to inspire other moms to take time for themselves to find their own creative passion.
Danielle lives in Maryland with her three young sons and her husband, Brandon. In her spare time, she gardens, reads, horseback rides, and has a small homestead with goats and ducks. Visit her shop to buy patterns or her sewing eBooks. Subscribe to her newsletter to get blog updates, free patterns and other printables by clicking here.