9 Heads-up TIPS for when learning how to sew clothes with a sewing machine

With due time we all learn how to sew clothes with a sewing machine however once we’re deep into it is when we encounter experiences that could have been avoided if we’ de been alerted about them in advance.

Don’t get me wrong I do believe in learning from mistakes too.

But like I put in the title these are “heads-up tips” for the curious and hungry ones out there who want insight and are eager to learn. So if you are one of them then here it is for you:)

Knowing these tips will do the following for you:

  • You will have results of accuracy.
  • You can stay sane as you’ll know the solution to simplify the process of sewing- making life easy.
  • You’ll be wise enough to make choices that do not result in the waste of goods.
  • Some of the tips if practiced and formed to habit will keep you safe from injuries.
9 Heads-up TIPS for when learning how to sew clothes with a sewing machine
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#1 Sew with seam allowance markings

Follow this rule and find yourself to be an accurate sewer. 


Every seam we sew has a seam allowance (the distance to sew away from the edge).

how to learn to sew clothes on a sewing machine- seam allowances

There will always be a seam allowance to follow when you sew a new seam. Like for example, this neckline has a ⅜” seam allowance while the side seam on the same garment will need to be sewn at ⅝” seam allowance. 

If you go into sewing this garment blindly with one glace at side seam to be ⅝” and you do that to your neckline then this would mean you have sewn a greater seam allowance on the neckline which will make your neckline bigger than planned.

Sew according to the seam allowance then you will for sure be an accurate sewer. 

Tip: I like to go into sewing a piece of garment knowing from the start how much seam allowance I have to sew on every edge. Therefore the effective way I find to do this (because I am a visual learner) is I sketch out a rough silhouette on a scrap piece of paper and take a moment to read my pattern before going to the machine and jot down the different seam allowances I have to sew.

That way I am not leaving room for myself to get it wrong and then having to rip out the stitches to redo it. 

#2 Know how to function the zig-zag stitch

When I started sewing my first garment I was shown the zig-zag stitch as though it was as important as the straight stitch- and it is for you too if you don’t have an overlocker in the meantime. 

When we make clothes not only should we focus on making the outside of the garment look pretty but also the inside.

Because it firstly neatens the inside of the garment but also aesthetically pleasing to us as the wearer.

If you are yet to figure out how to do a seam finish and zig-zag stitch then definitely read this post that’s all about that. 

The trick is that you want to be switching back and forth between straight stitch and zig-zag stitch when needed and so in order to be able to switch quickly you should know how to switch to the zig-zag stitch easily.

how to sew clothes with a sewing machine-zigzag stitch setting

Tip: in the beginning, I had written down a note and stuck it onto my sewing machine for easy quick access so I wouldn’t have to figure it out all the time. Plus in the beginning, you might also find it difficult to remember your preferred straight stitch setting so I say write that down as well!

#3 Hemming narrow circular hems

You might know this tip as a beginner already but I certainly didn’t know this until the recent years. I guess I want to add this one in for other beginners because I am trying to give back to myself for not knowing this earlier.

It is when sewing clothes you will find that there are small circular areas to stitch they are areas such as the sleeve hem or the trouser hem or even around the armhole. These areas are narrow and generally hard to reach areas– especially if done without this technique. 

What is the technique?

how to sew clothes with a sewing machine-freearm feature

It’s pretty simple when sewing a sleeve hem (or one of the others mentioned above) take off the arm of your machine and slide that area in there and stitch it. Most machines should have this feature.

It’s known as the Freearm.

#4 Form these BASIC LEVEL Habits

There are some habits we have that are automatic and they can be good for us or bad for us- that is the case in general with all things really. However, my point is that the same applies to sewing. 

If we from the start as beginners build these (rather small) habits as part of using the sewing machine where it just becomes automatic to do them then, it will help in freeing our mind space. The reason why it is important to free up mind space is so that in turn, the free mind space will be available for the more important part which is the sewing- that’s the goal right!  

So let’s have a look at what some of these basic level habits are that we have to build for using a sewing machine then I will further go on to explain why these are important to automate. So what are they:

  • Reverse stitch
  • Focus on the seam allowance and not at the needle
  • Remember to put the presser foot down at the time of sewing and vice versa

Reverse stitch

The issue is quite small however any little frustration that can be avoided means a better chance for a smoother sewing experience, right?

When you begin stitching on the machine you’ll notice that at times the machine will skip a few stitches well to solve that the reverse button comes in handy. Also when ending the stitch if you try to pull away your fabric from the machine without securing it with a reverse stitch, I find the thread can pull on your fabric which could lead to fabric distortion. 

At the beginning and the end of any sewing on the machine give that reverse button a quick press that way the stitches secure themselves.

Focus on the seam allowance and not at the needle

As a beginner, you won’t know and maybe haven’t been told by anyone this so please listen up. When you are sewing with your machine be sure to keep your eye on the seam guide while feeding your fabric under the machine. Don’t watch the needle as it’ll make you dizzy lool

But seriously, take note to not do that it won’t help you or your project that you’re trying to sew. 

The added benefit of focusing on the seam guide while feeding the fabric under your machine is that you will get some accurate sewing this way.

How to focus on the seam guide while feeding the fabric through the machine?

1. When feeding your fabric through the machine make sure to have the raw edge on the right-hand side of the needle and presser foot. (A simple way to remember this is by the letter “R” for raw edge to go on the right-hand-side)

How to sew clothes on a sewing machine tip-seam allowance

2. Align the raw edge to the seam allowance guide needed i.e. if sewing by 5/8” seam allowance, align to that line on the machine.

How to sew clothes on a sewing machine tip-seam allowance

3. Begin sewing however, keep your eye on the raw edge to align with the 5/8” mark on the machine as you sew.

How to sew clothes on a sewing machine tip-seam allowance

Presser foot goes down at the time of sewing and vice versa

I couldn’t tell you how often this happened to me and how irritating it is! It’s one of those things that can easily be missed which is why getting it to become as part of your routine will help you to do it without having to remember to do so. 

I found that whenever I happened to start sewing while the presser foot was still up that sometimes (depending on the fabric) the stitches jammed. Nonetheless, you won’t be able to sew if you forget to put the presser foot down- it’s just a mess.

#5 Utilize your sewing machine case by having the following on a standby: 

For the longest time in my sewing life, I ignored the sewing machine drawer and just used to dump things like extra bobbins and stuff here and there but slowly without realizing I happened to put the most important things I needed ready near my hands to grab in that case. 

So what are those things:

  • seam ripper, 
  • spare needles, 
  • thread snips
how to sew clothes with a sewing machine-what to keep in the case

When you’re fully on mode “sewing away “ the last thing you want is when you happen to need to undo a stitch or when your needle snaps on you o when you need to snip your threads away it can get really frustrating to go back and look for this thing in your stash.

I used to waste a lot of time with little things like. 

What I do differently now is I have these 3 things as essentials in my sewing machine drawer so that when I happen to be on full mode sewing and any of these situations arise I won’t get frustrated by not having these things at hand.

#6 Sewing darts

With most of our machine sewing, we begin and end with pressing the reverse stitch pull to secure the stitching, right?

Well, the case is not the same for when sewing darts. 

A reverse stitch is essentially a couple of stitch lines done over any one area. Therefore where it creates the layers creates bulk. That bulk looks unpleasant on a dart point which is why we avoid the reverse stitch over here.  

When sewing the points of darts do not reverse stitch it instead shorten your machines stitch length.

how to sew clothes with a sewing machine-darts

Sewing darts this way will make the seam come out strong as well as avoiding unwanted bulk. 

#7 Safety measures when learning how to sew clothes on a sewing machine

I am generally quite clumsy also to solidify this point it has happened to me that once I did injure myself on a sewing machine. Although, it was just a minor injury it made me rethink my safety precautions.  

I injured myself with the machine needle where it pierced into my thumb but I was lucky it went through the thick skin layers, therefore, It didn’t bleed. 

However, that horrified me to be more careful because imagine it pierced through the center of my nail? Ewww!

Now what I do is when I am fiddling around the needle area I ALWAYS DO these two things  to keep me safe:

  1. Switch the on/off button to off
  2. Move feet away from the foot pedal.

#8 Make use of sewing machine accessories

If you have done some sewing before you will know and might even do this yourself. You do all your sewing, cut and sew up the garment and even give it the final press, however, there’s one last little step to complete when done and IF done it will be ready to wear.

Now, I say IF because I always end up not finishing the last step because I get too LAZY to do it! The cause of that is the fact that it has to be done by HAND!

…well does it have to be done by hand, really?

What are those last steps that I don’t get done:

  • blind hemming the hemline
  • sewing on the buttons
how to sew clothes with a sewing machine- necessary machine foot

The simple solution to finish off these tasks is to use a dedicated machine foot. Use the blind hem foot for the blind hemmed hemline and a button foot to put on the buttons!

Note: your machine may or may not already come with a button foot but it’s worth checking now because using one will mean no more unsightly underside of the garment (all neat and tidy).

#9 Don’t forget to adjust machine settings for the fabric you sew

Simply adjusting the machine setting to suit your fabric can get your garment to not look handmade (amateur). It doesn’t take much to prepare for that and it’s good practice to maintain the habit.

Here’s a general idea of the kind of things you’ll be adjusting:

  • needle size
  • machine tension
  • sometimes thread
how to sew clothes with a sewing machine-fabric settings in the manual

The first place I would turn to get that info from is the sewing machine manual. I’m not sure if all machine manuals include that information but mine does so check yours and keep the manual safe for reference sake later.

The other tip is to know what material it is your buying at the time of purchase that way you can do a quick online search for that fabric and what machine settings to use for sewing with it.

That is the 9 tips for learning how to sew clothes with a sewing machine! I hope some of these tips were insightful to you. Do you have a good tip that I could learn? Write it down in the comments section below I am always learning when it comes to sewing!

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