Looking for suggestions: Easy Beginner Sewing Projects

Ever feel like you’re just behind on life, in general? That’s me this week! I should be walking around with a giant SORRY sign stapled to my head, just to get it out of the way. Sorry, world! I will get it all done!

So I’m calling on you guys to help me answer a question. I was asked by a reader what I’d recommend for starting sewing projects while I was away. And as I started to put together a reply I thought, why just limit it to my opinion only? Tell me, what would you suggest as easy sewing projects for beginners? (Bonus if any of you out there TEACH sewing!)

(above: McCalls 5803, a fairly simple skirt, could be a beginner project?)

Here’s what I suggested:

  • A-line or full skirts
  • Aprons
  • Simple blouses
  • Simple dresses

I also added the comments below:

Look at the ratings on the patterns, they will have things like “easy” or “advanced” written on the outside. Aim for patterns labelled EASY! A lot of people recommend using McCalls, Butterick, New Look or Simplicity patterns (over Vogue or Burda). Personally I really like Vogue Patterns for the fit and style though. Take a look at the websites, or pattern books in your local store and check the ratings.

You’ll be most successful if you choose styles that are both easy to fit, and easy to construct. Avoid anything that’s very fitted, if you look for skirts choose A-line or full silhouettes, so you’re only fitting your waist and adjusting the length if needed. Any A-line or full skirt pattern labelled EASY should do the trick.

I would also suggest sewing with woven fabrics that don’t stretch – not knits or stretch wovens. They’ll be easier to handle for starting projects. T-shirts are great if you’re comfortable with knits, but I find them a lot harder than they look!
Pick a style with ONE hard feature: either a zipper, OR buttons but not both. And lastly, pick something you actually want to wear. If you never wear dresses, don’t make one!”

Readers, it’s your turn! What were some of your first sewing projects: what worked? Did you ever attempt a project, when you were learning, that was WAY over your head?

Who else is a beginner or advanced beginner and can share tips and helpful hints on getting started? I’d much appreciate your thoughts, let’s encourage all sewing newcomers and share our knowledge!

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31 Responses to Looking for suggestions: Easy Beginner Sewing Projects

  1. claire August 26, 2010 at 6:11 am #

    Colette Patterns has a free bloomers pattern that would be good for a beginner (http://www.colettepatterns.com/blog/colette-patterns-news/free-pattern-to-download-the-madeleine-mini-bloomers). Very few pieces, and it’s fairly quick and easy. I started teaching myself to sew with this book:

    http://www.amazon.com/Sew-What-Skirts-Fabulous-Fabrics/dp/1580176259

    I think it was a good way to begin because there’s lots of explanations, drawings, and several styles of skirts to choose from. You don’t need a pattern because it teaches you to create your own.

  2. Sinje August 26, 2010 at 6:18 am #

    My biggest tip pretty much goes in the same direction as what you already mentioned when you said that beginners should make something they’ll really love, but there’s one aspect I would like to add:

    Don’t even start using cheap fabrics; you’ll put a lot of effort and time into your projects and you deserve to use fabric you really love! I used to be scared to cut up pretty fabric but I learned that I pay a lot more attention to detail when I use pretty fabrics. Oh, and the same thing appies to sewing equipment like scissors, needles and threads. Buying quality supplies makes sewing so much easier that it is well worth teh investment, I think.¬®

    Thank you Tasia for this post – I think it’s going to be a helpful resource for many beginning sewers!

  3. Kristen August 26, 2010 at 6:37 am #

    Do the answers have to be limited to wearables? I swear by tote bags for beginner projects. I taught a 4-session Learn to Sew course where the students made a simple tote bag (lined and reversible) and they loved the finished product. Once you’ve made 1 bag or purse, you can get the concept and design your own bag shape from there. You may not even need a pattern if you just cut out some squares, some straps, and a fun contrasting pocket.

  4. christine August 26, 2010 at 7:32 am #

    I agree with all the above and the original post. Totes, simple A-line skirts, and other very basic shaped items are the way to go at first. If this is your first project, or close to it, avoid darts, gathering, zippers and buttons. Just learn to understand how the machine works, how your body interacts with it, how to use all the tools, and how to read and use patterns. Don’t jump into too much too fast! And patience goes a LONG way in sewing, so take your time.

    In addition to using quality tools and fabrics as mentioned above, I’d also suggest using only 100% cotton for a while. Don’t venture into blends, silkys, or knits at all. Just stick to solid cotton and you’ll be happy you did.

    I teach sewing classes and have a beginner garment sewing book out called Chic & Simple Sewing, if anyone is looking to venture into very basic beginner level garment making. In my beginner class, which is mostly first time sewers, we make a simple envelope style throw pillow cover. It’s pretty fool proof and leaves lots of room for errors and still looks good.

    Good luck to all the new seamsters out there!

  5. Tanit-Isis August 26, 2010 at 7:45 am #

    My daughter’s been working on a bag (the Diana bag pattern off burdastyle.com) for her first project. I did sew the darts for her, but I definitely agree a bag makes a good and useful first project.

    I started with barbie clothes, myself, which I know some people don’t recommend, but for me it was perfect because it used minute amounts of fabric and if the fit wasn’t perfect, add a belt. (I didn’t use patterns)

  6. Alex August 26, 2010 at 7:46 am #

    I made my first garments this year. I think that the first project should be something you really want to wear. If you like skirts, I think they are the easiest first project that will result in the most satisfaction and excitement upon completion. With an a-line or full skirt one only needs to worry about the waist measurement (then hemming to a flattering length). I avoided zippers with my first two skirts and made wraps, but you can also jump right in and put in your first zipper.

    My first dress was the Coffee Date Dress. It is definitely doable as a first project. Grosgrain did a sew-along that has more detailed instructions and pictures than the ones that can be downloaded. As an extra bonus – the pattern is free! She also did a sew-along for Burdastyle’s Anda dress, which looks super easy.
    http://grosgrainfabulous.blogspot.com/2006/07/frock-by-friday.html

    I’m not sure if I agree about using good fabric for your first projects. Yes, your first project will take time – but it won’t come out perfectly. I am finding that my standards are rising much faster than I anticipated, and I doubt I will want to wear my first projects a year from now.

  7. Sofia August 26, 2010 at 7:47 am #

    I made this little jacket and I’m going to get to the skirt and it was incredibly easy, I made it in an hour. It’s also really chic! There’s no interfacing, no zippers, only like… 5 pieces or something, and it looks pretty awesome when it’s done.

    http://voguepatterns.mccall.com/v8640-products-10782.php?page_id=864

    The best is doing the outside of the little coat in a neutral, like a silvery tweed or taupe and then the lining in a really vivid colour, like bright purple!

  8. Jaime August 26, 2010 at 8:23 am #

    I don’t know if you’ve read or browsed through Sew U: Built By Wendy (http://builtbywendy.com/onlineshop/cart.php?target=product&product_id=16702&category_id=303). I was recently asked about teaching a teenager to sew. I think this book is really great because it gives all the info a basic sewing book would give (in modern language) and then provides 3 patterns – a basic a-line skirt, a button up top and a pair of pants. Then she shows you how to change the design details on each project – add a border hem to the skirt, make the pants into cargo capris, etc. It’s a book that you would refer to in the future and something you could grow in to. It has the basics, but in an updated language, and some fun projects you’d actually want to make! I am thinking of recommending this book to that mom and then offering to help with the projects.

  9. Trudy Callan August 26, 2010 at 8:34 am #

    Pajama bottoms and pillow cases are super easy and satisfying projects for beginners. I’m teaching my 9 year old daughter to sew. Her first machine projects have been: a little bag, pillow, pillow case, skirts, and pajama bottoms. She’ll be making an apron soon as well. She has her own little sewing blog. She’ll be posting the pillow case and pajama bottoms soon. . She’s already posted two skirts. Her blog is http://www.sewingsister.blogspot.com I’ve already posted her pajama bottoms on my blog, though.

    Trudy
    http://www.sewingwithtrudy.blogspot.com

  10. Samantha August 26, 2010 at 8:38 am #

    So many great suggestions!
    When I helped my younger sister get into sewing, we started with a pair of PJ bottoms. We used a pattern that used the same piece for the front and the back to avoid a mixup. She got a real sense of accomplishment – easy to finish in a weekend – and could actually use the garment, no matter how it turned out. Plus, you can really make PJ bottoms your own – whether plaid flannel or a pretty cotton pinstripe. I think we added ribbon trim around the cuff for added flair.
    Remember – no matter how your first project turns out, you’ll only get better as you go along … and it’s SEW rewarding (sorry, I couldn’t resist). Good Luck!

  11. Brianna August 26, 2010 at 8:54 am #

    My adventures in learning to sew were eventful. I would just see something I wanted to make for myself and go for it! I will add that there were moments of frustration and things did get complicated but I always ended up having fun….
    However, this skirt is fabulous and would probably be a great place to start!

  12. The Cupcake Goddess August 26, 2010 at 9:07 am #

    That is great question and one that I think you answered wonderfully well! I think skirts are the best beginning project and for that matter there is this fun book called Sew What Skirts! It’s a great beginning project book, especially for garments and you have the added benefit of drafting your own skirt pattern. I found it to be a great stepping stone in learning to draft your own pattern, and then the fit won’t be so scary to tackle.

    All of your other suggestions are definitely the best way to go. I say if you are new to sewing stay away from knits until you have a bit more experience behind you.

  13. Amy August 26, 2010 at 9:19 am #

    My biggest tip would be to google any pattern before you buy it for reviews. I recently bought a Simplicity skirt pattern (2656 in case anyone is interested) that I thought looked easy enough and I’m really struggling with it. A quick 5 minutes google has shown plenty of other people who’ve struggled with it and if I’d done that before I bought the pattern, I probably would have gone with a different one!

  14. Alice August 26, 2010 at 10:24 am #

    I just started sewing a few months ago. i’d definitely go easier than an ‘easy’ rated skirt or dress – especially one with pleats! at least if someone’s an absolute beginner and doesn’t know how to thread the machine (which i was… messed up on the tension and bobbin about a squillion times!). here were my first projects:

    1) bath mitt. I took a terry washcloth and sewed two seams in it – length and one width – to make a mitt.
    2) bathroom caddy. from a martha stewart ‘pattern’ (really, more of a suggestion) http://www.marthastewart.com/good-things/terry-cloth-caddy?backto=true&backtourl=/photogallery/25-bathroom-organizers#slide_3.

    1&2 are nice because perfectly straight seams don’t matter! they also took me freaking forever (and i went through a lot of thread) because i was relying on a book (the sew everything workshop book).

    3) Then i did an envelope pillowcase in the closest thing to lumberjack plaid i could find for my boyfriend. directions found somewhere online. you can’t believe how proud i was!

    4) the colette bloomers mentioned above. I did them in a lightweight broadcloth. there is a drafting issue around the crotch – i think one of the pieces is too long. noted in several reviews online.

    4) then i found burdastyle. did the tara top (failure! too big and the princess neckline was tough for me), sidonie skirt – an a-line skirt i did in denim which i wear constantly, and the azalea dress – another abject failure. My review is here: http://sewing.patternreview.com/cgi-bin/readreview.pl?readreview=1&reviewnum=52861. tasia, you might recognize the fabric :)

    5) then i did mccall’s 6078 – new and super easy; just a small handful of stitches. view C doesn’t have the pleats. i did it in a bamboo knit (echoing the commenter who said use nice fabrics, and i would say especially in knits. there are some rough sewing knits out there, and others – like the bamboo i picked up at fabricana – that sew up like a dream. besides, even with a $12/metre fabric, you’re still saving immensely over the cost of RTW.).

    **your beginner should definitely check out patternreview.com. especially since they have a category called “easy and great for beginners.**

    i’m amazed by how much my sewing has improved over the last few months – though i have put a *lot* of time into it. Not yet ready to tackle vogue 1174 (though i have bought the pattern to keep my ambition going), but am successfully stitched together some alice+olivia pants vogue’s put out (v1051).

  15. Alice August 26, 2010 at 10:27 am #

    forgot to complete a sentence above: 1&2 took me forever because everytime i wanted to thread the machine, i was relying on a book’s instructions. (the sew everything workshop book. which is fantastic.)

  16. TMachan August 26, 2010 at 10:30 am #

    My first ‘projects’ I ever did were pillowcases – granted I was three at the time sitting on a stool with the presser foot on a box to reach my moms machine – but that helped me learn how to sew straight lines, learn how to turn corners, and hem an edge. After that I created my own blanket – which I dragged everywhere and still have. Sewing squares together is easy, helps you learn pressing, right and wrong sides, how to put on backing, and turn it right to top stich the edge. And when you are done you have a great throw for movie watching. Plus since stretch fabrics can be tough to work with, brushed cotton is perfect, soft and warm. That could be something for a beginner to try.

  17. Cathi August 26, 2010 at 10:32 am #

    Our library runs a teen craft program and for sewing they do a simple purse/bag. It’s easy and you can use some gorgeous fabrics without having them break the bank.
    Pyjama pants are another great option I’ve heard of to start sewing.
    Basically the key is to look for something that’s not too fitted to start.

  18. Alexandra Mason August 26, 2010 at 11:58 am #

    Hi, i’m a beginner and the first thing i made in May, was the Marie skirt from Burdastyle, but it was part of a sew-along and Ali who organised it went through it step by step which was great, i wouldn’t have been able to sew it otherwise. I have heard that KwikSew patterns (www.kwiksew.com) are very good for beginners as their instructions are very detailed and they also do ‘easy’ patterns. I too would recommend Sew U by Wendy Mullin. I definitely agree that you should sew something that you want to wear xx

  19. Elizabeth of OnlineFabricStore August 26, 2010 at 12:00 pm #

    I agree that A-line skirts are good for beginners; they are simple and flattering. Gathered skirts can be a bit more tricky because you need to get the gathers even and if you have fuller hips, too many gathers can make you look larger.

    Simple tote bags are also good. Pillows and placemats can be good if they are a simple pattern without binding. A simple pull-on dress could also be a good choice. Simplicity now has some Learn to Sew patterns geared to beginners. Some of these are even geared to teaching children to sew.

  20. Venus de Hilo August 26, 2010 at 12:02 pm #

    I, too, recommend “Sew What: Skirts” for a beginner who wants to move up from totes (good suggestion!) to something to wear – it’s a great book with nice variety of projects and styles, some more complex than others, but none challenging, and encourages playing around with fabrics and trims to make things “yours.”

  21. Tasia August 26, 2010 at 12:24 pm #

    Excellent, thorough suggestions – thanks so much for adding your insights! I knew you readers were awesome!
    Regarding fabrics – whether to buy cheap, or buy quality for first projects, I think there’s a happy middle. Don’t dig through the bargain bin or buy unlabelled fabrics, you won’t know how to handle them, and may not even be able to look up the answer! That being said don’t splurge either. Hold off buying nicest fabric in the store for when you’re confident it will turn out. I agree with the suggestion about sticking to cotton like @christine: said. It’s easy to press, doesn’t melt, and washes well.
    Keep the good ideas coming!
    Also, you’ve reminded me yet again that I need to test out the Colette mini-bloomers. They’re adorable!

  22. Tasia August 26, 2010 at 12:25 pm #

    @Alice: I DO recognize the fabric! Too bad you’re not happy with the dress :(

  23. Alice August 26, 2010 at 1:41 pm #

    yeah, i’ve got some left, and i’m thinking of pulling that dress apart to do something cute with that fabric – since it is so nice. i saw a girl downtown (i’m in vancouver too) wearing something in it, and almost stopped her to ask if she made it! i also saw a cool dress made of it in a shop window in kits.

  24. Carlotta August 26, 2010 at 2:13 pm #

    Hi, Kasia, this is my first comment on your blog, but I’ve been redaing you since may! As I live in France and learned to sew there, I’ve noticed Burda patterns are the norm for beginners (at least they were in my sewing class), but not Burda magazine or burda style patterns: the pattern sold in enveloppes have more precise instructions and are easier to us, and some of them are labelled ‘VERY easy’, which is even better than easy!

    My other piece of advice for a beginner would be to make something in a rather basic style, he/she wouldn’t be afraid to use again and again in different fabrics and prints, so that he/she could make it a few times and learn from his/her former errors. My first pattern was a terrible blouse I picked in the random and old-fashioned selection my teacher had made among ‘very easy’ burda patterns : I never wanted to do it again and never had the occasion to benefit from my former errors. Then, I picked a ‘very easy’ skirt pattern and made it three times in a summer : not only had my skirts turned better and better, but the skils I learned remain, whereas I’m not sure I’d be able to make the trickiest parts of my blouse again…

  25. Darci August 26, 2010 at 2:18 pm #

    In addition to all of the great ideas above, I thought I’d mention that fleece might be a good “first fabric” too, since there’s no pesky raveling and it doesn’t really shrink up much. (mmmm, jammy pants!)

    If your new sewist would like to do a home dec project, how about a lap quilt? It’s all straight stitching, you can mix and match fun fabrics, and it can be tied/bound relatively quickly.

  26. Carlotta August 26, 2010 at 2:18 pm #

    Ooops, sorry I called you Kasia, stupid misspeling due to the late hour (plus I’m sort of obsessed with the burdastyle Kasia skirt lately…)!

    I know my method might seem a little boring /frustrating for a beginner, but if the pattern offers slight variations (like the sew by Wendy book Jaime mentionned), it might make things easier.

  27. sulovessew August 26, 2010 at 3:04 pm #

    For clothing, pick something that does not require precise fitting because it is intimidating. my favorite beginner projects are Simplicity 2593, projects from Sew U book by Wendy Mullin, projet from Diana Rupp’s Sew Everything workshop which is arranged according to sewing skill level.Iif you have kids, projects from Oliver + S are very beginner-friendly because the instructions are crystal clear.

  28. Molly August 26, 2010 at 4:26 pm #

    Thanks for this post- I am going to steal all these ideas for my sewing club at the school!

  29. daiyami August 26, 2010 at 5:44 pm #

    I found Sew What! Skirts helpful but also very frustrating (example: “try on the skirt before putting in the zipper, to make sure it will fit!” but on a different page “sew the zipper seam first.” Still haven’t figured out how that works). Following their drafting instructions produced skirts that were way too big.

    My super-beginner sewing class walked me through the Bernina Seams Inside Out bag, which was really helpful because it convinced me that I COULD do a zipper and buttons, and I learned several seams and a bit about different types of fabric. But much of that was probably because the instructor was good about explaining.
    http://www.berninausa.com/webautor-data/529/Seams_Inside_Out_Bag_WEB_Handout.pdf

  30. Katha August 27, 2010 at 2:52 am #

    I would go with something easy and cottoney too!
    though i have to disagree about the dislike of knits. my first three projects all involved knits and its so much easier not having to worry about fraying etc.
    I would suggest this http://sewmamasew.com/blog2/?p=8450 skirt to any beginner, even in knit fabric. It comes out superdiduper and its super cute, doesnt take much fabric and its so so fast and easy!
    thanks for getting the discussion going its good to see what other people do!

  31. EL September 1, 2010 at 3:49 pm #

    As someone who just recently rediscovered sewing, I think knits and skirts are the best things to start with. My very first project which I did to remember how to even use the sewing machine was an 8 panel godet skirt from lycra. I’m pretty sure I made some mistakes there, but because of the fabric, no one can tell. In fact people constantly ask me where I got the skirt thinking it’s a commercial product.
    For non stretch, A-line skirt would be pretty easy, but the skirt you show on the picture is probably even easier. Attaching zipper will be the best part of experience ;)

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