Sewing for Beginners

Basic Sewing Equipment

The type of equipment you need obviously depends on the type and amount of sewing you intend to do. For most basic tasks, including mending, you should have: Packet of ‘sharps’ hand sewing needles in mixed sizes, to suit different yarns

Small, sharp scissors, used only for sewing


Tape measure

Dressmaker’s pins

Bodkin for threading elastic

Sewing thread — you can, of course, buy this as you need it, but it is also useful to have some basic colours for emergencies, perhaps to match shirts, uniforms, dominant colours in wardrobes or household furnishings, towels etc.

Although you cannot anticipate what you will need for the next job, it often helps to save re-usable zips and buttons from old garments. You should also keep any fabric cut off altered garments and left-over yarn from knitting.


Hand sewing has not been superseded by today’s elaborate sewing machines because in many cases it can be easier, and even quicker, to make simple repairs or do fiddly jobs by hand. The stitches described here are the most basic ones you will need for all types of sewing at home.


Use to insert zips by hand. Working from the right side of the fabric, work in a similar way to back stitch, but reinserting the needle only two threads behind. The stitches will thus overlap underneath, but show as tiny dots on the right side.


This is sometimes known as basting. It is a temporary stitch, used to hold the fabrics in place while machine stitching, pressing or fitting.

Use purpose-made tacking cotton thread, which is easy to remove, or oddments of sewing thread in a contrasting colour to your fabric. Start and finish stitching with a triple back stitch.

Weave needle in and out of fabric, following the required line, making even stitches and spaces about 12 mm (½ inch) long.

Remove tacking stitches when no longer required.


This is the hand stitch most like machine stitching and holds very firmly.

Insert the needle into the fabric at the starting point and bring it up 2-3 mm (1/8 inch) further along stitching line.

Re-insert needle at starting point and repeat step 1 twice to prevent thread from pulling through.

Re-insert needle at starting point and bring out 4-6 mm (¼ inch) further along.

Re-insert needle 2-3 mm (1/8 inch) behind, to meet previous stitch, and bring out 4-6 mm (¼ inch) ahead. Continue like this to the end.

Finish with three back stitches, as in the beginning.


Use instead of back stitch where strength is not required (as in a run and fell seam), or for gathering.

Work like tacking but make stitches and spaces 2-3 mm (1/8 inch) long. Weave needle in and out of fabric, making several stitches, before pulling through the thread.


Work along raw edges of fabric to prevent fraying.

Start and finish by making three diagonal stitches in the same place over the edge.

Work along the edge, making evenly-spaced diagonal stitches over it. The stitches should be about 3 mm (1/8 inch) deep.


This is sometimes known as whip stitch. Use for joining edges, closing openings, and for applying trimmings. Work as overcasting, but making small, neat stitches over edge of trimming and into fabric below.


Use to neaten raw edges of woollen fabric.

Work as shown. Taking shallow and deep stitches alternately is another way to prevent the fabric fraying and curling.


Work as shown. To prevent hem showing through on the right side of the garment, lift hem edge so that stitches may be made on underside. Take a tiny stitch on main fabric and longer ones on hem. Do not pull stitches tight. Start and finish with stitches on hem, not on main fabric.


With all but lightweight fabrics, buttons should have a shank between the button and the fabric to allow for the thickness of the overlap. Some buttons are made with a shank, or you can form one with the thread as you stitch the button on. Attach buttons with buttonhole twist in a colour to match your fabric.

Mark exact position of button and secure thread with three back stitches over the mark.

Shank buttons Pass needle through shank and make another stitch in the fabric in the same position. Repeat several times, taking care not to twist the button. Finish off with more back stitches into fabric.

Sew-through buttons Pass needle through one hole in button, lay a matchstick over button and stitch over the stick to second hole. Pass needle through fabric in position as before. Repeat several times until button is secure. If button has four holes, work stitches through the second set of holes as for the first. Remove matchstick, hold button away from fabric and form a shank by winding the thread around the stitches. Finish off with back stitches through the shank.

HOOKS AND EYES Where the edges overlap, position the hook on the wrong side of the fabric, away from the edge. Align the eye on the underlap.

On abutting edges, position the eye loop to protrude by 2-3 mm (1/8 inch) and place the hook the same distance from the opposite edge.

Fix hook and eye to fabric with oversewing stitches radiating around the holes. Work extra stitches over shank.


Separate halves of stud and face ball section flat side down on wrong side of overlap fabric. Attach with three or four oversewing stitches in each hole, passing thread below stud between holes for neatness.

Locate position for socket on underlap fabric by inserting a pin through centres, and oversew as for the ball section.


Leaving a 1 cm (3/8 inch) margin at the left-hand edge, write the name on the tape. Cut the tape leaving a 1 cm (3/8 inch) margin on the right.

Fold under 5 mm (¼ inch) at each edge of the tape. Place on the inside of the garment in an easily-seen position. Oversew firmly at each end. Woven name tapes can be attached in the same way.


Make loops with 7.5 cm (3 inch) of 12 mm (½ inch) width tape. Apply as for name tabs, in a suitable place for hanging the garment, oversewing it as firmly as possible.