Learn to Sew – Advanced Beginners

Once you have some familiarity with using a sewing machine and patterns, there are many possible sewing skills to learn, and many possible paths to learning them.

My thoughts on learning to sew started as a reaction to the book ‘Dressmaking’ by Alison Smith, so although I don’t think that is at beginner level, I do mention it.

My previous post in this group was for complete beginners. There’s another post on what helps you learn.

These are the guides I still think of rather than forgetting after a first look. (Or being disconcerted by/ rageous about all the errors !) I prefer lots of pictures, detailed instructions, videos, and gentle guidance through a set sequence of learning projects, so my choices won’t suit everyone.

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Go your own way with the help of a reference book

If you want to follow your own choice of projects – add to your skills by using easy patterns with clear instructions.

There are several groups of patterns specifically for beginners. Easiest :
Kwik Sew Kwik Start.
Simplicity ‘Learn to Sew‘ patterns.
(P.S. In my opinion and from what I”ve seen of them, Simplicity ‘Learn to Sew’ patterns are better than McCall’ ones. Simplicity and Kwik Start patterns have special instructions with extra help for beginners.)

A little more skilled :
Simplicity ‘It’s So Easy‘ patterns are more trendy casuals.
Beginners’ patterns from styleARC for modern classics.
Shapes patterns, more ‘arty’ styles from Sewing Workshop/ Cutting Line.

Several pattern companies rate their patterns for level of difficulty. And have detailed on-line sewalongs with photos in their blogs for extra support.
Sewaholic patterns are very popular.
(Beware patterns labelled Very Easy by Vogue, and Easy by McCall’s. They’re just ‘easier’ !)

There are also many easy patterns which don’t have special help with instructions, such as ‘one dot’ patterns from European companies like Burda Style (more trendy) or Ottobre (soft casuals).

Or free download patterns from Hot Patterns for softer styles.

Also most patterns that can be sewn quickly, see my posts on patterns that can be sewn in less than 2 hours, Index page 8.

Search for free download sewing patterns and find multiple possibilities. Many of them are very simple, but with varying quality of instructions.

If you’re happy in casual unfitted styles, you can dress well at this level of sewing skill.

If you go your own way, you’ll probably want a general reference book for support when instructions assume you already know how to do what’s needed.

Many people recommend the Readers Digest Complete Guide. Probably not for compete beginners. Full of drawings.

Some beginners find the big ‘bibles’ overwhelming. Me and My Sewing Machine is a good reference book for basic processes.

The late Shannon Gifford’s beginner classes cover basic techniques by making samples. Available as e-books from Pattern Review.

Here are some specific sources for learning more sewing skills.

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Kwik Sew

Kwik Sew have a series of books which include patterns, one of them about learning to sew.

Easy Sewing the Kwik Sew way by Kerstin Martensson includes patterns very like Kwik Sew Kwik Start ones. The basic patterns, and pattern altering and sewing techniques are much easier than the ‘Dressmaking’ book. Limited but effective skills. Simple sleeves, collars, facings, casings. No darts, zips, waistbands in the Kwik Sew book, while they’re all in the first project in ‘Dressmaking’. These Kwik Sew patterns are based on the casual dartless block for tops, with elastic waists for skirts and pants, so they don’t need much fitting work. The technique illustrations are diagrams. Includes simple knits and a multitude of pattern changes for different styles.


These ‘Kwik Sew’ patterns are ultra classic, not at all trendy.
The equivalent Kwik Sew Kwik Start patterns have somewhat more current proportions, but you don’t get all the guides for making other versions that you get in the book.
tee Kwik Sew 3766
blouse Kwik Sew 3475
pants Kwik Sew 3314
straight skirt Kwik Sew 3765

The book and patterns do assume you already know how to use a sewing machine, the basics of fabrics types, pattern layout and cutting, etc.

The only DIY pattern alterations in this book are making different lengths and adding some facings. There are different necklines marked on the patterns. But the book does show that you can make a large range of styles using just these simple pattern changing skills.

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More videos

There are free classes at Craftsy on making simple bags.
Start with a drawstring bag and bucket bag, then make a reversible tote and zipper pouch.

HipLine Media have DVDs on making simple bags and quilt. Their DVD on learning to sew has a good sew along on making pyjamas, but the introductory material on basics is poor, just talking heads.

If you’re looking for help with a specific process, there are detailed YouTube tutorials from FashionSewingBlogTV. Pity there isn’t an index ! Easiest to access them through her many sewalongs.

I have seen some other DVDs and didn’t think they were good enough to justify the effort of finding what you want when there’s only a minimal menu.

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Serger/ overlocker

I haven’t got a serger so can’t say much. But when I was looking for information about them, I did like the Palmer-Pletsch Serger Basics DVD. The exercises look good for understanding what’s going on. (I couldn’t make head-nor-tail of the associated book.)

There are video classes at Craftsy on Beginner Serging and Creative Serging.

Of the books I’ve seen, Simplicity ‘Simply the best‘ has the most specific guidance on using a serger for all the processes in making clothes.

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Less easy

There’s no clear dividing line between Beginner and Intermediate.
I put most garments that need zips and fitted sleeves at a higher level of skill.

The first Threads magazine Teach yourself to sew DVD is more advanced than the Kwik Sew book. Make a skirt and jacket using darts, gathers, zips, waistband, skirt lining (Simplicity 2424 jacket, Vogue 8464 skirt). Nothing on pattern making.


In my opinion, many patterns labelled ‘Easy’ are at the top of this level or above. And most Very Easy Vogue patterns are actually Intermediate 😀

Each item you make that’s a little different, you add to your skill. At Intermediate level you can deal with anything that isn’t too structured or fancy. A variety of fabrics, sleeves, waistbands, collars, zips, pockets, plackets, yokes and pleats, plus easy dress and jacket linings.
Next post in this group has some comments on learning these intermediate sewing skills and above.

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There’s no way any one person could know about all the possible sources on learning to sew – a bit like independent pattern companies, they’re spreading wildly!
And different types of learners prefer different types of support.
These are just the ones I’ve seen and kept.

Hope you find what you enjoy learning from, and which gives you ‘I can do this’ confidence 😀

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Links available February 2013

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Explore posts in the same categories: learning to sew

9 Comments on “Learn to Sew – Advanced Beginners”

  1. d. harper Says:

    Thanks so much for your informative post. you cover so much. Thanks again

  2. sara Says:

    I like Burda’s book http://www.amazon.fr/La-couture-pratique-Heidemarie-Tengler-Stadelmaier/dp/2215093633
    It has very clear diagrams and is a good companion if you sew a lot of Burda patterns. It may not be translated into english though.

    • sewingplums Says:

      Thanks for mentioning that Sara. Yes, I like an old Burda beginners’ book I’ve got in Dutch. Sadly they’re not in English – I may get the French one 😀 The low star reviews at Amazon suggest it’s not for complete beginners.
      I was hoping the Burda Style Handbook (in English) would be similar, but it has minimal written instructions and very few diagrams.

  3. Diane Romoho Says:

    I’m making Shawl cardi, Kwik Sew #K3916. Step 8 says overcast bottom edge. Pin band to right side of front and back at band seam, matching seam to center back, etc. I do not understand what that means. Help is appreciated.

    • sewingplums Says:

      Sounds as if that collar is made with a separate band. so :
      – join the short ends of the band.
      – with right sides together, match that seam in the band to the centre of the back neckline (the fold when you cut the fabric).
      – there may be a notch in a long side of the band telling you where it should match with the shoulder seam.
      – match the ends of the band to the lower front corners.
      – then match the rest of the band along the back neck and down the fronts.
      Without seeing the pattern I can’t guarantee this is right !

      • Diane Romoho Says:

        I understand what you are saying. Thank you for replying. Where I’m having the problem is at the bottom. Instructions say: on fronts, Fold bottom edge to “right “side over band and pin. Stitch band seam.

      • sewingplums Says:

        There are various ways of sewing the bottom of neckline bands, so I don’t know if this is the method your pattern is using. Assuming you’ve sewn the band on, after doing the steps I listed before :

        I would start by pressing the seam allowance in to the wrong side, along the outer edge of the band. Then :
        There’s a ‘fold’ line along the middle of the band.
        Fold the band right-side-to-right-side along this line.
        At the ends of the band, sew across the band.
        Turn the band right side out.

        Then the free edge of the band is already turned in, and the final step is to sew it along the band, covering the seam that sewed the band to the body of the garment.

      • Diane Romoho Says:

        Thank you very much for your help. I was able to get it done.

      • sewingplums Says:

        Well done, enjoy wearing it 😀

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