Simple Sewing Projects for Beginners
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I have always had an interest in creating things and in sewing, even from a young age when I would hand stitch felt Christmas decorations (something I still do now, although the quality has improved somewhat!)
I moved on to making larger projects such as baby quilts and Christmas stockings, all hand stitched, with the monstrous sewing machine remaining something of an enigma to me.
I seem to recall that, although I struggled through my year 7 textiles project making a pot stand using the sewing machine at school, I took my year 8 tote bag home to complete by hand. As for the impressive year 9 waistcoat project I submitted, I have my extremely talented grandmother to thank for that one!
As my sewing projects became larger and more impressive with a move towards selling some of my creations, it was time to face my nemesis and conquer the sewing machine!
I booked myself on to a 3 hour sewing machine course, brushed the dust off my own neglected machine and took it along…. After all, there was no point in just learning how to use someone else’s!
I soon got the hang of the basics which has opened up a whole new world of creative possibilities.
This post shares some simple projects for sewing machine novices to help to kick start your own stitching journey.
There are few things in the world easier to sew than bunting, which makes it a great beginners project!
Strings of colourful flags enhance any party or celebration, brighten up an outdoor seating area and add a special finishing touch to a child’s bedroom.
You can make flags in any colour or pattern you desire to suit any occasion or colour scheme. Cotton is the easiest to stitch and so I would recommend that be your first choice for early projects.
You will first need to create a template from which to cut all of your flags. On an A4 sheet of paper, mark a central line from the top to the bottom of the page in the landscape position.
From the centre measure an equal distance either side of the centre depending on the size of the flag that you want to make, then draw from this point diagonally to the central line again depending on how large you want to make your flag.
I tend to make flags which are 18cm across the top with the length being equal to the whole depth of the page.
Once you have your template, you are ready to start cutting out your fabric flags. Pin your template to your first fabric choice with the top of the flag template lying along the lower edge of the fabric then cut around your template.
You can then use this first flag as the template to cut out what will form its reverse side; lay the flag face down (i.e. so the patterned sides of the cut flag and that of the fabric are facing one another) along the cut edge from the first flag with the point on the bottom edge of the fabric. Pin and cut out.
If your fabric has a ‘direction’ / ‘right way’, the pattern will be upside down on the reverse side. If you don’t want this to happen, you will need to discard every second flag so that you keep only correctly orientated ones, but you will waste a lot of fabric!
Once you have finished cutting out all of your flags, you are ready to sew them. Starting at the top of the flag, sew a 5mm seam down to the point either side of the flag using the foot as a guide to keep your stitching straight. It is easier to finish with the point rather than to start here.
Stitch each of your flags, then turn them in the right way. You can use a pencil or plunt ‘point’ to push out the point of the flag without making a hole in it.
Once you have stitched all of your flags and turned them in the correct way, you will need to iron them. Take care to ensure the flags are pressed with the seams running neatly down the sides. Cut off any loose threads as you go.
Once all of your flags are ironed, it’s time to string them. Firstly, put them into the order you want them to hang in, making sure they are all facing the right way round if applicable.
I usually use a wide ribbon (approximately 1 inch wide) which can be folded in half and used to cover the raw edges of each flag, to string my bunting.
Place your flags along the length of the ribbon with approximately 3cm between the top corners of adjacent flags. Fold the ribbon in half over the tops of the flags and pin as you go. I find that using a small amount of fabric glue helps to hold the flags in place.
If you are making a long string, it is helpful to stack the pinned flags as you go so you only have about 1m of ribbon stretched out at any one time. Remember to leave enough flag free ribbon at either end of the string to form a hanging tag.
With all of the flags pinned into place, you are now ready to sew the string of bunting together. Place your pinned flag stack next to your machine and arrange the first flag of the string with the point facing away from the machine to the left. Stitch along the entire length of the bunting string with a 5mm seam allowance, using the foot of the machine as a guide to keep your stitching straight.
Once you have finished stitching along the ribbon to secure the flags, turn the end of the ribbon over 5mm then again around 2cm as shown in the pictures to create a hanging tag. It is best to have the tag at the back of the flags. Sew the folded ribbon in place to secure the tag. Repeat at the opposite end. Et Voila! Your first string of bunting is complete!
Once you’ve mastered the basics, you can try different shaped flags, embroidered letters, the possibilities are endless!
Slip Cushion Cover
Creating glorious hand made cushion covers is easier than you might think using this simple technique for a slip cover. With no buttons or zips to worry about, it will take you no time at all to bring a personal touch to your soft furnishings.
You can use one fabric for the whole cover or use a co-ordinating material for the back panels or to trim the back panels.
To begin, lay the cushion pad you are planning to cover on to the fabric you have chosen to make the front of the cushion. Cut around the pad leaving approximately 2cm of seam allowance all the way around. If you are planning to make more than one cover for pads of the
same size, you can use your first front panel as a template for the rest.
Fold your front panel in half and lay it on to the fabric you have chosen for the back of the cover. Cut out 2 pieces of fabric the same width as the front cover but which are taller than the folded front panel by about half again (i.e. ¾ height of the front panel).
Use a steam iron to help you to fold a hem along what will be the opening edges of the 2 back panels, pin and then sew along the hem approximately 5mm from the edge of the fabric (Using the foot of the sewing machine as a width guide helps to keep your seams straight). I prefer to fold the fabric over twice to avoid any raw edges being exposed even on the inside of the cover.
You will need to make sure that when the hemmed back panels are placed on to the front panel, they will overlap to ensure the pad is fully covered once the cushion cover is completed.
If you are using a fabric with a print that has a right way up, make sure that when you hem the back panels, you hem one along the bottom of the pattern and one along the top so that when you sew them to the front panel, all of the pattern is the right way up.
You may choose to use a coordinating fabric along the opening edges of the back panels rather than hamming them (in which case, don’t cut them quite so deep).
To do this, cut 2 strips of your co-ordinating fabric the same width as the panels and approximately half of the depth.
Use a steam iron to create a hem along both of the long edges then fold the strip in half using the steam iron to help you to keep the crease sharp.
Pin the co-ordinating strip to back panels and stitch them in place. Remember again to make sure you have the co-ordinating strip along the top of the pattern on one panel and the bottom of the pattern on the other for fabrics that have a right way up.
Once both back panels are finished, lay them face down on the front panel (patterned pieces facing one another on the inside, reverse sides facing outwards), making sure again that all of the patterns are the right way up.
Decide whether you want the bottom or the top panel to end up being the one which overlaps and forms the outer piece at the back of the cushion and lay this one down last (I usually make this the bottom panel but it doesn’t matter much).
Once your two back panels are in place over the front one, pin them all together.
Stitch all the way around the cushion cover with approximately 1cm of seam allowance. Once you have finished, de-bulk the corners by cutting across them as shown.
Turn the cover in the right way, iron if needed and place on to your cushion pad.
If you find that the cover is too loose, this is easily rectified by turning it inside out again and sewing around again inside your first round of stitches to make the cover a little smaller.
If you love to sew then there’s a good chance that your creative skills extend to the kitchen too, so why not make yourself a gorgeous apron to keep your clothes clean whilst you unleash your culinary genius!
I have made my aprons using an existing apron as a template, but if you don’t have one to hand, it’s easy enough to make a template.
For a template, grab yourself some baking paper. You will probably need to tape 2 pieces together to make it wide enough. Measure out a rectangle that is 60cm wide and 95 cm long.
At the top (one end of the 60cm wide parts), find the centre and measure 16cm either side of this (32cm total across the top), and make a mark. From the bottom, measure 62cm up either side and make a mark.
You will then need to draw a line from the mark you
made along the side to the mark you made at the neck both sides. It is probably easiest to draw a line with a ruler, then ‘scallop out’ the line free hand.
I would also suggest that you draw it one side then cut it out and use the line you made one side as a template to make the line the opposite side for symmetry.
Template ready, it’s time to make a start on the apron. These are instructions for a lined apron but you can make an unlined apron if you prefer.
Pin your template on to your ‘front’ fabric and cut around the shape of the apron. You can then use this as a template to cut out your lining.
This pattern will involves sewing all of the seams on the outside rather than on the reverse side and turning it back to the right side to hide the seams. To cut your lining therefore, you will need to place your lining fabric face down and your cover fabric facing the correct way up on top of it (ie, so that the pattern faces outwards when you turn it over). Pin your template to the lining fabric and cut out the shape.
For the next step, your steam iron will be your best friend! Unpin one edge at a time and use the steam iron to help you to fold a seam of first your cover fabric and then of your lining fabric to match it and pin in place. Repeat this all the way round.
I would suggest you start with the 2 sides, then the bottom, then do both scalloped edges and finally the neck.
Fabric doesn’t naturally want to fold in curved lines so thoroughly wetting the fabric with the steam iron to make it more malleable then steaming the seam in place will make the job a lot easier! Just watch you don’t burn your fingers though.
Once all of the seams are folded and pinned, you will need to pin your straps in place. For the ties, cut 2 pieces of ribbon or binding 80cm long (this is for a standard length strap; if the ultimate owner of the apron is on the bigger side, you can make the straps longer to accommodate this).
Pin them into place either side of the apron at the top of the straight sides just before the scalloped sides.
For the neck strap, you can either cut a single piece of ribbon or binding around 40cm long and pin in with the two ends at either side of the neck, or alternatively, you can cot two longer pieces, sew one end of each into either side of the neck and then tie them together in the middle so that the neck is adjustable.
Once everything is pinned into place, you are ready to start sewing! This is actually the quick and easy part of the process; you’ve already done most of the work!
Stitch all the way around the apron in one continuous line with approximately a 5mm seam allowance (you can use the edge of the foot as a guide).
Once you reach a change of direction, stop stitching and lift the foot of the sewing machine with the needle holding the fabric in place so that you can turn it around, replace the foot and carry on.
I would suggest that once you’ve stitched all the way around, you reinforce the areas where the ties are with a second layer of stitches for added longevity.
Hey presto, a finished apron! If you want to make an apron with a pocket, cut a semicircle of fabric with a 30cm top edge and maximum depth of 20cm in the centre. Stem a seam using the afore mentioned soaking technique to achieve a curved seam, pin into place in the centre of the apron at the front and stitch around this before you pin or sew back to front.
Lined Shoulder Bag
With the move towards a more eco friendly and plastic free planet, there’s no better time to learn to make yourself some funky fabric re-usable bags!
These lined bags look great, fold away into your handbag for emergencies and can be re-sized to suit your own needs once you get the hang of them.
They’re so easy to make once you know how that you will be glad you can never have too many bags! These bags also make a lovely gift, filled with treats.
To start with, choose a cover fabric and a lining fabric. Cut 2 cover pieces 40cm wide and 50cm long. Lay them with right sides (pattern) facing together, pin and sew down the two sides and across the bottom with a 5mm
5mm seam allowance.
De bulk your corners, turn in the right way and set aside. For added strength, you may consider over-sewing the first stitches with a second layer.
Cut 2 pieces of lining fabric 40cm wide and 66cm long. As you did for the outer layer, sew them together with the right sides facing leaving a 5mm seam allowance. Once you have finished sewing, de-bulk the corners.
Without turning it the right way, place your completed lining inside the cover and push the bottom corners of the lining into those of the cover.
Once the lining is smoothly fitted, fold the overhanging top of the lining over so that it reaches half way down to the cover fabric. Once you have got it straight, fold it over a second time so that it overlaps the top of the cover fabric and all raw edges are covered. Once you are happy that the overhanging lining is straight all the way around, pin it in place.
Your lining should fit neatly into the bag but sometimes needs a little adjustment. If you find that the lining is too small for the cover, you can remove it and make the cover a little smaller to fit by turning it inside out again and bringing in the seam. If the lining is a little too large, you can make the lining a little smaller in the same way.
If there is only a minor discrepancy, you can make sure that the lining lays smoothly around the front and back and ensure that the ‘error’ ends up at one or both of the two sides where it will be conveniently covered by the handles!
Once you are happy with the pinning, open your bag and pull it over the base of the sewing machine as shown in the photograph to allow you to sew around the overhanging lining. Part of the base of many sewing machines clicks off to make this easier.
Stitch all the way around to secure your lining.
Now that the body of your bag is complete, it is time to work on the strap. To make a strap long enough to allow the bag to be worn across the body, I made a strap from a strip of fabric 45cm long and 10cm wide.
If you want it to sit on one shoulder, you can make the strap shorter, and for a larger person, you may need to make it longer.
Cut one strip of your cover fabric and one strip of your lining fabric. Use a steam iron to help you to form a seam of approximately 1cm along both long edges of both pieces of fabric, making the lining slightly narrower so that it will sit neatly inside the cover fabric.
Pin the two together with right sides facing outwards as shown in the photograph, then sew along the seam with a 5mm seam allowance.
Once you’ve completed both sides, fold the 2 ends of the straps up approximately 1cm to cover the raw edge.
You are now ready to fix the strap on to your bag. Place one end of the strap over the side of the bag at the top so that the end of the strap reaches the bottom of the overhanging lining. Make sure that the strap sits in the middle of the seam. Pin into place and repeat the other side.
Sew the strap to the bag first by sewing along the bottom and sides of the strap following the seams you have already made for neatness, and then by sewing along where the strap meets the top of the bag. For added strength, once you have sewn around in a square, it is useful to sew a cross shape from opposite corners of the square. Repeat on the other side.
HOT TIP: As I was struggling to sew multiple layers of fabric together for some of my projects and snapping numerous machine needles in the process, an experienced machinist advised me to try using a denim needle instead of a standard one. This was fantastic advice and saved me a good number of machine needles and a great deal of swearing!
Trim off any loose threads and there you have it, your very own re-usable bag!
There are a few variations you can make to this basic pattern…..
For a non lined bag, sew a hem along the top of the ‘cover’ panels before you sew them together. Double folding will hide the raw edges.
Vary the size of the bag to suit your own requirements from small gift bags to larger shopping bags.
You can make a hand held bag by placing two shorter handles on the front and back of the bag. Find the centre of one side and place the two ends of the handle equidistant from the centre point and sew them the same way as for the shoulder strap bag. Repeat on the reverse side.
For a simpler variation on the strap, you can make an unlined strap by using a steam iron to fold a seam along the two long edges of you strap fabric then folding it in half and sewing the two sides together.
For a drawstring bag, once you have folded the lining over, push your drawstring up underneath it before you stitch then leave a gap either side of the bag at the front for it to emerge through after sewing. I use ribbon to create a drawstring.
You will need to take care that the drawstring is well clear of the seam you stitch so it doesn’t accidentally get caught in the seam (I speak from experience! You can pin it out of the way).
I would also suggest that you run a few stitched along the back of the bag to hold the drawstring in place and avoid it from being pulled all the way out. Anyone who has ever tried to re-insert a drawstring will fully understand why!
Happy stitching fellow crafters! Please share your own creatinons in the comments and feel free to ask questions.
For Australian and New-Zealand readers, all of the Australian bird, flower and animal fabrics used in this post were designed by Jocelyn Proust and were purchased from Spotlight stores.