Hi sewing lovers,

When I was a beginner sewist I was so eager to take in as much knowledge as I could from the very first day. That’s a great attitude, but can also bring moments of frustation. When this happens take a break, clear you mind, and when you’re ready get back to it. Today I want to share with you 20 of the most popular questions I get as a sewing teacher. I hope they help out in your sewing journey and please comment below with your views on them. BONUS for BEGINNERS: At the end of the email I have left you a link to my free tutorial on how to make the pattern of a straight skirt. Why a straight skirt? It’s one of the most simple garments to make.

1. What material do you use to make your handmade pattern pieces?
I use tracing paper, also called vellum, but your creativity is the limit. Here are some other ideas: newspaper, muslin, freezer paper, paper grocery bags, grease proof paper, heavy duty butcher paper, oilcloth, tissue paper that comes with gifts, baking paper, manila or cardstock, heavy poly, cereal boxes (for small projects only), embroidery stabilizer, paper from the painting store, brown paper for mailing packages, and interfacing paper.

2. How do you know when your machine needles need changing?
Depends on your levels of perfectionism, type of project, and type of needle. Needles do, in fact, go dull, which can lead to skipped stitches and damaged fabric. Every project is different and depending on what fabric you use, you’ll probably need a different needle type and/or size.

If you finish a big project, check if your needle needs to be replaced. If you skip stitches, it is time to replace the needle. Some people don’t mind a few skips. If you are making a garment for a baby, you won’t need to change the needle. Keep it in your pin cushion so you can use it for quick fixes or other projects.

3. What really good sewing book would you recommend?
Some recommended books for beginners are:

Reader’s Digest: Complete Guide to Sewing. If you are looking for a place to start, this is the one. The good thing about is, you can go back to it anytime you have doubts. It is a bit long, having more than 400 pages but it’s worth the effort of carrying it! You will also find it easy to read with very good explanations. Some of the things it covers are different fabrics, needle size and stitch length depending on fabric, cutting out techniques sewing techniques, and different sewing foot uses to name a few.

Metric Patter Cutting by Winifred Aldrich. Do you want to make patterns? Readers of this book say they have used it 100’s of times over their past years as sewers to draft custom patterns.

How to make clothes that fit and flatter by Adele P. Margolis. If you are looking for a digestible step-by-step instruction book for sewing check this one out.

Master the Coverstitch Machine by Johanna Lundstrom. You will find this book comprehensive and easy to read, and what I most like is that it has a lot of photos to help understand the text.

The Sew/Fit Manual, A Guide to Pivoting and Sliding, by Ruth Oblander and Joan Anderson. Having trouble with fittings? Then this is your book! It offers a big range of solutions to all your fitting problems, from full bust to small bust to shoulders to fitting pants, to small size to large size fitting.

Sew Many Dresses. Sew Little Time by Tanya Whelan. A member of my sewing group gave this description, and I can’t say it better: “There are multiple top and bottom of dress patterns to mix and match. Then a whole section on moving darts to change the look the top. Whole section on modifying patterns to fit your body. I love it because I am not ready to draft patterns by scratch, but I haven’t needed to buy a dress pattern ever since I bought this book. I can use her patterns as a jumping off point and modify them using her techniques to get the look I want.”

The Dressmaker’s Technique Bible, by Lorna Knight.

Simplicity’s Simply the Best Sewing Book. Also check their library.

Love At First Stitch by Tilly Walnes.

Sewing with an Overlock by Singer Sewing Reference Library

Sew Any Fabric: A Quick Reference to Fabrics from A to Z by Claire Shaeffer

Couture: the art of fine sewing by Roberta Carr

4. Is it possible to hand sew a pattern that was written with the intention of machine stitching…?

Yes, it is definitely possible. Actually that is how most of our ancestors sew before affordable sewing machines appeared in the market.

5. Do you use digital pdf patterns? Are they user friendly to put together? Do you find them convenient or do your prefer printed patterns?

Pdf patterns are very convenient. There is a wide range on internet, most brands offer them, they are user friendly, and you can easily print them at home. I’m a fan. Just make sure to have the right configuration when printing, they come with a print test sheet. If you don’t have a printer, you can use a local library to print.

6. Regarding sewing and cutting with large amounts of fabric, do you generally lay the fabric on the floor to cut or do you cut on a table?

I will answer this one with another question…how strong are your knees? I use a table but on the floor should also work. Make sure the floor is clean. If knee pads are not your thing, and your table is too small, you can try going to libraries, community centres or co-ops; some will let you use their large tables.

7. What is the basic difference between a dry iron and a steam iron? Which one should I buy?

Steam iron has a water tank and it generates steam through the holes present on the soleplate. Steam helps iron the wrinkles faster, so I recommend steam iron if you are short on time. Plus steam iron can be used as a dry iron too.

8. Why should I pre-wash my fabric after buying it?

Actually some manufacturer of fabrics pre-wash their product, but many don’t. That is why I pre-wash all my fabric just in case. So, why pre-wash? First of all, fabric can come with natural impurities, like dust or even dirt. Secondly, some fabrics come with a coat of wax or oil to keep it firm which you wan’t to remove. Finally, you want to shrink your fabric before making your garment. All washable wovens shrink the first time you wash them, so you want to get that out of your way before making anything.

9. How do you sew on velcro?

Velcro is usually sold by the meter/yard, so first cut tape to desired width and length. Then machine- or hand-sew around edges and backstitch to secure. Use the loop fastener on side of garment that faces the skin for better results. In other words, use hook fastener on side of garment that faces away from the skin. Something cool is that velcro can be washed or dry cleaned, but keep the hook and loop sides fastened together when laundering to prevent it from picking up threads.

10. Sometimes when I wind the bobbin, it gets all wound underneath. What am I doing wrong?

Each machine uses their own type of bobbin, so make sure you’re using the right bobbin. Once the thread goes through the tension disk, put it through the bobbin. Thread comes in from the side, which is where the thread winds around the bobbin, and then bring it up the hole in the top of the bobbin. Hold onto the thread tail and start to wind your bobbin. A trick is to keep your finger underneath the thread, because what we want, as we start to wind, is to have about 10 winds right at the very top. Press the pedal, but keep your finger right under the thread. The thread will wrap around itself right up at the very top. Since this will secure the thread end, you can then cut the thread tail and it won’t unravel. Another trick is when winding the bobbin from top to bottom make sure your bobbin is always winding straight up and down. If necessary, use your finger to guide the thread to make sure there are no lumps or bumps. Have a consistent pace while winding, if you go too fast your thread will stretch out and then when you sew, it will close up and you’ll have seam puckering.

11. Is there a pattern brand with many plus size patterns?

Here is a list of brands that make patterns and clothes for your wonderful body no matter your size.

Made for Mermaids includes plus sizes in their patterns.

Style Arc has printed patterns that come in sizes 18–30 as well as smaller.

CKC Patterns has a great selection of plus sizes too.

Patterns for Pirates have several interesting patterns that go up to plus 5 XL. They offer patterns for beginners and intermediate, and many come with picture or video support. You will find dresses, cheeky underwear, swimwear, and PJs, among others.

Cashmerette Patterns are amazing with plus sizes too. One thing I like is that their patterns are graded for specific cup sizes.

Hot Patterns goes from size 6 to size 26–28; all printed on one sheet so it’s really easy to grade for a custom fit. If you wish, you can download or opt for a heavy duty paper pattern, which you then trace and grade just for you.

Some other of our favourites are: Rad Patterns, 5 out of 4, Broad in the Seams, The Fold Line and Love Notions. They carry a broad range of patterns in many different sizes.

Lekala does custom fit patterns. You key in your measurements, select your favorite pattern, and they will generate a pattern just for you.

Ottobre Design and Burda magazines both publish individual issues with plus sizes and traditionally publish plus size patterns in their regular publishing.

Folkwear has flexible authentic vintage and folk patterns from around the world.

Jalie company of Canada has larger sizes as well, up to USA size 22.

12. When buying fabric, how many yards do you usually buy? Being a beginner & all & not really knowing what my next project going to be.

It really depends on what you will be making and who will be using it: dress 2–4 yrds; tops long sleeves 2 yrds; tops short sleeve 1 yrd, full skirts 2–3 yrds, pants 2–4 yrds, shorts 1–2 yrds, toddler 1/2 yard for top; and bags/totes 1 yard.

13. How can I change the setting to sew slow? I find my sew machine too fast.

Newer machines have a slow motion, but if you don’t have one of those, I recommend to practice on scraps until you can regulate the pedal speed. You can also buy an accessory like voltage regulators or foot pedals that regulate speed. Check with your machine’s brand before using them or you might damage the machine. You can also get creative and try these ideas among others:

Sew barefoot, or just socks. Better touch.

Turn the foot pedal around so the part that’s pressed is at the back.

Use the other foot to slow down.

Put a small wedge in the foot pedal so your foot can only push part way.

14. Would like to teach my granddaughter, she’s 8, to sew/quilt, does anyone know of a rotary cutter that has a guard on it, that is safer for kids?

Use a pressure sensitive rotary cutter from. The blade automatically engages when pressure is applied, allowing the blade to remain covered when set down. Some brands that have it are Dritz and Kai Scissors.

15. What is draping?

Draping is the technique that consists of making garments by positioning and pinning fabric directly on the mannequin without the need for a pattern, so it is not necessary to have pattern making knowledge and it consists in creating a model from scratch, opening us a window of possibilities. Once finished, you can take it off the mannequin, trace it to create the pattern, and cut and sew the intended fabric to create the final garment. You can also skip these steps and just sew the draping if you intent to create only one piece or just don’t know pattern making. It is one of the most creative techniques, by seeing how your design is taking shape, you can find new ideas, volumes and forms.

16. Any tips on how to sew spandex?

Use a standard sewing machine needle, size 11 or 14 can work well for Spandex. If your machine accepts them, stretch needles are designed to prevent skipped stitches while sewing Spandex. If not, zigzag works well as well. Always test before using the good fabric. Use a scrape for testing the length and tension of the stitch. Sometimes puckering can be a problem with Spandex, so maintain the fabric a bit stretched as it goes under the needle, but without pulling.

17. Do I really need a serger for sewing?

The traditional sewing machine is used to join pieces of fabric providing domestic finishes, that is, it works for small to medium productions of clothing. The main stitch is the straight stitch that, although used to join the pieces of fabric, does not protect the garment from fraying. Depending on the type of sewing we make on a garment we can sew it entirely with the traditional machine, using only the straight stitch and the zigzag stitch, to avoid fraying.

However, the most professional finish to avoid fraying is the finishing done with the serger, which using 3 or 4 threads and a blade, polishes the edges of the seams and at the same time joins the pieces. The serger is ideal for fabrics with elasticity since the interlacing of the threads accompanies the extension of the fabric.

Another important difference is that the traditional sewing machine allows us to sew forward and backward to secure the stitches. On the other hand, sergers only sew forward. Nevertheless, both the traditional machine and the serger, allow us to make finishings on the garments such as sewing the hems.

Sergers were created with the specific task of sewing the edges of cloth pieces to provide decorative finishes. A serged seam is made on the edge of one or two pieces of fabric to define the edge or to join them. The serger cuts the edges of the fabric at the same time as it works, thus achieving edge terminations easily and quickly. So we can say a serger is a type of sewing machine that does a set of specialized stitches, edge stitches.

Most sergers where used in the textile industry environment, but nowadays you can see a large demand on house sergers. I believe this is due to the fact theri seams are very versatile.

What are the uses of the serger?

With a serger you can create different seam finishes, while you can use several threads.

The ease of sewing thin and elastic fabrics is unique to the serger machines. An example could be to make maternity clothes.

The serger allows you to sew and repair fabrics of garments, as well as create perfect and creative hems. Since they have blades to cut the fabric, it is good that these can be adjusted to the measure of your needs, in this way, you will not be wasting fabric, nor having to resort to patching fabrics or garments with scraps here or there.

With it you can eliminate some effects of folds and tension points in the fabric.

You can also sew decorative stitches or sew the finishes for your clothes or seams in different fabrics of clothing that you will use at home.

Read your serger’s instructions carefully and know how to operate it well before using it because it is more complex than a normal sewing machine. Anyway, each loader has its own instruction book, so you have to read it carefully to know exactly what the serger can do. As with any other machine, the brand and the model will also be decisive to know what functions the serger can perform.

18. I’m a beginner and I really don’t know which sewing machine to buy. Is more expensive really better? What’s a good casual machine?

Sewing machines are divided into two large groups, industrial and domestic.

The truth is that industrial sewing machines are much more durable and their working capacity is much greater than a domestic sewing machine. They also have higher prices. My recommendation is that, if you are starting, choose a domestic sewing machine which will undoubtedly be more than enough for this stage. Regarding domestic sewing machines, until recently they operated mechanically, meaning they worked only on the basis of an engine. Currently it is every time more common to find digital sewing machines, this implies that some of them will not only depend on an engine but also have a motherboard that makes them work. Some will not even have an engine at all, but only the motherboard, like mine, and work as a computer. If you are starting in sewing, my recommendation is that you look for a sewing machine that functions with an engine since they are simpler to use and also have less maintenance problems. Repairing their engine is much simpler and cheaper than repairing motherboards.

19. At what age should children learn to sew with a sewing machine/hand sew?

Age, in general, is not important. What matters is motivation, that is the indicator that they are ready to start learning. Kids under 4 years old can start hand sewing by getting familiarized with threads, fabric and needle, and basic stitches. Kids over 6 years old are generally capable of handling sewing machines. Make sure you always have a safety talk with them at the beginning of their learning.

20. Where can you buy nice fabric online?

I have put together a list of 37 online fabric stores to make anyone’s sewing dream come true. No affiliation with any of them.


I hope you enjoyed these questions and answers. Now, as I said at the beginning of the email, here is my tutorial on how to make a pattern of a straight skirt:

This is a good project for beginners because it is a simple garment, but if you are still not ready for it, tell me about it by answering this email, and I will make simpler videos in the future too. Subscribe to my Youtube channel to watch my future tutorials here.

Have a great start of week,

Karina Melendez.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s