Sewing Basics

This course is intent for users who want to learn how to sew using a sewing pattern. Topic covered include size selection, how to read and use the pattern, how to cut the fabric, how to set up the machine. By the end of this course the user will be able to use a pattern to sew a dress. 

Size basics

Introduction to sizing

Why is measuring important?

You have heard measure twice, cut once this is especially important when sewing, it will save you time, money and your sanity. All patterns use measurements as sizing guides due to sizing variety among brands. 

How to measure for a child's dress

1. Preparing for measurement

Ask your subject to stand in a straight yet natural position, make sure she is not tense or sucking in. Measure her using a soft flexible measuring tape.

2. Chest measurement

The chest measurement is measured around the chest. Wrap the tape under her arms, be careful not to pull too tight. Ensure the tape is parallel to the ground. Remember to record each measurement.

3. Waist measurement

The waist measurement is the largest part of the abdomen, if she is evenly shaped then measure across the belly button.

4. Hip measurement

The hip measurement is measured across both hips around the largest part of the buttocks.

5. Back-neck to waist measurement

The back-neck to waist is the distance between the back of the neck to where you measured the waist.

6. Height measurement

If needed measure her from head to floor for most patterns this measurement is estimated. 

7. Length measurement

The last measurement needed depends on how long you want the dress to be on your subject, measure from her waist to desired length. 

Remember to record all your measurements.

When measuring the waist, what should measure?

  • Smallest area of the abdomen
  • Largest spot around the abdomen
  • The butt

Pattern basics

Introduction to patterns

What is a pattern?

A pattern is a template used when sewing garments. Most sewing patterns come in envelope like the one pictured below, inside is a large piece of tissue paper and an information page. These patterns are usually multi-design, meaning out of the same pattern you can make multiple garments. Some patterns are multi-size making it easier to make garments for different purposes.  When looking for a pattern for the first time look for ones labled "Easy" these are especially designed for beginners.


The pattern is a large tissue paper. The piece templates are printed on the paper. Each piece is labled with the part number, name, quantity needed, grain lines, fold lines, and seam allowances. 

Information sheet

The information sheet contains a list parts, a suggested cutting layout, and sewing directions for the specific garments. The cutting layout is the suggested way to arrange the pattern pieces on to the full sheet of fabric.The sewing directions are instructions on how to sew the fabric pieces together. 

What kind of paper is the pattern printed on?

  • Tissue paper
  • Construction paper
  • Printer paper

Using the pattern

Example dress

For this training module we will make dress A from the Simplicity pattern #8100 in size 4.

Preparing the pattern

  1. Take out pattern pieces out of envelope.
  2. Unfold the pattern, iron it using low heat to make sure not burn the thin paper.
  3. Begin cutting out pieces using the solid lines as guides. If the pattern is multi-size cut out the biggest size, unless you are only making one size. 
  4. After all pieces are cut out, pick out the pieces you will need and trace.
  5. To avoid cutting the other sizes try the pin method. Place the pattern on top of paper. Using a pin poke holes along the solid line of the size needed, making sure the holes go through the pattern on to the paper. Then remove the pattern and connect the dots.

Label the center fold lines and the grain line.

Place the label centered on your answer.
  • Grain line
  • Center fold line for piece #1
  • Center fold line for piece #4

Fabric basics

Selecting Fabric

How to select the right fabric

The back of the pattern envelope gives fabric suggestions. The easiest fabric to sew are cotton types. When shopping keep in mind the design and the person you are making this garment for pick something they would wear. As a beginner stay away from directional fabrics it will save you headaches later on. Directional fabrics are those that have a definite top and bottom. For this project I used a sateen fabric.

Which is an example of a directional fabric?

Preparing Fabric

How to prepare the fabric

Fabric preparation is vital to the project. If the fabric is not properly prepared it will cause the problems later on. Preparation depends on the type of fabric if you chose a thin lightweight fabric you may have to apply a stabilizer to make it easier to work with. All fabric must be washed and ironed. Then, fold the fabric according to the cutting layout, if not specified fold the fabric in half lengthwise. In this case I folded the fabric into thirds. Finally, lay the fabric on a large flat surface. Now you are ready to cut.

Rank the preparation steps in the correct order.

  • Wash
  • Iron
  • Fold

Cutting Fabric

Cutting layouts

Included in the pattern envelope is a cutting layout like the one pictured. Cutting layouts are suggestions on how to lay out the pattern pieces on to the folded fabric. They are helpful to reduce fabric waste. However, keep in mind that these layouts are made for all sizes included and may not work for the specific size you are working on.

How to cut fabric

  1. Layout pieces accroding to cutting layout, pin if needed.
  2. Using a light colored washable marker or fabric chalk trace out the pieces.
  3. Cut the fabric along the marker lines with sharp fabric scissors, try to cut as straight as possible. 

True or False

  • You should use the cutting layout as guide to layout the pattern pieces on the fabric.
  • You should not use the cutting lay out because it is a waste of fabric.

Sewing machine basics

Parts of the sewing machine

The sewing machine

The sewing machine has been around for hundreds of years. Sewing machines come in a variety of models and sizes. For this project I used the Brother LS-2125 it is one of Brother's basic models, it is pictured below. 

Bobbin case

This is the bobbin case or the bobbin holder. It houses the bobbin which feeds the thread up through the throat plate.

Match the part to its purpose

  • Presser foot
    Holds the fabric
  • Feed dog
    Moves the fabric

How to set up the sewing machine


Bobbins are the mini spools housed under the throat plate. Bobbins can be purchased pre-wound or you can wind them yourself which is preferred. Fortunately, sewing machines come with a built in bobbin winder. 

How to wind a bobbin

1.Start winding the bobbin by hand 

Holding the end of the thread, wrap the thread around the bobbin about 10-15 time, enough for the thread to stay in place.

2.  Mount the bobbin on the winder

Mount the bobbin on the winding pin and push the bobbin guide so it is close to the bobbin. The bobbin guides stops the winder when the bobbin is full.

3. Wind the bobbin

Pushing the foot pedal spins the bobbin until it fills up and insert the full bobbin into the bobbin case. Slide thread through slit to the hole. Insert the bobbin case back in the machine leaving the end of the thread out and over the throat plate.

How to thread the machine

Go through the guide, down around the tension dial, up to the hook, down to the needle. Put the end of the thread through the needle's eye, pull under the presser foot. Now you are ready to sew.

True or False

  • It is preferred to wind your own bobbin
  • You should not wind your own bobbin because it is easier to buy them.

Sewing basics

Stitch types

Stitches and their purposes

  • Straight stitch- the most common stitch used the longer the stitch the weaker the hold. Some machines have a large range of straight stitches.
  • Zig-Zag stitch- Is used to reinforce straight stitches. Also used for stretchy fabric. Just like the straight stitch the longer the stitch the weaker the hold.
  • Satin stitch- Is a series of flat stitiches used to when embroidery to cover the background fabric.
  • Decorative stitch- Are used to add decor to the garment. Does not serve any other purpose but for decoration.

Which is not a type of stitch?

  • Sateen stitch
  • Satin stitch
  • Decorative stitch

How to sew a dress

How to sew a dress

1. Gather your materials

Before you begin it is important you make sure you have everything you need:

  • Fabric
  • Scissors
  • Pattern
  • Elastic 
  • Thread
  • Seam ripper
  • Pins and cushion
  • Sewing machine

2. Read over the directions

The pattern comes with directions on how to sew the pieces together. Read over these directions and decide on any changes you will be making. For example for this project I will be using the bodice of design C instead of the bodice of design A.

3. Baste stitch curves

A baste stitch is a long straight stitch. Baste stitching curves helps keep the curved shape while sewing.

4. Hem front flounce

The bottom of the flounce allows for a 3/8 in hem. To achieve this fold over the edge of the fabric twice use the throat plate as a guide. On most machines the engraved line closest to the needle is the 3/8 in guide.

5. Sew on flounce

Line up the armholes on the flounce and the armholes on the bodice. Sew the none hemmed part of the flounce on to the top of the bodice using a short stitch. Remember 3/8 in. seam.

6. Strap casing

Fold the strap rectangle lengthwise wrong side out. Stitch along the long side. Then turn inside out. Repeat for the other strap.

7. Elastic strap

Cut the elastic using the pattern given. Pin a safety pin on both ends. Slide the elastic through the casing. Line up elastic and casing end and sew close.

8. Sew lining

Sew together the back bodice and front bodice with flounce right sides facing together, only sew sides. Sew the other back bodice and front bodices together, right sides facing together, this will be the bodice lining. Iron the seams flat.

9. Attach the straps

To attach the strap stack and pin the following pieces in order: Flounce bodice, strap, and inside out lining. Sew top of front side.

10. Making the skirt

To make the skirt, sew the 2 large rectangles right sides facing together, only sew the long sides, make sure to backstitch to reinforce these seams. To make the waist elastic casing fold over the side about an inch and stitch but leave an opening.

11. Add the waist elastic

Just like the straps, safety pin both ends and slide through skirt casing. Then close the casing.

*Note it is recommended to fold over the fabric twice then stitch to reduce fraying.

12. Attaching skirt

Change the stitch to a Zig-Zag stitch and sew the top of the skirt to the bottom of bodice. Right sides facing together. Make sure to go through the elastic and do even length stitches.

13. Hemming

Before hemming the dress, allow your subject to try it on. This allows you to see how much hem allowance you have depending on how long you want the dress to be, if it is too long you can mark it and cut it or simply pin it exactly where you want the hem. If you do pin it use safety pins to reduce the risk of injury to your subject. Finally, hem the dress at desired length.

How should you feed the elastic through?

  • Pin the elastic to the fabric and sew around.
  • Using a safety pin to guide the elastic through the casing.
  • Do not use elastic instead use elastic thread.

Finished product


You have finally finished your dress! Sewing is not a hobby that you can master after a few projects so keep working at it. Remember practice makes perfect. Once you get comfortable sewing with patterns try designing your own garments and making your own patterns.