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Free Sewing Book: Sewing Lessons For Beginners

Chapter Two: Choosing Fabric, Pattern, Notions & Thread


easy pillowcase pattern Fabric Selection
Proper fabric selection is important. Some fabrics are difficult to work with and would be the cause of a very frustrating experience for you. We want to avoid that! Suggested fabrics for beginners are woven cottons and cotton-poly blends that do not have much stretch. Quilt fabric is woven cotton and is very nice to work with. This type of fabric is sometimes referred to as "calico". Calico fabrics are found in just about any fabric store. They are100% cotton and come in 42" - 45" width and have many types of prints. It is also important to avoid plaids and obvious diagonals if you are a beginner, because they require pattern matching. We do not cover that in this book, but we have an excellent tutorial on matching plaids. Go to: Free Lesson: Match Plaids.

In choosing fabric, remember your project. Is this fabric appropriate for what you are making? "Test" the fabric. Drape it over your arm and watch how it falls. A dress fabric should drape nicely. A fabric for a tote bag should be stiffer. Scrunch it up into a ball and then let it go. Does it wrinkle easily? Don't forget fabric care. A fabric that requires dry cleaning would not be appropriate for towel trim, for example. Refer to the back of your project's pattern envelope for fabric suggestions. See Chapter 3 for more information on reading pattern cover backs. There is usually some choice in fabrics, but do not choose a fabric that the pattern specifically says not to use. Do you have experience with this type of fabric? Will your machine handle it well? Although stretch knits are wonderful to use with sergers, they are difficult to work with on a regular sewing machine (unless your machine has stretch stitch capability). Texture should be considered. If the fabric will be used for clothing, is it comfortable against the skin?

Pattern instructions (or the back of the pattern cover) will state required yardage. Remember that patterns do not allow for shrinkage when stating quantity of fabric to purchase. For fabrics that shrink, buy a bit extra to allow for the shrinkage. If you are tall, you will need to add to the pattern length, which will require more fabric. Plaids and directional prints also require extra yardage, because fabric is wasted in the process of matching the fabric.

ALWAYS pre-wash your fabric (if it is washable). Dry clean the fabric if that is the required method of cleaning. This is not a place to cut corners! What a shame it would be to make a wonderful skirt that has a perfect fit, only to have it shrink in the wash! One of the benefits of sewing is that you can prevent this problem. If the fabric comes out wrinkled, a good ironing will make it easier to work with. Pre-washing also removes any sizing and other additives on the fabric. Sizing can cause problems with sewing machines (skipped stitches). Sizing is usually found on inexpensive fabrics (see note below). Another reason to pre-shrink fabric before sewing is that fabric can pucker around stitches if it shrinks after it has been stitched.

NOTE: Beware of inexpensive fabrics that have been treated to make them seem like higher quality fabric. Sizing is an additive (usually a trype of starch) that is sprayed onto fabric to give it body and weight. It is temporary (washes off). An inexpensive fabric treated with sizing might feel and behave like a higher quality fabric, but after washing it will be limp and without body. I sometimes use inexpensive quilt fabric for wall hangings and pieces that I do not intend to wash. For anything else, they are not the good buy they appear to be. The weave of inexpensive fabric is looser than that of high quality fabric. Hold up a piece of good quality quilt fabric and compare it to a piece of inexpensive fabric. Do you see through the inexpensive fabric? What about the name brand quilt fabric? See the difference? The biggest difference is seen after washing.

Pattern Selection 
Patterns can be very simple to very advanced. It is best to choose a pattern that does not require the learning of too many new skills at once, which can lead to frustration. Names such as "E-Z" tend to be easy, but are not necessarily for the totally inexperienced. Rather than looking for words like "Quick" or "easy", look at what type of sewing skills and techniques are required. Try to take on only one new concept at a time. For example, it would be best not to get a pattern with buttonholes, zippers, gathering, darts and difficult collars if you have not done any of these things previously. It is always best to master one skill before moving on to another. Otherwise, you may feel it is "too hard" and (heaven forbid!) not fun. 

Choosing a pattern goes along with choosing your fabric, so don't purchase one until you have chosen the other. has wonderful patterns for beginners. Best of all, they are free! Other sites have very good patterns as well.

For a complete selection of my FREE patterns, go to: Free Sewing Patterns

I recommend a non-clothing item as your first project. Getting clothing to fit is a skill by itself and may be a bit much as a first project. For your first project, you will be getting to know your machine, getting familiar with various stitches and cutting techniques and learning to guide your fabric through the machine - not to mention learning to sew a straight line. That is enough without the added complications of fitting a pattern to your body! In past sewing classes, I have used the easy tote bag pattern for beginners. It is a fun, practical item to make. If your first project is clothing, be sure to measure carefully. It is better to choose a pattern that is a little too large, rather than too small. This is because you can always take in the waist and make other adjustments.

As with fabric, consider your project when choosing notions. Extremely fragile buttons should not be the choice for an item that will be machine washed. Putting dry clean only trim on a swim suit would not be a good idea. How will your item be used and what will it be exposed to? Swimsuits are exposed to chlorine, so use swimsuit elastic (safe for chlorine). Use heat resistant fabrics for items such as hot pads. Do you have the necessary skills for this notion? Beads require hand stitching or experience with fabric glue. Interfacing might be needed for body or weight of certain pieces. 

Refer to Chapter Six: Interfacing for more information on interfacing.


The number one rule for choosing thread is to puchase good quality. Try the following demonstration for yourself. Lay a line of inexpensive thread next to a line of high quality thread. See the little thread fragments along the line of inexpensive thread? Good quality thread will be smooth and strong, without these visible fragments. Inexpensive thread is full of fragments, so it is not smooth. It is not as strong as good quality thread, which can lead to breakage. Also, the extra fragments on the thread can cause problems with machines. 

As with fabric and notions, consider your project. Some threads need do be dry cleaned. Others can be machine washed. Extra fine thread is good for lightweight fabrics or machine embroidery. use heavier threads for heavy fabrics, such as upholstery fabric. Mercerized cotton has no stretch so should only be used for fabrics that have no stretch. I use polyester or cotton covered polyester for most of my projects. All purpose thread serves most fabric weights. Denim would require a heavier weight thread and silks and finer fabrics require a lighter weight thread. In choosing the color, the general rule is to choose one shade darker than your fabric, unless you feel you can get a perfect match. For topstitching and decorative stitching, you can choose a contrasting color. 

Refer to the Thread and Needle Chart at the end of this book for information on choosing the proper thread.

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Pattern featured on this page: Easy Pillowcase Pattern

Thank you! Relax, get ready, SEW! - Christina Sherrod

Index & Table of Contents
Chapter 1: Introduction
Chapter 2: Fabric, Notions, Pattern & Thread
Chapter 3: Pattern Instructions
Chapter 4: Tools, Layout & Cutting
Chapter 5: Set Up Sewing Machine
Chapter 6: Now We're Sewing - Terms & Techniques
Chapter 7: Pockets
Chapter 8: Zippers & Buttonholes
Chapter 9: Sleeve Installation
Chapter 10: Darts & Pleats
Needle & Thread Chart

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