These are some ideas that may help you if you are starting out sewing.  A number of these topics will be covered in greater depth in later articles.

Be prepared

Make life easy for yourself:  try and have everything you might need to hand before you begin.  Have you got enough thread, elastic, buttons or whatever the project requires?

Seating Arrangements

Sit up straight at your sewing machine

Sit up straight at your sewing machine

Try and sit up straight at the sewing machine.  You may be there for quite a while.  I’ve often found myself hunched over the machine and it’s quite a crunch to straighten my back and shoulders when I stand up.

New Needles

Do you need a new needle on the sewing machine?  The old one may look okay but they do grow blunt with usage.  A new one will be sharper and make smaller holes in the fabric as it sews.  It’s quite a good idea to make a note of when you change the needle to give you an idea of when it should next be replaced.

Threading the Needle

Threading the needle can be frustrating.  I have a small square of white fabric that I hold behind the needle.  This helps the eye of the needle to show up.  I try to cut the thread slightly on the diagonal as this gives a bit of a point to allow the thread to guide into the needle.  Even though this may sound obvious, make sure you are holding thread square to the eye of the needle – I have sometimes found that without realising it I am trying to thread the needle from a slight angle.  It doesn’t work!

Most of the same tips apply to threading the sewing machine needle.  Put your finger behind the eye to help the eye to show up.  Put your sewing foot down so that you have more room to work.  Many sewing machines these days have automatic needle threaders – find out how it works.

Hand Sewing



Most quilting and sewing can be achieved using just two basic stitches:  slipstitching and basting.  Slipstitching is a diagonal small stitch used for sewing a seam when you don’t want the stitching to show on the other side (otherwise you couldjust machine sew it).  In general try to pick up only a few threads of the fabric with your needle and keep your stitches small.


Basting is a much larger, temporary stitch.  It is used to hold two layers of fabric together until you have machine sewn the seam and if it shows is taken out when you have finished the machine sewing.  Sometimes it doesn’t show – if it’s within the seam allowance – and can just be left in.


I always use the same thread in the top of the machine (the spool thread) and the bottom (the bobbin thread).  This isn’t strictly necessary as you can use different threads provided you adjust the sewing machine tension.  However then you must change the tension again when you change threads.  It’s easier to stick to using the same thread until you are more experienced.

There is a bewildering variety of threads available in all sorts of shapes, sizes and colours.  I’ll be discussing these later in a full article.

Get To Know Your Sewing Machine

If you haven’t sewn before or haven’t sewn for quite a while, take some time to get to know your machine.  Put two scraps of fabric together and sew a few lines to remind yourself of how the controls work and how much pressure you need to put on the foot pedal to sew at a gentle, steady rate.

And Look After It

Your machine will give you years of service if you treat it well.  Clean it regularly (all that fluff from the fabric can build up) and have it serviced regularly.  My mother’s Bernina was 40 years old before it stopped working.

Starting Sewing

To begin a seam, the ends of the thread need to be anchored to prevent them tangling up.  Place one finger over the trailing ends for the first few stitches and backstitch one or two stitches to anchor the stitching.

What To Do With Your Hands

Guiding the fabric while you are sewing:  the most commonproblem that I have noticed when I am showing anyone how to sew is that they want to pull the fabric through from behind the needle.  This is not necessary – the grid under the needle does that for you.  It’s known as the dog feed and keeps the fabric moving at a regular rate.  Your job is to guide the fabric from the front, making sure that the fabric is flat and your seam is straight and the correct width.  A seam in a quilt is always one quarter of an inch from the edge of the fabric to the stitching.

Tension – Of The Machine, Not You!

Check the tension on your machine ona small patch of fabric with the same number of layers as you are intending to sew.  If the tension is correct thre two threads – bobbin and spool – should meet in the layers of fabric.  If the bobbin thread shows right through to the front or the spool thread shows right through to the back then your tension needs adjusting.

Basting or Pinning

When you have two or more layers of fabric to sew together, they can slip against each other while you are sewing.  At worst this can mean that you don’t catch all the layers in the stitching, or it might mean that you are not getting the correct seam allowance on one of the layers.  Securing the layers together before you sew makes a lot of sense.

Pinning is quicker to do but you do have to keep stopping to take the pins out as you sew.  Basting takes a little more time but you can have a straight run at sewing once you begin.  I would always recommend basting if there are three or more layers in your seam.

When you are sewing together two strips of patchwork, for example in a quilt top, it is always worth placing pins at each place that the seams meet.  Placing the pins at right angles to the direction you are sewing (pointing towards the edge of the fabric) gives a little more stability.


I know it’s a pain, but pressing at various stages of the project really does give you a better end result.  The pieces of fabric lie more flat and fit together better if the seams have been pressed flat.  in quilting the seams are usually pressed to one side rather than opened up as in dressmaking.  Try to press the seam allowance towards the darker of the two fabrics.

It is not necessary to press at every single stage.  Finger pressing – running your thumb along the line of the seam to press it flat works between some stages.

Chain sewing

Chain sewing patchwork

Chain sewing patchwork

Whoever thought of this system deserves a medal.  This applies more to quilting than general sewing.  If you have to sew together a number of squares to make pairs as you build a quilt block, put a separate pile of each colour of square next to your machine.

Taking one square from each pile, sew them together.  At the end of the seam have the next pair of squares ready.Without lifting the machine foot, sew contuously on to the next pair, leaving a small gap from the first pair to the second pair.  Do the same again with the third pair and so on.

When you have finished you will have a chain of pairs of squares joined together by a twisted strand of thread.  No backstitching or knot tying.  Just snip the thread between the pairs of squares.  Miraculous!


That’s the most important point of all.  I find sewing and quilting really therapeutic and it is so satisfying to finish an item that you have made yourself.  Don’t stress if you make a mistake:  quilters don’t make mistakes – they just put in design features.  Chances are that no one else will see your mistake anyway.

The above are just a few brief points that you may find helpful.  Let me know if there are any points you would like clarified or any other points that you would like me to cover.

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  1. I just recently started my first quilt, I am doing a QAYG , queen size. I am over 1/2 finished. The first three rows (9 squares each row) was a struggle as I figured it all out but by the time I started the 4th row everything was going smoothly. Just wanted to offer a little encouragement to other newbies and to tell them to hang in there, If I can do it anyone can and tell you that I just found your site a few days ago and am so glad I joined, You have already helped me with your great tips. Thank you.

    • Well done, Mary, and thanks so much for your comments. I’m sure that many people out there will find them reassuring. You certainly jumped in at the deep end with a queen sized quilt for your first project and I’m so pleased that it is obviously going really well.

  2. Sallie schofield says:

    Hi Rose thanks to all your helpful hints and tips I finally, after a good year of “research”, have been confident enough to place an order for squares to make a king size throw. ?

  3. Susanne says:

    Hello Rose …

    I’ve been sewing, on and off, for years … But very new to quilting. I have one question, for now, though.

    When threading a sewing machine needle, does it matter whether you thread from front-to-back, or back-to-front? This has always been a question in my mind.

    BTW … Love, Love, Love this website! Just recently signed up. Thank you for the tips!

    • Hi Susanne. Welcome to quilting! I hope that you’ll get as much pleasure from it as I do. Yes, it does make a difference how you thread the needle. Your sewing machine is set up to have the needle threaded from front to back and will not work at its best if you don’t do this. I’ve never threaded the needle from back to front (surely that’s much more difficult anyway?), but I think you can be sure that you’ll get a better performance if you don’t do this. Most sewing machines are temperamental enough that they’ll use any excuse to play up!

  4. Joan Stewart says:


  5. What a great site, I’m a very newbie quilter and after reading all your hints and tips I think I am ready to make my first quilt. I think a table runner is a good place to start would you agree? I’d love to make a bed quilt for us but feel I need to do something smaller first
    Thanks again and I’ve also signed up for your newsletter now too

    Jackie x

    • Hi Jackie. Thanks for your comments. I would certainly agree – something like a table runner is a great confidence builder and lets you get familiar with the basic quilting techniques before tackling a larger project.

  6. What a great sight so helpful and informative. I really enjoyed reading through all your great instructions and helpful tips.

  7. rita pardoe says:

    Hi Rose, I have just signed up to your website and hopefully will learn something useful, as I am not really a sewer but a quick learner.

  8. Thank you for such clear and helpful tutorials. I have never had the confidence to make a quilt before, despite doing lots of reading and research. Now I know that I can do it by following your instructions. I am going to choose my fabric this week.

  9. Ann Owens says:

    EEK – why cant I get main fabric, battng.wadding and backing to stay in place whilst I quilt Ive tried pinning and basting but still end up with “puckeredP quilt What am I doing wrong or not doing >? Please _ Im ok on very small quilts – i.e baby quilts but after that Im having no fun at all Your tutorials are just amazing and given me so much inspiration but oh dear unless I hand qilt I cant see be getting a good finish – not a wonky one!

    • Hi Ann. It is so frustrating, isn’t it? It could be one of several reasons. Take a look at the first couple of articles on this page: to see what I try to do as preparation before quilting. The two things that I would say make the most difference to puckering are starching the backing and beginning quilting in the middle and working outwards. That way you smooth the fabric outwards.

      • Ann Owens says:

        Thank you Rose – paid careful attention to your great tips and have had bette success Ni e to know its not just me Thank for the hints and oh such great tutorials – I could become seriously addicted !

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