How to Sew – Stage Two is Intermediate Skills 

There are three stages to learning to sew. They are: 1) learning the basics, 2) garment construction skills and repairs and 3) sewing for fun and profit. Your goal is to reach the third stage, where you will enjoy sewing and find that even if you are not a professional seamstress, you are competent to achieve most of the sewing objectives you seek.

This article will discuss what is needed to master the intermediate stage of learning to sew. A few skills go a long way. As with the beginner stage of learning to sew, it often takes time and patience, but no rocket science. Today you can access information on the internet to help you master these skills.

  1. Practice ripping seams.
  2. Practice finishing seams and pressing them open.
  3. Learn to machine baste.
  4. Learn to gather.
  5. Learn to use seam binding tape.
  6. Learn to read sewing patterns.


Just get comfortable with these 6 skills, and you will be on your way to the advanced stage of learning to sew. Let’s discuss each skill and how you can most easily accomplish it so that you can move on to becoming an advanced sewing student.

Ripping Seams:

It’s inevitable, and if you’re good at ripping a seam without ripping apart the fabric, it will make your life easier and your garments more professional. You can use the scraps you sewed straight lines on for practice. Be sure to purchase a good seam ripper.

If you have established the good habit of back stitching at the beginning and end of your seam, you will find that it is sometimes difficult to get started on ripping the seam at the ends. If this is the case, carefully use the seam ripper on one side of the fabric to cut the thread of the seam on that side. This will give you a hole in the seam where you can now more easily begin to remove the seam.

The easiest way to rip the seam is to hold the two pieces of fabric apart and find the thread of the seam that holds them together. Carefully insert the seam ripper tip into that thread, not the fabric threads, and slide it in until the thread is cut. Gently pull the fabric pieces apart until they will not pull apart any more. Repeat the seam ripper action. Keep doing this until you have ripped the whole section.

Practicing finishing seams and pressing them open:

Pressing your seams as you go makes a world of difference in how well your garment fits and looks. Make this a habit.
There are numerous ways to finish seams which include serging (not a beginner skill), french seam finishes, and zig zag finishing. Zig zag finishing is particularly easy and quick and looks almost as good at serging.
To zig zag finish a seam, first press open the seam. Place the edge of the seam under the needle of your machine, and set your stitch width on the widest zig zag. Sew with the edge under the needle, so that the machine stitch closes over the edge of the fabric on one side. There is a video tutorial on this method.

Learn to machine baste:

See “How-To-Sew-1—Basic-Machine-Basting” for a full article on machine basting.
First, locate your stitch length control for your sewing machine. Set the stitch length to the longest length available. Place the seam you want to baste under the needle of your sewing machine, raise the needle to its highest point and lower the presser foot. Do not back stitch when beginning or ending the seam to be basted, as basting is usually removed later. Sew the seam with the long stitch length, then remove the piece from your machine as usual by raising the needle to the highest point, lifting the presser foot, and cutting the threads. This is your basted seam, a temporary seam or the preparation for gathering.

There is a video tutorial available on the internet for this important skill.

Learn to machine gather:

See “How to Sew 2 – Machine Gathering” for a full article on machine gathering.
To machine baste, set your sewing machine to its longest available stitch length. Stitch this basting stitch along where your seam line will be, on most commercial patterns 5/8 inch from the fabric edge. Stitch again 1/4 of an inch inside the seam allowance. Two lines of stitching will keep your gathering more even, and hold your gather in case one thread breaks. This is especially important on long gathering lengths such as waistline areas. Gently pull up on one thread to gather the material. Evenly distribute the gathering, and finish sewing your seam according to directions. Again, there is a video tutorial for this valuable sewing skill.

Learn to use seam binding tape:

See “How to Sew With Seam Binding – A Quick Way to Finish Edges” for a full article on this skill.
Most patterns tell you to cut a length of seam binding tape about 1/2 inch longer than the length of your edge. Then you sew wrong side of binding to wrong side of edge, press the tape over to the right side, and stitch down the middle of it on the right side.
Another method is to slip the fabric in the crease of the seam binding like a sandwich and sew close to the edge. This is especially quick as you only sew the tape once, rather than twice as in the previous method.

Learn to read sewing patterns:

As with any skill, there is a whole vocabulary you need to know. You already know about basting (not like a turkey!) and gathering. If you search for sewing dictionary on the internet, you will find numerous sites with the terms defined for you.

Searching for “reading a sewing pattern” will give you results that include videos and ebooks for a full range of help.

Have no worries, there will always be a new pattern whose instructions stump you at first. Your skills in understanding pattern instructions will grow with time and experience. Don’t sweat it if it still takes you a long time to understand what’s in the pattern right now.

If you’ve become comfortable with all the other steps in this article, you are ready to become and advanced sewing student.

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