A Beginner’s Guide to Sewing (by Someone Who Doesn’t Know How to Sew)

Disclaimer: As the title suggests, I HAVE NO IDEA HOW TO SEW.  Basically, I’ve been really into watching upcycling/thrifted transformation videos on YouTube lately, and I wanted to give it a go myself, despite my completely lack of experience and knowledge on the subject, and blog the whole thing.  This post is going to be on a few sewing “key words” and tips I’ve picked up while watching YouTube videos!


As previously stated, I 100% have 0 experience or knowledge on the subject that is sewing!  I’ve been on this upcycling/thrifting video binge on YouTube and I think it’s a really cool way to recycle or update old clothing, so I wanted to try it, but due to the fact that I’ve never even touched a sewing machine in my 22 years of life, this’ll probably be… interesting.  I think I’m also living in the delusion that I’ll one day become some kind of Project Runway star, but we can psychoanalyze my decisions later, maybe.

Me, thinking of all the mistakes I’m bound to make

One of my goals for the summer is to actually try to learn how to sew via sewing machine the “proper” way, but until then, I’m basically going to be winging everything using the “street knowledge” I’ve accumulated by watching YouTube videos.  This post is going to be me talking about and sharing the definitions (aka what I found on Google) of a few sewing “key words” and tips I’ve picked up while watching the aforementioned videos.


The videos I keep talking about are ones by coolirpa, who has an entire series on “Thrifted Transformations” (she may have even been one of the first to coin the term on YouTube??), as well as Annika Victoria, who has a Make Thrift Buy series where she recreates popular clothing items seen on the internet using thrifted clothes and a series called “The Style Pile,” where she goes through a pile of old clothes and updates them to things she’d actually want to wear.  Both of their videos are super easy to follow and really informative, so I’d recommend checking them out if you’re also interested in trying this, or if you just like to procrastinate!

I won’t actually have access to a sewing machine until I go back to the US for the summer, so I figured that doing a little preliminary research to sewing would be a good precursor to actually starting myself.  Without further ado, here are some things I’ve learned so far:

1. Key Words & Phrases

In my ~extensive~ experience watching these DIY/sewing videos, there are a lot of words thrown around pretty casually, to which I use nod at the screen and smile to myself, much like I do in class, as if I have any inkling as to what the hell anybody is talking about, when in reality, it’s just going in one ear and spilling out the other.  I figured if I’m going to try to sew, I might as well actually look up these definitions.

“Sew right sides/wrong sides together”

In basically every video, April or Annika talk about sewing either the “right sides” or “wrong sides” of the fabrics together.  Call me a sewing neophyte (which I am), but I had no idea what this meant, until I looked it up.  According to this website, the “right side” is usually the “printed” or “pretty” surface of the fabric (aka what you’d see on the outside when wearing the garment), while the “wrong side” is the inside.  Apparently, there are a few exceptions, because of course there are: solid fabrics have no right or wrong side and homespuns also look the same on both sides.

“2-way vs. 4-way stretch”

This is news to me, but apparently all stretch is NOT created equal.  Evidently, fabrics can have different types of stretches, which I guess could change the way garments can be sewn, as well as how easy it is to work with them??


Anyway, this website says that fabrics with a 2-way stretch only stretch in one direction (then why the hell is it called “2-way”??), aka they either stretch along the length, or along the width.  Meanwhile, 4-way stretch fabrics can stretch in both directions (aka 2 directions… again, wtf) and now I’m beginning to realize that if you’re mathematically inclined or just want to over-complicate everything (like I do), just take the number of ways the fabric can stretch and divide it by 2 and that’s the number of directions the fabric can stretch in, lol!!

“Hidden” or “invisible” zipper

So… I honestly thought all zippers were hidden, but… I guess I was wrong.  Again.  The difference between a hidden (also called an “invisible” zipper) and a regular zipper *shockingly* lies in how visible the zipper is, and at this point, my sarcasm is palpable!!


This website has tons of information about zippers (there are apparently EVEN MORE THAN TWO TYPES) and I learned that what I’ve been referring to as a “regular zipper” is more technically called the “all-purpose zipper,” so there’s that.  The good thing about zippers is that their names are pretty self-explanatory…

Image found on this blog!
  • All-Purpose Zipper – Again, this is what I’ve been calling the “regular” zipper, so just ignore me on that.  According to the same website, this is the most popular zipper used in most garments, and since it tends to “bend” with the garment, is the zipper usually required in dresses, skirts, pants, and blouses.
  • Hidden Zipper – This zipper has finer teeth and is sewn in a way that it’s invisible in the garment.  It’s also used in more formal wear types of clothing.

Seam allowance

Everybody is batty for seam allowance, so obviously it must be a BFD! But… who is she?

Seam allowance who??

This blog defines seam allowance as “the area between the fabric edges and the line of stitches” and states that it can vary from 1/4″ wide to even several inches.  It also says, “Sewing an accurate seam allowance is essential in making a project work. If your seams aren’t accurate, you may run out of fabric or the pieces may not line up correctly.” Well… alright, then! No wonder everybody loves talking about her!

2. Stitch Types

There are also different stitch types that suit different fabrics and finishes – go figure!  Here is a table (made in Excel, of course) of definitions (all taken from Wikipedia, btw) for a few that I’ve heard most frequently in the videos I’ve been watching:


This blog also has a great rundown on stitch types and their uses!  One of the questions I had right off the bat was: what the heck is the difference between a straight stitch and topstich?  According to this website, there really is none, defining topstitching as “one or more rows of stitching visible from the garment’s right side.”

On another note: this blog states that backstitching on sewing machines is used to secure seams, which can unravel if you don’t do this.

Also… apparently tension with stitches matters, but I think that might be something for another day.

Thanks for reading! Is there anybody out there who actually knows how to sew who can shed some more light on these things??


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