My husband got me a Singer 7462 for Christmas a couple years ago after I told him I didn't want a sewing machine. I figured it would sit in a corner unused and make me feel guilty every time I saw it. But he got me one anyway because he loves me and knows me better than I know myself. Sure enough, it was one of the best presents ever, even though it makes me want to shoot myself sometimes.
Which is why you won't believe me when I say this model is very simple to operate. I have no complaints about it except that the light on it is quite dim. You'll either need to wear a miner's headlamp or drag a lamp over next to you. Other than that, it's fabulous.
My machine came from a fabric store down the street, and free lessons were included. If you buy from a local store, see if they offer some beginning lessons. A nice lady met with me four times to teach me how to get started. Very helpful. I've since forgotten everything she said, but it gave me enough confidence to make my first project by myself: that bag in the picture above, made from this tutorial. I was bursting with pride because it actually looks like a bag!
The Complete Photo Guide to Sewing is a very useful but ugly sewing book that's helped me a lot. And good news. They're finally updating it, due out in January. It tells you all the types of seams and what they're for, how to put in a zipper, make a pillow, plus scads of other projects. It's better than a website because you'll need to refer to it constantly while you're doing a project.
If you want a really pretty, inspirational book, get Amy Butler's In Stitches. Not as useful for the basics, but much nicer to look at, with cool project ideas.
Now go read these articles from people who know more than I do:
Where to Begin Sewing at JCaroline Creative
What Kind of Sewing Machine to Buy at Purl Soho
Hopefully that's helpful to someone out there. Really, you should sew. You will like it most of the time.
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