Learn How to Sew: a Basic Guide



Sooner or later, the things that you use start falling apart. Clothes are no exceptions, and eventually they start to tear, split at the seams, lose buttons, or suffer from other minor forms of damage.

When this happens, a lot of people tend to just throw the item away. However, in most cases you can easily fix the issue with some basic sewing. This allows you to significantly extend the shelf-life of the items, which saves you time, money, and can also help you in situations where you can’t immediately replace the item in question.

This isn’t a guide for people who want to master the art of sewing intricate patterns. Rather, this guide is for people who want to learn, in about 5 minutes, how they can sew and fix stuff that gets damaged. This guide isn’t limited to fixing clothes, and can also help with other items, including anything from backpacks to pillowcases. If you want to learn this simple but useful skill, read on.


Items you will need

Thread- the closer the color of the thread to the color of the item you are sewing, the less noticeable it will be. A single spool of thread costs almost nothing and will last for years.

Sewing needle- the bigger the eye, the easier it will be to thread it. Overall though, size shouldn’t really matter unless it’s so small that you can’t thread it at all, or so large that it makes holes in whatever you’re trying to sew.

Scissors/knife- designated sewing scissors/shears are best, but anything that can cut the thread will work. Don’t use your teeth: it’s bad for them, and they do a bad job at this anyway. Besides, finding something to cut with isn’t that hard.

Pins (optional)- these can be used to hold the fabric in place while you’re sewing. Not crucial in most cases, but useful in some.


Small tip on getting sewing supplies

A lot of hotels give out, for free, small sewing-kits which contain all of these items (except for scissors). You can stock up on a few extra kits whenever you stay in a hotel.

In fact, you could generally just walk into a hotel and ask for a sewing kit, and you’ll probably get it without any questions asked.

You can also ask them for a disposable razor, and add its blade to your mini sewing kit (after carefully removing it), to ensure you always have something to cut with (though it’s not a very convenient tool to use).


Free hotel sewing kit
Credit to Reddit user ‘photolouis’


It’s worth it to keep a spare sewing kit in your bag. It barely takes up any space, and you never know when you need it. People almost never think of carrying something like this, so not only is it convenient, but you could also end up saving the day for someone with an unfortunate clothing malfunction.


Setting up the materials

First, you’re going to have to cut the thread to the desired length. A rough estimate is to cut thread about 6 times longer than the length of the stitch you’ll make. When in doubt go with more thread, since you can always trim the excess if necessary (try not to overdo it though).

Next, you’re going to thread the needle. Simply pinch the thread near the tip, and lower the needle onto it. Once the string is securely in the eye, pull the rest of it through until the needle is hanging in the middle. Tie the ends of the thread together. If you’re struggling to thread the needle, try the following things:

  • Make sure there are no frayed edges that are catching on the edge of the needle’s eye. If there are, trim the end of the thread and try again.
  • You can compress the end of the thread by wetting it and/or pressing it hard.
  • You can try pushing the string into the needle, as opposed to lowering the needle onto it (some people prefer this method).
  • If nothing works, you’re going to have to get a bigger needle, or a sewing kit where the needle comes pre-threaded.


Threaded needle


How to sew

Now that you have everything ready, you can start sewing. All stitches generally revolve around the same concept, of pushing the needle across two parts of the fabric, in order to connect them.

The following 3 commonly-used stitches are usually your best bet:

Running stitch- place the two pieces of fabric you’re going to sew over each other to create some overlap. Sew in a straight line from the start of the overlapping section, while passing the needle up and down through the fabric. If you want the stitch to not show too much, you can alternate in terms of how much of the stitch appears on each side of the fabric.


Running stitch example
Credit to Jessy Ratfink, “Sewing How To: Running Stitch


Backstitch- this one is the same as a running stitch, with one change: you produce a full stitch going forward on the bottom side of the fabric, and then a half-length stitch going backward on the top side.


Back stitch example
Credit to Jessy Ratfink, “Sewing How To: Backstitch


If that doesn’t make sense, try looking at the following diagram. The odd numbers show when the needle is pulled up from below the fabric towards you, while the even numbers show when it’s being pushed down away from you.


Back stitch diagram


Whip stitch- usable mainly when sewing edges of a fabric together. Simply align the two edges, and perform a spiral sewing motions through them.


Whip stitch example
Credit to Jessy Ratfink, “How to Sew


(Variants of this are also referred to as an overlap stitch, but for our purposes the distinction isn’t important).


Things to keep in mind:

  • You can either hold the fabrics in place yourself, or use pins to keep them aligned.
  • If something is ripped or if there is a split seam, always start sewing a bit before the beginning of the rip, and finish the stitch a bit past it, to prevent it from ripping again.
  • When you start sewing, secure the stitch by making a few passes through the fabric at the starting point. When you’re done, do the same at the end of the stitch. Finish by tying a knot near the base of the string, and trim any loose remains.
  • Make sure to pull the thread completely through at each pass, without leaving any loose thread behind. However, don’t pull it too tightly, as this could weaken the thread, and distort the fabric.
  • The smaller the length of each individual pass, the stronger the stitch will be, but the longer it will take to sew.
  • If something is starting to rip, fix it as soon as possible. The longer you wait, the more damaged the material will get, and the more work it will require. In addition, small tears are relatively vulnerable, and can grow into big one quickly.


Fixing specialized items

The guidelines above are intended to provide you with the basic knowledge that can be used to fix the majority of items.

However, if you need to fix something that requires additional, specialized knowledge, simply search online for a further explanation on how to fix it. This can be helpful for example if you’re looking to learn how to darn a sock, or how to fix a button that fell. Feel free to improvise a bit, as these guides sometimes lean towards the overly-complex side. This is especially true if you’re mostly interested mostly in ensuring that you have a strong stitch, and don’t care too much about how it looks.

The most important thing to remember is that most sewing fixes are pretty straightforward and easy, so don’t be afraid to try and sew things instead of just throwing them away.


Summary and conclusions

  • Learning how to sew items that get damaged is easy, and can save you time and money.
  • You’ll need a needle, some thread, and something to cut with. Hotels often give out free sewing kits you can use, and it’s worth it to keep a spare one in your bag in case you need it.
  • To start, you will first have to thread the needle by lowering the needle’s eye onto the thread. After this is done, tie the edges of the string together.
  • Then, you will sew whatever you need to fix using one of a few simple techniques which are explained in the article, such as the running stitch, the back stitch, or the whip stitch.
  • The article also lists some other useful advice, regarding how to thread the needle if you’re stuck, how to make sure your stitch is strong, and what to do if you’re trying to fix things that require more specialized knowledge.


The ‘Appeal to the Stone’ Fallacy: On Being Completely Dismissive in Arguments

Appeal to the Stone


The appeal to the stone is a logical fallacy where a person simply dismisses a claim as absurd, without actually addressing it or showing proof for its absurdity. The following article will explain to you how this fallacy works, how you can counter people who use it, and how you can use it yourself in debates.


Explanation of the fallacy

The appeal to the stone (argumentum ad lapidem) is an informal logical fallacy, which means that the content of the fallacious argument fails to support its proposed conclusion.

This fallacy occurs every time a person simply denounces an argument as absurd, without explaining why. For example, consider the following conversation:

Alice: Thousand of scientists just signed a document urging countries to consider the risks of global warming, and to act accordingly.

Bob: Who cares. It’s a ridiculous idea anyway.

Alice: What? How so?

Bob: I don’t know. It just sounds made up. Don’t know about you, but I don’t believe it.

Here, Alice raises a point, and Bob simply dismisses it as absurd, without explaining why. This is a typical example of someone using the appeal to the stone, whether they’re aware of it or not.

Note: The name of this fallacy originates from an incident where Dr. Samuel Johnson, a renowned English writer, was discussing why he disagrees with George Berkeley, a philosopher who researched immaterialism, which is the idea that no material things exist outside of our mind. To refute this concept, which Johnson thought was wrong, he simply walked up to a large stone, kicked it, and said: “I refute it thus”.


How to counter an appeal to the stone

The first step to countering this fallacy is recognizing that your opponent is using it. Once you are capable of that, your best course of action is to call the other person out, and ask that they support their stance and explain why they find your argument to be absurd. To do this, use key phrases such as “I understand that you think that, but can you explain why you think it’s absurd?”

Make sure to stay persistent, and try to get the other person to defend their unsupported stance. Defending your own stance using additional evidence often doesn’t help, since the other person isn’t engaging with logical arguments in the first place.

Keep in mind that there are two options: either the other person is unaware that they’re using the fallacy, or they’re doing it intentionally. If they’re unaware, pushing them to question their stance might actually help them see the hole in their reasoning. If they’re doing it intentionally, calling them out on it is the main way of fighting against this technique.

However, there are some situations where nothing you can do will get the other person to change their mind, regardless of whether they’re aware of this fallacy or not. Learn how to pick your battles.

In addition, always make sure to stay calm and not to let the other person get under your skin. This is one of the most crucial pieces of advice for debates in general, and it’s especially important in situations like this, which can often be frustrating.


Arguing in a crowd

Often, when you’re arguing about something, other people will be watching. This is important to remember for several reasons:

  • If you call the other person out on using this fallacy, the more people realize you’re right and support your argument, the better your argument will look, even if your opponent sticks to their fallacious stance.
  • Conversely, if the crowd supports your opponent’s assertion, calling it out might not help much, though it’s still the best option you have. Keep in mind that people don’t necessarily support the strongest argument; often, the appearance of confidence by the speaker can play the main role in swaying the crowd. Furthermore, people will often choose to support the side which has the simpler, more appealing argument, even if it’s incorrect, because it’s easier for them to understand. This goes back to the previous advice on knowing how to pick your battles.
  • If the crowd doesn’t provide much support for either side, the benefit of calling your opponent out is that even if they don’t change their stance, people in the crowd might still notice the fallacious reasoning and agree with your point, even if they won’t support it directly.


Using an appeal to the stone yourself

First of all, consider the fact that you might be using this fallacy yourself unintentionally. Ask yourself whether you sometimes dismiss claims as absurd, without actually considering their validity. If you do, and nearly all of us do this from time to time, consider adjusting the way you process information in such cases, by asking yourself why you think such claims are absurd, before dismissing them.

You can also choose to use this fallacy intentionally in arguments. Sometimes you might do it because you just don’t want to argue with the other person. Other times, you might use it because that’s the best way for you to win the argument.

If you do choose to use it intentionally, your goal is now to stick to mocking the claim as absurd, without explaining why. You can combine this attack with other techniques, such as strawman arguments, by twisting your opponent’s stance before mocking it as absurd.

It’s also possible to use this technique as an opener, by first claiming that your opponent’s views are absurd, and then attacking their actual argument only if they continue to argue.

A few things to keep in mind:

  • If you are arguing in front of other people, winning the crowd is the most important part.
  • If you’re trying to discredit your opponent’s stance, you want to get under their skin as much as possible.
  • Since your argument has no logical basis, sticking to it requires having (or faking) a lot of confidence.
  • This technique is risky, since at the end of the day you have no way to actually support your stance. Therefore, you need to consider the situation before using it; if the crowd is intelligent and actually cares about the topic of the debate, you might end up looking like an idiot if you stick with this line of “reasoning”.


Summary and conclusions

  • The appeal to the stone is a logical fallacy where a person claims that a certain argument is absurd, without actually explaining why.
  • For example, if person A says that “Thousands of scientists recently showed support for a law which would mitigate global warming”, person B might reply “Who cares. It’s a ridiculous concept anyway”.
  • The name of the fallacy comes from an instance where a writer argued against the philosophy of immaterialism (the idea that nothing exists outside of our minds), by walking up to a stone and kicking it, while proclaiming “I refute it thus”.
  • The key to countering this fallacy is to recognize that the other person is using it, and to call them out on it by asking them to explain why they think the argument is absurd.
  • Crowds might often support the use of this fallacy, because it offers a shallow argument that is easy to understand. This could be an advantage if you decide to use this fallacy yourself, and it’s something important to remember if you’re trying to argue with someone else who is using it.


The 80/20 Rule: An Effective Way to Concentrate Your Efforts

The 80-20 Rule (Pareto Principle)


Hard work rarely pays off if you don’t know how to work in a smart way. The Pareto principle, frequently referred to as the 80/20 rule, is one of the best guidelines you can use in order to concentrate your efforts effectively. Simply put, this principle means that roughly 80% of the consequences come from 20% of the causes.

In the following article you will see examples for this principle in various situations, understand the logic behind it, and learn how to take advantage of it in order to maximize your efficiency.


Examples for the 80/20 rule in life

This principle has been observed in numerous scenarios:

  • Vilfredo Pareto, the Italian economist after which this principle is named, first observed that 80% of the wealth is owned by 20% of the population.
  • A study which analyzed shopping patterns at convenience stores found that approximately 20% of the customers account for 80% of the stores’ sales.
  • A study on software engineering found that 20% of the modules cause 80% of the operational faults.

Note that in these and in other cases, there was sometimes variability regarding the exact distribution which was found, so that sometimes there was a 70/30 distribution, or a 90/10 distribution, and so on. However, the exact distribution doesn’t matter; the important thing to remember is that a small portion of the causes will generally be responsible for a large portion of the outcomes.


Scientific basis for the 80/20 rule

The 80/20 rule exists because many natural distributions follow power laws. This means that there is a functional relationship between two quantities, where a linear change in one quantity leads to an exponential change in the other quantity. For example, if you double the length of the sides of a square, its area increases by a factor of four.


Power Law illustration (Pareto Distribution)
An example of a power-law distribution. Note that in the case of the 80/20 rule, this is known as a Pareto distribution.

Let’s assume that this graph shows the portion of the wealth in a nation on the vertical y-axis, and the number of people who own it on the horizontal x-axis. This means that on the left of the distribution we have what Pareto referred to as the Vital Few, who are the 20% of the people that own 80% of the wealth, while on the right we have the long tail with the Trivial Many, who are the remaining 80% of the people who own only 20% of the wealth.


How to implement the 80/20 rule

The goal of this rule is to optimize your return on investment (ROI), or the benefits that you receive in return for the effort that you make.

First of all, this means that you should focus your efforts on the 20% of the work that leads to 80% of the positive outcomes:

  • If you’re running a business, focus on working with the 20% of the customers who generate 80% of the revenue.
  • If you’re studying for a test, focus on the 20% of the material which accounts for 80% of the questions.
  • If you’re developing a software product, focus on the 20% of the features that are important to 80% of the users.

Conversely, take care of or avoid the 20% of the factors that cause 80% of the problems:

  • Avoid working with the 20% of the customers who produce 80% of the complaints.
  • Fix the 20% of the bugs which lead to 80% of the reports.
  • Avoid the 20% of the exercises which cause 80% of the injuries.

Sometimes, there might be overlap between the few factors that provide the most benefits, and those that cause the most issues. In certain cases, what you should when this happens is relatively clear-cut. For example, if 20% of the material from the class will account for 80% of the questions on the test, you need to understand it even if this material causes 80% of your problems. On the other hand, in some cases the choice might not be so obvious. For example, if 20% of the customers generate 80% of your revenue but also 80% of your complaints, you will have to consider your priorities in this situation, and act accordingly.


Things to keep in mind

There are some things which you should keep in mind when implementing the 80/20 rule:

  • Even within the top 20%/bottom 80%, not everyone will be equal.
  • The 80/20 principle is a useful rule of thumb, but it’s still just a rule of thumb. It won’t always apply to your situation.
  • As with any other guiding principle, when you do apply it, do so with common sense.


Iterate and reevaluate

If you’re engaging in a long-term process, don’t be afraid to reevaluate your situation periodically, and to adjust according to the 80/20 principle each time. Essentially, you should be asking yourself two questions:

  • “How can I focus my efforts in a way that leads to the greatest benefits for the least amount of effort?”
  • “What I can do to avoid the greatest amount of issues for the smallest loss in benefits?”


Summary and conclusions

  • The 80/20 rule (also known as the ‘Pareto principle’), denotes that roughly 80% of the consequences come from 20% of the causes.
  • This means, for example, that 20% of the customers are responsible for generating 80% of the revenue, and that 20% of the software bugs will be responsible for 80% of the user complaints.
  • Use this principle to your advantage by focusing your efforts in the areas where they produce the most benefits, and by cutting out the things which cause the most issues.
  • Keep in mind that the distribution might not always be an exact 80/20. The important thing to focus on is finding areas where a small proportion of the input accounts for a large proportion of the output.
  • If you’re engaging in a long-term process, you should reevaluate your situation periodically, and reapply this principle accordingly each time.