Lots and lots of folks, lately, have looked at whatever I'm wearing, heaved an enormous sigh, and said "I could NEVER sew." I always try to tell them that "Yes! You Too Can Sew!" but then the elevator doors close and my monologue is cut off too soon. So I thought I'd post it here. You, too, can sew!
Sewing, basic sewing, is not really that complicated. If you can cook or drive a car, you can sew. (If you can neither cook nor drive a car, you probably live in Manhattan, and can go take sewing classes at FIT.)
The trick to learning to sew is this: start small. Don't try the Oscar de la Renta pattern as your first go-round — do something like the Simplicity skirt above. Be patient: do one little bit at a time, and stop before you get frustrated. (Do not, for the love of pete, start your first sewing project at 5 p.m. and expect to wear it out that night. Start it the first Saturday of the month and expect to wear it the last one.)
Ask questions: find a good fabric store, go at a slow time, and see if you can corral a friendly employee who will gently talk you out of using eyelash knit for your first project. Walk through the store and touch all the fabric. (Don't worry, if your hands are clean, they won't mind. They're used to it.) Fix in your head what silk charmeuse feels like, what cotton twill feels like, what wool jersey feels like, so when you read pattern envelopes you'll know what they're talking about.
Do some background reading — get a couple of sewing books from the library and read them through, like you'd read a cookbook, almost. What sounds like fun? What do you read three times and still not understand? (Hint: that last probably involves zippers.) Look through your closet and take notes: what do you wear the most? Then try to find a SIMPLE pattern that follows the same lines.
Don't assume you need an expensive (or fancy-embroidery, does-everything-but-make-you-poached-eggs) machine right off. See if you can Craigslist one (although if you do that get it tuned up before you start sewing, and factor in the cost of a tuneup [$50-100] in your budget), or ask your local sewing repair store about a "starter" machine. They know that if they can get you sewing they will have your business for life, and that you WILL upgrade!
I think learning to sew has a lot of similarities with learning to do other things: Start slow & simple. Do your reading. Don't push yourself until you're frustrated and ready to give up — keep it fun. Don't invest in a ton of expensive equipment until you know you're really going to enjoy it. Ask for help. Tell yourself, "I can do this!" until you sound like a character in Saturday-morning children's television programming. Rinse, repeat!