It seems so weird now, but I remember buying my first sewing book and actually thinking ‘well, this will do me, I won’t need to buy another sewing book ever again.’ Um, HELLO?! What was I thinking? My brain must have fallen out that day, because I love books and learning new skills just as much as I love crafting. So it makes sense that I would naturally combine the two.
My collection of books has grown rapidly since that fateful day, but it’s not just books that make great sewing resources. Today I’m sharing my top sewing resources that I simply can’t live without.
I’m a book nerd. I buy books as often as possible and I’ve got some great sewing books in my collection. I can thoroughly recommend these ones as I either use them to learn a new technique or get inspired by the projects within.
Oh Anna Maria, how do you do it? A successful fabric designer, author and mum to seven (yes – SEVEN). This book is a great introduction to basic sewing with some gorgeous projects in classic Anna Maria style.
Yeah, I’m a Pipster fan-girl — there, I said it! I had the pleasure of meeting Pip in person earlier this year and she’s just as nice in person as she is online. And her books are pretty awesome too 😀 This book is a great guide to quick and simple projects perfect for total sewing newbies.
I love Gertie’s style. She’s a wonderful mix of retro-cool with tattoos and blue hair. Her projects and instructions are great too. This book introduced me to the world of couture sewing, structure and hand-stitching and it’s a world I’m looking forward to exploring some more.
Need to know how to mitre a corner, how to install some piping or how to press properly? This book uses step-by-step photo instructions to demonstrate a massive range of basic and not-so-basic techniques. A lot of sewing friends also swear by The Reader’s Digest Complete Guide To Sewing. I don’t have this one in my library but I think I need to fix that!
I love that this book makes it so simple to draft a skirt pattern that you’ll love. Filled with lots of inspiring examples and easy to follow instructions, this is a book I turn to again and again – just for the inspiration alone.
Oh my goodness, how GOOD is Craftsy? I’ve previously written about my Craftsy love affair here, but the platform is just so damn good I’m going to write about it again. I’ve enrolled in quite a few Craftsy classes (actually 52 at last count) and I always learn something new and useful.
Craftsy have some very useful free-mini classes, which are fantastic for sewing newbies. I particularly recommend these two:
Zippers have been known to strike fear into the hearts of many sewing newbies. I love Sunni Standing’s class because she explains what the different zipper feet do. She also gives clear and achieveable methods for installing slot, lapped and invisible zippers, among other things. So good!
It didn’t take me long to graduate from Craftsy’s free mini-classes to their paid classes (yeah, like about a minute!) and my favourites include:
This was my first Craftsy class and I loved it! With Deborah Moebes’ help I managed to draft a simple A-line skirt easily. My basic skirt gets worn all the time in summer and always gets some great compliments. It’s a great introduction to simple pattern drafting – yay!
This was how I discovered the work of Natalie Chanin from Alabama Chanin (<— not an affliliate link, I just adore her work). Her designs and business philosophy blows my freaking mind. Seriously. Natalie Chanin is officially one of my heroes and one day I WILL travel to Florence, Alabama just to meet her. When that day comes I will cry happy tears of crafty joy. I might even post photos!
These two classes are among the best I’ve ever done. I’ll be honest, they are not easy and really not for complete newbies as they’re very technical, but I came away with a great understanding of pattern drafting, fit and ease.
I thoroughly enjoyed Suzy Furrer’s teaching style and the level of technical information she presents. If you’re ready to start learning more about drafting your own patterns then start with these two classes – then consider doing the rest in her series, which include Creative Darts and Seam Lines, Creative Necklines and Creative Sleeves.
And briefly, there are so many amazing sewing bloggers out there. My personal favourites are The Coletterie by Sarai Mitnick and Lucky Lucille by Rochelle New.
What sewing resources do you regularly turn to for inspiration and guidance? Have I missed your favourite? If so, tell me in the comments below!
*Links to products are affiliate links. Please read my affiliate policy for further details.
As my love of fabric grew into a full-blown addiction it quickly became apparent that there were some truly awesome sewing tools out there that—although not strictly ‘essential’—were a great time or sanity saver. I’m a great believer that you can always learn new tricks or buy new tools. I’m still building my sewing supply kit (it’s taking years) so I turned to some online sewing buddies for some advice. To say I was overwhelmed with great suggestions is an understatement. I actually don’t use all the tools mentioned below, but so many other sewing addicts rave about them that I really can’t ignore them.
Above: Tailor's hams always have a plaid top and plain bottom. The plaid lines are very useful when turning and pressing collars.
I lived without a tailor’s ham for so long and I really should have bought one as soon as I started dressmaking. I know it sounds silly, but I’m a little bit in love with my ham (yes, I know how odd that sounds!) Getting a beautiful curve on collar rolls and gorgeous, non-puckered dart points is SO MUCH EASIER with a tailor’s ham than a flat ironing board.
Above: Two different types of sewing gauges—both are useful.
I love my sewing gauge so much I have three of them! They are so simple to use and really help me turn up my hems evenly. A sewing gauge is so simple: I just set the little arrow to the length I need then use it to measure as I press up the hem. Nice, accurate and super easy!
Recently I bought another gauge that looks quite different to my others. It was only a few bucks and I kinda fell in love with it. It works in the same way, it’s just a different shape and sits nicely in my hand.
I have to be honest, I’ve actually never used a loop turner*, but SO MANY experienced sewers swear by them so I really can’t ignore their usefulness. Loop turners help you turn thin tubes of fabric from wrong-sides-together to right-sides-together. You know those pesky tubes you make as button loops? Well a loop turner will help you turn those suckers out with minimal fuss and no swearing, which gets a big tick in my book! You can use a chopstick, but there can be a fair bit more time, tears and tantrums involved—consider yourself warned 😉
I use a point turner* for poking out corners when I make cushion covers, and particularly in turning out collars and other sharp corners. It makes all the difference between getting a nice, crisp collar point, or a slightly more rounded, less polished finish. Be careful when you use a point turner though: go slowly and gently as you don’t want to push through your stitches. This mistake cannot be fixed, and you’ll either have to live with some not-so-neat collar points or start over. Either way, there could be tears. I don’t want that, and nor should you!
Above: Quilting rulers are great for marking straight lines on garment patterns.
I got a quilting ruler as part of a pack that included a rotary cutter and cutting mat. I covered the rotary cutter and mat in my Essential Sewing Tools post, but I didn’t cover a quilting ruler simply because I can live without it—I just choose not to! A quilting ruler is immensely useful for getting the beautiful straight lines that are essential in quilting. They are also really, REALLY useful for garment patterns where there are straight lines, which are most of them 😉 . It’s so easy for the ruler to slip when cutting though—not cool! So I always have my hand and arm straight down over the ruler. I also put some pressure on the ruler just to keep it in place. Oh, and go slowly with that rotary cutter!
Above: My adjustable tracing wheel is a very cool gadget that makes adjusting seam allowances a breeze.
Adjustable tracing wheel
I just love my adjustable tracing wheel. It's great when I need to add or adjust a seam allowance (or hem length). It's also really proven its usefulness when I'm tracing or drafting pattern pieces. So good!
You may have seen these cute little strawberries before and wondered what they're for. You're in luck! They are filled with a gritty sand and you poke any blunt or burred pins into the strawberry a few times to sharpen the pin up. When you're sewing fine fabrics such as silk and satin you need to have sharp, smooth pins otherwise you can easily pull threads and damage your fabric, which will make you sad. With your strawberry by your side you never have to fear burred pins ever again!
Bias tape maker
These things are SO cool! They come in a few different sizes and only cost a few bucks, so you really can't go wrong! Funky polka dot bias tape definitely beats boring old polycotton pre-packaged bias tape. Do yourself a favour and get one (or more) of these beauties!
Again, this is another tool I don’t have in my kit and I’m about to rectify that right now! Wonder clips* hold thick layers, or layers that can’t (or shouldn’t) be pinned together. Others have suggested using hair clips, and I’ve used bulldog clips in the past—but not any more! Wonder clips—watch out—you will be mine!
Glue pen, basting spray or wash-away tape
In the past I’ve used basting spray that didn’t wash out, which defeated the purpose really. But after hearing others rave about glue products that wash out I’m going to re-think my stance. The trick, I think, is to do a test-run on a scrap of your project’s fabric and see if the glue does what it says it should do. Glues that wash out are useful for putting pieces together that you can’t (or don’t want to) baste together first.
Rotary blade sharpener
Every now and again I realise that I really do live under a rock. I had NO IDEA it was even possible to sharpen rotary blades once they go dull! I’m actually scratching my head about how I missed this! As I mentioned in my Essential Sewing Tools post, rotary blades must be super sharp to do their job properly. I’ve been tossing them out once they go dull and now I can extend their life by using a rotary blade sharpener*. Hooray!
So there you have it—my list of useful sewing tools that are nice to have, although not essential. As you can see, I don’t have everything on this list so I’m off to rectify that right this minute! I’m looking at you, rotary blade sharpener!
Do you have a favourite sewing tool that’s not on this list? If so, share below so we can all have a look … and maybe add to our kit …
Note: this post is part of my sewing newbie series. The series includes Preparation and Essential sewing tools. The next ones will be working with paper patterns, reference books and other resources, and a quick and simple project.
How GOOD are sewing tools, right? I love browsing fabric shops, craft fairs and even the haberdashery aisle of my local supermarket to see if I can add something useful to my collection. In the beginning though, the vast array of sewing tools, gadgets and gizmos was completely overwhelming.
The truth is, you really don’t need many sewing tools to do a great job. You don’t even need a sewing machine if you’re happy to stitch by hand. For this post, I’m assuming you’ll be using a sewing machine but if you’re not, all you really need is a pattern, some shears (scissors), needle and thread, and lots and lots of time.
I recommend buying a decent machine from a reputable dealer over buying a really cheap one from a large chain department store. I want your experience to be as stress-free as possible. Using a machine that behaves itself by giving straight, even stitches and running smoothly will mean you’re going to enjoy yourself much more. Fighting with your machine sucks so avoid it if you can.
Machine instruction booklet
Hang on to that baby as though your life depended on it! I still refer to mine regularly, especially when I’m trying a new stitch or troubleshooting. If you can solve a problem without hassling your friendly machine mechanic then you’re going to save time, heartache and dollars too!
Something to cut your fabric
You’ve got two choices here: tailors shears or a rotary cutter and self-healing mat. I own a lot of shears—from cheapies to expensive ones. I don’t use my expensive, solid, all-metal ones very much because they’re just too heavy and uncomfortable for my teeny hands. I use a cheap but decent pair of shears for basic snipping and a rotary cutter and mat for cutting out pattern pieces. I also have a tiny pair of embroidery snips that are great for notching seams and snipping threads.
My life totally changed when I bought a self-healing mat and started using a rotary cutter, but it wasn’t the easiest thing I’ve learnt to use. I once got a little eager and accidentally slipped off the mat and nicked the table cloth underneath. I’ve also given myself quite a nasty cut when I wasn’t paying enough attention. So exercise some a lot of caution when using those suckers. Please go slowly, keep them away from your little people and always replace the blade guard after EVERY cut. Being careful with a rotary cutter will become second nature—especially after you’ve got yourself with it a couple of times. Ouch!
An extra word about cutting tools: never, ever, EVER use your fabric shears or blades for ANYTHING other than fabric. Paper will blunt your blades very quickly and your cutting tools need to be sharp to be accurate. (And you need to be accurate in sewing!) Heaven help the family member who uses my ‘good scissors’. When my rotary blades get dull I hang on to one or two solely for cutting out paper patterns. (Don’t worry, we’ll cover working with paper patterns in another post!)
Something to mark your fabric
I’m a bit old school: I love tailor’s chalk. It’s cheap as chips, it doesn’t fade while working on a project and it almost always washes out. Fabric markers and chalk wheels are really useful too. I have all three in my kit as I like to have a bit of choice. It depends on your preferences though.
Seam ripper (also known as a quick unpick)
I hate ripping out seams but it’s a sewing fact that you’re going to make mistakes and have to remove stitches at some point. These cheap and cheerful little tools have a sharp edge and once it goes dull it’s time to replace it. I have lots of these suckers all over the house – but do you think I can find one when I need it? Hell no! That’s ok, my local supermarket sells them in packs of two 😉
Bobbins are specific to the brand of sewing machine you have, and even the type of machine it is. Take the bobbin that came with your machine when you’re buying spares: that way you know you’re getting the right bobbin. Get a few while you’re there—it is simply NOT possible to have too many bobbins!
Fibreglass measuring tape
Why fibreglass and not plastic? Plastic can stretch and before you realise it, your measuring tape isn’t accurate any more. I haven’t seen too many obviously plastic measuring tapes, really only in cheap dollar stores and even cheaper sewing kits. A decent measuring tape isn’t expensive, and again, my local supermarket sells them in packs of two! I have almost as many measuring tapes around the house as seam rippers because again, I can never find one when I need it. Gah!
I’ll cover the ins and outs of needles in another post, so I’ll keep this short. Always use a needle that’s appropriate to the fabric you’re stitching. For example, don’t try to sew denim with a needle that’s meant for lightweight silk—that’s just asking for trouble! Use a jeans needle for denim and other heavyweight fabric, use a ballpoint needle for knits and use a universal needle for woven cottons.
Iron and ironing board
Make friends with your iron and ironing board. You will be doing as much ironing/pressing as sewing because it’s essential to doing a great job. Make sure it has a working steam function because steaming fabrics when pressing seams and using fusible interfacing makes life infinitely easier!
Please, oh please don’t get plastic-head pins! You’ll be so disappointed when you melt their little plastic-y pinheads onto your project. Glass-head pins don’t melt and you can iron over them without worry. Actually, glass-head pins will melt but only if you leave a hot iron on them for hours, but then if you have, I think melted pinheads is going to the be the least of your worries.
Sewing tool box
And finally, we need to have something to store all your sewing tools in. So … maybe it’s not ‘essential’ but it is for me! I like to have all my tools stored where I can find them, not strewn about in random places in my house. However, despite having three sewing tool boxes I still cannot find my numerous quick unpicks and measuring tapes. What’s with that?!
And there you have it—my list of essential sewing tools. In my next post I’ll be covering other sewing tools that are ‘nice to have’.
Do you have any sewing tools that you consider essential? What about tools that aren’t necessarily ‘essential’ but were really great to find? Share them below so we can all learn and find something new!
Note: this post is part of my sewing newbie series. The series’ first post is Preparation. The next ones will include Sewing Tools That Are Nice To Have, working with paper patterns, reference books and other resources, and a quick and simple project.
Are you a sewing newbie and not sure where to start? Welcome, you’ve come to the right place! I was a sewing newbie a few short years ago and had no idea what I was doing. Don’t fret though: it’s pretty simple and we’ll have you stitching up a storm in no time! My next few posts is a short series just for you, sewing newbie! Today we’ll talk about preparation, then we’ll look at Essential Sewing Tools and Tools That Are Nice To Have, paper patterns and how to read them, reference books and courses I found useful, sewing terms and what they really mean, and finally we’ll sew a quick and easy project that will give you enough confidence to spring into some more projects pronto! Let’s get into it, hey?
1. Prepare your fabric
Let’s be honest—setting up that new toy machine is pretty exciting. And sure, you can totally get started straight away but it’s a good idea to prepare first. The most important preparation you can do is to launder your fabric. Why?
Natural fabrics shrink—yup, by about 10-15 per cent, although some will shrink less and others more. We don’t want your heart to break when your project shrinks beyond repair after its first wash.
Dyes can run, bleed and stain—sad but true. It’s best to know before you’ve committed your whole weekend to sewing a garment that you’re only going to be able to wear once, don’t you think?
Unwashed fabrics, particularly those made from natural fibres, have a substance called ‘sizing’ on their yarns. Sizing helps the weaving process by making the yarns smoother so they run through the looms more easily. Removing sizing is a good idea because it’s just nicer to work with washed fabric.
Always launder your fabric the same way as you will launder the finished project. For example, if you’re making a casual dress you intend to wash in hot water and dry in a clothes dryer, then wash and dry your fabric the same way. By doing that your fabric will have done all its shrinking before you’ve sewn your dress, not after. Also, before you throw that yardage into your washing machine, it's a good idea to run a zig-zag stitch over the raw edge to prevent fraying.
Above: I use an overlocker, but it's just as easy to cast a zig-zag stitch over the raw edge.
After you’ve washed and dried your fabric you need to iron it. It’s a funny thing: I despise ironing in general but I love ironing fabric yardage! Weird, I know. It’s a good thing to learn to love your iron because you’re going to use it a lot when sewing. Always iron your fabric before you cut out your fabric pieces otherwise they will be inaccurate and off-grain (note: I will be explaining what ‘grain’ is in another post). We need those pieces to be on-grain and accurate because we use the fabric edge as our seam guide. If the edge is wonky our seams will be wonky too.
2. Prepare your tools and equipment
My closest fabric shop is about 40 minutes away and I hate starting a project and realising I’m missing an essential item, so I look after my sanity by preparing properly. It makes my life easier, and I guarantee it will make yours easier too!
I didn’t have many tools at first, so I just added them as I needed them. We will be covering essential tools in my next post so I won’t cover it here. So, if you already have a pattern and fabric ready to go, then make sure you’ve got the necessary notions and tools too. For example, you’ll need to have your shears or rotary cutter and mat, a few needles appropriate for the fabric you’re going to sew, plenty of thread and at least one bobbin filled with your thread. If I’m working on a large project I like to have two bobbins filled with my thread because I really hate getting on a roll and running out of bobbin thread mid-seam and having to stop to fill another one. Gah!
Make sure you read what notions you’ll need too. Notions are the extra, yet essential, bits and pieces and include zippers, buttons, elastic, hook and eye etc. Each pattern includes the required notions somewhere on the packaging.
Ok, have you got everything? Great—let’s move on!
Above: I am forever misplacing my shears between projects (so annoying). So now I make sure I have them on hand before I start a project.
3. Prepare your space
Making recommendations on how to set up your sewing area isn’t easy because it’s dependent on the space you have available. I don’t have a sewing room so I mostly use our dining room table (I have a very patient husband!). Sewing spaces are very personal, but these are the things I particular consider before starting a project.
Make sure there’s no food or drink or anything else that can accidentally spill on your project. We want to have happy tears because your project is awesome, not sad ones because it got ruined by a glass of red.
Give yourself enough room to lay out yardage to cut out pattern pieces, as well as around your machine to manipulate fabric and to pin pieces together. Sewing is much more fun if you’re not squished into an area the size of a postage stamp.
Set up your iron and ironing board close to where you’re sewing. You’re going to be using that sucker a lot when sewing so don’t make it too far away.
Try to set up your machine height and chair height so it’s ergonomically correct. I’m guilty of not doing this and every time I don’t I end up with a sore back and feel sorry for myself. We want your sewing to be enjoyable not debilitating.
Use the best light possible. I like to sew near a window if I can. It helps me see my stitches and mistakes. Unpicking stitches in good light is essential, especially if your thread is very closely colour-matched to your fabric. We want happy tears, not sad ones—remember 😉
Have two pincushions. I have one near where I pin pieces together, and the other next to my machine. As I stitch and remove pins I put them in my nearby pincushion and when one pincushion is empty I swap them over—easy!
And that’s pretty much it for this post! Next up we’ll be exploring sewing tools. Until then, happy stitching!
Do you have any preparation tips, or general sewing tips? Leave a comment below so we can all learn!
Before I bought my sewing machine I spoke to lots of women who sew. I wanted to know if buying a sewing machine, especially if I've never sewn before, was a good idea. Without fail, every single one of those friends said “yes!” They quickly followed it up with something like “I'm not an expert or anything, but I really love it.” Everyone I spoke to mentioned the overwhelming joy of creativity, achievement, satisfaction and pride.
I loved their enthusiasm and it inspired me to try something new. Something I previously thought didn't interest me.
It's been a couple of years since I first stitched those wobbly lines, and I recently realised that sometime since then I shook off the ‘newbie' tag. I'm not quite sure how that happened.
It's hard for me to remember that I once stitched so slowly a sewing teacher said “I was going to ask the mechanic to look at your machine because it's making a funny noise, but you're just stitching reallyslow“. It was said with scorn and I didn't go back to that class. Ridiculing students is pretty poor form.
After that less-than-stellar class it took me a while to give it another go. I made a nappy bag for an expectant friend and although it took me ages to complete, I was thrilled with the results. I finally understood the satisfaction all those sewing friends had mentioned. I made a lot of mistakes but I got a shot of confidence, and the creative problem solving was such a buzz. Unpicking mistakes – not so much!
I've moved beyond basic bags and skirts, and a year or so ago I made my first couture-style retro shirt dress. I'm still no expert, but I'm not a newbie any more either. I want you to experience the pleasure of sewing too. I want to give you the confidence to give it a go – you're gonna love it! So I'm preparing a series just for newbies (minus the scorn and ridicule – I promise!). Together we'll cover Preparation, Tools, Paper patterns, Useful resources and we'll wrap up with a simple and easy Project that will pass on some confidence.
You don't have to be an expert to enjoy sewing. It doesn't matter what skill or innate ability you have, creative self-expression is immeasurably good for the soul. In fact, it's the sense of pride and satisfaction that drives us to shift from newbie, to intermediate, and ultimately to expert.
I hated Home Economics with a passion. Of all the high school subjects I was forced to study, Home Ec. was the one I despised most. There was something odd about ‘learning’ how to set a table correctly, make a pizza and my personal favourite – sewing a very loud and rather daggy pair of shorts.
I complained bitterly with the realisation that Home Ec. was non-negotiable. “I don’t need to know how to cook or sew,” I bluntly told my mum. “I’m going to be a career girl.”
Two decades later those words came back to bite me.
You see, I tried that ‘career girl’ thing. It was fun, for a while, but deep down I knew something was missing. Not long after my husband and I married, our thoughts turned to raising a family. I’m a bit of a hippy at heart and wanted to explore reusable nappy options. The idea of modern cloth nappies strongly appealed but I couldn’t find ready-made options anywhere! What’s a girl to do, hey, but make her own?
Big problem: I didn’t know how to sew. Damn.
Now I’m not one to let a little lack of skill get in the way so I bought a sewing machine. I proudly brought that big, clumsy box home. I opened it up, admired it and then … then I quietly put it back. It stayed in its box in the living room for months because I was scared. Scared that I would sew over my fingers, and kinda scared that I would suck at sewing. (Yup, fear of failure – did you spot that old chestnut?)
I released that sewing machine from its box one weekend afternoon. Slowly, shakily … I stitched my first row … and I was HOOKED! I must have appeared a bit crazy as I raced out to my husband, swatch in hand, screaming with joy “LOOK! Look what I just did!” I was giggling and overflowing with joy and creativity and I knew that even if I did sew over my fingers it actually wouldn’t be that bad.
Those first tentative stitches led to slightly more confident ones, and then a full-on addiction to all things fabric. Even now, a few years after that joyous day, I still get a frisson of excitement when my sewing machine comes out to play. It’s meditation, creativity, problem-solving and playtime all rolled into one happy bundle of needles, thread, machine oil and fabric – metres and metres of lovely fabric!
Completing a project gives me an indescribable sense of achievement that my career never did. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I still love my paid work but now I have something that is creative and all mine. I often think about my teenaged beliefs and how different they are to my current ones and I’m so very grateful.
I’m grateful because I was willing to let go of the person I thought I was so I could become the person I was meant to be. Sure, it might only be sewing but it still took courage.
And that, my friends, is a useful skill to have indeed.