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.