While learning to sew is relatively easy, sewing does require you to create a toolkit of items designed to make your sewing easier, more efficient, and enjoyable. While the sky is the limit in terms of how much “stuff” you buy for your new hobby, I’ve created a list of essentials to get your started. (Please note that I have not included a sewing machine, and ironing board & iron in this list but you should have those on hand as well.)
Needles & Thread
Duh, right? Selecting the best needle and thread for your project is the first step in making a great garment. The addage is to choose your thread based on your needle size, and choose your needle size based on your fabric. For example, for sewing denim you’ll want a denim needle and thread thick enough to tackle heavier fabric. For a silk chiffon, you’ll want a fine needle and a fine poly thread. For most projects, all-purpose polyester thread is your best bet and comes int he most colors. Unlike cotton thread, poly is less rigid when moving around in your handmade clothes.
Your cutting tools will either save you time, or drag you down, so you want to invest in quality here. You’ll need a pair of scissors for cutting paper patterns (left), and a separate pair of sewing shears (fancy!) for cutting your fabric (middle). Take note that you should never use your fabric scissors for cutting paper – your blades will dull quickly. Alternately you can invest in a 45mm rotary cutter (right) and cutting mat. If you can, hold the scissors in your hand prior to purchasing them so you can get a feel for which style you like. Sewing shears also come in left-handed versions.
A nice variety of pins and pin cushions or magnets is always a good idea. I have and use a mixture of stainless steel pins (shown) for most tasks, and finer glasshead pins for more delicate tasks. You want to be sure to replace your pins every 3 months or so. I really love magnetic pin cushions for their flexibility and ease when picking up and removing pins, and find this is a more efficient way to store them. Of course, a tomato pin cushion works well too.
Measuring & Marking
A tape measure and seam gauge are non-negotiables when you start sewing. Your tape measure will ensure that you take an accurate set of body measurements, and can be used to measure pattern pieces. The seam gauge helps with creating beautifully even hems to finish a garment, and can serve as a small ruler when taking fine measurements.
There’s no way around it: you WILL make mistakes, and you WILL need to bust your threads to redo the seam. Having a few seam rippers on hand makes this much easier. I like to replace these frequently so the knife stays sharp. You can find these for a few dollars in sewing supply stores.
You can by all means pick up a piece of chalk with a sharpener, but I much prefer wax-free tracing paper and a serrated tracing wheel for marking darts and other important pattern notations. The paper comes in several colors and is easy to remove by brushing off the chalk.
You might be surprised to learn that a big part of sewing is math. Go ahead and pick up a sturdy, clear 18″ x 2″ ruler to include in your kit. You’ll use it to make pattern adjustments, check your grainline when placing pattern pieces, and a whole host of other things.
Where can I purchase sewing tools?
The most convenient thing to do is to visit a JoAnn, Michael’s, Hobby Lobby or Wal-Mart store and pick up the items you need. I prefer, though, to buy my supplies through Wawak (www.wawak.com) as I find their prices are usually cheaper and they source hard to find items. This is also where I purchase all of my sewing notions, zippers, interfacings, and specialty items. The website is a behemoth so I recommend you request a catalog, find what you need, then enter the item numbers online so prevent having to search for everything.
What is your favorite, must-have sewing tool?