If you are just getting into sewing for the first time ever or for the first time since high school home ec you are probably wondering what kind of tools you are going to need and what its going to cost to buy all that stuff. To help you out I’ve compiled a list of 15 “must have” tools. You don’t always need to buy the most expensive option but you probably don’t want to go with the cheapest option either.
1. Bent handle shears- the more expensive the better, and they can get really spendy!
I got mine during a 50% off sale at Jo-Ann’s for $20. You want shears with a good amount of heft, a nice shape for your hands and a sharp cutting blade. Scissors need to be sharpened yearly, I’ve seen Jo-Ann’s offer to do this for free once a year but you could probably get it done any time for a couple dollars. Never use these for anything other than fabric or you will dull your blade and curse yourself for ruining expensive fabric with a bad blade.
2. Regular Straight Scissors. Quality isn’t as important here since you will be using this to cut patterns and tracing paper but you will still want to keep it sharpened and using it to cut things like plastic is really a no-no as you will dull the blade prematurely.
3. Embriodery Scissors. These little scissors are the best at cutting all those pesky threads that are left over whenever you start or finish a line of stitching. You can also use them to cut off the thread ends when sewing on a machine if your machine doesn’t automatically do that for you. These can be very ornate-
Or simple and inexpensive like my basic black ones that cost about $5.
4. Pinking Shears- In case you aren’t familiar with pinking shears, the scissor blades are notched and mesh together to cut fabric in a crisp zigzag pattern. Pinking shears are commonly used to help prevent fabric from fraying. It’s a good idea to use pinking shears on the cut edges of fabric before you wash them to prevent the tangle of fraying threads that would happen otherwise.
Cutting with pinking shears requires a slightly different technique than using regular scissors. Hold the pinking shears straight when cutting fabric. If the pinking shears are held at an angle, they will not cleanly cut the fabric. Instead, they will chew the fabric and can even rip it. Hold the scissors straight and steady as you bring the blades together. Begin cutting from the second rear tooth or else the cloth could catch. After the cut is made, release the scissors, move them along the fabric, lining the last “notched cut” with the teeth in the pinking shears blade. Cut the fabric and continue in this fashion. To achieve best results, always completely close the scissors blades together in a full cut.
5. Straight Pins- Pretty self explanatory these sewing room workhorses will keep things in place as you cut, sew or fiddle with your garments to get them to fit just right.
6. Pincushion- You wouldn’t want those sharp little pins floating around, to easy to step on them and stick yourself. A pincushion keeps them in one place for easy use and organization. These can be simple or ornate. I’ve been thinking about making this one-
7. Needles- You will need needles for your sewing machine and hand sewing needles for finish work that cannot be completed on your machine. Universal needles are the most versatile and most, regardless, of brand will fit any machine. If you are going to use thicker/tougher fabrics like denim you’ll want to invest in the appropriate needles. You don’t necessarily have to know or understand the sizing as most will say on the package what they are designed for. Hand sewing needles are usually sold in variety packs of 20 or so needles. There are people that swear by certain brands of needles but most of us buy what’s available locally. Just make sure that you don’t overuse your needles. After 8 hours of use you should switch to a new one. I usually switch out mine after each project.
8. Tape Measure- not your typical hardware store tape measure but a soft one designed for wrapping around your body and taking measurements. You can still get retractable ones but those are often twice as much as the regular ones. Accurate measurements are the key to getting a good fit out of your garments so you want a tape measure that is easy to read.
9. Seam Gauge- Also known as a sewing gauge or hem gauge, is basically a ruler. It includes a special slider which can be used to mark a desired measurement. When using a seam gauge, sewers can set the marker to a specific point and use it as a quick visual point of reference while pressing, pinning, or sewing a seam. A seam gauge can also be used to keep darts even. The hollow design in the middle allows you to use the seam gauge as a guide for your tailor’s chalk.
While these are designed to be flexible if your ruler gets bent out of shape you’ll want to go ahead and purchase a new one.
10. Clear Ruler- clear acrylic rulers and tools reduce the preparation time for your sewing projects while ensuring accurate cutting. They come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, with the largest selection being found in the quilting section. The clear design allows you to sew any areas that you have already marked or sewn and reference them as you make your other measurements and cuts.
11. Tailor’s Chalk- There are a number of marking tools on the market but tailor’s chalk is the classic choice. It’s easy to use, easy to see, and easily removed. You will want at least two colors, the most common are white and blue, to be used on light and dark fabric. The ones below are a solid waxy version ideal for marking on textured fabric. I use a powdered chalk applicator for my regular light to midweight cottons because the applicator creates a finer line. Other choices are water and air soluble pencils and pens. Keep in mind you always want to test these out on your fabric to make sure the marks can be removed.
12. Thread- a total necessity you’ll want a variety of colors for use in your various projects. I recommend getting large spools of black and white and then purchase the rest as needed. Never underestimate the amount of thread you will need, it’s amazing how fast you can go through a spool. Coats and Clark seem to be the most readily available thread and it comes in a variety of types and colors. Thread is clearly labeled for use- hand sewing, machine sewing, embroidery etc and you will want to follow these guidelines. I started using Gutermann (often viewed as a top of the line thread) only to find out my not so top of line sewing machine didn’t handle the tall, thin spools well.
13. Seam Ripper- Seam ripping is a fact of life when sewing so you will want to have one of these handy. The goods news is that they are cheap and your sewing machine (if purchased new) will most likely come with one.
14. Iron and Ironing Board- This is not a case where cost equals quality. There are people that swear by $500 machines and people that swear by $20 machines. Mine cost $10 and while it’s not great it does the job for the amount of sewing I do just fine. Just make sure you get a machine that can do steam and that has a variety of settings for different fabrics. You will also need a large ironing board. One of those table top models is not going to be big enough for most garment construction and crafting.
15. Muslin- This is a cheap way to test out a pattern and make any neccessary alterations and adjusting before cutting into your expensive fabric. At the low end muslin is about $1.50 a yard and at the high end it can be $12 or $14. Price varies based on the quality of the muslin and the width. Certain fabrics are labeled “muslin” but you don’t have to use those, any fabric can be a muslin. The idea is that this is a test fabric so if it’s a total disaster you haven’t lost a lot of money in fabric. I have yards of a couple baby prints I purchased at a going out of business sales (I have no idea what I was thinking as I have no kids or friends with kids) so I’m going to use those until they run out.