One of my favourite parts of going back to school has always been stocking up on school supplies – all those brand spankin’ new highlighters, pencils and pens, and notebooks that I usually never ended up using! If you’re going to learn how to sew, there’s also a list of supplies that are essential to have on hand …or at least very, very helpful to have. (I’m lookin’ at you, seam ripper!)
Here’s a review of some of the sewing tools every sewer should have, taken from our three-part Your Bag of Tricks post from last year. We’ve honed down the list to the most important tools to get — you can always pick up more gadgets later!
Your Bag of Tricks!
If you want to start sewing, the first step is to put together a basic sewing kit with all of the tools you’ll need. In addition to a good sewing machine, an iron and ironing board, these tools will make sewing so much easier once you know how to use them. You can find these items at your favourite fabric, or craft store.
Pins come in a variety of shapes and sizes. They are distinguished by their head, point, thickness and length. When thinking about thickness, the idea is to choose a pin that will make the smallest hole possible in your fabric. And remember: if a pin bends, breaks or becomes dull, get rid of it!
- Flat (metal) head pins have metal heads that are ‘flat’ on top and can be ironed. Use these if you don’t want the head to get in the way. Dressmaker’s pins have flat heads.
- Plastic head pins come in ball or flat shapes and are easy to see. Flat plastic heads lie flat under a ruler or tape measure. But be careful! Both types will melt if you touch them with your iron.
- Glass heads are smaller than plastic heads, but won’t melt under the heat of your iron. (these are my favourite type of pins)
- Pins basically have ball point, sharp or extra sharp points.
- Ball points are round and used for knit fabrics.
- Sharps are the most versatile and work with lots of fabric types.
- Extra sharp points slide easily through finer fabrics.
Your pin cushion holds your pins and keeps them accessible. You can buy or make your own pin cushion. The tomato pin cushion from the fabric store comes with an emery to keep your pins sharp and clean.
Hand sewing needles come in a variety of shapes, lengths and sizes, each suitable for different fabrics, threads or purposes. To keep things simple, we’ll focus on three common types: sharps, milliners/straw, and betweens. You can buy a package containing a variety of needle types and sizes. As the size of the needle goes up, the length and thickness of the needle decreases – So a size 1 is longer and thicker than a size 8.
How do you choose a needle for your project? As a general rule, the finer your fabric, the finer needle you should use. You want to avoid making a larger hole than is needed for your thread to pass through.
- Sharps are great for just about any hand sewing project. Their medium lengths and round eyes work with most fabrics.
- Milliners or Straw needles are longer than sharps and also have a round eye. These needles are used for millinery work (hat making), but because of their length, they work well for basting.
- Betweens are short and skinny needles that are good for fine, short stitches. They are most often used in quilting.
Thread can be made of cotton, polyester, silk or nylon and comes on spools. Polyester will work for almost any project. It is possible to use the large cones of thread with a domestic machine, but a little adjusting is required.
Always keep a good pair of thread snipshandy. You’ll most often use them for trimming your thread at the end of the project.
You should get a pair of good quality fabric shears that you ONLY use for FABRIC. Cutting paper with your fabric scissors will dull the blade. But if your scissors do dull, bring them in to a pro for sharpening. Sharp scissors make a world of difference.
Try to buy the best quality that you can afford – good scissors are an investment. Look for a pair that feels comfortable in your hand and cuts smoothly.
As much as it hurts, sometimes you have to undo a row of stitches. When this happens a seam ripper can be your best friend. It has a sharpened hook with one pointy end and one with a protective ball. You can also use this tool to cut buttonholes, and stitches. But for Pete’s sake use it away from your body – the pointed end is very sharp.
Safety pins are always helpful to have on hand when sewing. You can use them to thread elastics through casings or temporarily hold a hem while doing alterations. They are also invaluable when quilting.
Measuring tapeis a very useful tool used for measuring… well, anything. You can get a retractable version that is always neat and tidy or opt for the loose version that you can hang around your neck.
A ruler is great to have around. A metal ruler with a cork bottom stays put, while quilting rulers are wider, clear and made for precision.
A sewing gauge is a mini ruler. It has a sliding bar that helps your mark things like buttonholes, hems or pleats.
At some point you’ll need to transfer or make a mark on your fabric, but you’ll want something that disappears when your finished. Tailor’s chalk and marking pencils can be rubbed away while some marking pens can be washed out or erased.
But that’s not all! There are a few things that you’re going to need if you want to sew with a machine…
One of the keys to a smooth sewing project is choosing the right sewing machine needle for your project. As with hand sewing needles, machine needles come in different thicknesses and points each suitable for a different kind of fabric or thread. The shank of the needle will be flat on one side. Check your machine manual to see how to insert your needle.
The size of sewing machine needles can seem a little bit weird. Basically there are two numbers; one American size and one European (example 14/90… US/EU). The needles get finer as the size number gets smaller. So a 10/70 would be finer than a 14/90. There are a whole bunch of different kinds of sewing machine needles, but we’ll get into that later.
A small screw driver set is super handy when it comes to sewing machine maintenance and cleaning. Stay tuned for a future post on cleaning and maintaining your sewing machine.
Bobbins are special spools that sit inside your sewing machine. Your machine will come with a few bobbins, but we recommend picking up more. Most sewing machines will wind the bobbin for you with a few adjustments. It’s a good idea to wind a couple bobbins in the colour you’re using so you don’t have to un-thread your machine to wind a bobbin in the middle of your project. Bobbins come in a standard sizes and can be plastic or metal. Check your manual to see which kind of bobbin is compatible with your machine.
An iron and ironing board are essential for making sure that your sewing project looks sharp. You’ll press before you sew and throughout the sewing process to fuse interfacing, press seams or pleats. You might be tempted to skip pressing, but it can make fabrics easier to handle and your finished product will look better for it.
Phew! This is a pretty comprehensive kit that has everything you need to start sewing. It’s a good idea to get yourself a tackle box, sewing basket, or even a drawer to organize your sewing supplies. Once you start sewing you’ll no doubt begin to amass a collection of notions, tools and supplies so it’s good to get organized early!
If you know anyone who is thinking of learning to sew, a basic sewing kit makes a great gift!