Essential Sewing Tools

Some of the Sewing Tools I used to create my DIY Wedding Dress

I have been sewing for thirteen years (I did the math recently). And over the years, I've accumulated a LOT of sewing tools. My tool collection is the product of many many hours spent browsing Joanne's and Michael's fabric and craft stores, using whatever coupons I could get a hold of, and delving into funds earned working retail at Forever 21, which is where I was working when I decided I wanted to pursue a career in the apparel industry.

But here's some news if you are new to sewing: you don't need much to start stitching.

Today's blog post is dedicated to the Essential Sewing Tools you need to get you started.

[*note*: Some of these links are Amazon affiliate links. If not expressly marked as from Amazon, affiliate links are indicated by an *].

Sewing Machine. This is an obvious one, unless you want to do your stitching by hand (I commend you, brave soul). At a later time, I will share a blog post about how to select an appropriate sewing machine. You can find an article about selecting a sewing machine for children here, but the same principles apply for all ages.

This is my sewing machine, Bernie: Bernina Activa 240

My general advice when selecting a sewing machine is this:
  1. Don't drop a fortune on a machine if you're just starting. A budget of $150-$200 should get you a good machine that will serve your needs. But if $150 sounds like a lot of money, then consider borrowing from a friend or asking relatives, and then invest the money in your own machine when you decide to stick with your new hobby. 
  2. You don't need all the bells and whistles (i.e. lots of special stitches and fancy features). For me personally, the most important settings on my machine are the straight stitch, buttonhole, zigzag stitch, needle threader, built-in thread cutter, and speed adjustment. A designated needle up/down button is also quite nice. AND THAT'S PRETTY MUCH IT. If you aspire to be an apparel sewist like I consider myself to be, this should be sufficient for you too. 
  3. You do, however, want those sewing machine accessories. If you're buying a new machine, always check to see what accessories are included -- things like a machine cover, multiple presser feet, cleaning supplies, extra bobbins, etc. -- you'll be very happy to have these! Especially regarding presser feet, you'll definitely be happy when your skills progress and you're ready to employ fancier techniques like installing a zipper or sewing a buttonhole (which will require different presser feet). 
This sewing machine by Brother, model CS6000i* is a good option. At under $200 ($150 at the writing of this article), it comes with 7 different presser feet (including a walking foot), bobbins, machine needles, seam ripper, cleaning kit, and a machine case. This is a great deal, and I encourage you to check it out!

Thread. Also another obvious one. For general purpose sewing, you will want to use 100% polyester thread. This will be appropriate thread for projects ranging from making accessories, home decor, and apparel. I personally prefer Gutermann thread*, but any 100% polyester thread will do when you are learning.

Sewing Machine Needles. Your sewing machine should come with needles, but when it comes time to replace your needles (which you should do at the start of any new important project; you should also check your needle regularly to make sure the needle is not bent or nicked), you should make sure you are using the correct size and type of needle required by your project materials. As a general rule, thinner, more delicate fabrics like chiffon require finer needles (smaller numbers) and heavier duty fabrics like denim need stronger, thicker needles (larger numbers). Medium weight fabrics like cotton wovens and shirt weights will use a needle size of 80/12. A NOTE FOR KNIT FABRICS: Make sure you use ball-point headed needles, which will preserve your knit fabric without creating holes -- the rounded point allows the needle to slip through the threads of the fabric without accidentally cutting or nicking the fabric, creating holes or tears. The machine needle brand I prefer is called Schmetz. For most of my sewing, I use the Schmetz Universal Needles, size 80/12*.

Hand Sewing Needles. Sewing with a machine will occasionally require some hand sewing (basting, tacking, thread-marking, etc.). Most sewists I know abhor sewing by hand, but it's a necessary evil. I'm sorry to tell you, haha.

Dressmaking Pins and Pin Cushion. So here's a bit of industry trivia: Industrial sewing machine operators do not use pins while they sew! Whereas in home sewing, pins are used to hold fabric pieces together to make sure that the pieces are attached evenly. Therefore, regardless of what the pros do, using pins is a good practice, especially when you are starting off. When you become more experienced, you will be able to use judgement about when you need to pin and when you can do without (such as straight areas of non-slick fabrics). Pins are also a crucial tool when you cut fabric from a paper pattern; most patterns come printed on thin tissue paper, and you will need to pin the pattern to your fabric to cut around. As for pin storage, make sure your pins always make it back home to a pin cushion. I personally like magnetic pin cushions* as they are great for picking up and finding rogue pins. I also have a wrist-mounted pin cushion I use for easy access while sewing. (And if you pin seams before sewing, DO NOT sew over your pins; remove the pins as you sew. I know some sewists sew right over pins, but there is always a chance that your needle might strike the pin and break/bend either the pin, needle, or both. Not good.)

This Magnetic Pin Cushion from Amazon will keep your pins in their place

Dressmaking Shears*
. The Christmas before I turned eighteen, my older brother Jonathan gave me an amazing gift: a pair of Gingher dressmaking shears. I still own them to this day. I later learned that not only were these pricy scissors, but they are a trusted and beloved brand by some of my most respected seamstress friends. When you sew, you cut a lot of fabric, and you are going to want a reliable pair that cuts well and easily (rather than chews your fabric, know what I mean?). And although Gingher is my favorite brand, Fiskars is a great option too. And IMPORTANT: Use your fabric scissors for FABRIC ONLY. I tie a ribbon (and sometimes a tag) to denote that a pair of scissors is for fabric or for paper only (cutting paper with your fabric scissors will dull your scissors, which is no good).

This pair of Gingher Dressmaker's Shears from Amazon will become your favorite cutting tool.

Paper Scissors. Any solid scissor will do for cutting out paper patterns.

Marking Tools. You'll need tools for marking your pattern and fabric. Regular pencil, dressmaking chalk*, and a chalk wheel (the last is optional) will meet most of your needs.

This Dressmaking Chalk from Clover (sold on Amazon) will help you mark your fabric

Seam Ripper. Mistakes will happen: your stitch might be less straight than you like, or you might accidentally catch some wrong part of the garment in your seam. It will happen, and when it does, you have your trusty seam ripper to save the day. For fair warning, seam ripping can be tedious work, but do not let it deter you. The greatest sewists have spent lots of time tearing out guilty seams, promise.

This Seam Ripper from Dritz (from Amazon) is an ergonomic solution for comfortable seam-ripping

Measuring Tools - Measuring tape*, See-through grid ruler*. These are important tools for measuring yourself and your patterns. They become even more important when you start making and modifying your own patterns!

60" Singer Tape Measure from Amazon

18" Westcott Ruler from Amazon

So those are the basics. What about if you want to take things up to the next level? The following tools are a little something extra that will make your life easier, but totally not necessary.

Pattern Weights. Pattern weights* are great for keeping your pattern from shifting around while cutting. They can be used in place of pins and a necessity if you ever graduate to using oaktag for your patterns.

Dritz Pattern Weights from Amazon, $14

Wonder Clips. As another alternative to pins, you can use Clover Wonder Clips* to keep your fabric pieces together while you sew. I discovered these at Michael's and they are awesome! They are great because they don't create a “wave” in the fabric where pins pierce the fabric, and no sharp points. For the second reason, these are great for working with kids.

Clover Wonder Clips, set of 50, $16 at Amazon

Mechanical chalk pencil. Marking your pattern pieces is really important -- to indicate where important details like buttons, buttonholes, and piece-matching occur. Traditional marking tools like chalk squares and regular chalk pencils work great, but I'm fond of this mechanical chalk pencil from Dritz*.

Dritz Tailor's Marking Set from Amazon, $12

And there you have it -- the basic sewing tools to get you started.

If you are an experienced sewist, is there anything else you'd like to add to the list?


For more reading....

To learn about my DIY Wedding Dress, please click here.

To read more about Janelle of Dear Daydream Sewing & Design, please click here.

If you are new to sewing, consider a sewing class with Janelle, or read blog posts related to learning to sew.


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