Sewing is a very cost effective hobby – It gets you beautiful clothes at the expense of very few basic tools and equipment and some fabric. It always helps if you have some extra tools. But where do you draw the line – when do you know that you have had enough?
I always go into a haze when I reach the sewing store nearby and they have this new tool/notion -I will conveniently forget that I have everything I need in my home for sewing for the next 10 years or even more. I will convince myself that I have to buy it and that I will need it in the immediate future for some sewing job or the other.
There are some very essential tools you have to have when sewing and there are some tools you can do without. For a lot of them, there are alternatives or compromises that you can make.
Decide which are the most essential sewing tools you have to have and the ones you can skip and buy later, after reading this article.
Most essential sewing tools
Finding a suitable and affordable sewing machine is the first step in sewing your own dresses. A mistake made when choosing the Sewing Machine can make or break your desire to sew. Curses, frustrated sighs, trips to the repair shops, not going to the sewing corner for a long time ( don’t ask me how I know) all will result if you purchase the wrong machine.
Check out these articles on sewing machines : All about sewing machines including the different types of sewing machines, how sewing machines work, Whether you should buy an industrial sewing machine, What you should do if you have to sew many thick layers, the different sewing machine stitches you will want in your sewing machine and the factors to consider before choosing a sewing machine if you are a beginner; How to start using your sewing machine as a beginner.
This is a staple and goes without saying that for accuracy in sewing a measuring tape is a must. They ensure perfection in sewing. The measuring tape measures 60 inches or 150 cms and has metal tips on both ends to prevent fraying. It can be easily folded up for storing.
A tape measure is an essential tool in your sewing kitty but does not despair if you end up without one. You can still sew with perfection- if you know the measure of any one of your fingers. So go now and take the measure of a finger. In the knowledge of your finger lies your power. Anywhere you go now, you have the ruler with you.
When I started to sew I didn’t know how to read a tape measure properly. Checkout the tutorial on accurate reading of the tape measure for more details
Hand sewing needles
There are people who sew entirely by hand – if you are patient enough and you have the time, you too can sew anything with easy hand stitches. Most of the time there is some hand sewing involved in all Sewing machine stitched projects. For all this you need hand sewing needles. Here is the post explaining about all the 14 hand sewing needles you can buy. You need not buy all of them but some of them are handy.
Short beading needles and pins are needed for doing intricate beadwork. Thin long beading needles with a small eye are needed for beadweaving on the loom.
Check out the different types of beading supplies and tools you need to start bead work.
Beading pins keep the beads in place. Milliners needles are needed for sewing tacking stitches.
Sewing machine Needles
Always stitch with a sharp needle. A blunt needle will destroy your fabric. Some people change needle for every new project. If you are a regular sewist that is a lot of needles. I always have a number of sewing machine needles with the numbers 14 and 16 kept ready in my sewing needle box. 14 is used for normal sewing and 16 for thicker fabrics.
For more tips Checkout the post on selecting the best sewing needle for your sewing project.
Be it machine or hand sewing needles always remember to keep the needles in a separate box wrapped in paper otherwise rust may set in destroying and blunting them.
There are a variety of threads available for sewing – sewing machine threads, embroidery threads, quilting threads, top stitching threads, upholstery threads, metallic threads, invisible threads, tailor’s threads and so on. Buying the sewing thread in boxes with most of the colors makes sense to me – this is what I do. It avoids me the trouble of running to a sewing shop every time I start a new project – which is impossible. And these threads are cheaper when bought like this (for me). If you have no other color buy Grey colored thread – it can go with most fabric colors. Choose darker shade rather than a lighter color if you do not have an exact color matching thread.
Check out the detailed post on selecting the appropriate thread for your sewing machine and the different types of hand embroidery thread
This chalk rubs off clothes very easily and is hence the preferred means of marking on fabric for most. You should have chalks of different colors so that you can use on different colored cloth.
There are many other options to transfer designs other than these chalks – check out this post on the marking tools used in tailoring. Checkout this post on transferring designs for other alternatives for marking on fabric
If your scissors are blunt it will take away all the joy of sewing. Inaccurate cutting will damage your fabric and you will end up abandoning sewing. Since a sharp and well-maintained scissors can give you sharp edges, the final garment will end up looking finished.
My advice is to buy the best ones you can find. Bend handled sharp scissors for cutting fabric and small all-purpose scissors (for snipping thread and cutting paper) are necessary cutting tools you need to have.
Check out the post for more details on scissors and other optional tools for cutting- 13 cutting tools you should have when sewing ( well, may want to have)
When you buy your sewing machine you must have got the basic presser feet you need for your regular sewing. But do you know that there are so many different kinds you can buy and fit on your sewing machine to make your job more efficient and more perfect and more simple? Checkout the post on 35 different types of presser feet for more details on this.
You can buy them individually as you want them or buy them as a package – I guess buying presser feet set works out a lot cheaper than buying single presser foot.
You can buy binding attachments to make your binding easy – with these attachments you can easily stitch bias binding or tape along the edge of fabric.
Another must have; most of the newly purchased sewing machines have a free kit with this tool. This beautiful tool is a heaven send for me whenever I am sewing. Mistakes happen and these mistakes are forgiven due to this small tool – the seam ripper. Sounds like a killer, and it is.
You can use alternatives like these if you happen not to chance upon the seam ripper. I have 3 spares, by the way. And do I need them!!
You get a variety of straight rulers in the market. You need them for accurately marking edges, hems, checking grain lines etc.
Transparent flexible rulers made of plastic are the best. Rulers with curves are also a nice addition to your tools like a French curve– It will help you in drafting the necklines and armholes. A side/ hip curve marking ruler is also nice to have. A tailor’s square is one such ruler with two sides. It is usually made of wood and will measure 20 inch on one side and 12 inch on the other. A very useful ruler when you are marking corners and to straighten fabric grain lines
Check out this post on the different types of measuring tools you need for pattern drafting. Check out this site for printable french curves and hip curves which you can print out and use in your pattern drafting.
Pins and a pincushion
Pins are used to hold the cloth in place and are also used in tacking. You get dressmakers pins, glass head pins, and T shaped pins ( These are great for using on open weave fabrics). Check out this post on the different types of pins used in sewing.
Select the sharpest and finest rust proof pins. If you find a single rusted pin in your pin collection throw them away immediately.
Keep a small pincushion with pins near your sewing machine and near your cutting table. This will prevent running around for pins every time you need them. Some people use a wrist pin cushion. The pins are always on you.
You may need to buy extra fine pins for pinning delicate fabrics without damaging them.
Check out this post on making a pin cushion in the shape of a strawberry.
Iron and ironing board
A good quality iron makes all the difference between professional looking sewing and shoddy sewing. During the process of construction, a good sewist will keep on pressing to get a good finish. Steam irons which steam-press the fabric without damaging the surface are an advantage. You can use a pressing cloth to protect the fabric surface.
An ironing board with good padding and zero wrinkles are also necessary to make the ironing smooth.You can cover your ironing board easily following this tutorial.
Checkout this post on the correct way to press for sewing
This is an essential tool to be kept near your sewing machine; As you start sewing there will be lots of loose threads to be cut out; taking out your big scissors is a pain; you can use the small snips as and when the threads are needed to be cut, conveniently kept near the sewing machine. Some machines have these snips built in on them, but this tool is more convenient to use (for me).
Good lighting is essential in sewing. If you sew regularly you really need all the lighting you can get. Some buy table lamps, some go a little further and buy head lamps.
This includes all the other things you use in sewing. Select the relevant posts to learn more in detail.
Different types of elastics ; 20 Different types of fasteners ; 10 Different types of buttons; 16 Different types of cords; 24 Different types of tapes used in sewing; Different types of interfacing.; Different types of interlining; Horsehair braid; Boning
Sewing Tools that can make sewing a lot easier
Rotary cutter and self-healing mat
This is tool designed to cut multiple layers of fabrics in one go. It is used along with a self healing mat.
This very useful cutting tool can make cutting fabric very easy. Especially useful when you have to cut similar pieces of cloth at the same time. The cutting mat will have measurements along its sides as well as on it to make cutting accurate.
Learn more on how to use the rotary cutter and self healing mat here.
You can buy a cutting mat as a firm surface to rest your sewing fabric and cut without any problem. It gives a flat, firm and smooth surface with markings. Usually cutting mats come in sizes of 18 inch by 24 inches but you can get them as big as 36 inches by 60 inches.
If you are into self drafting patterns rather than buying patterns you may need to make paper patterns first rather than marking on to the fabric directly. You can buy brown paper for drafting patterns. Use the wrong side of brown paper. Newspapers glued together can also be used for a very cheap alternative.Craft papers work as well.
These are scissors with a zig zag edge. They are basically handy to finish the seams; their cut prevent fabric edges from fraying.
This is a very convenient tool if you have a pattern and you need to mark it on to fabric. It is used along with carbon paper. There are two kinds of tracing wheels – one suitable for heavy fabrics and one for light and medium type fabric. The one with smooth edged teeth will keep your pattern intact.
This is a tool used for threading tape, ribbon or elastic through casings.It is usually a blunt needle with an eye or a pin in the end ; This is replaceable with a safety pin ofcourse but if you do garments with many elastic casings and gathers, very convenient if this is at hand . More on the different types of Bodkin here.
You will need regular pencils to mark your patterns, designs etc. You get to buy dress makers pencils, which can be brushed off afterward. If you want to sketch your own fashion drawings invest in good quality pencils, sketchbook etc.
This is used to stop fraying on fabric edges especially for sheer fabrics.
Sewing Tools that you can do without
When sewing regularly you need space to lay out the fabric and cut it accurately and be tall enough that you do not strain your back. A wide (ideally 6 feet long and 3 feet wide) and tall (3 feet) cutting table is a boon here. If you do not have one you can try your hand at making one yourself.
Check out the DIY sewing table post for more details on some beautiful sewing furniture you can make by yourself.
A sleeve board can be of great use when you are making garments – especially when you have to press small areas like the inside of a sleeve, pressing open seam allowances etc
A sewing gauge with a slider is a very useful tool with many purposes – pressing up hems at the ironing board, make accurate tucks and pleats, mark scallops and circles, mark evenly for placement of buttonholes and other fasteners
Tracing the pattern onto the fabric is done by stacking the fabric ( wrong side up so that the marks will show up only one the wrong side- though the marks are removable ), then carbon paper colour side down and then the pattern and then running the tracing wheel along the pattern piece.
Carbon sheets are available in different colors; Choose one which is a contrasting colour to your fabric. Test on a swatch first.
This is a very convenient tool for quickly and easily turning rouleau loops and narrow bands (spaghetti straps) inside out. Learn how to use the loop turner to easily make the fabric tubes here. Checkout other easy ways of making thin fabric tubes
This is useful in hand sewing; If the thread is coated lightly with beeswax the inevitable knots and tangles can be avoided. If beeswax is applied on zipper teeth which is a bit rusty it will work perfectly.
This is a handy tool that helps in threading hand needles and sewing machine needles. It consists of a very thin metal loop when inserted through the eye of the needle will bring out the thread easily. No more squinting the eyes for hours trying to thread the needle. Check out the posts on threading a sewing machine and threading a hand sewing needle
Bias binding tape maker
This tool makes creating a bias binding very easy.You just need to guide the bias binding tape you have bought from the store precut or made it yourself, through this tool and the perfectly folded bias tape will come out of it. Checkout the post on making bias tape and the different ways of using the bias tape for binding
Scientific seamstress blog has a wonderful tutorial to make a diy printable bias binding maker.
This is useful in fixing the corners. Especially useful in straightening out the pointy shirt collars. You can use a knitting needle as I do. Or you can buy special stiletto tool/Bamboo corner pointer.
This is used by professionals in making holes (for eyelets etc), and guiding eased or gathered fabric evenly when sewing.
This is helpful in temporarily sticking fabric pieces together, zipper tapes to fabric, etc. instead of basting.
These clips are used when you cannot use pins – delicate fabric layers that may be damaged by pins, thick fabric layers that cannot be pinned can be held together with these clips.
A very convenient tool when you make skirts. It will have a slider which will help you mark the hem accurately. The skirt marker hem gauge can help you mark the hem accurately from the floor.
Button Hole cutter
Use a thimble when hand sewing to prevent stab injury to finger when you sew for a long time. You get metal as well as plastic thimble. Metal ones are better.
Select one that will fit your middle finger holding the needle.
Though this is not an essential tool in sewing, a dress form or a dummy can be very helpful when sewing your own clothes. A dress form serves many purposes. It ensures a well fitted garment, simplifies your sewing, eliminates waste and errors, saves your time, helps in making necessary alterations. You can even make a sloper with your dress form.
The best one to have is one which is made to your measurement. Or which can be adjusted in the bust, waist shoulder and hip measurements.
Some extra tools you maynot need but wish to have sometime
A serger finishes edges neatly and can be used to sew the seams of knit fabrics. You can check out this post on sergers to learn whether you really need to buy a serger.
This is a pressing tool which is shaped like an egg. It is great for pressing fabric to manipulate it to the shape you want.
Another pressing tool used for pressing piled fabrics like velvet
This is an attachment with an indicator for your scissors to cut bias tape without any mistake.
A special needle plate attached for machine embroidery.
Eyelet making tools
You need something to make the holes and attach the eyelets/metal grommets. Check out this post on the tools used to attach metal grommets.
These are not the regular eyebrow tweezers – these are sharp pin point tweezers that are helpful to pick small fabric pieces and place them accurately. Very useful in applique and beading.
If you sew small things like beads, fine embroidery you may wish to have vampire vision. The next best thing is a magnifying glass. No more squinting the eyes because you have trouble seeing things clearly.
Check out this post on the tools you need for hand sewing with leather.
Bag making supplies
If you want to make bags, you need a different set of things than what you need for sewing clothes. Here is a list of 20 things you need to sew a bag.
Hand Embroidery supplies
Hand embroidery is sewing of course, but it requires a whole set of new tools. You can start to stitch with some embroidery thread and a hand sewing needle but as you progress you may need more. Check out this post on the 40 + tools you may need for your hand embroidery stitching
Jewelry making supplies, findings and tools
If you are interested in jewelry making you need a separate set of tools. Check out this post which elaborates on the jewelry making tools, supplies and findings.
Some of the tools needed for working with beads may overlap with the jewelry making tools and you need very little to get started on beadworking. But there are still some beading tools and supplies that can make your life easier as you will find in this post.