This feature was written by Leah Taylor the former owner and founder of http://www.sewbox.co.uk
Learning to sew can be a daunting experience, especially when you’re looking at buying your equipment for the first time. There are so many sewing tools available, it’s hard to know what you need, what’s nice to have, and what’s more of a hindrance than a help.
I’ve put together a list of the 10 items I think are essential to any new stitcher. You can always add other items later, once you have a better feel for what you need and how often you’d use things.
Oh, and I didn’t include a sewing machine but obviously that helps!!
Tailor’s chalk is essential for making temporary markings on fabric. You use it to transfer markings from a dressmaking pattern on to the fabric, for example for dart lines. It comes in various forms from chalk triangles, to pencils, right through to pens with vanishing ink. Prym have a selection of marking tools here.
I could not live without my measuring gauge!! I find this piece of equipment absolutely essential. It is basically a very small ruler (mine only goes to 12cm) but it also has a sliding marker. You set the marker at a particular length (e.g. 1.5cm for a hem) and then use it to guide you, for example in pinning up hems and making sure they’re even. I’d be lost without it! See this example by Prym.
You will need a good number of pins, for pinning the pattern to fabric, and then pinning pieces of fabric together at seams or hems when sewing. I am always amazed how many pins I get through so I’d make sure you buy a big box. My personal favourites are those with the glass heads. The glass heads make the pins easier to grab when you’re trying to remove them as you sew; so they’re especially suited to beginners. Plus they won’t melt if you accidentally iron over them! Pins without heads can leave you frantically clawing at the fabric, trying to grasp a pin. Take a look at the range from our website sponsors Prym.
In terms of needles, I recommend a good selection of both hand-sewing needles and machine needles. It is important to have spare needles for your sewing machine because there is nothing worse than breaking one at that crucial moment in your project, 9pm at night and having to finish for the day because you have none spare! Prym have a great variety of needles for both hand and machine sewing.
This one has been a lifeline for me so many times. We all make mistakes, especially when we’re just starting out, and having a seam unpicker handy can save you SO much time in removing a seam. It’s worth getting a few of these because they don’t cost much but have a tendency to go walk about. Keeping spares means you can always find one when you need to. An ergonomic seam ripper is easy to handle.
It is important to have a dedicated pair of fabric scissors. Normal scissors will struggle to cut through fabric cleanly, so buy a pair of dressmaking scissors and use them only for cutting fabric. If you use them for other things like cutting paper (or, ahem, in my case plastic cartons) you WILL blunt them. See the range available from Prym to select the best pair for you here.
Pinking shears cut fabrics with a zigzag edge, and this prevents them from fraying. Some woven fabrics are very susceptible to fraying and cutting them using pinking shears will save you a lifetime of overlocking (sewing over the edge of one or two pieces of fabric to prevent fraying). Although sometimes it is nice to neaten edges properly with an overlock stitch, it is so handy to be able to reach for the pinking shears when you are in a hurry!
Find an old cloth or scrap piece of fabric to use as a press cloth: i.e. a cloth that you place between the fabric being pressed, and the iron. Pressing is an essential part of the sewing process if you want a smooth, professional finish to your garments, and a press cloth helps to protect the fabric from the heat and/or steam of the iron. Many people recommend using a thin, transparent cloth so that you can see through to the fabric underneath: however I prefer a sturdier cloth because it also doubles up as my pressing ham! Prym have a pressing cloth that is purpose made for the job here.
Selection of buttons and fastenings
It helps so much to have a good selection of buttons and other fasteners to hand. So many times, when I’m playing around with a pattern, I find that it isn’t quite working or sitting right but if I add a small hook and eye here or there, it corrects the problem. Probably the type I use most, are snap fasteners- they are perfect for sewing on to a shirt or blouse around the bust area, to prevent the dreaded gape!! Prym have a wide selection in lots of colours – take a look here.
Sewing Reference Books
This might seem like an optional extra but a good sewing reference book will come to your rescue again and again. It can be so useful having a book handy on the shelf, when you want to check how best to sew seams for a particular type of fabric; if you want to find out what a particular type of stitch is; or if you want to look up how to insert a lining or how to alter a pattern for your body shop.
My sewing bible is the Reader’s Digest Complete Guide to Sewing, a heavy tome that contains everything you could conceivably think of related to sewing- I picked up a 1970s version at a market stall for £5, and I must say it was a £5 very well spent. The great thing with sewing is that the basic techniques don’t really change over time, so if you can’t afford to splurge on a new book have a hunt around at markets and boot sales to see what you can find.
New Complete Guide to Sewing: Step by Step Techniques for Making Clothes and Home Accessories (Readers Digest) – click on this link to view or purchase the book on Amazon.
I also have the Singer Complete Photo Guide to Sewing which is a nice complete to the Reader’s Digest book. The Reader’s Digest book has the depth and detail, whereas the Singer book illustrates everything very clearly with step by step photos.
Complete Photo Guide to Sewing – Updated and Revised Edition: 1100 Full-Color How-To Photos (Singer) – click here to view or purchase the book on Amazon.
Plus Lorna Knight’s Complete Dressmaking Skills is another great reference books to help you learn beginner dressmaking techniques.