Essential Sewing Tools

If you visit your local fabric and craft store, you could easily be overwhelmed by the number of different sewing tools, notions and equipment available. I’m always picking up new little toys to try out on my latest projects, based on recommendations by other bloggers, things I’ve read in sewing groups on Facebook, and even things I’ve seen in magazines. But when you are starting out, there are a few essentials. As part of my Back To {Sewing} Basics series, these are what I’ve selected as my must have items (aside from your actual sewing machine, of course!)

Firstly, you need your sewing machine manual. I refer to mine all the time. If you are self taught (which many of us are) you will find that your manual will probably have step by step pictures and explanations of all its functions. Button holes, zippers, different stitches, and how to use different feet – it’s all there.

I bought my machine second hand on eBay and it didn’t come with a manual. After a quick google search, I found a copy and printed it. Check the website of the manufacturer – many will have PDF files of their manuals available on their website. If not, send them an email or call them, or just do a google search of your make and model number. Even if you have to pay a small fee, it is worth it. You Tube is also a great resource for your machine. Many manufacturers create demonstration videos which are extremely helpful.

A seam ripper is also one of my top essentials.

 The small blade zips through any mistake stitches so you can re sew them, either more neatly or not at all. I use my seam ripper often, especially on projects that I am trying for the first time. I also use it to cut open button holes after they’ve been sewn.

1. Needles – It is important to have an assortment of needles for little jobs like sewing on buttons, hand stitching openings shut, embroidery and small repair jobs. I also keep a larger needle, almost bodkin size, to thread my overlocker threads back through their seams for a neat finish.

2. Grey lead pencil – for sketching designs, marking fabric, copying patterns onto paper for cutting out. Just a handy, all around tool. For some jobs I use a special disappearing ink fabric marker, but most of the time I find grey lead easy and reliable.

3. Rotary Cutter (and cutting mat, not pictured) – when I first started sewing, I used scissors to cut fabric. Once I bought a rotary cutter, I wondered why I had waited so long! Cutting fabric with a rotary cutter is faster, more precise, and I am able to cut curves much more cleanly. I’ve tried a couple of brands, and Olfa is my favourite. A cutting mat is essential if you plan to use a rotary cutter. Self healing is the best type to buy.

4. Measuring Tape – Mine cost about $1.50 and is a cute little retractable one that my kids love to play with! The essential thing for me is to have a tape that has metric measurements on one side and imperial measurements on the other. Many patterns and blog tutorials from the US are measured in inches, and being a metric person I need to be able to easily see both measurement types on my tools.

5. Assorted threads – Good quality is best. I generally buy Gutermann or Mettler brands (international readers, please tell me in the comments the good brands you buy – they may not be available in the stores here) I like to buy thread that is transferable between different projects, so I buy the all-purpose polyester thread. It is strong and durable, and a good quality thread won’t throw out as much lint and clog your machine.

6. Scissors and Pinking Shears – If you can afford to buy a good quality pair of fabric scissors, you should do it. Many people will disagree with me when I say that I don’t think it is essential. Of course, you need some decent scissors with a sharp blade, but I have never had the cash to splash on the really nice fabric scissors out there. Now that I use my rotary blade so much, I don’t use scissors often. Pinking shears I do use a lot. They have a blade that cuts fabric with a serrated pattern. I use it trim edges of my cotton fabric before pre washing to reduce fray, to trim any exposed seam allowances in garments, and to give a decorative edge to simple appliques.

7. Pins & Pin Cushion – Pins are extremely useful for keeping fabric together while sewing, to align seams, and attach patterns to fabric when cutting (although pattern weights are good for that job too) Pins are not something you want to leave lying around, especially if there are children and pets in your house. Keeping them in a pin cushion will keep them together and keep the pointy ends safe from your fingers, little people’s fingers and little paws.

8. Bobbins & bobbin case – most machines will come with bobbins, but usually only two or three, and once you start using a few different coloured threads you will need to buy more. When buying bobbins, you need to purchase specific ones for your machine. You can buy them in packets at the craft store, or sometimes loose. They come in clear plastic or metal. They are small and can easily be lost, so I keep mine together in a bobbin case, which you can pick up cheaply at your local craft or sewing store.

9. Embroidery scissors – when you finish a project there is always little threads that need snipping. A small pair of scissors are perfect for those fiddlly little stray threads, and good for hand sewing and embroidery projects, rather than large cumbersome scissors.

And finally, it isn’t pictured, but I also like to use an acrylic quilting ruler. I just use a long rectangular one to cut straight lines into fabric. It makes using a rotary cutter easier.

You don’t necessarily need to spend a lot of money on the above items – make sure you pop into thrift shops and have a little search around. You can often pick up lovely vintage notions and tools and occasionally, if you really strike it lucky, you can pick up and entire sewing basket full of someone’s no longer needed but once beloved stash.

So that is my opinion on essentials. Is there anything you would add?

For more tips and tricks, make sure you check out the rest of my Back to{Sewing}Basics series!

3 thoughts on “Essential Sewing Tools

  1. A comprehensive list, Ros. A tape measure with both metric and imperial is an absolute must have for me. I am using my rotary cutter more, but I mainly use my scissors… a good quality German pair I bought when I first started sewing. They're what I'm used to and I wouldn't be without them. I don't remember them as being expensive when I bought them, as I was a student with little money, but they would be now-a-days. In recent years, I've mainly bought Guttermann thread, either cotton or polyester. If I'm sewing with cotton fabric, I like to use cotton thread. I'm starting to switch to Rasant, with a polyester core and cotton on the outside. It's much cheaper than Gutermann at about $8 per 1000m. The lady who owns my local quilting shop recommended it… said she wouldn't sew with anything else.

  2. Good list, I agree with the scissors, I don't have a super expensive pair but I did recently buy good pinking shears, I use them more than scissors because if the rotary cutting. I'm loving this series 🙂

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