My Favorite Sewing Tools
I don't remember much about sewing from when I was a child, though that's when I was first introduced to the craft. Getting back into it as an adult, I was both excited for the things I could create, and also overwhelmed by all the things it took to do that creating. Not only do you need a sewing machine, fabric, and a pattern, but there are also pins, marking pens, rulers, and scissors (SO many scissors). I was lucky to have my grandma to teach me, and she passed along everything I needed to get going.
Over the years, I've realized that there are specific tools I continually grab, and others that have been left unused. Nowadays, I consider myself to be something of a minimalist when it comes to sewing tools; I'm typically not interested in the next new thing, and when I find a tool I love, I stick with it. Also, I don't particularly like having unused things around taking up valuable space, so I try to stick with the basics that continually serve me well.
Making is a magazine for knitters, sewers, and other fibers artists. Many of us, myself included, are probably proficient in one craft and attracted to another. Perhaps you're just getting started with sewing. Maybe you're a knitter and come across a sewing project in Making that sparks your creative attention. Wherever you're coming from, if sewing is something that interests you, you might wonder what you need to get going, and I'm pleased to share that the list is quite simple. But there are a lot of sewing tools available out there, so I thought it would be nice to share the things I love the most and why they have a permanent space in my sewing room.
Dressmaking Shears AKA Scissors
One of the most important things you will need is a good pair of scissors for cutting fabric. Often, these type of scissors are referred to as dressmaking shears. They usually have long blades and easily slice through material. Sometimes the edges are serrated, and sometimes they are smooth. Keep in mind that if you use a pair with serrated blades, they cannot be sharpened, only the ones with smooth blades can be sharpened.
There are many different types of dressmaking shears, but the key is to find a pair that cuts well and is most comfortable for you to use. When I first started sewing, I used a beautiful, gold-handled pair of Gingher scissors that were sharp and cut fabric well, but they were very heavy, and my hand started to hurt after using them for a bit. Last year, I discovered the brand Kai at a quilt fair and fell in love with what they offer. I brought home an 8" pair of serrated scissors that I've been using ever since. They're comfortable for my petite hands, lightweight, and cut so smoothly! I recently purchased a second pair of 8" Kai scissors (pictured here) that work just as well. The handles are shaped a little differently and are overall larger, so I still prefer my purple ones, but these are a great backup.
If you have any pain in your hands from something such as arthritis, you might find a pair of scissors with a different handle shape to work well for you. We've been looking into these Fiskars Softouch Multi-Purpose Scissors for my grandmother. They have excellent reviews, and even though they aren't sewing specific, they also seem to be favored among sewers. My grandma and I discovered them while watching one of Natalie Chanin's (Alabama Chanin) classes on bluprint; they are the ones she uses and are sold in her online shop, you can see them here, so they work great with knits!
Small Scissors AKA Embroidery Scissors
I'll admit that when it comes to embroidery scissors, I sort of have a collection, and love the gold-handled ones. I like having several pairs so I can keep one next to my sewing machine, another next to my serger, and another on my ironing board. My grandma recently gave me a 4" pair of Gingher embroidery scissors, and these are by far my favorite and the ones I've started using most often.
We all know the little sting that comes with having to use a seam ripper, but it's part of the making process, no one is perfect, so there will be a time when stitches must be removed; therefore a seam ripper is an essential tool in sewing. I've tried several different kinds, but my favorite is the smaller and most basic kind. I love this one from Merchant and Mills, and I keep a couple of them on hand.
Having a measuring tape in your collection of sewing tools is anther essential. It comes in handy for many things, including taking body measurements and various other measurements during the sewing process. I also love the one offered by Merchant and Mills because it's easy to read due to the black and white colorway.
I've noticed that measuring tapes can be made from different materials; some are softer and more flexible than others, the Merchant and Mills tape is a little stiffer, so that's something to be aware of when you purchase them.
If you've had a measuring tape for a long time, maybe a vintage one was passed along to you, check it against a newer tape or ruler to make sure it hasn't stretched out. My grandma told me this could happen eventually, especially with the softer ones since they're a little more malleable.
A clear acrylic ruler is a great addition to your collection of sewing supplies and one I use regularly. Since you probably have a measuring tape, it isn't essential, but I find myself reaching for it often. The one pictured here is 3.5" X 9.5," but I also use a larger one that measures 6" X 24" and comes in handy for cutting things like bias tape.
Of all the sewing tools available, this little thing comes in handy so often and makes taking little measurements so easy that I've come to think of it as my favorite tool, which I find quite funny since it's just a funky little ruler. As much as I love sewing, numbers and measurements have never been my strong suit. Being able to set the width on the seam gauge, then quickly grab it for use is really helpful, especially since I'm such a visual person. I have two and love using them for seams, of course, and when I'm setting my sewing machine needle to a specific position for seam allowances.
Pins and Magnet or Pincushion
Another essential is sewing pins, and I prefer the sharpest ones possible. There are different types of pins for different materials, such as these entomology pins for silk, so you'll want to be mindful of the kind you purchase and what fabrics you plan to use with them. My favorite are glass-head pins, the ones pictured here are Dritz Extra Fine Pins. I'm still on the hunt for white glass-head pins that are very sharp, as these can sometimes be challenging to use with thicker fabrics, but if you don't mind colorful ones, I'd give these a try. The reason I like glass-head pins is that they can be ironed over without melting, plus they're typically pretty easy to see when pinned into fabric! I've also used these dressmaking pins but have a hard time finding them, especially when gathering fabric, which is why I switched to glass-head pins.
When I got a puppy a few years ago, I started using a magnet for my pins instead of keeping them in a little container so I would stop dropping them on the floor and could pick them up easily when I did. I keep a pin magnet at my sewing machine and one at my ironing board. I do get pricked a lot while grabbing them, so I'm really interested in trying this magnet eventually! Additionally, you could opt to use a pincushion, I love the simplicity this one, or you could make one yourself such as the Meditative Pincushion from Making Issue No. 3 / DOTS.
Sewing clips haven't always been one of my favorite tools, but since I've started making more bags, I find them to be very useful. Sewing clips can take the place of pins and be especially helpful when working with thicker fabrics. If you do a lot of quilting, they're also great when attaching the binding!
Another essential is something to mark fabric, pens, chalk, and pencils all work well. You'll probably need several types for the different types of fabric and colors you'll be sewing. Lighter markings like those from chalk or white pencils work well for dark fabrics, while dark pens work well for light fabrics. My favorite pens are the PILOT Frixion Erasable Pens, which disappear with heat from the iron and come in a variety of colors. I've never had much luck with tailor's chalk, but think this chalk pencil might be a good solution, though I have yet to give it a try.
Sewing Machine Feet
Last but certainly not least, I think it's important to talk about sewing machine feet. Every sewing machine is different, which means that what comes with each machine is different. Sometimes there is a standard set of feet that will come with a machine, and other times each foot is purchased separately. There are three types of feet I consider essential: standard foot, walking foot, and zipper foot.
This is your basic foot that is used often and for a variety of scenarios. The one pictured here labeled "A" is technically a zigzag stitch foot, but it's one of the more basic feet that came with my machine. Often, I also use a completely clear foot that's similar called a satin stitch foot for optimal viewing, especially when I'm doing topstitching or finishing a hem.
I've recently become a huge fan of the walking foot and find it useful for a variety of situations. It's essential for working with fabrics that stretch, such as knits, and can be very helpful for projects that have a thicker layer like quilts or bags. The walking foot works in conjunction with the feed dogs on the sewing machine. While the feed dogs push up and grip the fabric with their teeth, the walking foot has a similar mechanism that pushes down on the fabric. Working together, the machine and walking foot sandwich the fabric above and below, moving it along smoothly as you sew. This helps to eliminate any unintended stretching or pushing of fabric, which can happen with a foot that's smooth on the bottom.
If you've ever tried sewing a zipper without a zipper foot, you'll understand the disappointment there; it's impossible to get the stitches close enough to the teeth! This is where the zipper foot comes in handy. Due to its small size and limited with, the zipper foot allows for a seamline that's very close to the zipper teeth, giving your project a much more professional look.
A Note About Sewing Machine Feet
If your machine didn't come with various feet and you would like to purchase them, make sure to find the correct feet for your machine as they are not all interchangeable and it's important to have the right ones.
A few other things that didn't make my favorite list but are pretty basic and can come in handy include:
- hand sewing needles
- pressing ham
- point turner
- rotary cutter
- pinking shears
- safety pins
I hope you found this post helpful and if you ever have any questions, feel free to reach out! - Emily