Sewing Supplies: 12 Essential Sewing Tools - Sew My Place
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Sewing Supplies: 12 Essential Sewing Tools

One thing every sewer has to do is figure out which sewing tools they need.

Talk about overwhelming. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of sewing tools to choose from. Just name a sewing job, and there’s probably a tool specifically designed to do that job.

The thought of having to buy so much stuff to in order to start sewing can be pretty daunting.

The good news is that you don’t actually need all that many sewing tools.

Sure, some of the more specialized sewing implements can be nice to have. But you can complete plenty of sewing project using just a few basic, multi-purpose tools.

Here are 12 essential sewing tools every sewer needs.

Essential Sewing Tools

1. A Sewing Machine

For the most part, home sewers have three basic types of sewing machines to choose from.

Mechanical sewing machines are the least expensive. They don’t require electric power to run, and are relatively easy to learn to use. These machines are good for basic sewing tasks, like mending tears and making simple garments.

Electronic sewing machines cost more than mechanical sewing machines. Electronic models are also faster, more precise, and equipped to handle more complicated sewing projects. Best of all, both beginners and more experienced sewers find electronic sewing machines easy to learn and easy to use.

Computerized sewing machines are the most sophisticated, and the most expensive. They tend to have a lot more features than the other types of domestic sewing machines. Computerized models can also be a little too complicated for beginners. But give an experienced sewer a computerized sewing machine, and the sky’s the limit.

2. Sewing Machine Needles

The types of sewing machine needles you need will depend on the types of fabric you’ll be using, and the types of sewing you’ll be doing. Some needles are designed to deal with thick, heavy fabrics, like leather and denim. Others are made for more delicate fabrics, like silk. And still others are best used to do decorative stitching.

The rule of thumb is that heavier the weight of your fabric, the bigger and stronger your needle will need to be. And lightweight fabrics require smaller, finer needles.

3. A Tape Measure

Tape measures are usually used to take body measurements, but they can also be used for other measuring tasks, like measuring really large pieces of fabric.

Ideally, your tape measure will be at least 59 inches (or 150 centimeters) long. You also want one that allows you to measure in both inches and centimeters. 

4. Pins

Pins are mostly used to hold two or more layers of fabric together. This will keep the fabrics from shifting as you sew.

For most sewing projects, all you really need is a pack of standard pins. Just make sure the ones you choose are at least 1 to 2 inches long. You also want pins with large, visible heads. A large pack of pins with round, plastic heads won’t cost you much.

While standard pins will work for most sewing jobs, there are exceptions. For example, if you’re using silk, you’ll want to use very thin, sharp pins. Pins that are too thick or dull can leave permanent holes in delicate fabrics.

5. A Pincushion

A pincushion is designed to hold small, pointy objects, like needles and straight pins.

When you’re in the midst of a sewing project, pulling a pin out of a pincushion is easier than trying to fish one out of a tin or jar. And as you remove pins from your project, sticking them in a pincushion will help you keep track of them.

A quality pincushion will be filled with materials like wool roving and sawdust. Wool roving has properties that will keep your pins and needles from rusting.

Many pincushions also have a “strawberry” attached, which can be filled with materials like emery or fine sand. These substances have abrasive properties that can remove rust, and help keep your pins and needles sharp.

If you’re looking to buy a pincushion, you can find them in just about any style or color you can imagine. But you might prefer making your own. Making a pincushion is a fast and fun sewing project, especially for beginning sewers.

6. Hand Sewing Needles

Every sewer needs a good set of hand sewing needles.

There are some people who enjoy sewing entire projects by hand. But even if you prefer using a sewing machine for most sewing tasks, hand needles can come in handy for things like sewing on buttons, mending small rips and tears, and basting.

Hand sewing needles come in a wide variety of sizes and thicknesses. Some have razor sharp points, while others have dull points. Some are thick and strong, while others are thin and fragile. Some have tiny eyes and can only be used with very thin threads, while others have eyes so big you can pass a piece of yarn through them.

Fortunately, you don’t have to worry about buying needles individually. Buying a pack of assorted needles will cover most, or even all, of your bases. Just make sure the needles you choose are made of quality materials. Cheaper needles will be more prone to break, rust, and loose their sharpness.

7. A Thimble

If you’re going to be doing any hand sewing, you need a thimble.

A thimble will help protect your fingers from getting poked and pricked by your needles. They’ll also help you push needles through thick fabrics a little more easily.

Most thimbles look like a little metal buckets. But they can also be made of other materials, like plastic, wood, or even leather.

8. A Seam Ripper

If you make a mistake while sewing a seam, a seam ripper is the easiest way to remove the stitches. And you can do it without tearing or damaging your fabric.

Choose a seam ripper with a long handle, which will make the job of removing stitches a lot easier. And if you can find a seam ripper with a non-slip handle, even better.

Don’t hesitate to replace a seam ripper that has lost its sharpness. Trying to remove stitches with a dull seam ripper can do more harm than good.

9. Sewing Scissors

A good pair of sewing or fabric scissors are a sewer’s best friend. So you want to buy the highest quality scissors you can afford.

There are a few things to look for when choosing your primary pair of sewing scissors. First, you want a pair that are 8 inches (or 20 centimeters) long. Next, look for scissors that have handles set at an angle, which will make it easier to cut fabric that’s lying on a flat surface. Finally, for more precise cuts, you’ll want your scissors to have pointed tips.

Why can’t you just use regular scissors?

For one, regular scissors just can’t cut fabric with the same precision. Secondly, sewers do a lot of cutting, and using scissors that are actually meant to cut fabric will help prevent hand fatigue.

Sewing scissors are extremely sharp, which is one reason they cut fabric so well. So you’ll need to sharpen the blades of your scissors every once in a while.

If you want to keep your scissors sharper longer, don’t use them to cut anything but fabric. Even using them to cut paper pattern will dull the blade. And using dull sewing scissors can result in uneven cuts, shredded fabric, and a tired hand.

Make sure the handles of your sewing scissors are different from the handles of any other scissors you own. That way, you won’t accidentally use them to cut anything else.

10. Pinking Shears

Pinking shears are scissors that have saw tooth blades. These blades will cut your fabric in a zig zag pattern.

Pinking shears are a quick and easy way to give non-fraying fabric, like felt or fleece, a decorative edge. You can also use them to finish the edges on tightly woven fabrics.

As for other kinds of fabric, cutting the edges with pinking shears will help keep them from fraying. This will come in especially handy if you have fabrics you want to put in storage for a while.

11. An Iron

Most sewing project will instruct you to press…something, be it seams, the hems, or a piece of fabric you’re about to cut. So having a good iron at your disposal is a necessity. And, of course, you’ll probably want an ironing board to go with it.

Sometimes, when you’re in the heat of a sewing project, the last thing you want to do is stop to iron something. But pressing your fabric throughout the sewing process will help you end up with a cleaner, more professional looking piece.

12. A Fabric Pencil

Fabric pencils are easier to work with than some other marking tools, like tailor’s chalk. And you’ll probably want to have two of them in your sewing tool kit. A light fabric pencil will make marks that stand out on dark fabrics, and a dark pencil will make marks that are visible on lighter fabrics.

There are different kinds of fabric pencils to choose from. For example, a water soluble fabric pencil will make marks that can be removed with water. And marks made by a chalk fabric pencil can be brushed off with your hand.

Other Handy Sewing Tools

Here are some sewing tools that aren’t necessarily essential, but they’re nice to have on hand.

A Rotary Cutter

A rotary cutter is a circular blade that’s affixed to a plastic or metal handle. If you roll that blade across a piece of fabric, you will leave behind a clean and precise cut.

Rotary cutters are fast and accurate, which is why many sewers prefer them to scissors or shears. They can also cut through several layers of fabric at once, which is why they are so popular with quilters.

The blades of a rotary cutter are extremely sharp. As the blade loses it’s sharpness, the cutter will become less effective. Luckily, rotary cutter blades can be easily replaced.

A Self-Healing Cutting Mat

When you use a rotary cutter, you’ll also want to have a self-healing cutting mat.

The best way to use a rotary cutter is to lay your fabric across a flat surface, then roll the cutter across the fabric. Unfortunately, this is almost guaranteed to damage said surface.

A self-healing cutting mat will protect your work surface from the sharp blade of your rotary cutter. And, in return, the mat will also protect the rotary cutter blade, so it will stay sharp longer.

Most self-healing cutting mats have grid lines that can help you line up and measure your fabric. They can even let you do some cutting jobs without measuring and marking first.

A Sewing Needle Threader

Threading a sewing needle can be surprisingly difficult. A needle threader is a simple, and inexpensive, tool that can help you do the job faster…and with less frustration.

To use a needle threader, you push the wire through the eye of the needle, then you attach your thread to the wire. When you pull the wire back out of the needle’s eye, you’ll pull the thread through the eye too. And, just like that, your needle is threaded.

A Sewing Gauge

The common sewing gauge is basically a small, metal ruler that’s about 6 inches long. The gauge will have a slider (usually made of plastic) attached, that can move up and down the length of the ruler. 

Sewing gauges comes in handy when you need to measure small areas. For example, you can use them to check hems and seam allowances.

Tailor’s Chalk

Tailor’s chalk can be used to transfer markings from a pattern onto your fabric pieces.

Markings made with tailor’s chalk are easy to remove. You can just brush them off with your hand, or a scrap piece of fabric.

You can find tailor’s chalk in a variety of colors. You can use a light colored tailor’s chalk to mark dark fabrics, and a dark colored tailor’s chalk to mark light fabrics. One of the great things about sewing is that you don’t really need all that much to get started. In fact, as long as you have a few basic sewing tools, you’re unlikely to run out of potential sewing projects you can do.

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