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Learn to Sew: The Basic Sewing Toolbox

Learn to Sew: The Basic Sewing Toolbox

Sewing tools

So, you've got a sewing machine and you want to learn to sew. What do you need?

While it's tempting to Buy. All. The. Things! when starting out, you really don't need everything all at once. Start with the basic tools you need and add to your toolbox as your skills and projects expand.

I'm assuming you already also have a good iron and ironing board. 

A Beginner Sewing Tool Box

Let's say you decide to make the Envelope Style Cushion Cover, or The Market Bag. What do you need for beginner projects like these? 

  1. Fabric scissors (as opposed to paper scissors). It's worthwhile spending money on a good pair of scissors, they'll cut more easily and accurately than cheapo scissors. Oh, and don't cut anything but fabric with them, okay?
  2. A measuring tape. A flexible sewing measuring tape is handy to measure both your body when you're figuring out your size, and your fabric when you're figuring out where to cut. 
  3. Pins. Pins hold the paper pattern to your fabric, and hold the fabric together when you're sewing. There's a lot of variety in pins; there are quilting pins, glass-head pins, tailor's pins, silk pins, and even more! As a beginner sewist, you just need some basic sharp pins, stainless steel so they don't rust, about 1" long. 
  4. Seam ripper. Also known as a stitch unpicker, stitch ripper, quick unpick. Never be embarrassed about how often you need to undo a seam! 
  5. A marking tool. You can use a pencil, or a water-soluble marker, but a chalk marker is better - it makes a cleaner more accurate line, and brushes off more easily. You'll use it to draw lines on your fabric when marking a cutting line, and later to draw dart lines, or hem marks. Choose a colour that contrasts with your fabric so you can see the lines easily. 
  6. A straight edge. A ruler is nice, but I've used the edge of a hardcover book, a piece of cardboard or a baking pan if I'm sewing on a trip and I've forgotten my ruler. 
  7. Nice to have:
    1. A Magnetic Pin Dish, and
    2. A set of Snips are nice to have, but not necessary at the beginning. 

An Intermediate Sewing Tool Box

If your first few sewing projects have whetted your appetite and inspired you to try something more complex, like the Cielo Dress or the Shirt#1, you'll need a few more tools. 

  1. A seam gauge. A seam gauge is a small tool with a lot of uses! If you set the slider to a certain measurement, you can then use the slight edge of the slider to turn under an edge to that exact measurement. The pointy end is useful for turning out corners. The ruler itself can be used to measure and draw short lines. 
  2. Bias tape maker. Bias tape is a narrow strip of fabric cut on the bias (45 degrees to the grainline). It's great for binding edges, like a neckline or armholes, and makes a nice finish on an interior seam. A bias tape maker allows you to make your own bias tape to match or contrast with your main fabric. Here's a great tutorial about making bias tape: How to Make Continuous Bias Tape (otherwise known as "how to turn an 10 by 10 inch square into 100 inches of bias tape!")
  3. Tracing paper and pattern weights. Use tracing paper to trace the pattern pieces of your project, rather than cutting out the main pattern. Find out all about pattern tracing in this blog post: How to Trace a Pattern. 
  4. Nice to have:
    1. Bamboo Point Turner because its soft corner does a nicer job of turning a corner than a seam gauge, and
    2. Magnetic Seam Guide will help you sew beautifully straight and even topstitching.

An Advanced Sewing Tool Box

Once you're ready to tackle more advanced projects like the Alder Shirtdress or the Azara Skirt, you need more advanced tools.:

  1. A Curved Ruler. A curved ruler is designed to mimic the common curves of your body, the waist-to-hip curve, the hip curve, and so on. This kind of curved ruler is useful when tracing a pattern and grading between sizes. 
  2. A Wooden Clapper and/or Pressing Mat. A vital part of good sewing is not actually sewing, it's pressing. A well-pressed seam improves the accuracy of all the seams that follow it. A well-pressed hem or shoulder makes a garment look handmade, not homemade. A wooden clapper, placed over a seam heated by the iron, holds in the heat and sets the seam perfectly. A woolen pressing mat underneath keeps the heat from escaping from underneath and also helps create a crisp sharp seam. (Yes, I'm a little obsessed with good pressing!)
  3. An expandable sewing gauge. A sewing gauge measures multiple equal distances, and allows for accurate placement of buttonholes and buttons, and pleats. 
  4. Presser feet. There are a few presser feet that you should get (if they didn't come with your machine.)
    1. An invisible zipper foot,
    2. A zipper foot, 
    3. A blind hem foot (which can also be used for narrow topstitching), and 
    4. A rolled hem foot. 

The Sewing Tool Box Itself

Now you've got all these cool tools, you need somewhere to store them all.

Some sewists find a fishing tackle box, or hardware tool box, with all their compartments and shelves to be good for storing and carrying around their sewing tools. This one from IKEA is cute!

Others put cutlery trays and drawer organizers into the drawers of their sewing tables. 

I use a stackable desk organizer and cutlery trays to organize all my tools. 

And oh, my gosh, a Spool Rack and some kind of bobbin holder are so useful! The more projects you start, the more thread you buy and the more bobbins you wind and the more potential mess of jumbled spools, bobbins and trailing thread ends you make! There are lots of options, and lots of opinions. Just find some way to keep it all organized.