I’m a perfectionist.
Well, the kind of perfectionist who doesn’t do things perfectly but is constantly dissatisfied with the result. For example, I’m often unhappy with my sewing and want to do something about it. Instead of the obvious ‘taking more time with my projects and practising techniques’, I tried to take short cuts. I kept buying more and more tools and books and supplies that promised to make a more professional seamstress out of me.
Now, after five years of sewing almost every free minute, I sit on a massive pile of sewing tools and books which I hardly use. I don’t regret the money spent, because it was spent on something I love. What I do regret is the time spent looking for and buying unnecessary stuff instead of using the things I already had and taking time to learn how to use them properly.
This last year I really started learning how to do things properly. I actually read the sewing and couture books I bought ages ago and started to adopt certain techniques and generally tried to be more patient with myself and my sewing. This brought my sewing to a whole new level. Not only do my garments look much more polished now, I noticed that I use fewer tools. I now have my go-to tools I use all the time which are absolutely sufficient to make a professional-looking garment.
We are a consumer society and we are constantly told what we need to buy to be happier and more successful. This includes the market of sewing goods. Investing in your hobby is fun and if your goal is to collect all the sewing books out here, please do so! But for those that constantly feel under pressure to accumulate more stuff to ‘become more professional’ and might not be willing to spend so much money, this can be frustrating as hell. So let me tell you: You don’t have to have all the tools, just a few right ones. In the end, it comes down to your manual skills and not the amount of tools you are using.
If you’re a beginner confused by the vast variety of sewing supplies, maybe this helps to get an idea what you really need to spend your money on. Quality is better than quantity!
11 MOST USEFUL SEWING TOOLS
1. Measuring tape
That’s an obvious one, I know. But it’s one of the most used tools I have, so I had to include it in this list. I have different measuring tapes, but I use one the most: It’s metric on one side and imperial on the other, which makes it easier to work with US patterns. It’s pretty old and therefore really soft now and I only use other ones when I cannot find this one because it’s buried somewhere in my creative mess.
2. Spend money on sharp, high quality fabric & embroidery scissors
Money spent on sharp, good quality fabric scissors is money well-spent. My first pair of fabric scissors was pretty cheap and bought off the internet. Oh, how I hated cutting fabric back then. After cutting heavyweight fabrics I had blisters on my fingers and my wrist hurt for two days. I tried a rotary cutter (+ cutting board), which was much less painful, but the board wasn’t big enough to cut out large pattern pieces without having to move the board around under the fabric. Also, it’s hard to cut small curves and corners with a rotary cutter. If you’re a quilter, go get one, but if you mainly sew clothes, scissors work much better in the end. When I finally got proper scissors (I was gifted lovely Prym scissors from John Lewis at our Sewing Bee), they felt like cutting through butter with a knife.
Next to large scissors for cutting out pattern pieces, I use small, equally sharp embroidery scissors which are always within reach while I sew. I mostly use them to cut thread ends. They’re also great for marking notches and clipping curved seam allowances. Since they’re much smaller the risk of accidentally cutting too deep into your fabric isn’t as high.
3. Handsewing needles & bees wax
You won’t get by without a little or a lot of handsewing here and there. Have a set of handsewing needles in different strengths and lengths within reach. I only very recently started using bees wax on my handsewing thread and it’s wonderful! Goodbye, constantly knotted threads!
4. Iron & pressing board
Never underestimate the power of a good iron. I tried to ignore this for a long time, but eventually had to admit that pressing is a major part of the sewing process. Get a good steady board, the larger the better.
5. Tailor’s chalk
There are thousands of different marking tools on the market. Fabric pens, chalk pens, tracing paper etc. I’ve tried the powdery chalk tools and they don’t work well on some fabrics and they’re also a bit more expensive. The most effective tool for me is a simple square piece of tailor’s chalk. It draws clean lines easily on any fabric and is quickly removed with a bit of rubbing. You can get it in different colours. I only use the white one. When the edges get blunt, I use a knife to sharpen them. I’m still using two of a set of three I bought when I started sewing five years ago.
6. Seam ripper
I can’t live without my seam ripper. No matter how good a sewer you are, you’ll always mess up at some point, so having a seam ripper near for a quick fix is essential. Some people use embroidery or nail scissors instead which I wouldn’t recommend as you can accidentally cut into the fabric very quickly. When your seam ripper starts to get blunt, go get a new one!
7. Tracing wheel
For me this is the most effective tool for copying patterns. I trace all my patterns and never cut into the original pattern sheet. Tracing paper is too expensive for my taste. This little tracing wheel punches little holes into your pattern paper which are easy enough to see and trace with a pen afterwards. For marking on fabric I use tailor’s chalk.
8. Four main sewing machine feet
I have two boxes with two different sets of sewing machine feet (probably around 20 different ones). While some sewing machine feet are great helpers (edgestitch feet, invisible zip feet, blind hem feet, overlock feet, the list goes on…), you don’t have to spend your money on getting them all. I found that these four, which are also the most basic, are absolutely enough if you learn how to use them right.
Zigzag foot: The most basic, standard foot of all sewing machines. You can use it for pretty much all of your machine settings. This is the one you will use most.
Straight stitch foot: Although you can use the zigzag foot for straight stitches, too, this little fellow is great to have when sewing with very delicate, lightweight fabrics. We all hate it when our sewing machine eats our chiffon or silk fabrics, this machine foot really helps to prevent that.
Zipper foot: When dealing with zippers, a normal zigzag foot won’t do. The standard zip foot is for exposed zips. There are different ones for concealed zips, although I still haven’t found one that works perfectly. That’s why I often use my normal zip foot for concealed zips, too. And it works ok.
Buttonhole foot: This one will probably come with your machine, unless you bought it secondhand. If your machine has a four-step buttonhole setting, you’ll need this one. And it works brilliantly once you get used to working with it.
9. A Dressmaker’s Square or Hip Curve
I’ve tried all sorts of different rulers and dressmaker’s curves over the years, that I don’t really use any more since I got the dressmaker’s square. It’s a rectangular ruler with an integrated hip curve, lines to mark 1cm and 1.5cm seam allowances and it’s much longer than the average ruler. Since it has so many different functions all-in-one, it’s a very useful tool to have.
10. High quality (glass head) pins
Don’t try and save money when you buy pins. They’re not expensive anyway. Get good quality pins. A pack of 100-200 will last ages. You can get super cheap ones that are of a horrible quality and will leave holes or rip threads in your fabric while pinning. If you buy them from a sewing brand, such as Prym, you should be ok.
Furthermore, I really love using glasshead pins. They’re a tiny bit more expensive, but the glass heads won’t melt if you accidentally press them with a hot iron!
11. Stock up on different sewing machine needles
Always keep some extra needles. This is something you can really stock up on. Needles break or become blunt after a while and it’s the most annoying thing to be forced into breaktime and having to buy or order new needles. Also, different fabrics require different needles. This applies especially when working with knits or very heavy or lightweight fabrics. Your standard needles are fine and will work with most mediumweight, woven qualities. But once you start working with stretch or knit fabrics you might get problems with skipped or untidy stitches. Have some ballpoint/Jersey, stretch, leather or denim as well as extra fine needles ready when you’re working with these fabrics. Change your needle regularly!
Are there tools that you think are essential, which aren’t included in this list? Or have I listed something that you find unnecessary? Please leave a comment and let me know! I’d love to hear other sewists’ thoughts on this!
Stay in touch!