Pins and Needles: Essential Sewing Tools

Posted by on May 21, 2013 in Sewing | Comments


Essential Sewing Tools While your sewing machine is certainly essential, there are many other tools you need to keep on hand to help you complete a sewing project.

Here’s my list of 15 essential sewing tools:

Fabric shears: Buy good ones and take care of them (that means never ever cutting paper or anything other than fabric with them; if you have to lock them up to keep your spouse or kids from using them to open packages, then so be it). Have them sharpened every so often. Sharp tools are the key to enjoyable sewing. And for my fellow left-handed sewists: don’t even think about not using left-handed or ambidextrous scissors. It’s not worth it!

Rotary cutter, clear plastic ruler and self-healing cutting mat: A rotary cutter is much easier to cut out patterns with than scissors. This is something else you want to keep sharp, but you can easily replace the rotary blades yourself. A self-healing cutting mat is a must if you’re using a rotary cutter, otherwise you’ll destroy your work surface. And a clear plastic ruler is extremely helpful you’re trying to straighten up your fabric’s edges.

Pinking shears: I consider these essential because they are such a quick way to finish many seams. You’ll also find them useful when you are working with fabric that unravels easily; pinking the edges will cut down on your frustration.

Small craft scissors: I always keep a pair of small craft scissors nearby when I am sewing. I find them much easier to use when clipping threads. If you’re careful, they can double as a seam-ripper when you’ve misplaced yours (don’t ask me how I know this).

Seam Ripper: The sewist’s best friend. Sooner or later, you will make a mistake and need this little guy. You might want to have more than one on hand. Because there’s nothing more frustrating than trucking along on a project only to make a mistake and then not being able to find your seam ripper.

Pins and a pincushion: If you’re working with knits, be sure you have ballpoint needles on hand. It’s often easier to stick pins back into a pincushion than some type of box (plus, who can resist an iconic red tomato pin cushion?).

Sewing machine needles: You’ll need extras for your machine since they will gradually become dull with use (remember, sharp is best!), and you’ll want to swap out your needles for various fabric weights.

Hand sewing needles: Most sewing projects will require a little bit of hand finishing, like sewing on a button.

Measuring tape: You’ll need a soft one for getting accurate body measurements.

Water soluble pen and/or tailor’s chalk: I prefer a water soluble pen but they sometimes don’t show up as well on dark colored fabric. Have both on hand just to be safe!

Seam gauge: Turning up a hem ¾” is much, much easier with a seam gauge. It also doubles as a ruler when you need to measure out smaller amounts.

What are your essential sewing tools? Let me know in the comments!

Looking for ways to keep track of all of your sewing tools? Be sure to check out my post on organizing your sewing room. You might also be interested in exploring useful patternmaking tools. Plus, get started with Craftsy’s FREE mini-class Bag-Making Basics: Drawstring Bag & Bucket Bag.

Comments

  1. Jan Taylor says:

    I recently got lucky and found an interesting sewing tool. http://Www.quiltmatepro.com.
    After you get all the essential quilting tools, and you are a beginner like me, you need to learn how to quilt. I learn so much through online tutorials, so having the QuiltMate pro helped me get the most from online instructions and videos, from craftsy to YouTube, they are everywhere!

  2. Ruthann Conway says:

    Bandages. And coffee!

    1. Marsha says:

      Absolutely! I’m with you on that. I would add reading glasses so I can see where to apply the bandage.

  3. Joyce Dowling says:

    My List Scissors
    Tiny snips
    Machine needles
    Hand sewing needles
    Thimble
    Rotary cutter
    Ruler for cutter
    Plastic strip cutter
    Thread
    Pins
    Magnetic pin cushion
    Seam ripper
    Ott light
    Caulk marker
    Tape measure
    R

  4. Joyce Dowling says:

    Scissors
    Snips
    Tape measure thimble
    Needle machine
    Hand sewing needles
    Seam gauge
    Rotary cutter
    Rulers
    Tailors chalk
    Magnetic pin cushion
    Washable marker
    Thread
    Seam ripper
    Ott light
    Patterns

  5. One of my favorite tools is a point turner. Read my post for teaching children to sew and supplies needed:
    http://www.thelostapron.com/2013/05/summer-sewing-camp-supplies.html

    1. juli says:

      I agree that a point turner,whether it is an official turner or just a chopstick, is a must.

  6. Rosemary says:

    I suppose the sewing machine is a given even though one can still hand sew! In that case, a thimble is a must.

  7. Jan Taylor says:

    The seam ripper was what I used the most on my first quilt! Ha

  8. Scheri Manson says:

    The best quality iron you can afford.

    1. Shelia Hunt says:

      I would like to know the name of your “quality iron”. Affordibility is not a problem! I have had cheap irons from the dollar store ($10) to name brand irons like Rowenta ($69) from Macy’s and every style and brand in between! They are leak water on the fabric, even after just a few uses. I have never filled an iron with water up to the fill line…just a small amount of water will still leak out. This is so frustrating!

      1. Susan says:

        I have six or seven irons, from a freebie found at a yard sale to the Rowenta high-end pressure steam iron. The freebie is the one that works best with steam, believe it or not. More often, I keep a spray bottle of water (the kind you can get at Wal-Mart in the garden section) and use that instead of putting water in my iron. I also keep a spray bottle of starch at my ironing board, I mix the starch myself so I can get it as heavy or light as I want.
        One of my irons is a Bernette, cost a lot, the kind that doesn’t have an auto shut-off. The power cord failed after not all tbat long, though I managed to salvage it by wrapping electrical tape around it where it enters the iron. I do still use it.

      2. Donna Melton says:

        Sheila, I love my Rowenta Iron. I have been using them for almost 20 years. I have never bought one for $69.00. I usually buy the professional series. I iron a lot! hours each week. The cheaper brands would last me 3 to 4 months at most. I finally decided to buy a Rowenta professional iron. It cost me $100.00 in the mid 90′s. This iron lasted for four years and reduced my ironing time. We moved and the water was not as good as it was in the first location. My iron bit the dust, it was old so I didn’t think anything about it. I bought a new Rowenta iron and it died in less than a year. I didn’t know what I was going to do. I thought the quality control must have retired. Bought another one, it started having problems as well. I finally decided it must be the water here so I started filling my iron up with water from the refrigerator since this would filter some of the minerals out. Happy ending – my problem was solved my current iron is at least 3 years old and still working like a charm. Every iron that I have ever used will have an occasional sputtering. I just keep a towel near by iron and iron on the towel until the sputtering is over.

      3. LindaG says:

        I agree, a good iron is essential.

        I have a higher-end, professional Rowenta (cost about $150 in the 90s) still working and I love it. Maintenance and using the right water are essential. All my other irons wore out after a few years.

        If your iron is leaking on lower temperature, non-steam settings, make sure the steam is turned off (if it has a switch or setting for this) before you start to iron. If it doesn’t have a control for the steam, that may be the cause of the leaks. The water isn’t getting hot enough to make steam and the vents for steam feed aren’t closing completely or still have a small amount of water left near the vents.

        To extend an iron’s life and cut down on or eliminate “spitting” or leaking, use only distilled water. This is relatively inexpensive and easy to get at a pharmacy and some grocery stores. (Note: Make sure you are getting distilled water, NOT spring water or “purified” water.) Using distilled water cuts down on mineral deposits, avoids creating rust in your iron, and keeps your steam from over-heating. It is the minerals in tap water that make the water overheat, spit, and corrode the inside of your iron.

        If you have been using tap water in your iron, and your iron has a power steam control, fill it with distilled water and perform a flush cleaning over a sink to remove all the minerals deposited inside. Do this until no minerals are sprayed out of the steam vents. Clean the bottom of the iron. Then, use only distilled water in your iron and to dampen fabrics.

        I work on a lot of silks and fine fabrics with steam, spray, and damp ironing. Using distilled water keeps the hot iron from leaving mineral stains on the fabrics and has kept my iron from “spitting” at me when heating.

  9. gillian Sutherland says:

    My list -Dressmaking shears Tape measure
    Pinking shears -How do you sharpen them? 18″ steel ruler, 12″ plastic ruler
    Craft scissors Point turner(lost!)
    Embroidery scissors Cutting mat
    Seam ripper Craft knife – of the scalpel variety
    Dressmakers’ transfer pencils Spencer Wells forceps (haemostats
    forceps)
    Dressmakers’ pins (ball headed) Pincushion
    Needles – hand, embroidery, machine Snaps, hooks and eyes, frogs
    Elastic Marker pen
    Bobbins Coloured pencils
    Patterns Paper (for ideas, and as aide-memoir)
    Tailors’ chalk Cotton for tailor’s tacks, tacking

    1. gillian Sutherland says:

      I forgot to add – standard lamp with an additional goose-neck light, and a pattern holder stand thing which I bought for my embroidery patterns, I bulldog-clip the paper paper pattern to a spare table mat and stand it on my pattern stand. A music stand would do equally well.

    2. nydia says:

      hello
      how do you sharpen any scissors?
      Just cut through a sheet of sandpaper, Yes! sandpaper several times, it works.
      the roughness of the sandpaper will sharpen your pinking shears too.
      I learned this while teaching kids how to sew.
      nydia

      1. nydia says:

        tip:
        to make a zipper open or close more smoothly, smooth a wax candle over the zipper.
        nr

  10. Jane says:

    One very important “tool” is my pair of Machingers – quilting gloves – They help me pull stubborn needles through fabric while hand sewing/embroidering, finish screwing the big screw on my machine that holds my needle, and helps feed a long straight piece of fabric under the machine foot – like for hemming the bottom of a skirt or curtains . . . . . . I could go on and on. They are the best. If they fit snug they are comfy and like you don’t even have any glove on.

  11. Patti says:

    Rotary blades in different sizes
    Cutting rulers in different sizes
    Pins in magnetic pin cushions – different pins for different jobs – not bent or nicked pins allowed. Throw them away.
    Surgical blade seam ripper. I have three scattered around my studio for quick grab.
    Tape measure
    Marking pens
    Snips
    Tweezers for serger threading
    Hemostat for serger threading
    Large washers for pattern weights
    Quilters ironing board (60×24)
    Regular ironing board
    Rowenta Stream station iron that DOES NOT AUTOMATICALLY TURN OFF EVERY 10 minutes!!!!
    Tailors ham and sleeve press
    Tube turners
    And to keep it all organized I use different sized ceramic flower pots fill with rice or dried beans. This provides a cushion and holds items standing upright so they can be seen for a quick grab. I add bay leaves and it keeps insects from infesting them.

  12. Melissa says:

    Having all the right tools is par for the course when you’re doing alterations or some fancy sewing project in your studio! Thanks for posting your list, its always interesting to see what other makers deem as their sewing must-haves. Here are some other really helpful sewing/designing tools I use daily.
    http://mjmfashion.com/top-5-fashion-design-tools/

    And these I recommend as essentials because they make the process faster: http://mjmfashion.com/top-5-sewing-essentials/

    best, MJM

  13. Natalie says:

    About those sewing machine needles: in addition to changing them according to the weight of your fabric, you also need to consider the fabric STRUCTURE: ball point needles for knits, stretch needles for fabric made with spandex, wedge point needles for sewing leather/furs. There are also needles made specifically for sewing with special threads (embroidery threads, metallic threads, cotton quilting thread.).

  14. Debbie Ericson says:

    Beeswax for threads used in hand sewing, a real couture feature to my hand sewing. Golden bird tiny scissors, and fabric weights from the glass heads of heavy scented candle jars. Italian music is also a must to my sewing work.

  15. I wonder which one is most used by everyone? Mine would be the seam ripper – not that this means I am an incompetent seamstress or quilter.

  16. Ponygirl says:

    I didn’t see anyone else list tracing paper and wheel. I know technically tailor tacks should be used to transfer pattern marks and darts but the paper and wheel are so much easier and faster. I recently acquired a double tracing wheel from Clover. It was recommended in Kenneth Kings book. Wow what a fantastic tool especially if you use European patterns that do not have seam allowance included. You just set the wheels 5/8th inches apart and run one wheel around the pattern outline and voila you have your new cutting line which includes the seam allowance.

  17. Connie Shaw says:

    I teach sewing, and one of the tools I encourage my adult students to have is a Sixth Finger Stiletto, available from Nancy’s Notions. On a single handle there are 2 items, one an awl and the other a flat-ended metal piece that aids in pushing fabric up and under the presser foot. Marvelous invention! I use mine a lot.

  18. Louise says:

    Wow, you hit everything I think as must-haves! thanks for refreshing our memories. I might include a small trashcan right next to your machine. I hate going back to pick up all the threads!

  19. Sheri says:

    My new favorite toy/tool in sewing is my bodkin for pulling elastic through the casing! Why did I wait so long to get one? It sure helps when going past the seam allowances!

    About sewing machine needles : most are universal these days. Meaning that it is a compromise between a sharp and a ball point. That works for most fabrics, but not so well on the finer knits and wovens. Also keep in mind that the needle needs to match the thread. Heavy thread in a smaller needle won’t move up and down the front so well, leaving a lot of top thread down in the bobbin case.

    Next to add to my collection is a thread catcher! I want it to have a pin cushion on the top, right in front of the tabs that the sewing machine feet sit on. I have it designed. I need to make it. My thread is all over the place!

    If I ever find the crotch measuring tape, I’m sure to nab that! It sure would be handy for pattern making!

  20. Lorenza says:

    To minimize the frequency of sharpening pinking shears, use only the initial one inch(tip) of the blade when starting to cut. As that area becomes dull, extend the cutting blade to two inches, etc. It will take a long time before the entire blade has to be sharpened. I learned this from a tailor about 50 years ago.
    Use pinking shears with removable blades(these screw on) in order to have them sharpened more easily.
    Do not cut plastic, even thin bags, with your good sewing shears. They will become dull very quickly.

  21. Marion says:

    2 tips that really helped me a lot:

    1) I bought a steam generator iron from Amazon which was reduced from EUR 200 to 120. Still a lot of money but the integrated water tank means that I can iron for 1 hour at top steam without having to refill. Also, it sped up ironing massively and the steam is generated evenly without drips at all times. I’ve had it now for 6 years and now problems whatsoever. Something like this:
    http://www.amazon.com/Rowenta-DG5030-Station-Stainless-Soleplate/dp/B000MT519O/

    2) IKEA sell a small curtain making kit which includes nice big pins, dress making scissors, sewing gauge, measuring tape, thread clipper, seam ripper, chalk that actually works etc. It’s such good value and again I had it for years – scissors are still sharp. The box is called SY and while I couldn’t find a price, it’s not more than $20. IKEA have a little blurp on their site:

    “Whether you’re an expert at sewing, or just starting out, take a look at our sewing boxes, which will help see you through any sewing project. Take our SY 15-piece sewing set; it contains everything from needles, pins and thimbles to sewing scissors, tailor’s chalk and tape measure. The items are packed into a handy case, which is perfect for home and travel. If you just need individual items, take a look at our SY range has scissors that are specially designed for use on textiles, as well as thread and pinking shears.”

  22. Tim Norris says:

    Thank you for this great post! My wife is looking to start making her own cloth diapers for our one-year old (and maybe do some custom ones to sell), and I’m helping her research a little to find some essential tools to have on hand. And the lists people have posted in the comments adds so much, that I think it all helps us greatly in looking to see what we need to be better prepared in this venture.

  23. Susan says:

    I love all of the suggestions (and I know I’m late to this conversation, but other links brought me here now). My own personal addition to the list is a lighted adjustable magnifying glass that can be used hands-free. I have a great one with a round florescent tube light (antique from my husband’s grandfather’s drafting tools), but I have recently purchased a smaller, cheaper one to use at school. My eyes are getting too old to do black-thread-on-black-fabric ripping without it! I teach FCS classes and it’s my policy to do as much ripping for my students as I reasonably can to minimize their frustration with the sewing process. My goal is to produce happy sewers!

  24. In addition to all of the above, a thimble and an awl for sure as well as a used piece of soap instead of chalk.