It was clear from my recent sewing survey that although there are a lot of experienced sewists that visit this site – many of you are new to sewing, just starting out, looking to improve, or even don't sew yet but want to learn. So here is my list of essential sewing tools and my good-to-have favorites that might be helpful to those starting out.
My essential sewing tools
1 – Fabric Scissors – never use your good fabric shears for anything other than fabric, interfacing, etc. Warn your children they will be grounded, your husband that he will be divorced, and write on the blades with a permanent marker. Having good fabric scissors is essential. You might be cutting through several layers of fabric at once and still have a nice smooth cut.
2 – Seam Ripper – sounds worse and more violent than it is. A tool with a sharp point, a blunt point, and a sharp blade in the middle. Can be used to carefully unpick stitches when you've gone wrong, and cut the stitches in a seam using the center blade. Plus its a useful pointy tool that can also be used for a lot of things that are nothing to do with sewing. Not just for mistakes – use it to remove basting stitches too. I also use mine to hold fabric in place as it goes under the presser foot so I don't get my fingers too close to the needle.
3 – Zipper foot, invisible and adjustable. I tried to get a good result with a regular presser foot but that is never going to happen. To make nice neat zippers you need to use the correct tool – either an adjustable zipper foot or the invisible zipper foot. Best to get both because there will certainly be times when one is better than the other depending on the application.
4 – Tape measure– for taking your own body measurements, measuring fabric, measuring pattern pieces at the bust, waist, etc. Mine always seems to be missing and I find the cat has dragged it under the bed again and attacked it thinking it is a snake. Better get two.
5 – Large clear ruler – commonly used by quilters but lots of regular sewing applications too. I use this every day for marking out for cutting the purses I sell in my Etsy shop, and it sits at the front of my sewing machine for quick measurements as I sew. Useful for extending grain lines on patterns and any time you need to measure and still see what's underneath your ruler.
6 – Pattern making paper, Double Tracing Wheel, and Saral Transfer (Tracing) Paper. My pattern tracing and fabric marking kit. Used to trace and copy patterns and to transfer pattern markings onto fabric. You can read more about the easy way to trace patterns using these tools. I also use the wheel and transfer paper to transfer patterns and markings, darts, etc directly to the fabric without having to cut out the pattern at all!
7 – Sewing Machine. Well, you could sew everything by hand, but you will get a better and quicker result with a sewing machine. I am on my second machine, the first one was borrowed and I looked at a lot of machines before settling on the Brother CP-7500 (now discontinued – best alternative is the Brother CS6000i). I've been extremely happy with it, it does everything I need quietly and smoothly and has lots of features I've not even used yet, but it's good to know they are there for when I need them. Such as buttonholes and decorative stitches. The best things about it – the built-in needle threader, the 3 different overcasting stitches, the walking foot, and the 3 different speed settings.
8 – Overcasting foot. I use this on almost everything I make. I don't have a serger, so I use the 3 different overcasting stitches on my machine with this overcasting foot to give a nice neat finish on my seams, and also to sew and finish my knit projects with a neat narrow, and stretchy hem. Highly recommended if you want to sew with knits.
9 – Fray Check . One bottle may well last you a lifetime if you keep the top on tightly. Magic in a bottle to stop fabric from fraying. I use it when cutting ribbon, and when cutting through fabric for any reason such as to add a magnetic snap to a purse, or sewing a buttonhole. Also good to add a dab when you sew buttons to stop the thread from unraveling. Can be used to stop fabric fraying as you work with it before edges are finished.
10 – Clover Wonder Clips. Like magic pins. Regular pins have their place, but I often use the clips instead. Work well when you have lots of layers to secure together, and they don't leave any holes or marks in your fabric. And there is no chance that you will sew over one of these by mistake and break your machine needle. They seem a little expensive compared to pins, but I think they are well worth the investment (why not hint that you would like these for your birthday!)
11 – The right machine needles. It never really occurred to me when I was starting out that there might be more than one type of machine needle. But in fact, they come in different sizes, different points, different sized eyes, for different fabrics such as denim and leather, and more. Of course, keep a supply of the multi-purpose needles but also consider adding in a twin needle and some ballpoint needles for sewing with knits. A lot of the problems that occur when sewing knit fabrics can be eliminated simply by using the correct needle.
You might find this article about which sewing machine needle useful and interesting.
12 – Disappearing marking pen. Again – an essential I use every day. It's nice and easy to use, leaves an easy to see mark and then fades over time or can simply wash out. I have noticed that fabrics all behave differently and sometimes this can be fading within 30 minutes. I've never had a problem that has left any kind of mark after use. Mark out your darts for precision sewing, mark sewing lines, notches, and more.
So have I included all of your favorites, or are there some essential sewing tools you use regularly and can't do without?