I've been sewing for the past 40 years since I was a young girl. During this time I've come across some great supplies that I wouldn't want to be without. Some I've most recently discovered and wonder how I ever got through my projects without them. I'm sure you have your favorite sewing essentials as well, but I'll share some of mine with you and you may find some that you didn't even know that you needed.
First, what I call the handy notions:
Sliding Gauge – This is a must-have for creating hems and casings. You just slide the little pointy thing to where you want your fabric ironed or pinned, and it's exactly right every time. I've had this very gauge for probably as long as I've been sewing.
Bodkin – This is a nice tool to have when you do a lot of threading elastic or ribbon. This makes threading your casings a breeze. [Deby – read more about my new bodkin here.]
Stiletto – This is a handy little tool to keep by your sewing machine. It will help guide your fabric through your machine. It is especially helpful when you are going through thick layers or ruffles.
Precision Tweezers – These aren't your makeup box tweezers. These will save you a ton of time when dealing with pesky little threads among other things. When I completely mess up a seam, and after I've used my seam ripper (my least favorite tool, hate to use it, but glad I have it) I can get those threads off quicker and easier than I can with my fingernails. These tweezers have a super pointed end, as well as an even edge. So if you can't get the threads one way, you can get them the other.
Makeup Brush – I suppose you are wondering why this is one of my favorite “sewing” notions. Well, let me tell you! Every machine I bought came with a little brush for cleaning the lint. The bristles on those brushes are too stiff to do a good job. The soft and flexible bristles on the makeup brush can get into the smallest of places and the lint seems to stick to it like a magnet. [Read more about cleaning your sewing machine here.]
I have so many different types of marking pencils, pens, and chalks, but these are the ones I grab the most. In fact, they are the only ones I ever use. I never liked the ones with the colors. The wheel on the left is great for marking lines. You can run it alongside your ruler. If you are stitching on the line, and stay on it, the needle seems to break up the chalk and it's about gone by the time you are finished stitching.
The center pens are disappearing marking pens. One of them, the purple cap, will disappear in 24 hours, although it seems to disappear a lot sooner than that. If you want it gone right away, a few spritzes of water will make it go away. The pens with the blue caps are similar except they don't disappear on their own, you spray them with water. These are my favorites and the ones that I always grab first. Always be sure to test them on the fabric you will be using first. Then we come to the plain old white chalk pencil. Not much to say but it's just a white chalk pencil. It's simple but does the job. [Deby – I like the Frixion pen for my sewing room – read more about them here – Frixion Pens, the miracle in the sewing room.]
Basting Spray – Wow! This is another item that I discovered way too late in my sewing life. If you do a lot of placemats, mug rugs, table runners, pot holders, or mini-quilts, you need to keep a can of this on hand. When I think of all the time I wasted in the past by using basting pins or needle and thread to hold my layers together, I can just scream! Seriously! It takes about three minutes to spray and line up your layers compared to several minutes or even an hour using pins or stitches. I've heard people say that they can gum up your needle, but I've never had that problem and I'm probably on my tenth can of it. Stick to a good name brand and you'll be fine.
Clover Wonder Clips – I just discovered these little gems about a year ago. Pinning is still nice for some things, but when it comes to thicker items such as binding a quilt or assembling purses, these clips are much better to use. How did I ever get along for so long without them? [Deby – you can get these at such a great price now. Read more here about whether you should buy the unbranded knock offs for these.]
Tube Turners – These have been around for a long time and I purchased mine about twenty years ago. I have come across many projects where you need to make fabric tubes and this makes turning them right side out so easy. I don't use them as much as I do my other favorite notions, but when I need them, it's nice to know they are here. They are on the pricier side of your typical notions, but well worth the price. [Don't have a tube turner? Nor me. Check out my tip for how to easily turn a tube of fabric without one.]
Cutting Mat, Rulers, Rotary Cutters – Many of you probably already have these in your stash as I have for many years. But I use them so often and I'd be lost without them, so for that reason, they are in my favorites list.
Scissors– We all have scissors in our sewing baskets, but I have a scissor for every reason. Most of you already know that your fabric scissors are for fabric and not paper or anything else. So I do have scissors that are only used for fabric, and scissors that I use for fabric/paper combinations, batting, fusible fleece, or just paper. I also have small pointed-end scissors that I use for small pieces which are especially handy when cutting out fabric appliques when they are backed with the paper-backed fusible webbing.
I love my tiny embroidery scissors. The little pointed ends can get me really close to the fabric and so nice when clipping the inside corners. I use these at my sewing machine to clip threads. You might notice I also have some heavy-duty craft snips. I use those for cutting through odd and unusual things we sometimes need to cut into. If you do a lot of mixed media, you'll be sure to need them. I've cut all kinds of things with these from wire to strung beads, to wooden popsicle sticks.
[Deby – read my thoughts on sewing scissors and whether you should invest in a ‘good' pair.]
Let's talk feet, sewing machine feet
Open Toe Foot – I have been designing applique templates and mug rugs forever, and why I never thought to use this little miracle foot is beyond me. It's been in the accessory kit that came with my machine when I bought it. I most recently came across it and thought it looked odd and wondered what I would do with it, so I googled it. Apparently, the open toe allows you to see exactly where the needle is going into the fabric without the plastic of the other foot in the way. Who knew? After stitching over a thousand appliques and mug rugs, I thought I'd give it a try. Now I could really line up my needle with the edge of the applique pieces and see exactly what I'm doing. This is especially helpful when two fabrics are very close in color.
Narrow Zipper Foot – Sometimes I wonder what the sewing machine manufacturers are thinking when they are adding your essential feet to their accessory kit. The newer machines come with a super wide zipper foot. Why? It slides right off your zipper, no matter how hard you try to keep it straight. I immediately ordered me a narrow zipper foot. You can see in the photo the difference between the two and it makes it easy to understand how your results will improve with the narrow version.
NOTE: You will need the wider foot if you are unable to manually move your needle to the right or to the left for stitching. Because of it's design, you can keep the needle in the center position and still use the foot. However, on every machine I own, I can manually move my needle right or left, so I only use this foot for corded piping and zippers.
Walking Foot – If you do a lot of quilting or sewing projects where you have several layers of fabrics, fleece, or batting, this foot will prevent the layers from shifting. It “walks” over the fabric rather than gliding over it. I use this foot a lot in my studio. I've had it for years.
[Deby – don't forget to check out this article about this HUGE set of presser feet you can buy so that you can get everything you need all in the one set for a great price.]
I can't end this article without sharing my favorite method for storage; zipper bags! Yes, zipper bags of all sizes and shapes. I use them for everything. I love the way you can throw your supplies in a box or drawer and still see everything at a glance while still keeping different items separate. Before I married and had my own studio, I lived in an apartment. I used this system for almost everything. I filled baskets, decorative boxes, drawers, and not-so-decorative boxes stashed under the bed or in the closet. When someone would come to visit me, they never knew it was also my workspace unless I was in the middle of a project because everything was so well hidden. While everything was out of sight, I still knew where everything was and could access it quickly!
There you have it, my studio essentials! Did you find something that you might need?
The best gadget I’ve ever used is a Simflex Expanding Sewing Gauge Metal Button locator. – it looks like a torture instrument but makes marking buttons and buttonholes too easy and no need to measure each space!
I do have this gadget, and you are right. It is such a time saver.
I agree with you on the many tools that have come along & been replaced w/our favorites.
Like you, I’ve been sewing since I was a little girl. Mom got me started around age 8 (60 years ago!) and I’ve loved it ever since. Isn’t it amazing what techniques and tools have changed over the years? – let alone sewing machines.
I love, Love, LOVE that Tailor’s basting spray! I use it for small projects and quilts too. Unlike other sprays, Tailor’s has no discernible odor and doesn’t make me gag. I open the windows and go at it. You really don’t need to cover every inch of a quilt, I just spritz every 6 to 8 inches and it works fine for me. Tailor’s has another neat product called Pattern Stick. You (lightly) spray the wrong side of your pattern piece and lay it on your fabric. And the pattern can be reused! – all the instructions are on the can.
I’m too cheap to pay for wonder clips – I use little binder clips from the Dollar store. They do the job just as well and if I lose any, I don’t kick myself because they’re so inexpensive.
I often work with knits, so another of my favorites is the knit presser foot – have you tried it? It’s wonderful and really makes a difference! Pair it with a stretch-type double needle and your hems will look as though they were done on a cover-stitch machine. (Test your tension first on scrap fabric!)
Pattern Stick isn’t perfect for every type of fabric so my last and one of my most favorite notions is pattern weights! I make my own with big, heavy, inexpensive fender washers from the local big-box hardware store. Look for the ones the size of a very large button. Stack 5 or more with hot glue or super glue and let them dry. Use pinking shears to cut scrap fabric into a (sort of) square big enough to gather up around your stack with an inch of so excess at the top. Set the stack in the middle and bring the fabric up and around the sides. Gather in the center and tie with a length of twine or button & carpet thread. Leave the excess at the top as a “handle”. No precision required here; the goal is to make them look pretty and easy to grab when needed. They work great and cost very little!
hi can you show me your fabric weights n how you covered them…thank you
Never thought to use a makeup brush to clean my sewing machine. I have 1 or 2 hanging around that are no longer useful for makeup. I’ll re-purpose 1 for my sewing room.
I TOTALLY agree about the zipper feet. It was not until I was trying to help my granddaughter put a zipper in a jumper that I finally decided I had had it with the “new” zipper feet. I went to my local quilt shop / sewing machine shop and bought zipper feet for both machines. It was money well spent. I would love to hear an explanation of WHY manufacturers are providing those annoying fat “zipper feet.”
I adore your blogs, Your patterns and your projects. Thank you for this lovely informative blog.
Great article with pictures on sewing essentials. I have been sewing for many years but I always learn something new when I read many sewing articles..Thank you…
Hi. I am a renewbee meaning I havent sewn in 30 plus years…I am trying to learn to quilt. Any advice is priceless to me. Thank you everyone i truly appreciate your help.
Great info! Happy New Year!