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What sewing tools do you REALLY need to get started?
We discussed picking out a sewing machine in my post Sewing Machine Basics: Choosing a Machine for Beginners and I hope that encouraged you to dust off your old machine or invest in a new one!
Now lets start learning about the best sewing tools for beginners! These tools help make sewing more accurate, enjoyable, and productive.
Have you ever walked through the sewing notions aisle at your local fabric store and gotten totally overwhelmed? I have!!! Let’s talk about the tools I use on a regular basis and recommend you get as well.
A good pair of fabric scissors are a must! I have a pair of Fiskars and my beloved Ginghers. I was gifted my Ginghers, when I was first getting started on my sewing journey. At that time, I didn’t really understand why you would spend so much money on a pair of scissors! But with experience (and age!) comes wisdom.
Gingher is one of the premium fabric scissor brands available today and come with a lifetime warranty. You can send them in for sharpening and repair (for $12), which I highly recommend you do. This is another example of ”do as I say, not as I do”. I have never sent mine in for sharpening. To be honest, I can’t bear the thought of being without them for 3 to 4 weeks!!!
Despite this neglect, they work great and are my go to fabric scissors. It is important that you only use your sewing scissors for cutting fabric, not anything else. Doing so is a sure way to dull the blade causing uneven cutting, shredded fabric and hand fatigue. Just don’t do it!!! Everyone in my house knows NOT to touch my sewing scissors! To disobey this rule would be a dangerous proposition.
2. Pinking Shears
I do not use my pinking shears nearly as often as I used to, now that I have a serger to finish my seams. However, before that it was a must have sewing tool.
Pinking shears are scissors that have jagged blades that come together to cut a saw-tooth edge on your fabric. A pinked edge can prevent fraying in lighter weight fabrics and reduce seam bulk in heavier fabrics, like fleece. I would say that these are not an absolute MUST have tool, but good to have depending on your projects and fabrics choices.
3. Rotary Cutter
Think of this tool, as wicked sharp round scissors who would happily cut off your fingertips if given an opportunity! Seriously, as much as I LOVE my Olfa Rotary Cutter, this can be a dangerous tool and should only be used by adults who know how to use it safely. My children know not to play with or touch this tool. Always keep the blade cover in place when not cutting….the blade is really sharp!
The rotary blades are replaceable, and you will need to do that occasionally. Do not use a dull blade, you are more likely to hurt yourself AND get a nasty cut edge. You will know when it’s time to replace your blade. They also sell a handy dandy blade sharpener so that you can sharpen and reuse your blades. I’m thinking about getting one of those bad boys….I hate spending money on rotary blades, I’d much rather buy pretty fabric ; ).
See my post How to use a Rotary Cutter to Square Fabric for tips and tricks on using your rotary cutter, rotary ruler and cutting mat.
Cutting Mats & Rulers
4. Self-healing Cutting Mat
Self-healing cutting mats are available in a variety of sizes and used with rotary cutters to cut fabric. They are self-healing, meaning the rotary blades do not damage the cutting surface of the mat and vice-versa.
I use my cutting mat as an everyday work surface on my studio cutting table, since the built-in grid is great for making quick measurements. It is also a clean smooth surface that does not “snag” my fabric! This is not a must have tool, but very very helpful. Particularly if you start to sew larger projects or would like to quilt. I recommend investing in the largest one you can justify.
5. Rotary Rulers
These transparent acrylic rulers are great general purpose tools for your sewing studio. They come in a variety of sizes and shapes and generally feature 1/8 thru 1 inch markings and 30, 45 and 60 degree angle markings. These rulers are also used in conjunction with your rotary cutter and cutting mat, to make easy work of cutting your gorgeous fabric in straight, square pieces.
I would consider this a must having sewing tool, since it can be used for so many things besides rotary cutting! I have a 6 1/2 by 24 inch version, and it has held up very well. It is a super valuable and frequently used tool in my studio. See my post How to use a Rotary Cutter to Square Fabric, for tips and tricks on using your rotary cutter, rule and cutting mat.
Sewing Notions: Pins, Gauges, Rippers...
6. Straight Pins or Clips
Straight pins with heads are used to hold your fabric layers in place. I recommend you get more than you think you initially need, since it is a good idea for beginners to use more pins than not. They also tend to get eaten by some type of monster and disappear….kinda like my kids’ socks and mittens!
Some people prefer fabric clips to pins. I have not made the switch to clips yet, but I see the appeal. It is probably best to have a set of both pins and clips to see which you like best. They are a small investment that makes a big difference.
Many people like to use pincushions to hold their pins. I prefer to just keep them in the little plastic box that they came in. Not sure why I have made that choice. Maybe I like to stab my fingers over and over again? Honestly, I don’t like to futz and fumble with the pincushion and prefer to quickly drop my pins in the box. I would say that straight pins or clips are a must have tool for beginners, pincushions are a maybe depending on your preference. You’ll figure it out....do what works best for you.
7. Hand-sewing Needles
While I generally avoid hand-sewing as much as possible, there are occasions when you will need to sew closed a seam or add a button. A multi-pack of hand sewing needles, containing various size needles, will be sufficient to get started. Generally, the larger the number the smaller the needle.
8. Sewing Tape Measure
A best sewing tool for any sewer, you may want to get a couple of them as they also tend to be eaten by the unnamed mystery monster that lives in my house. They are used most often to take body measurements, but are helpful for measuring in general. I use mine frequently for measuring long curtain panels and things that are too big to fit on my cutting table.
9. Sewing Gauge
Sewing gauges are nifty, inexpensive little hand tools for measuring and marking small areas. There are a few different styles. I have the 6 inch aluminum ruler with slider as well as this oddly shaped little aluminum one. I use both everyday for pressing under hems and checking seam allowances. It’s a must have tool and well worth the few dollar investment.
10. Seam Ripper
Oh, I have such a love/hate relationship with my seam ripper! It’s an absolute must have tool for any seamstress, but she does not want to use it very often! Even the best of us make mistakes and these little guys remove unwanted stitches without damaging your fabric. The sharp pointed end is used to remove single stitches and the sharp curved portion is used to take out several stitches or entire seams. These also seem to disappear. I have at least 3 in my studio, and they are little life savers when you need to rip out a seam or 2 or 8...
11. Marking Tools
A good marking tool that does not permanently mark your fabric, is very helpful for beginners and veterans alike. In many of my beginner tutorials, I mark my fabric with quilting pens to help you visualize the steps and instructions in my posts. If you feel more comfortable marking things versus "eyeballing", then I recommend getting a few of these.
The variety I currently have, Frixion Gel Pen, erase with the heat of my iron. There are other types that erase with moisture or water. There is also a chalk variety, but I find those to be messy and hard to work with. Either way, make sure you are getting a variety that erases with heat or water. You do NOT want marks on your beautiful fabric that won't come off!
A good Iron is an essential sewing tool!
I admit that I am an iron snob….yes, sad but true. There were days when I used a dirt cheap iron, and thought it was bonkers crazy to spend upwards of 50 hard earned bones on an iron!?! Well, after ironing hundreds of yards of fabric, I have come to understand and appreciate the value of a high-quality, heavy, smooth iron.
I currently have a Rowenta Focus and find it a pleasure to use. When in doubt, look for a Teflon coated pressing surface and large water reservoir. Don’t feel like you need to be an iron snob….a regular everyday iron will work just fine. If you don’t currently own an iron, a mid-range model around the $30 price point would be a good investment. You can always claim you need to iron some work pants, shirts, jeans, sheets…..whatever works.
***Sewing Machine & Instruction Manual- Get to know your machine and her manual. Seriously, this is such an important tool to read and keep handy, even if you have had your machine forever and know it well. This is my Brother cs6000i that I love so much! You can read more about it in my post Sewing Machine Basics: Choosing a Machine for Beginners.
I know that this seems like a lot of “stuff” to invest in to get started sewing. However, I think that having these basics help make learning more manageable and enjoyable. I would much prefer to cut my fabric with a cutting mat and rotary cutter on a table, versus trying to cut while kneeling on the floor getting covered in dog hair, cookie crumbs and glitter.
Hmmm, maybe I should sew less and clean my floors more...
Use the right tool for the right job!
I believe in using the tools that give you the best end result. If you start your first project and walk away frustrated with a product that you are not proud of, chances are you will be less likely to come back and try something else. I want you to be successful and fall in love with this creative outlet as much as I have!
Make and share a wish list!
Remember, these items also make great gift ideas. My parents gifted me many of these initial tools one year, as a combo Birthday and Christmas gift, and it was one of my favorite gifts of all time!
I bet if you shared your wish list with family and friends, you might find yourself getting some of these as fantastic gifts! Just know that at some point, those folks will expect some homemade gifts as a thank you...
Be safe & stay well!