Sewing Clothes? Get the Right Tools!

on June 2 | in Sewing + Quilting Tips | by | with 161 Comments

Sally from Sew Sally has joined us on the blog before. She’s an excellent sewist and teaches classes in the Portland area, and this month she joined our Sew,Mama,Sew! Editorial Board to help plan all of our Make It, Wear It! excitement! We’ll share her board member interview tomorrow but today you can enjoy all Sally has to teach about finding the right tools to sew clothes!

Edited to add: We made you a Tool Kit PDF download with all of Sally’s tables about needles, marking tools, thread and pressing tools. Print it out and enjoy!

There are probably as many tools for sewing as there are people who sew and it can be hard to choose which ones you really need for garment sewing. And when you are standing at the notions wall in the fabric store, the sea of choices can be overwhelming. We are here to help!

The most critical tools are pins, scissors, a 60” measuring tape, and a seam ripper. Everything else is optional, but sewing is much easier, faster, and more enjoyable when you have good tools.

When you first start making a garment, you will place your pattern on the fabric. Some people use weights to hold down the paper and I once saw a woman use beautiful flat river rocks that she had collected. But most of us will reach for pins, the question is, which ones? I prefer to use very fine, very sharp pins that are about 2 inches long. Silk pins are my favorite as they slide effortlessly through the fabric and never snag. They come with colored glass heads, so I don’t worry about ironing them or losing them in the carpet. Really long pins are great for quilting, but get in the way of navigating sleeve hems and other small areas.

A magnetic pin cushion can be swept across the floor to retrieve any errant pins. And a magnetic pin cushion with a lid can be easily stored or taken to class without any pins getting lost.

Once you are ready to cut, you will need some sharp fabric shears. They should be designed for comfort and to reduce hand fatigue.

I have small hands, so I often reach for my 7” shears or a pair of “featherweight” shears. Some companies have spring-action scissors that make cutting much easier. Most of all you want to be sure they are dedicated to only cutting fabric (never paper!) so they stay sharp. Some people prefer to use a rotary cutter, but be sure you have a large enough self-healing mat under your project so you don’t cut into your table top!

Marking Tools:
After you have cut out your garment, you may need to make some marks on the pattern. Here you have an enormous variety of affordable choices.

Be sure to test the marking tools on your fabric, both to see how they look and to test removing the marks. Some inks and chalks will be permanently set with heat from the iron.

After you’ve marked your pattern pieces and you are ready to sew, you’ll need to get your machine ready for the project too. Start by threading with good quality cotton or polyester thread and choose a needle that is right for your project.

Like changing the oil in your car, your machine will run more smoothly and quietly if you have a new needle after every 8 hours of sewing.



After you’ve sewn your seams, you’ll need to press them. This sets the thread into the fabric and makes a nicer looking project. At a minimum you will need a good iron and a flat heat-proof surface. A sturdy ironing board and some simple pressing tools will make your garments look even better!

Pressing Tools:

With luck, you won’t reach for it often, but a sharp seam ripper is another sewing essential. An ergonomic handle makes removing stitches all the easier.


We’re giving away fabulous prizes this month from SINGER, Ottobre Design and Sew,Mama,Sew!

1–Comment Here

Comment in any post this month to be entered into a weekly drawing for great prizes from SINGER and Sew,Mama,Sew!

2–Enter the Make It, Wear It! Challenge

Submit a photo of clothing you make this June in our Make It, Wear It! Challenge photo pool or in this thread in the Forum. You might win a SINGER sewing machine or a subscription to Ottobre.

See this post for details about all the prizes this month!

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161 Responses to Sewing Clothes? Get the Right Tools!

  1. jill says:

    Thanks for all the lists, love the reference sheet for sewing tools. Sometimes it’s great to have a list when you get distracted at a sewing store for what you really need!

  2. Great summary of what you need! Now all I have to do is find out where I can buy all of these things locally.

  3. Michele says:

    Great resource! Thanks!

  4. Jennifer says:

    Thanks for the tips! Great for a beginner like me!

  5. sewiknittoo says:

    I’m sure other people may know this, but silk organza makes a wonderful pressing cloth in lieu of the teflon pressing sheet, because it retains the majority of the heat from the iron thus not scorching delicate fabrics.

  6. Sylvie says:

    Thank you for all those advices!

  7. Paula says:

    I’m a quilter but inspired to start sewing garments. Thank you for the great info and giveaway!

  8. Jenn says:

    This is wonderful! thanks!

  9. Theresa says:

    More great information to help me improve my sewing skills. I had no idea I should always iron my seams to set the thread. I make handbags, so having secure seams is super important. Thanks for the tip!

  10. Betsy M says:

    I need to get that magnetic pincushion with a lid! Great tips.

  11. jean says:

    thanks for the tips. i’m just gathering up enough courage to tackle sewing clothing, so any advice is much appreciated!

  12. Angelina says:

    I’ve just decided to start sewing clothes, so this is a handy list for me! Thank you!

  13. Joke says:

    Thank you for giving us an overview! It’s good to know what’s out there and what serves which purpose.

  14. Jessica says:

    I am so very new to sewing, so thank you for all the wonderful tips!

  15. PeachRainbow says:

    This is so informative, thank you!

  16. Carmen says:

    I think I finally realized after this post how awesome a resource this blog actually is! I do sew clothing, and I have, well, most of these tools, but it’s something that I take for granted. To have it all handy and written up concisely is a really wonderful thing to have. Thank you for constantly building and enhancing the features on your blog!

  17. SusanW says:

    Nice overview, thanks

  18. Brittney says:

    Thanks for all the helpful info.

  19. Jen L says:

    great tip with the magnetic pincushion with a lid!

  20. alisha says:

    What a great list.

  21. Kristin says:

    I really appreciate the tips!

  22. ~Helena~ says:

    Great info, Thanks

  23. Chris Davis says:

    great tips, thanks!

  24. Bonnie says:

    I love my tools, I have mine and I inherited all my Mom’s tools, She had a thing for scissors, I think she had a pair for everytype project she did. My favorite tool lately is a seam ripper. Things have to be perfect for me to continue and my seam ripper has a permanat space by my machine. great tip on the needles too.

  25. Vida says:

    very informative, thanks for the info!

  26. Rebmara says:

    great advice, thanks 🙂

  27. Melissa says:

    So very helpful! I should go change my needle now.

  28. Sarah says:

    Great advice! I think it’s time I bought a new pair of scissors…

  29. Liz says:

    Great tips, thanks for the post!

  30. Melanie says:

    Thanks for the tips! So often I find myself standing in front of the notions wall just completely overwhelmed – this will give me some focus!

  31. Junglewife says:

    This is a great help! Thanks so much!

  32. Heidi says:

    great tips, I’d love to have a spool rack like that picture too.

  33. Lisa says:

    Since I am mostly self-taught it’s nice to know why there are things like ironing hams. We never had one at our house. I’ve been wanting a teflon sheet too – it’s on my “want” list for sure.

  34. Great way to get up to date and find all those little things to improve our sewing.

  35. Unity says:

    Throw me into the group of weight users. My mom always used cans of fruit or veggies from the pantry. I do that and have started working in old glass insulators from the abandoned power lines in the area as I collect them. They are so pretty once they are cleaned up most of mine are shades of pale blue.

    I’m with the other ladies who need a list of where a fabric lands on the weight scale.

  36. virginiaO says:

    I heart sewing, I heart every tool of the trade.

  37. Cheryl says:

    A great, and so complete, list of items to gather to make sewing clothing more enjoyable. Thanks for the additional information to help make decisions on the right items to use for each project!

  38. Jessica says:

    Ak! I love the idea of using the magnetic pin cushion to check the floor for errant pins!

  39. Latrilla says:

    Tools…….task complete! 🙂 Thanks for the listing.

  40. Meg says:

    This is so helpful. All of the sewing gadgets can be overwhelming. Its nice to have it all broke down. THanks!

  41. Dawn says:

    Good post! I mentally did a checklist of the things I have/need to have.

  42. kelly says:

    thank you for the information. I did not know that about my machine. Love your site!

  43. Tara says:

    I love your display of scissors! They are all so shiny and sharp. Very nice collection, very useful. Great article on tools.

  44. bruinbr says:

    Thanks so much for the great tips and reminders!

  45. pranita says:

    Thanks for the tips! 🙂

  46. Katrina says:

    thanks! great refresher!

  47. Amy says:

    Awesome tools!! What great tips to think about!

  48. Trish B. says:

    if only money was available in an unlimited supply… I love my tools too.

  49. Rochelle says:

    My sharp seam ripper is awesome! I didn’t realize what a difference a sharp ripper could make until I replaced my 20+ year old seam ripper. Seam ripping is no longer a drag! 🙂

  50. Kirsten says:

    I long for the day when I do not need my seam ripper as much. Love this months posts!

  51. Maria says:

    Great tips! This is a good reminder

  52. Ginger says:

    great tips!

  53. Luz Maria Martin del Campo says:

    I really apprecciate your tips since I am a beginner and need to learn a lot. Thank you!

  54. renee says:

    Neat. I just so happen to be making a shrug for the 8th grade semi-formal. Maybe I’ll enter that. It’ll be my first time sewng on special occasion (slippery) fabric.

  55. Ramona says:

    Great tips!

  56. Mel says:

    Great tips! I’m still trying to get up the nerve to make clothes.

  57. Becky says:

    Even though I have been sewing for “forevah” I still love to read lists/articles such as this. Reminds me of what I might need to try and confirms what I already use.


  58. shannon says:

    very helpful tips! thank you! 🙂

  59. Wendy D. P. says:

    Thanks – this is so useful!

  60. Ginger says:

    Great tips; thanks!

  61. Cricket says:

    Aha! I always wondered what that fabric ham was for when I was a kid. Never actually saw anyone using it, you know, but it was always around. It hung out with the darning egg.

  62. Em says:

    Very helpful post. I have recently begun to delve into garment construction (toddler clothes only so far) and this was great to read.

  63. Tarrah says:

    I’m happy to day that I have quite a few of these items! Love the thread display! Mine is about half that! ((jealous))

  64. Jenn B says:

    Really great tips on the needed tools to start sewing!!

  65. Denise says:

    Great list of tips! I am going to forward this on to my daughter!

  66. kim says:


  67. Brookiej says:

    Great…now, I can add some additional tools to my sewing basket…I don’t know why my hubby thinks it is so funny! He sure doesn’t have a problem with collecting his tools from Home Depot! 🙂

  68. qsogirl says:

    Has anyone heard of a tailor tack for marking patterns? My mother has one and I would love to have one of my own, but I’ve not been able to find one in the large chain stores.
    Reading this post makes me itch to get home and sew some clothes!!

  69. Pam says:

    Thanks for this. Good reminders before I start my project.

  70. Kelli says:

    What a great intro for new sewers/sewists/whatever. And a great reminder for me since it’s been awhile since I’ve made any clothing–it’s been all quilts for awhile.

  71. liz says:

    great information, learned a lot of new sewing tool names!

  72. Courtney P-F says:

    Ouch! I have stepped on some pins hidden in my carpet. Great tip with the magnetic pin holder!

  73. Heather says:

    Thanks for the tips in pressing darts! Now I’m actually looking forward to putting them in!

  74. Mindy says:

    It’s almost like school supplies, you may have what you really need, but new ones are soooo exciting, at least for me!

  75. Jackie H says:

    Just started delving into making clothes as I emerge from my quilt world…this was very useful! Thanks for taking the time and for those great photos w/ labels! 🙂

  76. Sade says:

    I’m slowly increasing my tool collection. This list will make it easier (or harder if I can’t decide).

  77. Jenny says:

    very helpful thank you!

  78. Marcia W. says:

    thank you for the information on things we need to know to sew…

  79. Merilee says:

    I always wondered if there was a rotary pinking tool – I’m off to buy one now!

  80. Doris says:

    This is really good information…Thanks!

  81. Andi says:

    I’m going to have to go looking for pins with glass heads – I’ve melted quite a few pastic ones with my iron. Thanks for the great tips!

  82. Amber F. says:

    Always good to review the basics. Glad to see I have almost all of these things in my kit!

  83. Kerry says:

    Back to basics- it’s got to be done to stop your dress making looking too homey!

  84. Lisa E. says:

    I’m with Layla – When it comes to fabric “weights” how do we know what is what?? I understand the difference between the types of needles, and what type of fabric or thread to use a specific needle with, but I don’t know if quilter’s cotton, verses a poly-cotton blend, is light or medium…. Can you help us solve the weight mystery?? Thanks!

  85. Melissa says:

    Fantastic post. The day I realized ironing was as important as sewing the garment was the day I became a better seamstress. 🙂

  86. sy says:

    helpful list 😀 thanks for sharing!

  87. Great tips and tool guide.

  88. Carla says:

    adding to my list of things to buy… thanks for the tips!

  89. Nilly says:

    great tips, thank you!

  90. Brownie says:

    I am just about to sew my first real garment, so this is very helpful. I found a pattern and a fabric for myself, and I can’t wait to make my own dress!

  91. Andi says:

    I need a magnetic pin cushion! I keep mine in a bowl right now but using a magnetic one to find strays on the floor is genius!

  92. Isobel says:

    Ooooh gel pens for fabric – sounds so much better than what I usually use. Thanks!

  93. Lindsay says:

    Very useful-sending to my friend who I just helped buy a new sewing machine.

  94. Juli Levine says:

    Great tips! And, quilting and garment sewing share a bunch of the same tools!!

  95. Nancey says:

    Appreciate the info on different threads. Thanks!

  96. Cinnamon says:

    What a good list of tools! And I really appreciate the tips that go along with each category.

  97. heather says:

    I so need to change my needle!! Thanks for the reminder!

  98. Amy says:

    I use pattern weights instead of pins and love the idea of collecting river rock to use.

  99. Jayne says:

    YES! now I feel like I can clean out my collection of things passed on from other sewers. Yay for the ‘essentials’ lesson. 🙂

  100. Kadybug says:

    Thank you for breaking down the different types of thread! I didn’t know that cotton absorbed dyes better.

  101. You gotta have your tools! Thanks for the great tips.

  102. Jennifer S. says:

    Wow – I had no idea… you would cringe at the way I’ve been freehand cutting out my patterns (no wonder they don’t fit?)

  103. Sara says:

    I have a great book by Readers Digest that breaks it all down for you just like ya’ll did here!

  104. Mary Lou says:

    Thanks for the info, very helpful.

  105. Marisa says:

    Thanks for the tips!

  106. Melissa Ann says:

    I’ve never heard of the gel pen before! I typically use the tracing wheel and carbon paper though. I don’t understand how the other marking instruments would be used to mark darts or other under the tissue type marks.

  107. Heather says:

    Lots of great information!!

  108. Elizabeth says:

    I’ve never heard of a magnetic pin cushion. Great idea!

  109. Susan says:

    A very useful post – thank you so much! I’ve bookmarked this to reference as I continue to explore sewing 🙂

  110. Jessica says:

    I’ve been wanting to dive into sewing clothes for a while now! This seems to be the perfect opportunity!

  111. Morgan says:

    Very good information, thanks for sharing!

  112. Amanda says:

    Great tips! I’m just starting out and a hard time telling the difference between all the fabric markers/pencils/etc and what they do. Thanks for breaking it down.

  113. Nicole says:

    This is fabulous! You have also inspired me to start a sewing notebook with printouts of things like this! Thanks!

  114. Claire says:

    Thanks for all the information!

  115. Cat says:

    I would love to know about more unusual tools as well . . . maybe some I dont even know I need (although that may support my shopping addiction!)

  116. Cindy says:

    thanks for the info

  117. Amy says:

    A magnet to catch stray pins is definitely one of my musts as well.

  118. beth lehman says:

    I love seeing all these items together and thinking about what you can do with them! Great post!

  119. Corvus says:

    I’d say, aside from my machine and scissors, my seam ripper is my most valuable tool.

    What this says about my crafting ability, I don’t want to know.

  120. Sara says:

    Thanks for the list of marking tools!

  121. DebbieKL says:

    I’d love to try Tailors Chalk. Some of the other marking tools I’ve used haven’t worked all that well. Love the river rock idea also!

  122. Sara says:

    Great tips. Thank you. I honestly didn’t know that I needed to change my needle so often. Oops. 🙂

  123. sharonj says:

    Great list of tools, thank you! Sharonj.

  124. Jody says:

    The tip about changing your needle often is a lifesaver. Every time my stitches start looking yucky it is because I didn’t change the needle often enough. Great tips.

  125. Dacia says:

    Thanks for the tool tips! Now it’s time to get sewing!

  126. Katie says:

    Awesome info!

  127. elle says:

    That about covers it!

  128. Fawn says:

    The tip for ironing darts was something I had no idea about, thanks so much for that! I love the charts breaking down each section, extremely handy for quick reference!

  129. delitealex says:

    Thanks for the great tips.

  130. Kara says:

    Oh wow. THANK YOU. I’ve needed something like this for a while. I find that learning what you need can be very overwhelming. <3

  131. Becky says:

    I have always wanted one of those thread racks. Perhaps I shall finally splurge. This is a great list and good suggestions.

  132. Caroline says:

    Great tips! Love the felt pincushion.

  133. Amanda says:

    Thanks for this… I am using this as an excuse to get some new supplies I’ve been wanting!

  134. Liz says:

    Thanks for the tips and the explanation of the items…never knew about some of them! Thanks again!

  135. April says:

    Good to know that I have most of the basic tools recommended. 🙂

  136. Serena says:

    A good list and tips!

  137. Vicki K says:

    Will the pin package say “Silk Pins”? I haven’t been able to find them at the large fabric stores – do I need to order them online? Does silk refer to the fabric they should be used for?

    Thank you for this great information!!

  138. Great selection of tools! Although it’s not a tool per se, I’d like to add muslin as a necessity for garment making. It’s the only way to truly get your fit perfected before you cut into that fantastic fabric that you purchased for your garment. Can anyone imagine making a Liberty blouse without double checking the fit in a muslin first? Brave soul who can do that. 🙂

  139. Rebecca says:

    Great tips! Thanks!

  140. Mama Lusco says:

    Thanks for reviewing the marking tools!

  141. Great article… Thanks for the tips :)))

  142. Lori says:

    Great article!

  143. Susan says:

    I’m so old-fashioned the only marking tool I knew about was the carbon paper and tracing wheel! Thank you for introducing me to so many new and different kinds of marking products. I think it’s time I go check some of the new kinds out at the store.

  144. grace says:

    thanks for the charts. they make it so much easier to remember things!

  145. kate says:

    I’ve never seen the gel fabric marking pen before. Looks good – I’m always hunting an easier/better better way to transfer pattern markings to fabric (my most hated chore in any sewing project).

  146. Tong says:

    Thanks for the great tips!

  147. Hilary says:

    Thanks for the thread comparisons!

  148. Judy says:

    Never even realized how useful a magnetic pin cushion could be in sweeping up pins off the carpet or work area. I love learning about these “professional” tips that make me feel like I’m not such a sewing dunce!

  149. Leisel says:


  150. JJ says:

    So helpful, thanks!

  151. Layla says:

    re: the needle chart, I’m curious what makes a medium weight fabric. Is quilting cotton medium or light? How about jersey knit? these have always seemed light to me. I try to use the right needle but I am not sure I see the difference in my choices, maybe I’m just not using a needle that’s ‘wrong’ enough?

  152. Missie says:

    Wonderful ideas. I am super new to machine sewing so any bit of advice is great!

  153. Laree says:

    I have never heard of a teflon press sheet. I think i need to go find one!

  154. Lee Ann Bailey says:

    My mother taught me to make tailor’s tacks to mark fabric. You just thread your needle with contrasting thread and make an open loop stitch twice in the same place. Cut the loop and a little bundle of threads will mark the spot. This works especially well for darts.

  155. mon ami says:

    this is a great list – thanks for sharing! I also keep my iron close by to press hems and seams, etc.

  156. Dani says:

    This is a wonderfully useful post! I just got a sewing machine this weekend and was wondering what other tools I’ll need. For now, I have a few spools of thread, a decent pair of scissors, and a great machine.

  157. Kimberly says:

    Thanks for such a concise, helpful post.

  158. Llamabean says:

    Excellent tips, the different kinds of marking tools was really good for me.

  159. Morgan says:

    I love the charts and tips! Ironing is something I HATE doing but perhaps I need some more of the right tools!

  160. Melissa says:

    Great article! I always get lost in the notions section of the fabric store so I really appreciate this little ‘cheat sheet’!

  161. Krystina says:

    Great tips, especially for someone new to sewing garments. Thanks!

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