Will you Teach a Friend To Sew this month? Or are you learning to sew from a friend? If so, stocking your sewing box or kit is one of the most fun and most productive (yet also intimidating) things you can do. We encourage you to try your hand ata sewing using borrowed or on-hand tools, but once you’re committed to improving your skills, there is nothing more important than building a great sewing tool kit. It doesn’t cost a lot of money and you’ll appreciate sewing more if you have the right tools and notions on hand when you need them.
I’ve been sewing for 40 years and have boxes and boxes full of more tools than I’ll ever use in a lifetime, but through my experiences of trial and error– following hundreds of sewing blogs, and being in a sewing circle with some amazingly talented quilters and garment sewists– I’ve managed to whittle my go-to tools down to a handful of reliable and relevant gadgets that I use on a daily basis.
Of course these are just my observations and favorite brands based on my experience and the tools I’ve tried. If you have other recommendations, we welcome them in the comments!
Recommended Sewing Tools
I keep my favorite and most-used tools and notions in this vintage sewing box. Any sturdy bag or box will do as long as it’s portable and holds the things you use most.
- Not all thread is created equal.
- Surprisingly, some brands of thread might work better with your sewing machine than others.
- Use the right type of thread for your project, i.e. don’t use the same thread for sewing a blouse that you use for piecing a quilt.
- Your thread might match the color of your fabric but it doesn’t have to, so don’t feel like to you have to buy a new spool for everything you make. I have a thread case with mostly neutrals– ivory, grey, black, taupe, and white– that I use for at least 80% of my projects.
- Aurifil 50 weight (orange cone) for piecing/patchwork and machine quilting.
- Gutermann Quilting Thread for hand sewing. This thread has a special finish that makes it strong, prevents tangling, and makes it easy to get through even a small needle eye. I used to wax my thread for hand piecing, but now I buy this instead.
- Mercerized cotton or cotton/poly blend for garment and bag sewing. I’m not picky about brands; the important thing is to use something strong so your seams don’t pop.
Tape Measure and Sewing Gauge:
If you ever plan to make garments, you need a tape measure and a sewing guage. The tape measure is essential for measuring your own body and the gauge makes marking hems, seams, button placements, and pleats easy.
I use a bunch of cheap tape measures, but if you aren’t 100% sure of the brand or the source, check the measurements against another ruler or two. Tape measures have been known to be way off.
This video explaining proper use of a seam ripper took many long-time sewists by surprise! (13 seconds that could change your life.)
I have an entire box full of different seam rippers but my current favorite is the chartreuse Seam-Fix ripper in photo above (find here). The lid stays on tight when it’s not in use, and the rubber end is awesome for “erasing” the threads left in the seam you’ve ripped out. Just run it along the seam line and it grabs all those little left-behind threads and pulls them out of the fabric.
- I love the Clover Pen Style Chaco Liner. This tailor’s chalk tool has powdered chalk in the cartridge and a small wheel at the tip. You simply roll it along your fabric and it leaves a thin but distinct line right where you want it. It comes in different colors for your dark and light fabrics, but I find the blue shows up on just about everything.
- Frixion pens. There are lots and lots of warnings about this heat-sensitive ink from quilters. (Here is the most recent and perhaps the most definitive from Jenny Lyon.) BUT I like them for marking in areas that I know will be in a seam– for example, a hem or the seam notches from a sewing pattern. I love that it disappears when I press the seam, but I’m not worried that a ghost mark will reappear if I go out in freezing weather because it’s hidden anyway.
- There are a few types of washable ink pens and I have no preference, but I always have one on hand for embroidery transfer, marking pocket placement, etc.
A couple of years ago we asked a handful of expert sewists and quilters to tell us about their favorite types and brands of scissors. The results show that it’s really up to what you do, what you have, and what feels good to you. For new sewists just stocking their toolbox, however, I’d say you need one good pair of dressmaker’s shears (usually 8″ or 8.5″) and a small pair for thread snipping and detailed fabric cutting. (I love my little Fiskars Softouch scissors.)
Pro tip: Never use your fabric scissors to cut paper, hair, flowers, or food!
Pins, Tape + Clips:
FUN FACT! Pins were so hard to come by and in such demand in 14th century England, that parliament passed a law saying they could only be sold two days a year. Women were given a small allowance to save for their big purchase, thus coining the term “pin money.”
Lucky for you (or maybe not) there are a million kinds of pins to choose from and they’re all relatively affordable. In my opinion, any good sewing toolkit contains a variety of different pins, clips, tape, and/or glue.
My Favorites (from left to right):
- Dritz Wash-Away Wonder Tape: This narrow double-sided tape is infinitely better than pins for holding a zipper in place. You can also use it to temporarily fix applique, hems, pockets and more. It doesn’t gunk your machine needle and washes out. Get it!!
- Flower head pins: I don’t have a favorite brand, but this is definitely my favorite type of pin for garment sewing. They’re nice and long, a little flexible, and the head is easy to see but it’s also flat so it can go under your presser foot, under your iron (provided there is a pressing cloth between the plastic “flower” and the iron surface), and under your cutting ruler.
- Extra fine patchwork pins: For quilt piecing, these are the best. The thin, sharp points glide through fabric without distorting the seam. Some people prefer the glass heads which can safely touch an iron, but I don’t mind the plastic.
- Clover Wonder Clips: These amazing clips gained popularity with quilters who passionately love them to hold quilt binding while they’re hand-sewing, but they’re also perfect for multi-layer or thick projects where pins hate to go, like sturdy bags or home dec cushions.
- Curved safety pins: These safety pins are used for pin basting quilts and although there are lot of other types of pin, glue and thread options for basting, I think a basic curved safety pin is a good starting tool for any new quilter. I like the 1.5″, or Number 2, size.
Of course you’ll need a pincushion too! I’m quite fond of my new fiber-filled pincushion from Modern Handcraft, but I also couldn’t live without my Grabbit Magnetic Pincushion. Really though, any old tomato will do.
I have no idea who started it, but I have heard at least a dozen quilters recommend the Schmetz Microtex needles. I have to admit that they are very thin, sharp and straight, which makes for very smooth piecing.
I always have a handful of other machine needles on hand, including the ones that came with my machine. Try to have a variety of sizes available for different projects. Remember that the bigger the number, the thicker/heavier the needle.
Pro Tip: The shank of a machine needle has a round side and a flat side. There is one right way to put them in your machine, even if they seem like they fit either way. If you are experiencing knots and breakage, check to make sure you have your needle in the right way. (In most machines I’ve had, the flat side goes in the back.)
Hand Sewing Needles:
Believe it or not, a great needle can make a big difference on your project. There are a lot of quality brands and sizes for your hand work projects, but not everyone agrees on which needle is best. See this post for some good insight into what does or doesn’t matter to people. (My personal favorites for hand piecing and quilting are the Tulip Quilting Needles.)
Cutting Mats, Rulers and Rotary Cutters:
Most quilters end up with mats in a variety of shapes and sizes. If you are buying your first one, however, I recommend the 24″ x 36″ size, which is big enough to make fairly large cuts, but small enough to travel, move from room to room, etc.
Again, these come in every size and shape imaginable. If you can only buy TWO, I recommend a square (anywhere from 5″ to 8″) and a 3″ x 18″ or 6″ x 24″ ruler.
Rotary cutters come in a variety of sizes, but the most popular and the most versatile is the 45mm. I haven’t found a favorite brand, but it is always a good idea to look at reviews, especially if you want something ergonomic, or especially safe. (If, for example, you have little kids around who might touch an open blade.) Make sure your tool kit is stocked with extra blades; knowing you can switch to a fresh, sharp blade rather than trying to use a dull blade until the bitter end can really make a difference with your project.
Pro Tip: See KLINK on my supplies above? Always label the tools you take with you to sewing circles, classes and retreats. Chances are, someone will have the exact same one!
That’s what’s in my sewing tool kit. What’s in yours? Tell us about your favorite tools in the comments here. If you are participating in the Teach a Friend to Sew Series, go to this post to find out how you can submit a photo of your sewing tool kit and enter to win a Pfaff Passport 3.0 sewing machine or a gift certificate to the fabric shop of your choice!