Possibly the most important thing you can do before you undertake the task of learning to sew is to make sure you have the right tools on hand. Almost as important as having the right kind of fabric is having the right tools to work with it. Today, I’m going to cover the basic tools for hand sewing. I’ll get to machine sewing later, but the complexities of all design and sewing are built on the foundation of hand sewing. More on that later. For today, let’s talk about what you need to get started
You can find this in any craft section – a flexible measuring tape that wraps around curve easily is what you need. I have a “fancy” one that has a button to retract it, but I also have at least 2 others that are just simple measuring tapes. I always make sure to get the kind with imperial on one side and metric on the other. I find that sometimes, one’s just simpler to use than the other.
You need the flexible tape for measuring the curves of the human body, but when you make patterns, you translate those curves into straight lines on paper. Therefore, you’re going to need a really good straight edge. When you start out, you can probably use a plastic ruler, but when you get into making larger items (like clothing), you’ll need something bigger.
Hypothetically, you can get a wooden yardstick for pretty cheap, but my favourite find has been a 48-inch metal straight edge I found at Home Depot for about $8 when I still lived in Phoenix. At the Home Depot here in Victoria, the same straight edge is $13. It’s still really affordable.
For those few times when you really need to draw a curve (and you will), you should invest in at least one set of French curves. These will help you draw your sloping lines with ease and consistency. It’s better that way, I swear.
You probably won’t need this right off, but having a compass around is very handy for when you need to draw circles. You can even get one for a dollar during back-to-school sales.
Without proper scissors you can’t cut your fabric. You’ll need very sharp scissors to accomplish this. You’ll also need to make sure that you only use your fabric scissors on fabric. Yes, that means you’ll need two pairs of scissors in your sewing kit.
First, you’ll need what I call “paper” scissors. These can be literally any pair of scissors that cuts consistently. You don’t want them too big or too small, but easily manoeuvrable in tight spaces.
Then, you’ll need your “fabric” scissors. These are the ones you’ll probably want to buy new. When you cut paper with your scissors, it dulls them, so unless you want to get a pair of scissors you already have sharpened, I recommend buying new. Fiskars and Singer both make excellent starter scissors, but eventually, you’ll want to go high end. I have a pair of Gingher 8-inch knife-edged dressmaker’s shears. I bought them when I lived in the States and waited until I had a 50% off coupon to use on them. If you’re left-handed, Gingher makes pretty much the only left-handed dressmaker’s shears on the market.
Of all the items on this list, I think this is the one I don’t own. That’s mostly because I had one at my parents’ house before I moved out, and the house we’re in right now has large open areas of hard-wood floors. I have a huge smooth surface to work on. If you don’t have large smooth areas to work on, you should look into a cutting mat. If you can’t afford them (they can be pricey) maybe you can find a piece of plywood that’s been sanded and finished to prevent snags. If you live near a craft store that pretty regularly puts out coupons for 40-50% off a single item, calculate what their biggest cutting mat will cost you with that coupon and save up.
Pins & Needles
You’ll need quite a few straight pins. What kind you get is up to you. There are several types: flower tipped, glass tipped, quilting, etc. I don’t have enough time or space to discuss all the differences here. I recommend getting a box of 100-300 straight pins (not quilter’s pins) and calling it good. If you find you don’t like the feel, you can always get another type later.
Safety pins are way more useful than you probably think. In fact, they’re incredibly useful. However, you don’t need very many. I recommend finding a set that has several different sizes.
If there are a hundred different kinds of straight pins, I think there are a thousand different kinds of hand needles. Finding the right kind can seem daunting when you walk into the needle area of your local sewing store. You’re looking for what are called “sharps”, and they have sizes that coincide with what they’re used for. Sizes 2 through 4 are for heavy weight fabrics like twill, denim, and corduroy. Sizes 5 through 10 are for medium weight fabrics, and sizes 11 and 12 are for fine fabrics like silk and satin.
Buy a package that has at least five or six needles. Also, try to avoid the “self-threading” needles as their eyes tend to catch on fabric.
This one’s an easy one to forget when you’re buying everything you might ever need. You are completely welcome to keep your pins in the box you bought them in or a Tupperware container, however, a pincushion makes things so much easier. You can get pincushions in any shape or size. You can even get a magnetic holder. Hey, you could even make one!
A seam ripper is made to do just that – rip out seams. If you’re new enough to sewing and don’t know what those are, don’t worry. There are several different ways to use the seam ripper which I’ll go into in more detail when I talk about fixing your mistakes.
Having a cheap lighter is invaluable to your sewing tools. Lighters can help you identify types of cloth, set the ends of drawstrings, and clip threads quickly and easily. More on all of that later.
Finding paper on which to draft your patterns can be difficult. Craft stores sell it sometimes, but it can be expensive. Here are a few suggestions for finding it for less money:
- Buy an end roll of newsprint from your local newspaper
- Buy exam table paper from a medical supply store
- Buy butcher paper either from an education supply store or an actual butcher
Remember, your pattern paper doesn’t need to be white. It only has to be light enough so that you can see pencil marks.
That should be all the tools you should need to sew. On Monday, I’ll talk about thread.
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