Tutorials

13 SEWING TOOLS TO SPLURGE ON

I was recently talking about reaching “Peak Sewing Supplies” on Instagram. Over the years I’ve slowly accumulated a pretty well rounded selection of tools and supplies, but after I pull the trigger on an industrial snap and rivet setter this fall, I feel pretty confident that this little studio has just about everything you’d need to make just about anything.

Sewing can be an expensive hobby. Sure, you can start cheap with a secondhand machine and a basket full of basic supplies, but as you start getting obsessed (it happens, don’t fight it), having just the right tool to do the job feels as critical as finding the right school for your kid (you can probably tell I am childless since I am comparing quality scissors with your offspring’s education but SCISSORS ARE IMPORTANT). While I could write a comprehensive list of “basics” to stock your sewing arsenal with, instead I thought I’d share my all around favourites; nothing on this list is more than $30, but most of my suggestions are a little more spendy than the cheapest “starter” version. Worth every single penny.

MY FAVOURITE SCISSORS

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I’ve gone through so many pairs of scissors since I started sewing. I’ve worked my way through a few brands, trying to find the ultimate pair. While Ginghers are beautiful (especially my gold handled pair) they simply can’t compete with the smooth, Japanese perfection of Kai shears. They might not look as cute in Instagram photos but they are lightweight, sharp as hell and cut through everything from denim to silk like a whisper in the night.

A new to me cutting discovery is applique or duckbill scissors, which I use exclusively for grading seams. The curved blade keeps your seam allowances separated making it very easy to trim them down one at a time; these are one of those things I put off buying for a long time but I am kicking myself for not having a pair on hand when I was sewing a million Clare Coat samples and grading seams until my eyeballs bled.

HAND SEWING NECESSITIES

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I used to loathe hand sewing. You’d be in the home stretch of whatever beautiful party dress you were making and then realize that circle skirt needs to be hemmed by hand. Cue Sad Charlie Brown music. But it doesn’t have to be that way! Armed with the right tools hand sewing is not an exercise in frustration but a peaceful, meditative activity to enjoy while binge watching Stranger Things on Netflix.

Invest in a great set of handsewing needles; I prefer Japanese ones like these ones from Tulip (they just sew so smooth!) Get a big puck of beeswax to run your threads through as well. It will last your entire lifetime and prevents your thread from snarling. Finally, a soft leather thimble like this one from Clover is much more comfortable to wear that those metal ones which get all sweaty and smell bad (er, just me?)

STUDIO BASICS

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If you are currently using those cheap pins with the little metal points at the end I implore you to throw the evil  monstrosities in the garbage and shell out a few more bucks for glass head pins. Seriously. Do it now, I’ll wait. Any brand will do, just make sure they’re glass and not plastic (which melt under the iron) and enjoy not losing your pins and hurting your fingers pushing them in. While you’re at it, invest in a magnetic pin cushion; these colourful ones from Zirkel are my favourite – so cute! It streamlines your sewing since you’re not constantly jabbing things in a pin cushion, and you can sweep it over your table and floor when you’re done to catch any strays.

I have tried absolutely every marking tool on the planet and nothing, NOTHING, beats Clover chaco liners. They leave crisp, easy to see marks which brush off easily. I use mine literally every day. Dull, messy tailors chalk can bite me.

Finally, I just discovered a great application for this little craft scalpel I’ve had forever. Instead of cutting out paper patterns, I just lay the sheet flat on my cutting mats and run the scalpel around my size. Sooooo much faster than cutting patterns out with paper scissors!

SHIRTMAKING SUPERHEROES
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I know I’ve sung the glories of both of these tools before but seriously. The. Best. If you’ve made a few shirts and are anything like me you a) completely ignore suggested button placement and b) hate measuring button locations evenly. This expandable gauge takes all the work out of that equation. You just pull it apart your preferred amount and boom, even spacing (it’s also super handy for marking pleats, fyi). Also of crucial importance is a buttonhole cutter. So much faster and safer than using a seam ripper to open up buttonholes – never accidentally fray your buttonhole again!

SKETCH IT OUT

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I don’t know what I would do without my Fashionary. I am a terrible drawrer but I love sketching out ideas. I like doing big brain dumps of pattern ideas and variations in these sketchbooks – I even have travel size ones I always carry in my purse in case I get inspired on the street. One of my favourite things to do with mine is to participate along with Project Runway challenges. I sketch quick ideas of what I would do if Tim only gave me 15 minutes to sketch. As for drawing tools, Pilot Frixion pens are the absolute jam. Its a smooth gel pen that is completely erasable; no more wimping around with pencils, worried about making a mistake AND they do double duty as a marking tool on fabric since they completely disappear under the iron!

What is the sewing tool you can’t live without?

 

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  • My current favorite sewing tool is Crayola Ultra-Clean washable markers. I’ve tested them, and they completely wash out. They work so much better than any marker or marking pencil I’ve bought at the fabric store. Now I’m not afraid to mark all sorts of things I wouldn’t have before, so my accuracy has improved. I’ve found that the orange marker even shows up on some darker fabrics, but for black or dark navy fabric I have to use a Chaco liner (which are great too, but the marks brush off if I’m not careful). The only place I’ve had a problem with the washable markers is with fusible interfacing – the ink mixes into the glue on the interfacing and becomes permanent.

    A word of warning about Frixion pens – the ink doesn’t actually completely disappear, it just fades to a very light yellowish color. The ink does not completely wash out, either, and the marks come back if they get really cold. You can test this in the freezer. This is great for writing secret messages, but not so good if you suddenly get a bunch of marks re-appearing on your dress on a cold winter day. I like Frixion pens for writing, sketching, and making muslins, but I don’t use them on finished garments.

    • I AM TOTALLY GETTING THOSE MARKERS! I hate the overpriced ones you get at the fabric store – they never last long and they’re like $6 bucks a pop. And I hate how they totally fade after 2 or 3 days so you’re totally screwed if you don’t finish your project quickly. Noted re: Frixion pens. I’ve never used them anywhere I was really worried about them showing up but was pretty happy with them… laughing my ass off at them reappearing in the cold!

  • My Shozaburo sewing scissors. Like a hot knife through butter 🙂

    • Ooooh! Sounds Japanese. Those guys do NOT mess around. My friend visited a scissor place in Tokyo that had existed for like 2000 years and while he talked about it I tried not to cry.

      • Yes, Japanese! They seem to know a thing or two about making blades 🙂 What a fantastic experience your friend had…

  • I have majority of the things on your list but I have NO idea how to use a thimble. I’m sure I could just youtube it but from all the tutorials I’ve ever watched, I’ve never actually seen anyone use one in a demonstration lol

    • You just use it to push your hand sewing needle in. I never much liked them until I got this flexible one – so much more fun to wear!

  • katie_kibble

    I love the sound of so many things you’ve put on this list! I recently bought a magnetic pin holder, exactly because I was fed up of putting pins back in the pin cushion every time. I’ll definitely have to add some of the rest of these to my wishlist though 🙂

    • I keep a list on my phone to keep track. But that list is pretty much nonexistent now… Yay for being “done”!

  • I love reading lists of sewing tools. There have been many projects that I have dreaded, only to be enjoyed because NEW TOY! The grommet setter you speak of is on the shiny list, but has no application that it can make light. So far. I’m sure I can fix that.
    I cannot say enough nice things about the big handled seam ripper. The blades on those ‘handturned’ Ebay/Etsy home lathed work shop wonders are Japanese steel and have superfine points (they all buy their supplies at Penn State Industries, so it doesn’t matter much who you -ED DEES- buy from). My only complaint is that they are perfectly round and like to roll off the table. But i think I could fix that….with a grommet setter……

    • One last note: if you are ever in the NW for SewExpo, you can buy Kai scissors direct from the importer. They also have a shop in real space, not too far from there, and they are a hoot and a joy to talk to.

    • Those presses install buttons (spring and snap and the cute baby ring ones), rivets, jeans buttons and grommets. You just need different dye bits. I’m kind of mad at myself for not getting one waaaaay sooner.

      • Sarah

        What kind of rivet press do you use?

        • The heavy duty press from Gold Star Tools!

    • Sarah

      Which seem ripper did you buy on Etsy? My Great Aunt’s seem ripper is more than 100 years and showing age. Thanks .

      • They are all pretty much the same tool head – its the handles that are maker-specific.

  • kristin

    Sewing gauge. Which I have had for decades, since I first began sewing.

    • I didn’t have one for the first year or so of serious sewing and then I got one and was like WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN ALL MY LIFE GIVER OF ORDER!

  • babysmalls

    I love my magnetized pin holder too, but my sewing teacher was just tut-tutting about it — she says it magnetizes your pins, which then can magnetize your scissors and the needle plate on your machine, then everything in the room is trying to pull your pins out of place. That sounds kind of far-fetched to me but it did make me paranoid. I feel like my whole sewing area is going to become a Final Destination nightmare of magnetized pins flying around trying to kill me.

  • Can’t live without my Kai scissors or my Frixion pen! (Or should I say can’t sew without…) I’ve heard all sorts of stories about Frixion pens, and so far I’ve not actually experienced any of the horrors. I’ve used bright red to mark buttonhole placement on white shirts. There is still some shadow of marks after pressing, but once washed (and white shirts get washed a lot), I’ve not noticed any marks whatsoever. And yes, I’m crazy – I actually put one shirt into the freezer after washing, just to see if the marks would surface. They did not. I don’t use these pens in visible places on dry-clean-only fabrics – just in case.

  • Kathryn

    Hahahahah! So, yeah, I sew for a living in a theatre costume shop and let me tell you, magnetized pincushions are THE point of conflict at work. The big strike against them is that they magnetize your pins, which then stick to your scissors, and woe betide anyone who goes in for a big cut with their scissors, only to find there’s pin right across the blade that they’ve just bit down onto. It is grim when that happens. GRIM.

    That said, some of us are just incredibly clumsy, and may find ourselves dumping a whole dishful of pins onto the floor at least once a week. Also grim. For that reason, myself and another colleague will be taking our magnetic pincushions to our cold, dark graves. Judge us if you dare, colleagues!

    As for the other tool I feel absolutely blind and naked without, seam gauge. Hands down! So many measurment applications, all of which become so much quicker and more accurate witg a seam gauge.

  • Kathryn

    We have very cautiously started experimenting with those in the shop where I work. We’ve heard all the stories, too, but so far…..nothing but smooth sailing.

    • Kathryn

      Oops, that was meant as a reply to Irene.

  • oona

    I can’t live without my rotary cutter, cutting mat and big ruler! now I’m dreaming of even bigger, a1-size, mat

  • Yes! Such a great list. I would also add my personal fav – a tailor’s clapper! This tool seemed like such a waste of money ($25+ for a block of wood?!) but it totally changed my sewing life. No more wobbly seams on anything with polyester in it. I now have perfectly crisp seams every time. It’s a really revelation!

  • Additional tools I couldn’t live without: seam gauge, tailor’s ham, Merchant & Mills snippers (which I keep by my machine so I can cut loose threads right after I sew each seam). (Oh, and I have a second rotary cutter that I use for cutting PDF patterns. I just use the old, dull blades once they’re too dull to cut fabric.)

    • This was a brilliant idea! I will never throw away another blade! Thank you for this 🙂

  • Lynn Mally

    Clover seam rippers.

  • Love this list, I love seeing what sewing tools other people use. One tool that revolutionised my sewing experience was my Tailors Ham (which I got from The Cupcake Goddess when she made and sold them, before she changed to A Fashionable Stitch) – pressing curved seams has never been the same!
    I wrote a similar post to this back in May, but with a different slant – basically saying that it pays to invest in the best sewing tools you can afford. What a difference it made when I upgraded from my Ikea sewing shears to a Fiscars pair! After the way you described your Kai Shears (a whisper in the night – lovely!) I may need to upgrade again!
    You can find my post here if you are interested: http://www.seasaltandstitches.com/2016/05/my-number-1-sewing-tip.html

  • Oh, so much goodness here!!! I have a lot of these tools and I agree, now that I have them, there is no way I can live without them (I am looking at you, duck billed scissors). I am pinning a whole bunch of these on my pinterest “Gifts for Anya” board.

  • Quinn May

    Looks like I’ve found my Birthday wish list for this year. Thanks!

  • Ann T.

    Thank you for this very helpful information. I am placing an order today for several items, and hope you have an affiliate relationship with Amazon, so you get credit for the referral. For hand sewing, I use Thread Heaven, instead of beeswax. It conditions the thread and prevents snarling, just as beeswax does, but it does not leave a residue on your thread or fabric. In addition to a standard seam gauge, I like Nancy Zieman’s seam gauge for Clover, because it locks into position, making it more reliable and easier to use. What do you put on the underside of your garment, when you are using that cutter to make buttonholes?

  • Stacey

    Damn you woman! Now I am compelled to revamp my sewing basket. 😉 Great article and great reasons for each item. Thank you! 🙂

    Stacey

  • I laughed reading, “What can’t you live without?” Don’t get me started! Some tools I only use every once in the while BUT when I do wow I wonder how I ever managed without them. I bet you’ve not seen those fabulous seam guides with magnets that cling to your scissors so you can cut that extra inch so easily for fit insurance or that extra seam allowance you want for sewing on the bias? Or that crazy Marfy pattern that doesn’t include a seam allowance? They are so time saving it’s amazing. No more marking that extra seam allowance around your pattern any more! I brought them to my sewing group last week…it was a joy to listen to all the moans of joy and swooning and rustles of paper as people wrote down where to order them 🙂 Honestly I don’t know the people who designed these or sell them. I just love them 🙂 Love your tip about the craft exacto knife though! Brilliant idea and time saver for sure. How many cutting tools do I have? I’ve lost count to be honest. I have scissors literally for everything 🙂