Amy here! Sewing can seem like a daunting hobby; expensive equipment, endless pattern and fabric options and a million tool and notions that everyone will insist is a “must have”. However, you don’t need to spend a fortune to get started. If you look at the gourmet cooking craze of the last decade or so, any experienced chef will tell you: all you really need is fire, a sharp knife and a cast iron frying pan. THAT’S IT. Sewing is pretty much the same. You need a quality sewing machine, sharp scissors and a hot iron. Other than that? Probably extras. That said, we’ve have put together a little shopping list of tools and books that will make your sewing journey a bit easier from the get-go.
THE BASIC SEWING TOOLKIT
- Self Healing Cutting Mat: We use rotary cutters almost exculsively here at Closet Case to cut out patterns. It is definitely fine to pin and sew, but now that I’m used to cutting on a mat I’m not sure I could go back since it’s soooo much faster. If you have room for this on your table, consider it a worthwhile investment.
- Chaco Rolling Chalk pens: We have every kind of fabric marker out there but I find myself reaching for this kind most often. They make a very fine line, don’t catch on fabric and you can see them on almost everything (be careful using darker colours on very light fabric though – sometimes they don’t always wash out).
- Tailor’s Chalk Pencil: This is another type of fabric marking tool. These are good for drawing precise lines, especially on things you want to mark and leave for a while, or will be handling a lot as chalk can rub off. You’ll have to try some different ones and see what you like!
- Tape measure: This is undoubtedly the first tool you will need. It’s so important to get comfortable taking your measurements so you make sure you’re sewing the right size. It doesn’t have to be fancy. I like having inches and centimetres. I’m Canadian like that.
- Thread snips: Keep these near your machine. And buy two. They’re cheap and somehow always across the room when you need them.
- Dressmaker’s pins: We like these long ones with flat heads since they are easy to see and easy to pull out while you’re sewing. Glass head pins are also great, just avoid the tiny flat head metal pins. They hurt your fingers.
- Rotary cutter: This goes hand in hand with your cutting mat. We prefer the Olfa brand, and always have extra blades on hand. The smaller ones are good for tight curves and small pieces, while the larger 45-60mm size is good for general cutting.
- Scissors: Get some good dressmaking shears! They don’t have to expensive, but they should be decent quality so you can have them sharpened. Our preferred brand is Kai, since they’re light, come in a ton of price points and are sharp as heck. Also, put a label on them that says “fabric scissors(!!!)” so you don’t have to murder your roommate/partner/husband/children when you walk in and see them cutting into a cardboard box with your nice shears. (True story.)
- Seam Ripper: You won’t need this since your sewing will be perfect every time (*cue hysterical laughing from avid sewists.) But if you do need one, this is the best one – it’s very sharp and very pretty.
- Hot Ruler– This is a super cool tool. Similar to a seam allowance gauge but you can iron on it! We also suggest a big ol’ quilting ruler. It’s great for cutting straight lines, finding grainline and making bias tape.
- Tailor’s ham– This is one of those things I didn’t even know why I needed until I tried it. It makes pressing so much easier when you’re dealing with 3D volume. Did I get away without having one for years? Sure. Do I wish I had just bought one straight out the gate? You betcha.
- Hip Curve – You may put off buying one of these, but we use them all the time. It’s super helpful for drawing smooth curves, grading between sizes and pattern hacking. If you want to try your hand at pattern drafting, it’s a must-have.
- Clapper– No, this is not an STD. It’s for pressing seams and making them stay put. Made from hardwood, it sucks up heat and moisture from the iron and helps lock seams in place, especially handy for thick fabrics and wool.
- Steam Iron– I put this as an extra only because this model is a really nice iron. A lot of us start with whatever iron we have laying around, but the more you sew, the more you realize the importance of good heat and steam modulation. This Rowenta iron is our fave – it’s got a fine tip and amazing steam.
- Button Chisel & Hole Punch Set– Can you cut a buttonhole with three other tools? Yep. But this does it perfectly and easily and the tiny mat is oh so cute.
There is a deluge of sewing information out there, with speciality books for everything you can do with a needle and thread. However, in order to make sewing a fun hobby for yourself you probably only need to start with the basics. We suggest having a few good reference books in your studio you can refer to when needed; you’ll find that the more you sew, the more that library grows and grows. Here we’ve recommended a variety of books, from pure technique to those that truly get to the creative spirit of why we sew or pursue creative endeavours at all.
- Singer’s: First Time Sewing– A great beginner’s primer to sewing.
- Gertie’s Ultimate Dress Book– We love us some Gertie. Her pin-up girlie style might not be for everyone, but she knows how to achieve a great fit and this book is style inspo for days.
- Merchant and Mills: Elementary Sewing Skills– This is a cute little manual if you want something light to carry around and read on the go.
- Sewing Happiness by Sanae Ishida– This is one of those books that digs into the why of sewing. It is jam-packed with cute, easy sewing projects to build your skills but it’s also a beautiful memoir of one woman’s journey with the healing, life-giving aspect of sewing.
- Pattern Magic by Tomoko Nakamishi– This cult sewing book from Japan shows you where construction can go when you let go of the reigns! As a very 2D thinker, it is a super interesting to deconstruct how flat fabric comes together to make a 3d object. There are sewists that love to follow rules and those that live to break them, if you’re in the latter category, this book’s for you.
- The Sewing Book by Alison Smith– This is bordering on a textbook just for the sheer volume of info included. The great pictures and cool layout keep it from being too dry.
- Love at First Stitch by Tilly Walnes– Tilly (& the Buttons) is an adorable whirlwind of style. Simple, clear and very cute, this is a great book for beginners.
- The Palmer Pletsch Complete Guide to Fitting– This is the fitting bible. If you want to start troubleshooting your fit problems: start here.
- Making Magazine– This magazine is so pretty and so inspiring. So much of home sewing can seem a little dated but this is truly inspiring for the modern maker and a magazine you’ll actually want to keep, with a variety of knitting, sewing and craft projects released quarterly.
- Boundless Style by Victory Patterns– From one of our favourite Canadian indie pattern designers, this book is LOADED with pretty, modern patterns, letting you customize garments by mixing and matching views. You’re a fashion designer!
- Breaking the Pattern by Named Patterns– From another favourite indie brand, this book is filled with clean, modern Scandinavian style designs, and encourages you to get creative and create a wardrobe that is suited to you.
- How to Start Sewing– Not exactly a beach read (it weighs about 4 pounds) but I doubt there isn’t anything that isn’t included. A true one-stop-shop that we often refer to in the studio when we’re working on a particular technique.
We hope this gives you a good jumping-off point when stocking your sewing studio. There is so much more out there, but if you take it one step at a time and build your skills and knowledge, you’ll slowly figure out what are your must-haves!
What are your favourite books and tools?