Since I learned to sew from my mom, I had a lot of tools available to me from the get-go, and I could then acquire other things on an as-needed basis. This was good because, in most towns where I’ve lived, the only place to get sewing tools is Jo Ann’s. The store has a quality that my dad would refer to as “Wal-Marty,” and so I’m never very inclined to hang around browsing. If I’d had to go in and build a kit from scratch, I don’t know if I ever would have started sewing. Most likely, I would have gotten muddled and left with three dusty fake flowers, a pair of embroidery scissors, and some puffer paint.
Instead, my essential toolbox looks something like this. The list is gleaned from personal experience and from sewing book recommendations, particularly Diana Rupp’s Sew Everything Workshop. Pretty much everything on it can be bought at Jo Ann’s CrazyMegaCraftopolis. It’s best to make a beeline for what you want, then get out before you’re hypnotized by the acres of polar fleece.
(Of course, these tools are also available online, or at an independent fabric store, if you’re lucky enough to have one!)
Rotary Cutter and Mat. I wouldn’t want to live without my rotary cutter, which allows for much greater precision while cutting. If you plan to continue sewing for a long time, it’s an excellent idea to invest in a Gingher.
- Looking a little bit ahead of your cutting wheel as you work (rather than right down at it) will help you cut straighter lines.
Scissors and Shears. Use the rotary cutter for the fabric, and a pair of dressmaker’s shears for trimming seams and hems, slashing pleats, and any other cutting you do while sewing. Keep the scissors for cutting paper. A pair of little embroidery scissors is nice for notching seam allowances and trimming excess thread.
Tracing Wheel, Paper, and Pattern Weights. This is an example of how a small investment in the right tools can make a huge difference, in terms of both process and results. When cutting, I like to keep the pattern and the fabric as straight and flat as possible. These three tools facilitate that, and they’ll also keep you from tearing up your pattern the first time you use it.
- Before you start sewing, and even before you start making a muslin, use the tracing wheel to copy the pattern in the size you need onto lightweight interfacing or butcher paper. Save the original in a large manila envelope.
- You can buy nice, compact, aesthetically pleasing pattern weights, but a can of beans works just fine if you’re not particular.
Ruler. Use for measuring hems and seam allowances, altering length, placing buttonholes, making bias tape… A small investment can get you the 18-inch, clear, bendable kind.
Pencil, fabric pen, or chalk. You’ll spend a lot of time marking your fabric, and finding something that’s comfortable for you and safe for the garment is well worth the effort. I usually draw lightly with a pencil and then flick away the marks with an eraser. However, tailor’s chalk is an even better option, and a nice, smooth fabric pen is wonderfully pleasant.
Pins and pincushions. I like to have a set of very narrow pins for silk, and I’d love to have a Scrooge McDuck-style swimming pool full of standard dressmaker’s pins, if that weren’t a bad idea in so many ways.
- Bonus points if your pincushion is something other than the Dritz tomato.
Seam ripper. For my money, the actual construction of a garment is by far the most fun part of the process. Unfortunately, I tend to enjoy it a little too much; things go well for a while, and so I daydream. The next thing I know I’ve stitched the bodice front to the skirt back. Enter the seam ripper, pure genius distilled into metal and plastic.
Where do you get supplies? What would you add to this list?