1 – FABRIC SCISSORS – choose a specialist pair of dressmaking scissors that will have long blades and angled handles allowing the scissors to stay close to the table without lifting your fabric too much. DON’T USE THEM FOR ANYTHING BUT FABRIC!!! Recommended brands: Fiskars, Mundial, Kai
2 – PAPER SCISSORS – again, I prefer a pair with long blades and angled handles to make cutting patterns easier. You can relegate a pair of fabric scissors that have been abused for this job! No brands to recommend, although mine are Fiskars and are sharp and comfortable to use.
3 – SMALL SHARP POINTED SCISSORS – for cutting threads while working on your sewing machine, tidying thread ends on garments and the inevitable unpicking. They should have a very sharp point and like your fabric scissors SHOULD NOT BE USED FOR ANYTHING ELSE!!! Recommended brands: Fiskars, Kai, Hemline embroidery scissors.
4 – UNPICKER – handy, but I don’t always recommend them to students because it’s very easy to slip when using one and gouge a chunk out of your fabric (or your finger!). I prefer small scissors for unpicking and removing tacking stitches (see no. 3), but unpickers are useful for cutting open buttonholes. You will usually get one with your sewing machine or you can buy one from any sewing shop. Clover make quite nice fancy ones if you’re that way inclined…..!
5 – FORCEPS OR TWEEZERS – really useful for removing those stubborn tacking stitches (or any stitches for that matter) that just refuse to budge and fiddly awkward to get at bits of work on your sewing machine.
6 – SEAM & HEM GAUGE – gauges like this make quick and easy work of marking seam and hem allowances rather than wrestling with a tape measure. You can buy cm and inch versions of mine online here, others are available!
7 – TOE DIVIDERS (!) – no I haven’t gone mad, this was a fantastic idea I originally saw on Pinterest. Toe dividers are the perfect size and shape for keeping your bobbins neat and tidy!
8 – LOOP TURNER – when you’re making narrow fabric loops or strips, this is a useful gadget for turning those tubes of fabric back through to the right side. Available from all sewing shops.
9 – BLUNT KNITTING NEEDLE – great for poking out corners and so much better to use for this job than scissors, which I’m sure some of you will be guilty of!
10 – TAILOR’S CHALK – some people don’t like using the lumps of tailor’s chalk as they get blunt quickly. I find them good for some jobs and you can sharpen them – either buy a special chalk sharpener (yes they do exist – just search online for “tailors chalk sharpener”) or run scissors along either side of the edge (obviously not your fabric scissors!). Recommended brands: Hancocks, Prymm.
11 – CHALK PENCILS / PENS – for those who don’t like the lumps of chalk you can get various forms of chalk pencils. Some are just like ordinary pencils that you sharpen, but I often find these a bit too hard and can really drag some fabrics. I prefer these style of mechanical chalk pencils that you can buy refill leads for. Recommended brands: Hoechstmass, Sewline.
12 – CHACO LINERS – these are great for precision marking and for use on delicate fabrics that are easily dragged by chalk pencils, eg. silks, lightweight jerseys. The marks do rub off easily though as the marker uses chalk dust.
13 – HAND SEWING NEEDLES – have a pack of mixed sizes – “sharps” are the name of general purpose hand sewing needles. Avoid the cheap packs of generic needles as these can be blunt and have small snags on them which makes sewing with them extremely unpleasant. Recommended brands: Hemline, Clover, Prymm.
14 – PINS & MAGNETIC PIN CUSHION – pins can sound like an obvious one, but they’re one of my biggest bugbears – there’s nothing worse than pins that are too short / thick / old and rusty. I prefer to work with the longer length dressmaking pins and don’t recommend going shorter than 30mm or thicker than 0.6mm. I don’t need to say much about a magnetic pincushion – it does what it says on the tin. I’m a new convert and I don’t know how I ever managed without one! No more scrabbling around on the floor picking up dropped pins. Recommended brands: Prymm, Clover.
15 – THREAD – you can use any old thread for hand tacking, but choose a bright colour so you can see it easily to remove it. For your machine always choose branded threads, cheap threads can cause endless machine problems. For lots of detailed guidance on choosing the right thread for the right job, have a look at my previous blog post here.
Where to buy?
Here are some online shops (some that also have bricks and mortar shops) that I’ve found to be good sources for tools and equipment:
- Sew Essential
- MacCulloch & Wallis
- Sewing Online
- Vena Cava
- Ernest Wright & Son (for quality scissors made in Sheffield)
- You can buy my sewing tools here.
What about Sewing Machines?
So obviously the biggest, most important and most expensive bit of kit is your sewing machine! If you don’t have one yet and are feeling daunted by the choice and range of advice available, have a read of my no-nonsense, completely un-biased guide here.
Next in this series on Tools & Equipment, I’ll guide you through all the essential pressing kit you should have.