A while ago I had a lovely reader (Hi Crystal!) asking me suggestions about a “learning kit” to start sewing.
To be honest, it’s a kind of question I often am asked: where to start, sewing tips for beginners, which are the best sewing tools and equipment: things like these!
And it’s a really good question. I was so lucky to have mom introducing me when I was a young girl, but others may not have this luck. Sewing was much more diffused among our grandmas’ generation than it was in the 70s so a lot of women missed this wonderful craft.
Now the sewers community is rising again, thanks to the web and the PDF patterns, FB communities (here is mine, please ask to join), Craftsy (here is my author page), Etsy (here is my own shop there) and all the merry band.
There are a lot of resources for beginners, well, maybe there are TOO MUCH, but all over the place.
Hence the idea: why not creating a mini-series of a few posts about it, collecting the best stuff from all around the web? A “beginner-sewer-pedia”?
Today I will focus on tools, but we’ll be talking about best beginner-level patterns, best beginner-level tutorials, best adjust-the-fit tutorials and best mending/repairing/altering/hemming tutorials suggestions, everything with beginners in mind.
Each and every time, I will share with you my best tips on topic and/or I will collect my favorite links from the online sewing community.
I’d love to make those lists grow: please suggest your tutorials too, if you have any, and share with friends this post!
Best beginners sewing tools and equipment
As you may already have noticed, I am a DIY kind of woman, that kind of sewer that uses as few specific sewing tools as she can, thinking outside the box to repurpose any other tools and equipment she may already have laying around her house.
This is why I try to buy only tools that I really need instead of grasping any new sewing gizmo I see on Amazon & co.
And this is also why I have a Pinterest board for my sewing room, where I collect everything I wish to have there: I’m warmly suggesting you do the same, then go back there the moment you have an opened order that just needs a few bucks to be eligible for free shipping 😉
Links to Amazon.com are all affiliate links: if you buy anything through those links, I get a small percentage of your purchase (consider that I get that % also if you buy a Canon like mine, also if I did link to sewing scissors so if you need anything, you’re more than welcome to buy it one of the links below ;)), that helps me make Serger Pepper grow and be able to create new free resources like these you are enjoying right now. Thank you in advance <3
Please don’t forget to try Amazon Prime for free for 30 days… I could no more live without it!
To make things easier, I’m putting together a list of basic sewing tools you can find almost everywhere, linking them to some great shops from the web.
If you can afford the expense (and you’re serious about sewing), you should buy a good pair of them, like these from Kai.
If you’re still deciding if sewing will be your passion, you can start with a regular pair of sewing scissors like this 8-inch Gingher that will hopefully last you for a couple of decades.
Just be sure you choose an 8-10 inches blade to be sure you will cut straight and bent handles to ensure comfortable, smooth cutting across any flat surface.
When they get home with you, hide them from the rest of the family (or lock them) so they won’t use them for anything than fabric (they may become dull if improperly used!)
My favorite one has two different sides: one in inches, one in cm. It’s perfect to take your own measurements as well as for laying patterns on top of the fabric being sure they are perfectly on grain.
Do not use it one of them to check the square size on the PDF patterns you print at home: they work best for bigger measurements because they’re not that precise: better use a yardstick or a clear ruler or even a seam gauge for that kind of tasks.
Reading any sewing pattern, you will read instructions like “mark pocket placement” or stuff like this. To do that you need something that can write on your fabric but that will go away and won’t show into your beautiful handmade product.
Chalk is the traditional way to mark fabric and can be found in different shapes and colors (e.g.triangular, pencils, etc.) all coming in different colors so you can choose the best popping color for your project. I sometimes use unconventional markers like washable line markers or regular chalk sticks: just double check they will disappear when you need it!
The one on the left is the one I have, and it comes with a built-in sharpener and a plastic case that won’t stain your hands. On the bottom, there’s a little brush to erase it from the fabric: pretty useful!
I am actually craving a Chakoner, a refillable heart-shaped marker that leaves a narrow mark onto the fabric, but I can’t find it on my side of the pond: if you know any European shop that sells it, please let me know, I will love you forever!
Those tiny little friends come in several shapes and types. I prefer the colorful glass-head ones (check their heads aren’t made by plastic or they will melt under your iron!) to the all-metal ones because they’re easier to spot on the floor, before I walk upon them 😀
I also use a perpendicular red-head pin when I need to leave a seam partially opened: they’re my equivalent of a red traffic light!
For your beginners kit choose a big package of regular glass-heads pins and you’ll be spot on for a while!
Keep then in their case, if they have one (or repurpose a candy tin box), or stick them into a handmade pincushion/pinsharpener like this one I made I while ago.
This is a big one, but absolutely necessary sewing tool: I am not a fan of hand sewing and a completely hand-sewn piece of clothing is not something I am eager to create. An (even basic) sewing machine will make your life easier, with consistent seams at a fraction of the time.
They can be mechanical or electronic (I prefer the first ones because are usually sturdier, altough they don’t have many fancy functions as the others): check that they have a heavy duty metal frame inside (instead of all made of plastic), can be used free-arm, can sew with stretch stitches (a three-step zig-zag and a triple straight stitch and zig-zag will be more than enough for the first times, if you want to keep the price in the lower end) and choose a well-known brand to be sure you will find any spare parts you may need in the future.
Here are a few low-priced machines from the most known brands (I have a Singer and Santa took my daughter’s her first Necchi): Singer, Janome, Brother, another Brother (which is your with a 50% discount atm). I haven’t tested all of these machines, please contact the sellers if you need to check they have all the functions you need (I am available to help you choose in private, by the way).
Start with buying black/white/skin/grey big spools (500+ yds ) to save money. You can also buy a selection of color threads by shades (naturals, bright, rainbow…).
A polyester n°50 will be right for almost every project, even for knits, while a cotton will perfectly work for quilting and woven project but it will most likely break if you use it for knits’ seams that need to stretch (think to leggings’ crotch seam).
Do not buy embroidery threads if you need to sew clothes: most of the times it won’t be strong enough! Even cotton thread isn’t the best for you, especially when sewing knit fabric: no matter how well is done, it won’t be as elastic as a polyester thread can be.
Another special thread you should try with knits is the woolly nylon, perfect to be wound in bobbins (pair it with a double needle for amazingly stretchy results) and for loopers, in your serger.
needles (hand/sewing machine)
If you are following me for a while, you certainly know that I am a huge Schmetz needles fan. You can find them in Amazon.com but, being in Europe, I would suggest you this eBay seller that makes terrific prices on big packs (I have recently bought 80 needles from them for the price of 30 when bought in stores).
Make sure you buy them the Universal kind in various sizes, plus some stretch ballpoint ones for knits and at least an assortment of double needles, just to see if you like it.
I know that someone (often beginners) can sew without the help of a thimble to push the needle – I can’t!
Too many times the needle’s head make it into my middle fingertip so now I don’t even start hand sewing if I don’t have one my thimble next to me.
Speaking of thimble choices, there are several kinds: I have always used the metal ones, but lately, I’ve found that my hands are sometimes swollen so the silicone/plastic ones have a better chance to actually fit my finger!
Another one I own is the leather/metal one (the only one that comes in a one-size-fits-all dimension) but, for my fingertips, isn’t the best (I am mentioning it because reviews are really good, especially for larger fingers that have problems with the regular ones).
PS: the one you see on the left is made of silver and I am not suggesting you actually buy it for sewing… but I’m sure you agree it’s adorable!
If you are thinking that you can start sewing without owning an iron: well, the new for you is that you simply can’t!
Pressing your seams while you sew is one of the most important and unavoidable steps to upgrade your results from poorly homemade to lovely handmade.
Although a professional pressing station would be any advanced sewist dream, you can start with a middle price steam iron (just avoid the cheaper, they usually have problems with spitting water drops, they can be easy to rust or have less reliable thermostats. Check for discounts, to have a superior iron at a price in the range of $ 50-100, like this one).
Which features should you look for? I love a fairly heavy iron, so I don’t have to push too hard on it to set seam allowances and a nice pointy tip, for better precision reaching any little spot (like collars or similar). A large water tank (at least half a litre) won’t let you out-of-steam too fast and a fairly long power cord will grant you a vast range of action.
I don’t have marked preferences on the kind of soleplate (stainless steel or Teflon, they’re both almost equally non-stick and easy to clean, IMHO), while you can’t live without a good quality burst of steam: invaluable!
How can a tiny and cheap product be so important?
I’ve talked about it recently (remember about my passion for my BFF (aka the seam ripper) and how to properly use it?) so I won’t make you bored again. While you can start with a cheap one, don’t forget to try different types of this priceless tool to find your favorite one!
Let’s stop here for today!
Coming soon: another chapter of this mini beginner-sewer-pedia!
In the meanwhile, you may be also interested in the following related resources:
Sewing Supplies Collection – my favorite ones