Your kit is every bit as important as your sewing machine and will be your trusty arsenal of problem-solving tools. Here we’ve listed some general tools that are useful for all kinds of stitching. Of course, there are hundreds of specialized sewing tools out there, but these are the ones you’ll definitely want in your stash from day one.
Seam ripper- Your new best friend. Whenever a mistake happens (which they do) your seam ripper will rip apart the seam and let you start over. I like ones that are on the smaller side that give you more control, but I keep three different sizes in my kit just because. The best ones have a dull prong, usually covered with a little red ball, which lets you rip long seams without hurting your fabric. Remember never to rip seams toward yourself!
Tape measure- These come in more colors and lengths than can be counted, some retractable and flat. For the purpose of garment and patternmaking, a nice 60” flat tape measure is typically all you’ll need. The thick yellow ones that are so commonplace are particularly good because of their durability, which will come in handy for measuring curves in patternmaking.
Thread- It is common practice to buy matching thread for each new project, so don’t feel like you must buy 20 or so spools for your starting kit. Once you get going, you’ll have quite the collection. For garment stitching, we use 100% polyester thread because it plays and blends nicely with other fabrics. Steer clear of cotton thread or quilting thread because it is not designed to stand the wear and tear of garments and can become brittle.
Hand Sewing Needles- Every fabric store will have a big selection of hand sewing needles, but to start you will want to pick up a package that has many sizes in it. Choose a set that has at least smaller silk needles, medium mending needles, and larger needles with eyes suited for embroidery floss.
Machine Sewing Needles- This part can be a little daunting, but we will get through this together! Your sewing machine likely came with a small package of sewing machine needles. Look in your instruction manual and you should find a number (or series of numbers and letters) that correspond to your machine’s needle type. If you can’t find the number or have lost your manual, you can always take one of your needles to the store with you and find a match that way. The shank, or the portion of the needle that attaches to your machine, will be what you want to match. Thankfully, many machines made in the last couple of years have universal needles, which make shopping much easier if you happen to have a newer model.
Pins- Pins are a wonderful and necessary component to your kit, and ensure accurate sewing. I like to keep two sizes on hand: plastic pearl-top pins to tackle normal weight to burly fabrics, and smaller, daintier satin pins (sometimes called silk pins). The pearl tops will help you pierce thicker fabrics without hurting your fingers, and the satin pins will let you pin delicate fabrics without having to worry about putting an ugly permanent hole in them.
Pin Cushion- Love your pins, and they will love you back. The best way to happy pins is a good pincushion, which will keep your pins tidy and off the floor. It’s tempting to keep them in the box they come in, but also means that sooner or later you will be losing some, and run the risk of finding them with your feet! A classic tomato style pincushion is a great choice. The magnetized ones are also a personal favorite of mine since they can be knocked over a thousand times and never drop a single pin. You may also want to pick up a small wrist pin cushion, which comes in great handy when you’re draping or patternmaking.
Fabric Shears- If there is one item in your entire kit that you splurge on, make it your fabric shears. Mundial and Gingher both make quality scissors. “Dressmaking” size shears are the best for general sewing. Treat them nicely, and they will last for many years! This means keeping them in the sheath when they are not in use (one drop onto a hard floor can spoil them forever!), and never ever using them to cut anything other than fabric. No paper, no plastic, no just-this-one-time; they’ll just blunt your scissors. Dull shears will chew up nice fabric, so keep yours separate from your other scissors.
Paper Shears- You will undoubtedly be working with a lot of patterns and paper materials in your sewing adventures, so make sure to always have your trusty paper-only scissors at the ready. Just like your fabric shears, it’s a good idea to only cut paper with your designated paper shears. Most any craft brand of scissors will do, nothing fancy is needed, just something that fits comfortably in your hand. I keep a few pairs lying around so that I am never tempted to use my fabric shears.
Tape- Tape is an invaluable tool in patternmaking and pattern alteration. Nothing fancy here, just make sure you purchase matte scotch tape and not the shiny stuff. The matte variety can be written on, which makes it much better than the shiny alternative.
Embroidery/Thread Scissors- Acquiring a small pair of scissors makes clipping small curves and corners much easier, and they can also be used to trim threads when you are finished sewing at your sewing machine. Once again, you will want these sharp, so it is advised to use them only on thread and fabric.
Tweezers- Sewing tweezers are quite different from the cosmetic variety, so don’t go running to the powder room just yet. You will want a pair with a long and narrow nose, preferably with grips for your hand and the tips of the tweezers. These are wonderful for threading stubborn sergers, needles, and picking out unwanted threads.
Thimble- Learning to use a thimble can be a little tricky, but your fingers will thank you when it comes time to sew a thick fabric by hand. Any sort of thimble will do.
Marking pens and chalk- A pouch of traditional pencils, some tailor’s chalk or chalk tool, and some water-soluble fabric pencils are a welcome addition to any sewing kit. You may find that you prefer one method above all others, or that you like to alternate depending on what fabric you are tackling. I personally like the wheel chalk tools for thin, precise markings that are easy to steam out.
See-thru ruler- A clear plastic ruler with a grid has many uses in sewing and patternmaking. The 18” model should meet all your needs.
Point turner– These tooth-shaped tools just about fit in your palm and can be made of bamboo or plastic. They are designed with a blunted tip to save you the woe and frustration of turning a delicate point right side out (such as a collar) and blowing through your seam because the instrument is too sharp. Put down the scissors, pencils, and pens and just trust me on this one.
Snippers- Sometimes called trimmers and snips. snippers are spring loaded cutting tools that let you quickly sever your threads and remove your project from the sewing machine in one deft motion.