When I talk to people about learning to sew they often start off enthusiastic (yay!) and then start to feel intimidated (boo!) … especially if they’ve just walked through a Big Chain Fabric Store and seen the oceans of Special Sewing Stuff that’s available. Do they need all of it? Do they need any of it? What the heck is some of it for, anyway?
Once you have your basics — your sewing machine, your iron, a good pair of scissors, and half a dozen seam rippers, a few more things can make a big difference, but acquiring the entire notions aisle is not necessary (or desirable). Here are a few sewing tools I use all the time:
1. A really good invisible zipper foot.
I put an invisible zipper in almost everything I make … and for many years I muddled along with a narrow foot or even those pink-and-blue snap-together feet that you sometimes get in the zipper package. Don’t do it. This foot is less than $5 (for my machine, anyway) and is completely worth it.
2. The Dritz EZY-HEM.
I’m pretty much a sucker for anything with deliberate cheesy marketing misspellings, but the EZY-HEM really is easy. It saves SO MUCH TIME when pinning machine or hand-sewn hems, and it’s extremely satisfying to run over this (metal, indestructible) tool with your steaming iron. Highly recommended, and under ten bucks.
3. Tailor’s Ham.
You’ve probably read by now that half of sewing is really pressing, and it’s true. A tailor’s ham lets you really steam curves so that your collars, facings, sleeves, and so on all lie flat nicely. Also, it’s really fun to throw a tailor’s ham at people who bother you when you’re sewing (joke). There are plenty of tutorials online that teach you how to make your own, but since they can usually be had for well under twenty dollars, I prefer to buy one and save my sewing time for other stuff. Also, I’ve had mine now for …. fifteen years? So I think it has been amortized sufficiently.
4. Small scissors.
I know I said that you just need one pair of good scissors, and that’s true. But it’s incredibly convenient to have one or two pairs of these teeny (four-inch) scissors around. They’re great for snipping threads, clipping curves and points, and other close work. You can get nicer ones, but since I tend to drop these on the floor a lot (or lose them to someone who uses them for things that AREN’T FABRIC) I buy a new eight-dollar pair once a year or so.
5. A really big ironing board.
Okay, so this is more than ten bucks — it will set you back over a hundred, most likely, especially if you upgrade to a muslin cover. But, again, sewing is mostly pressing, and a really good ironing board will last you decades. Mine is actually a Rowenta, but I couldn’t find any good pictures of that model. You’ll probably have better luck buying your big ironing board when the Giant Chain Fabric Stores have their 50% off sales, if you can wait that long. A giant ironing board will make pressing just-washed fabric and hand hemming (when you use the board to support the skirt fabric) go much faster.
I’d love to hear about your must-have tools, or the ones you use all the time. Tell me about them in the comments!