I have been reading Miss Minimalist lately and thought I ought to revise my previous post “What you need to start sewing” by writing “The minimalist sewing kit”. This is not about presser feet, since what you need in that line depends on your sewing machine and its stitches. This is about the tools and few resources that you use in every project, and a few that you will need for sometimes but not all the time.
1. Pin cushion that you can wear on your wrist.
While you can sew without a pin cushion, at university I am required to drape on the stand, which is made a lot easier if I have pins “to hand” as it were. If you buy a pin cushion, make sure it is squishy and not filled with paper as the new ones seem to be. Of course, you can make a pin cushion from left over fabric and fill it with an old sock or some stuffing. Sand in a pin cushion will help to keep your pins sharp, but it would be heavy to wear on your wrist. UPDATE: I just keep a load of pins in the dressform now, so that’s one thing fewer to take with me. 🙂
I haven’t put an Amazon link here because I don’t trust shop-bought pin cushions to be stuffed with anything other than cheap paper now.
Here is a video from Youtube on how to make a wrist pin cushion:
These are only essential if you are sewing plaids or other things that need to match perfectly. They make all the difference, but if you are just starting out and not bothered about plaid, you can skip these.
UPDATE: I think if you learn to handle fabric properly at the machine, you can skip these too. 🙂
Yes, people do sew without pins, but sometimes pins just make the job easier, especially when matching seams or hemming accurately, or sewing gathered pieces evenly onto other garment sections. UPDATE: I almost never use pins now, expect for draping, so I keep only a couple of pins in my sewing box. 🙂
Hand-sewing and machine needles are essential. (Goes without saying really.) I like to have twin needles for hemming knits, for decorative sewing, and for pin-tucks. 3-4mm is a good width to have and will work with most, if not all, zigzag sewing machines.
For single machine needles, a size 90 universal needle will cover most of your needs. On fine fabrics you might need a finer needle (a 70 or 80), and on heavier fabrics, a 100 might be called for. As for changing your needle with every project, I don’t usually change my needle until it breaks, which isn’t very often. Many dressmakers are the same. If the stitch looks good and the thread doesn’t break, why change the needle?
As for hand-sewing needles, most of the time I just pick up on that is a comfortable size and that will go through the fabric. Occasionally you may need a bodkin needle (or “knitter’s needle”, which is not the same thing as a knitting needle) to thread something through a casing, but not very often.
AKA the unpicker or seam ripper. Before they were invented women used embroidery scissors to cut unwanted stitches, but this simple little tool is often safer for you fabric. It is also used to open buttonholes. If you ask most seamstresses what their most indispensable sewing tool is, this will likely be the answer. UPDATE: I almost only ever use this for buttonholes now, and then I sometimes use my small scissors instead. 🙂
6. Bobbins for your sewing machine
You probably have four or five of these that came with your sewing machine. They are small so can be carried easily in a travel sewing kit. I keep mine tidy in a toe-separater that came in a manicure and pedicure kit I received as a gift. It stops full ones from unravelling and rolling around the box.
7. Black and beige thread
If you buy a “complete sewing kit” from a store, more likely than not it will have lots of thread included. Unfortunately, the thread is like junk-food for your sewing machine. It’s so fluffy and weak that it will leave your machine full of lint, and may snap if you try to sew anything thick. If you have any of this, reserve it for hand-sewing or hand-basting.
You also don’t need the vast array of colours that come in these kits. Most of the time, very neutral colours will be perfectly fine, unless you want a bright colour for show. Gutermann make the best thread with the least lint. The colours are not as nice to look at on the shop stand as Coats threads are, but Coats threads are a bit linty. Gutermann, perhaps because they are a German company, have very practical colours, as you can see above. You don’t need the kit above (it’s there for illustrative purposes). You can just buy some black thread and some beige thread, and if you need a colour, buy it when you need it.
While we’re on the topic of thread, it’s best to get polyester thread, rather than cotton, because polyester is stronger and has a little give in it.
8. Tape measure
One simply cannot make clothes without a tape measure. The fit would be completely random!
Fibre-glass, retractable, in metric and imperial. They are three excellent features to have in a tape measure. Mine also has a magnet on the back for picking up lost pins and needles. Fibre-glass means it won’t stretch or warp. A retractable tape measure is much more convenient than one you have to constantly wind up, unless you like wearing one around your neck as tailors do. Having a tape measure in metric and imperial measurements means you can quickly convert between systems for people who are not used to both.
Tape measures’ widths are not random, you know. Most of the time they will be 5/8″ (15mm) wide, which is the standard seam allowance on home-sewing patterns. Mine is 1cm (3/8″) wide, which is my standard seam allowance. Tiny metal tape measures are usually 1/4″ wide. Some tape measures are wider at 2cm (3/4″); I’m not sure why.
9. Embroidery scissors
Yes, you can easily make clothes without embroidery scissors, but I like to have a pair hung around my neck for convenience when I have to trim threads. They are also convenient if you have to travel with a small sewing kit, or sew at a machine that doesn’t have a thread cutter on it. If you get some, be sure to look for ones with very fine points, preferably strong too, for cutting into the corners when sewing bound buttonholes and welt pockets.
10. Dressmakers shears
It’s important to have some that are comfortable for you. If you are left-handed, get some left handed ones
and you’ll feel the difference (my brother is left-handed and I’ve tried his scissors with each hand). There is a rule that you must not cut paper with your fabric shears, but I always cut my dressmakers’ tracing paper with them. If you need to sharpen your scissors, you can cut up some aluminium foil or get them sharpened professionally.
11. Cotton Tape
This is something that you will be glad of when you need it. It’s sewn on the wrong side of the fabric while you sew a seam that must not stretch, such as a shoulder seam when you sew knit fabrics, or a waistline seam. It’s also used in tailoring to “ease” things. It comes in black or white for versatility. I suppose you could use non-shiny ribbon instead if you like. It’s up to you.
So that’s the shortened list. I could shorten it a bit more to just:
- tape measure
- seam ripper
Of course, you need a sewing machine as well, and an iron and ironing board. A tailors ham is useful, as is a sleeve board, but the things in the pictures are part of the sewing kit, and the things I just listed are equipment if you ask me, and they are rather big things that need space of their own. Perhaps I’ll write a post about them some other time, but I already have a post about buying a sewing machine
, if you would like to read it.