Sing along with me, ‘These are a few of my favorite things‘. (famous lyrics from the Sound of Music –
so I’m told, I don’t ever recall seeing it Just saw it for the first time recently and loved it, didn’t think I would…) Sorry to get that song stuck in your head, but really this IS my list of favorite sewing things, tools, thingys, whatchamacallits, whatever you want to call them. Every sewer (or sewist if you prefer) has their own bag of tricks. After the initial idea of what you would like to create springs into your mind, you need the right tools for the job.
If you have been reading this blog or any other blog about sewing, some of these things should look familiar to you. If they don’t, you are in the right place. I believe in teaching from the absolute bottom up. I have read many beginner books/blogs that assume you have some basic knowledge of sewing terms or tools. How does that make it a beginner book?
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Basic Sewing Tools for the Beginner
Here are some sharp cutting things. Please be very careful when using these tools, when they are new they are incredibly sharp! Starting on the right we will look at three items. The green thing, the yellow thing with the circle and the black, orange and silver thing. Number one rule about sharp things like these, always keep them closed or in a locked position. You have been warned.
The little green tool on the far right is called a seam ripper. If you look into the top of the green part, you will see what looks like a harpoon. To use the seam ripper, take off the cover and gently place the seam ripper into the stitch you would like to remove. The tip is sharp to let you dive into the correct stitch. The bottom ‘U’ shape of the seam ripper is sharp so that when inserted and pushed forward, the ‘U’ shape cuts the stitch the tip was inserted into. I never leave mine with the cover off. Even in this photo I had it sheathed! You can do more than just cut a single stitch with a seam ripper. Take a cue from its name, you can rip seams out with it, and as a beginner sewer, you will do this often.
Moving on… to the bright yellow tool with the circle at one end. This is called a rotary cutter. Rotary meaning – revolving around a center or axis; rotational (thank you Google). Circular also comes to mind, especially when thinking about a traffic circle which is often referred to as a rotary. This tool makes amazing straight cuts in fabric when used in conjunction with a gridded, quilter’s ruler (we’ll read about it later). This one made by Olfa is my favorite due to its ease of use. These are available in a few different sizes too. I suggest buying extra cutting blades when you invest in a good one. If you have a bad blade it will not cut into your fabric cleanly, especially if you have thick layers. See this post on straightening a fabric edge for a good example just one of the many uses of rotary cutters.
The black, orange and silver sharp things are actually scissors. So don’t run with them, but I’m hoping you already knew that… I like this particular pair because they are a little more comfortable to use for longer periods of time. They have a spring action which means they are open when you set them down and they stay open. That is easier to work with compared to Grandma’s huge, scary scissors that required all of your hand strength just to open them after each cut.
While the rotary cutter mentioned above is great for straight cuts, scissors are really great for rounded edges or wavy cuts. They are especially good for small curves. The smaller the scissors, the better detail you can create. Sure, you can get a straight cut with scissors, but nothing compares to the rotary cutter for straight cuts. (Oh NO, another song reference. ‘Nothing Compares 2U’ by Sinèad O’Conner.)
My family makes fun of me because I have about 20 pairs of scissors throughout the house. But here is why… Scissors need to be sharp in order to work properly. When you use a pair of scissors for cutting fabric, they should always be used for fabric. Never anything else. EVER. There weren’t too many rules in our house growing up. Other than the usual be kind to each other, don’t wear a hat to the dinner table, and NEVER use Mom’s fabric scissors for anything but fabric. Honestly, this was how we were raised! (We were good kids, no other rules necessary!)
We will look at three things in this image too. Starting from the right is a small little silver looking thing, then a purple and white looking thing and finally an all metal with a little bit of blue thing.
The itsy-bitsy teeny-weeny silver colored tiny pencil is used for marking. (Another song reference squeezed in there… if you don’t understand it you are too young) This one works on dark colors garments, it disappears when it gets wet. You can either wet your finger and rub the mark away or let it get washed at laundry time. The purple and white marking pen next to it works on light colored garments. It is either water or air soluble, meaning either water or air will erase it. Water is near instantaneous and air takes a little while. I have tried a few other kinds but these are the ones I like most. The pencil is too short to get you a company name and the purple one has lost a lot of ink on the barrel so I can’t find the manufacturers name there either! Apologies!
Sliding Gauge Ruler
The sliding gauge ruler is a very, very handy tool. It works great when trying to measure something consistently over a long distance. Marking hems, folding over an edge when ironing, marking the spacing between button holes, and so on. Yes, you can use a regular ruler and make it even better by placing a piece of tape to mark your measurement but this goes the extra mile. When I’m folding over an edge to iron, I use the tool to manipulate the fabric instead of my fingers. This is a good thing. I do not like irons! I’m too accident prone to like anything that gets hot enough to scar you for life.
The little slide thingy really is worth it. Plus it’s a nice size to put in a small sewing kit. Whenever I give a sewing kit as a gift to a child, I always include this tool.
Things to Hold Other Things Together and Something to Measure Them
Let’s talk about the image below. First lets discuss the top round blue thing, then the swirled up white and black thing below it. And finally those pointy things in the square, glass container.
Needles are necessary. For hand sewing and machine sewing. Since we are talking about basics, we’ll talk about hand sewing needles. When we get into machine basics we will talk machine needles. Needles are also obviously sharp. They draw blood. Be very careful with them. How do I know this? I ALWAYS prick myself with needles. ALWAYS. Thankfully it has never deterred me from sewing.
There are a ton of needles for all different kinds of projects. Needles for sewing through thin fabrics, needles for sewing through thick fabrics, needles for sewing through leather, needles for quilting, needles for embroidery, and on and on… Main function of the needle is to get some sort of thread into and out of the fabric so the fabric stays held together. And needles help make beautiful decorations on fabric, like embroidery or the addition of beads.
Fabric Tape Measure
We have already seen a tool for measuring little things like hems. Now something much longer. The usually 120″ long fabric-like measuring tape is a must for those sewing garments, pillow cases, curtains and the like. I have not idea why but I have four of them, but you just need one! They are very handy when you need to measure something curved or round. Can’t be too accurate with a firm, straight ruler around edges and curves.
Not all straight pins are created equal. I have had my favorites through the years. Right now I’m enjoying these flower head ones that can also withstand the heat from an iron. That’s important! Many times fabric needs to be help temporarily in place with pins so it can be ironed. I’m not sticking my fingers anywhere near that hot thing, so please use pins to hold the fabric in place. I got this flower head variety from good ole JoAnn’s.
My other favorite kind, not pictured here, are Iris Pins. They come in a handy, adult-proof, cheery blue tin. (Yes adult proof, if you haven’t seen a tin made that way before, you’ll wonder how to open and close it). I’ve not seen them anywhere since I bought them at a now out-of-business quilt shop where we used to live. Boo, that makes me sad.
Keep track of your pins! I like having them out at all times, which is why they are in that cute little square glass dish. That doesn’t go over well with the hubby. But then again he was the one who stepped on a rusty straight pin from a vintage sewing kit and had to get a tetanus shot…
Another Two Measuring Things and Something to Keep Your Feet Blood-Free
I don’t know if all sewers (sewists) keep a magnet around for lost pins and needles. I do. ALL THE TIME. So referring back to that last paragraph. My husband and I were visiting my Mom’s house and she was showing me a vintage sewing kit she bought. She collects vintage sewing things. Well, a rusty needle found its way to the floor, nestled in the carpet. Dear Hubby stepped on it. Then dear Hubby went to the emergency room for a tetanus shot. I have been reminded of this incident many times over the years. You have been warned.
There are obviously several different types of magnets around. This blue one is the best I’ve found for searching for lost sharp things. It has a handle, has a nice long flat surface, and it pretty strong. So strong I just keep it magnetized to the side of my metal work table. I don’t recall where I purchased this specific kind but I have seen them at various shops.
Clear Gridded Ruler Thingy
We’ve seen a small ruler and a very long measuring tape. This clear gridded ruler is the in-betweener. This ruler, used with the rotary cutter mentioned above, is the key to getting super straight cuts. It is clear so you can see the edge of your fabric underneath it. After you straighten your edge (remember this post here?) you can easily cut small strips or little blocks by simply holding the ruler down with your non-dominant hand over the fabric, overlapping the fabric by how much you want to cut. Then using your dominant hand, carefully zip the rotary cutter from the bottom to the top of the ruler. Again, see the older post about how to straighten the edge of your fabric.
That Blue Thing Under All the Other Things
One of the biggest things that you’ll need to store in your house/apartment/RV/studio/dorm or wherever you live is a cutting mat. The first one I bought was only 9 x 12. Duh. It was just okay for working with fat quarters. (Don’t know what a Fat Quarter is? E-mail me, I’ll explain! I haven’t done a post including that information yet!) I then bought an 18 x 24 self-healing mat, the blue one you can see in the pics. I suggest this kind of mat and a good rotary cutter to be one of the first major purchases for a beginner. The 18 x 24 is the smallest I would go. I am dreaming of a larger one, but for now this works. Make sure it’s self-healing. AND MAKE SURE YOU DON’T GO OFF THE EDGE WITH THE ROTARY CUTTER! How do I know that? Like almost everything else on this blog, I’ve been there and done that. Our vintage, pristine, wooden dining room table. Nice straight cut in the finish.
Making Things Visible and Holding it All Together
A good light is absolutely necessary. You can make do with the lighting already in your space, but if you want to give your eyes a good shot at getting things right and keep them from squinting and making wrinkles, get some bright lighting! I bought this sucker online, it has some crazy stats!
I found this one at bulbs.com, be prepared to spend a lot! I think it’s a lot for a light bulb. These are its stats:
● Medium (E26) Base – fits in normal type lamp
● 5500 Brightness (Lumens) – I call it our second sun
● 5000 Kelvin – color temperature, this one is in the daylight range
● 84 CRI – good at rendering color accurately for human eyes
● 85W Energy Used – lots of light for not a lot of dough
● 120 Volts – you only need a normal outlet, nothing fancy
If you don’t want to buy a massive light bulb that reminds you of an alien, you can always go to JoAnn’s with your 40% off coupon and buy an OttLite. They are decent and easy to find.
The blue zippered case holds all the little bits together so they don’t get lost. I would love to tell you where to find one of the same exact kind since they are really great. But I can only tell you that I bought it at a cute little crafty shop in Rhinebeck, NY when we were at the New York Sheep and Wool Festival a few years ago. If you don’t know about the festival, you can read more about it in this post or this post.
Next post will be about the next round of favorite sewing things, like sewing machines, thread, and other goodies. Here is the second post – Favorite Sewing Things Part Two
Have a favorite you don’t see on the list but would like to share, please let me know! What questions do you have for me?