The Tools of the Trade · Where to Find...

The Tools of the Trade: Part 2 – Sewing Basket Essentials

Hey kids!

Welcome back! In this post, we are going to get into part two of the The Tools of the Trade Series. Part one talked about the most important tool you will need in order to get started with sewing. If you haven’t read the first part of this series about getting a sewing machine. go ahead and click here to go back, or you can continue with me now and go back later if you want.

So once you have your sewing machine, the next thing you will need is a handy-dandy sewing basket full of all the necessary items that will help you on your way to sewing up your masterpieces. Ready to dive in? Let’s go then!

1. The Sewing Basket

There are lots of standard items you are going to frequently use when sewing. And, as you continue to grow in skill, you will find that there are a lot of extra items you will want to have, so your stash will continue to grow. Well, you obviously need something to store and carry them all in, so invest in a nice, roomy sewing basket.

As you can see, I don’t have an actual basket (although there are some really cute, vintage-y ones out there that I have my eye on). I picked a bin because I am a bit anal about organization, and these kind of plastic bins are so awesome in that they come with a removable tray that is sorted into little individual spaces; Perfect, because now everything has it’s own potential space to live in.

Now I may be a beginner sewer still, but my sewing bin is in need of more room already! I just keep finding so many new, cool things that I just need in my sewing kit! I may be switching this out for a bigger one soon. But for now, with frequent organizing and rearranging, my “basket” is serving it’s purpose quite nicely, and could serve yours as well.

This is the one I have: Mint Storage box (6.2 qt.)

2. The Items

This is the fun part. As I mentioned in the previous post, when I first got into sewing, I didn’t have much. Heck, I didn’t have anything really! When I finally got my sewing machine, I naturally wanted to sew right at that moment, but I realized I didn’t even have ONE of the essential tools needed to begin! I didn’t even have any thread, for crying out loud! I needed reinforcements ASAP. Thus began my hunt shopping spree for the ultimate sewing essentials.

So where do I start looking for stuff?? Well, at the time, Quarantine was a term unheard of where I live, so of course I navigated myself like a bee to its hive and go to the Mothership of all Commercial Sewing Supplies: Joann Craft.

Here is a list of some introductory items you will want in your sewing arsenal. BTW, if you end up buying all this stuff and then all of a sudden you’re broke, don’t blame me, ok? Just sayin’…I did this, and I don’t know what happened to all the money later on, and I had no one but myself to blame. 😆 Links are posted for suggestions, but as usual, do your research to find what works best for you:

  • Thread: Ultimately, the kind of threads you need will differ according to your specific projects, but it’s always good to have some basic, all-purpose thread (polyester) in neutral colors (black, white, blue, etc.) In the beginning, I was mainly hemming jeans and pants, so my thread types & colors varied from “jeans blue” navy blue, tan, khaki, black, etc. You can have fun with colors and types of thread as you start sewing things up later on. As far as brands go, Coats & Clark and Gutermann seem to be the go-to brands for most sewing needs
  • Sewing machine needles: Just like thread, specific needle sharpness and sizes will be needed depending on what you’re sewing. For instance, if you are thinking of sewing mainly apparel, you will most definitely need to have an assortment of sized needles on-hand, because it’s a sure bet that you will be using a variety of fabric types to make clothing. Schmetz needles are a great choice. They have needles for all kinds of fabric. Light-weight, mid-weight, knit & stretch, and one of my favorites, jeans. **Tip for choosing needles: Light-weight fabric=smaller size needle/heavy-weight fabric=larger size needle. The number size of the needle is measured similarly: smaller number=finer size needle/bigger number=thicker size needle**
  • hand sewing needles: Even though you will be using your machine to do most of the work for you, there are going to be times where your project will involve a bit of hand-sewing, whether it’s to get to a place where your sewing machine can’t reach, when you need to finish closing a seam, attach a hook and eye, etc. Besides, it’s just good to have a hand-sewing kit handy for simple jobs, or when your machine (gasp!) fails you. Get a variety pack to suit all your needs.
  • Needle threader: If your eyesight is bad, invest in one of these because they will save you your sanity (and your eyes, obvi!) Plus, they’re just really helpful.
  • Thimble: I don’t often use one, tbh, but it’s always nice to have a thimble in your stash. The only times I really would use one is if I’m hand-sewing, and I need the thimble to help push the needle through the fabric. Which is one of their uses anyway, right? I dunno. I also just think they are cute. And kinda vintage-y.
  • Fabric shears: Notice the “fabric” in front of shears. Please do not, for goodness sake, cut your fabric with just any kind of scissors! Fabric shears are made specifically for that purpose because they are SHARP! Also, please do not, for goodness sake, use your fabric shears for anything other than cutting fabric and thread!! Just don’t.
  • Embroidery scissors: You will need a good pair of these for separating your threads from your machine, cutting loose threads, etc. You could use your fabric shears too, but they are often just too big to handle for these purposes. Embroidery scissors are a perfect size for “snipping.” And besides, how cute is this pair?!
  • Pinking shears: These shears are are formatted with specialty blades, that, when cutting into fabric, make a zig-zag patterned edge. They are specifically used for finishing hems, but you can also use them to create a decorative edge to your projects. I experienced somewhat of a disaster when I used them to finish my linen Hemlock Tee. The finished hem just didn’t hold and I ended up totally ruining my shirt in the washing machine…It was my fault, not the shears, though I would warn in the future that pinking shears work well to finish seams on certain kinds of fabric only, and on others it’s best to consider a different way of finishing.
  • Straight Pins/sewing clips: Straight pins are used for holding hems and folds in place, marking, and keeping clothing patterns in place when you are cutting out your fabric. They’re also used to torture you when you get poked by them, but then how else would you classify yourself as a real sewer if you didn’t get poked by your straight pins at least once (or in my case, a dozen times or more) each time you sew?? Seriously speaking though, just like needles, straight pins also come in different sizes and “sharps”, and depending on what fabric you are using, it’s wise to use the certain pin size that will not damage the fabric (snagging, visible holes). I have a set of regular pins, and a set of extra fine glass head pins. I’m finding that I use my extra fine pins more often for everything though, so you could probably get away with using just those. Another choice you have is to invest in some sewing clips. These are ideal for quilters, or when you need to pin lots of pieces of fabric together. The pros are that they won’t poke you, and they are much quicker and easier to put on. They have a tighter hold and can hold more of the surface of your fabric. They can however, be too bulky at times on the sewing machine. Clover Wonder Clips seem to be the popular brand of this type. They are supposedly “the best”, but admittedly quite pricey too. I have never used them before, so I wouldn’t know. I happened to get myself a set from one of my favorite sewing websites, Madam Sew. Mine includes 50 sewing clips at a huge fraction of the price of a 50 set Clover. It’s an absolute steal!
  • Pin Cushion: There are a lot of different kinds that could be a better option for you other than a standard pin cushion. The magnetic ones were really appealing to me at first, but there is just something special about the “red tomato” because they remind me of my childhood and the sewing basket my mom had. I love anything vintage/nostalgic, so I just naturally gravitate towards these kind. I have two of them–one to hold my standard size straight pins, and another to hold my extra fine pins. Here’s an interesting tidbit of history: Do you know what the little strawberry was used for on a pincushion? It’s called an emery, and it was used to clean and sharpen your needles. What!! Who knew?! If you already did know, good for you. I totally thought it was decorative only. Apparently, you no longer need to sharpen and clean your needles because they are specially coated now, but I think the strawberry is kept there, because, what is a tomato pincushion without it tho???
  • Seam ripper: I have said this many times before, and I’ll say it many times again: Seam rippers are my Best Friend. When I first learned to sew, I made a lot (A LOT) of mistakes that resulted in having to take out every stitch and start over. One time, I was making a long sash for a dress. And when I say long, I mean really long because it was meant to wrap around the dress. So, I finished sewing it up, and when I went to admire my work, I realized I had sewn it INSIDE OUT. For whatever reason, I just failed to see the visible seam I had made due to the sash being 2 separate parts sewn together. I had no choice but to start over. The worst part was that I was working with black linen, and of course, I used matching black thread so you won’t see the stitches….I literally had to wear one of those lights that attach to your head like a miner, and those little reading-bifocal-things, just so I could see the hundreds of tiny stitches I had just made and had to now rip out. To word it nicely, I was flinging-flanging, darn-tootin’ maaaad!
  • Extra bobbins: Essentially, what a bobbin does is hold the thread that makes up the bottom part of your sewing machine stitches. I won’t go into detail about them, but whenever you buy thread, you will always want to have matching bobbin thread to go with it. You will use the regular spool of thread for threading the machine, and the bobbin will be wound by your bobbin threader with the same spool of thread and is placed wherever your machine instructs the bobbin to be placed and set up. Unless your machine allows for different kinds of bobbins, it’s best to go with the ones of the same brand as your machine. For Brother machines, I believe you must use their own brand bobbins or else they won’t work properly.
  • marking pens/pencils/tailor’s chalk: You will be making lots of marks on your fabric as you sew. It’s important that they are marked “fabric safe” so you don’t run the risk of ruining your fabric. I haven’t used them yet, but Madam Sew came out with their own fabric chalk markers, and I actually can’t wait to use them!
  • Ruler: It’s a good idea to have a one or more clear plastic rulers around for your sewing projects. 12-in. ones are adequate, but if you will be working with large portions of fabric, then it would be wise to invest in larger rulers such as this Omnigrid, which I really love using. Depending on your craft, there are lots of rulers that will suit your needs.
  • Tape measure: Tape measures are essential when you sew apparel because you will need them to take yours or others’ measurements. Like the name implies, they are flexible, so they can do more of a variety of measurements that a regular straight ruler wouldn’t be able to do. They have those fancy retractable ones, but honestly, all the retractable ones I had broke and are now loose and work exactly the same. So get yourself a cheap, standard tape measure and you’ll be fine.
  • Seam gauge: These are handy little measuring tools you will definitely want to have on hand. There are so many uses for them: measuring hems and seams, grading patterns, spacing out pleats, tracing circles, and much more! This one is mine.
  • Measuring gauge: This measuring gauge is another great little tool to have in your basket. It works similar to the seam gauge, but the good thing about this is that it has all the standard measurements already spaced out. You just have to find the seam measurement you need and place that area against your fabric and mark/fold the seam or hem. So convenient!
  • Iron: chances are you already have an iron and and ironing board, so I won’t get into it much here. But you’ll be surprised at how much ironing is involved with sewing anything, so get comfortable with it!

Now, these items are things you don’t necessarily need right away, but if you have the means and budget to do so, I would definitely start investing in these items as soon as you can. It’s just good to have them on hand once you start delving into more advanced sewing projects:

  • Rotary Cutter: I’ll be honest. I was really excited to get one of these at first, because I really wanted the convenience of straight lines when cutting fabric. Rotary cutters work great, don’t get me wrong, but there is a learning curve to using them. And I think for me, I just don’t have it mastered yet. I know I do a much better job with fabric shears, so I usually stick to those for cutting. Specifically with cutting clothing patterns, since there are usually a lot of curves involved, I just prefer shears over a rotary cutter because I have much better hand control. I hear they are really great for quilting though. And I did use them for making masks because I was cutting all straight lines. Olfa is a leading brand in rotary cutters, and this one that I have works really well.
  • Cutting Mat: If you decide to get a rotary cutter, you will need some kind of cutting mat to go with it. Otherwise, if you use your cutter to cut fabric with just your table or floors underneath, then you will damage your table or floor. Aim for a self-healing mat. And IMO, you shouldn’t skimp on this. If you can, invest in a good quality, large as you can get mat early on. You get more for your value and it will serve you well as you advance in your sewing projects. But that’s just me…I have the Omnigrid 24″x36″ Cutting Mat. It’s huge, but fits nicely on top of my dining table and provides a nice, wide area for me to lay out my fabrics and patterns for cutting.

And there you have it! All the Essentials needed to start you on your journey into the Sewing World! For the last part of The Tools of the Trade series, I want to talk about fabric, and where you can start curating your collection of “go-to” places to find them. See you for part three!

6-feet apart but close to my heart,

Gilly

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