Essential sewing tools for beginners
Passion for sewing – it’s always been there
Sewing has been a passion of mine since before I can remember. Basic sewing tools were something I used to play with. As a little girl I watched my mum, granny and auntie sew their garmets, my mum also used to sew different kinds of products for horse riding and my dad did simple saddlery. He used to sit on the wooden stitching pony with pieces of leather clamped together and hand stitch them with two needles.
In our family we see great value in historical crafts or handmaking skills. In the past, when my granny or my mum were kids, sewing was not only a hobby but also a necessity. It was to do with the history of a Czech republic when occupied by Germany and then by Russia, with planned economy and inability to travel abroad or bring in goods from abroad, the resources available were very limited. Even the basic sewing tools. My granny always looks at my boy and cries “Oh my! Look at his little shoes, look how beautiful they are! So grown up and yet so tiny. Now days you have so many beautiful things to get for your children! When I was a young mother we didn’t have any of these. Not even disposable nappies, just cotton ones that we had to hand wash all the time. There were no clothes as such, but at least we had some fabrics so we used to sew our own things.”
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Somehow these talks fill me up with nostalgia. It’s funny how today we have so much and yet people don’t seem to lead trully fulfilling lives. Even I remember playing with pieces of wood and making dolls out of a corn peel. And it was enough. We did have a TV, eventually a desktop computer too. But my best memories didn’t involve any technology. I was the happiest outdoors playing with domestic animals, making bonfires and sleeping in a tent or listening to granny reading a bedtime story. Or sewing! I bring these memories back and one way to do it is by making garmets!
I am not a professional seamstress but I have such passion for fashion design and fashion making. In spare time I think of sewing patterns and how to alter them, browse fabric stores and bombard a dear friend of mine (a semstress) with tons of questions! She doesn’t enjoy sewing as much but she’s happy to help me grow, bless her. She made me aware of certain functions of a sewing machine which I didn’t even know were built in and have an affect on the quality of my sewing. It’s a process!
The best bits and pieces to get you started!
Let’s move onto some basic tools you need if you’re a complete beginner at sewing. It’s becoming increasingly popular to make your own clothes again which I encourage. From garmets to bedding items and craft project for home you can easily transform your wardrobe or home into a unique piece of art. OR, like me, you can actually use sewing as a stay-at-home-mum side hustle!
It’s a fun and creative way to express your artistic self or make beautiful gifts to treat your dear ones.
So! What you will need at your sewing start:
Number one – a decent sewing machine.
A while back I was also deciding which one to choose. Eventually I got a Husqvarna Viking E10 sewing machine which has been my friend ever since. Here’s how I decided this was the best option for a beginner.
When I was looking for a sewing machine I beared a few points in mind:
- how easy the machine is to use for a beginner
- how many functions it has, which ones I’ll potentially need for advanced projects
- availability of spare parts and repairs
Firstly, I chose a manual machine over a digital version. Perhaps it’s just me but this takes me back to my nursing profession where I learned to understand mechanisms and reasons behind every task. Sewing was the same to me – computerised means the machine does it for me so I am not learning. Not in depth anyways. But I wanted a solid foundation to ‘sew on’. Manual machine makes you think about the steps you take because you have to do it yourself. True, seems easier to have an electronic foot lifter but why not easily make that motion with your hand? Learning to sew is about learning to sew, right? Lol So easy comes later. Plus manualmachines are easier to fix when you simply know your stuff.
The variety of functions come next when choosing your sewing machine. The Husqvarna Viking E10 is a well equipped machine for any beginner, with a built-in needle threader, extra accessories (buttonhole foot, zipper foot, blind stitch foot, bobbins,..) and a selection of stitches.
As much as you can do a ton with the basic a straight or a zig-zag stitch, I wanted a little bit more than that. By that I mean an overlock stitch.
I knew from the beginning that I’ll eventually be sewing knits and other stretchy fabrics. To sew a stretchy fabric it’s important to use a stitch which allows the stretch without snapping and ripping the thread. This can be done with a zig-zag stitch, however the overlock stitch allows much more professional finish. Not all machines have this option unless they are quite expensive which brings me to the next criteria – price.
If you are still deciding whether sewing is a hobby for you, you may not want to invest hundreds of pounds in a machine which will be put away more than actually being used. All the fancy digital machines have many options to choose from and sew very fast due to a higher number of stitches per minute. However, their nearly industrial potential also reflects in the price.
When getting my first machine I avoided investing too much. Rather than a high-tech piece I wanted a manual sewing machine with quality basic functions to allow me to master the fundamentals of sewing first. I have been a sewing amateur for some time now and my type of machine has so far been perfectly sufficient.
As mentioned already, the most significant indicator for me was the stretch stitch. For this function needed for stretchy fabrics it’s usually necessary to purchase a separate machine called serger. This will obviously stretch any sewing hobby budget, although this type of machine is one I also plan to get at some point. It has it’s value and as your skill grow your expectations of your machine do too.
The next reason was availability of spare parts. You can find many well known brands such as Singer, Brother or Janome which offer range of high quality prodicts from sewing machines to accessories to spare parts.
When considering which sewing machine to purchase I very much enjoyed a video by Vanessa at Crafty Gemini. I liked her recommendation of Janome 2212 sewing machine for beginners. This machine is a very decent make. I like the two thread holders for double needle sewing and also the drop feed free motion function. I also thought a Janome J3-24 sewing machine was a great choice to start with – han an automated 1 step buttonhole program and also an overlock stitch (H)!
In the end I purchased the Husqvarna Viking E10 make mainly because of the stretch stitch, however I have not missed out on the free motion function. I was able to purchase an open Free motion quilting foot for Lucznik (brand) which is universal. It fits and works brilliantly and I’ve been able to complete several projects with it, particularly ‘writing’ on fabric which I use to create my own fabric clothing labels. I’ve also purchased Luczik Walking foot.
Lastly, it’s always worth reading about experiences other users have with a product you plan to buy. You can get a hint of how reliable the product is or how easily you can deal with any issues you may have with it.
The most likely thread you’ll be using at the beginning is 100% polyester thread. It’s reasonably durable and comes in variety of colour shades. My favourites are ivory, oatmeal, greys and other neutral colours or pastels because in terms of non-stretchy fabrics I mostly like linen or double cotton gauze. Threads need to be equally woven, smooth and machine washable.
Threads also come in different thickness for an obvious reason – you don’t want to sew a delicate silk fabric with a thread indicated for denim, and vice versa. Just like there are types and purposes for fabrics there are types of threads as well.
Threads are made of different materials too, natural or synthetic. Cotton threads can hold color so a white thread can be used on a piece which will be dyed later. Silky thread is smooth and great for buttonholes. I also often use a silver metal thread for simple decorative hand stitching.
There are two main types of sewing needles – those for hand sewing and those for sewing with a machine. They look different – the hand sewing needle has the needle eye at the top whilst the sewing machine needle at the bottom. Similarly to the thread, needles also divide further according to the use.
Both types come in different thickness – in machine sewing needless universal 80/12 is one I use mostly for my garmets. Ball point needle or stretch needle can be used to sew knit fabrics (it isblunt and won’t pull or cut the knit) . There are also thinner types for delicate sewing, double needle or thick needles for fabrics such as denim. Sharp needles are used to ‘cut through’ a leather.
I frequently use hand sewing needles to compliment machine sewing – different sizes of sharp needles and large blunt embroidery needles for hand embroidery.
Pins (ball point pins for knits)
Pins are vital for marking, securing patterns and pieces of fabric or when applying certain kinds od sewing techniques. Again, similarily to needless the pins can cut the fabric if too sharp or make holes if too big. It’s important to consider which pins work best for certain type of fabric. For delicate fabrics weights can be used to secure the pattern pieces instead.
Scissors (2 pairs plus snips)
I got used to using small snipping scissors to cut the thread with or getting to places where large scissors couldn’t cut. I have a pair of universal scissors used for different purposes other than cutting theactual fabric. I don’t mind this pair getting a bit blunt so for example I use these to cut out paper patterns and so on. I also have a pair which I maintain sharp and use to cut out fabric only.
Rottary cutter with a cutting board
Rottary cutter is a great way to cut out fabric pieces fast and neat! It is particularly sharp so a protective self-healing cutting board needs to be placed underneath the cut fabric. Do take precautions with this tool, it can easily cause nasty injuries. However, if used correctly it cuts nice and even pieces with professionally looking edges.
Seam ripper can be purchased separately (alone or in a set) but most times it is included in the sewing machine accessory bundle (Husqvarna Viking E10 came with accessories including the seam ripoer). It often comes with a brush at the opposite end to help clean not easily accessible parts of the sewing machine.
Measuring tape, ruler and gauge
Measuring tools are essential for any sewing beginner or professional. Gauge is a small and handy piece usually used to measure hems or seam allowances. Ruler is used to connect measurec points or cut pattern pieces out using a rottary cutter. Measuring tape is necessary to measure figures and other flexible distances or shapes.
Chalk (chalk pen) or tailors soap bar
Chalk or the chalk pen need to be used to draw a pattern onto the fabric, mark relevant points such button holes or capture garment adjustments. It comes in different colors in a bar or as a pen and should wash out nicely.
I remember my granny used to save last pieces of a soap bar and draw with it. It washed out in no time! Apparently it is still available for purchase as tailor’s soap bar She even ‘drew’ some patterns using a basic straight hand stitch which she then pulled out.
Just like my friend said – iron will be your best pal in sewing! She was absolutely right. Firstly, majority of fabrics should be washed on allowed temperature before any measuring, cutting or sewing takes place. This is because particularly natural fibres or knits can shrink by even 3 to 5%. Obviously, if you’re making certain size clothing you want it to maintain the size. Some fabrics are sold with this process already completed. Read the description carefully if purchasing online or ask in the store what is best for the fabric you are planning to use.
Of course, if you do wash your fabric before sewing, you’ll need to iron it for the pattern to lay on nicely. Hems also need to be ironed to look neat or to sometimes help you ‘organise’ the fabric for the next step. It’s needed for pleats and for finishes too.
I hope you find this guide useful. I’ll just say this – sewing is a beautiful skill. It’s very practical, so much fun and can even save or make you money. It’s also a therapeutic way to let the creativity out. Bring on your original and unique self!
There are many great sewing tutorials on YouTube completely for FREE that will teach you sewing basics! Learn how to hem, insert a zipper, sew button holes or make your own sewing patterns! I purchase patterns all over the place, Etsy offers tons of novice options for women’s wear, kids or men by brands such as McCall’s, Vogue or Butterick.
Let me also mention the genius Burda Style which sells PDF patterns (instantly available!) but also sewing courses in Burda Academy if you ever feel like investing in something more comprehensive!
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