Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Sewing Supplies

When I give sewing lessons to beginners I often get the question, 'What do I need to buy for my sewing box?'. And so I thought I would put a quick list together of the best, and most used items in my sewing supply inventory.

I have a cupboard full of very varied fabric, so that when the mood takes me, I can dig through this and generally complete any project that takes my fancy, without hitting the shops. This is not a necessary item, and it has more to do with my love of pretty fabrics - and my inability to walk by them without buying them - than real need.

Others will prefer to shop for the perfect fabric to suit the project they wish to undertake at the start of said project - I am impulsive and when the mood takes me I sew... it can be at 3am - as my very accepting, supportive, tolerant husband will testify to.

The basics:

A pair of extra-long-blade scissors purchased in the hardware store - I do LOVE hardware stores, once I am in there it is rather hard to get me out until I have been up and down each isle and worked out what each tool etc is used for. The up side of this is that I have discovered many items that are sold at a fraction of the price (compared to at sewing shops) that perform the same function! The tool for cutting little circles where you wish to add eyelets; thicker piping cord; poppers; gorgeous meter long metal ruler - being amongst some of those.
NEVER cut anything BUT fabric with these scissors.  Not even pattern pieces or interfacing.  Keep a separate pair for these tasks, mark them clearly!

If you have a great, reliable, experienced scissor sharpener, then buy good quality sewing scissors. I was put off this by my (very expensive) sewing scissors being completely ruined by the man who was supposed to sharpen them. They no longer meet at the tip perfectly! So these days I buy good (cheap) sharp scissors at the hardware or in craft stores and discard them when they are blunt - or move them to the tool cupboard to be used for wire stripping etc.

Then you have to have small thread snippers - tiny, sharp scissors that are perfect for trimming stray threads very close to the fabric.

Quick unpick / Seam Ripper
Essential, even for experienced sewers.  But this one is head and shoulders above the rest:
Available here

It's so good because of the rubber head that erases out the broken stitches after you've broken them, no need to sit & manually pull out all the little threads any more.  WHAT a time saver!

Machine feet:  zipper foot, invisible zipper foot, button hole foot, FME foot, adjustable zip foot, button sewing foot, walking foot.  These are the ones I use a lot, aside from the default foot with the little button on the side for going over thicker seams (that is usually on your machine when you buy it).  Almost everything else can be done with your regular foot, but if you feel like splashing out on fancy feet, they can be fun.

A good selection of thread is useful, as you don't have to go buy a matching roll every time you start a new project.  Buy some staples:  black, white, dark blue, off white, linen, grey, mid green, pink, red.  This will cover more than you imagine!  I use various thread for various projects, I have my Aurifil cotton for anything I want to dye after, or fine work.  I have my synthetics for FME, as well as my embroidery threads.

Hand sewing needles

Elastic a selection of widths and 'stretchiness'.

Buy LOADS of bobbins that are made for your machine. DO NOT BUY generic ones - this is the best way to ruin your machine tension. I have over 100 bobbins pre-wound with thread of all colours. This is a time saver when I want to get going, and means I do not need to undo my top thread to wind a new bobbin when one runs out. In Berlin I had them all in colour sequence on tiny nails directly on the wall of my sewing room, the walls there are basically dry walling and you can do things like this. When you move out of a place, you always paint it all white again, so no sweat!
In the UK, this would be impossible, so my bobbins are now neatly packed in bobbin boxes (which I would recommend as it saves them from dust too).

A tape measure in inches is useful as many websites (USA) use this

A tape measure in cms that starts from zero at opposite ends each side is great as you never have to find you only have the 150cm mark on the end you are holding!

Good, sharp pins! And lots of them! Do not pin into glue etc with these - keep separate ones for that, glue will ruin your good pins.  If you're sewing lingerie, nothing beats the Clover flower head pins (blue).  They are long, super sharp, and never cause any pulls on lingerie fabric.

In handbag making I use clips often instead of pins, they are useful in so many situations, and you don't need too many.

Prym spray adhesive.  I cannot tell you how often I have used this.  To hold together the two lower cup pieces of a bra until I can sew up the seam with the top cup, much easier.  Appliqué.  FME...
I use it a lot.  I have to shut my kitten out of the room, as he seems to think it's catnip.  It is an amazing product.  It leaves no residue at all, no marks on fabric, even very fine, pure white lingerie fabric!  

A selection of Pilot Frixion pens - you can read my post as to why

Prym makes a great marking pen that can be transferred onto fabric with an iron and is still water erasable. Read this on how to and not to use this marking pen.

Chalk roller for fabric that the pen won't write on.  I like this one best

Machine needles of various types for every project I may conceivably want to do

Here is a great chart on how and when to use each needle. I still refer to this often - not something I always know automatically.  Your needle is the cheapest component of your sewing machine, but the most overlooked.  A bent or worn needle can cause all kinds of issues including tension problems, fabric damage, poor stitch formation... They say one needle can do a maximum of 5-8 hours of sewing, so put a new needle in your machine with each new project.  This way you can be certain you've used the correct needle for your work, and get the best performance from your machine.

Two pencils taped together with an eraser dividing them so that they draw your seam allowance on to pattern pieces.  You cut the eraser to the right size so that the gap forms the seam allowance given on your pattern.

Pattern paper this can be regular pattern paper, Swedish pattern paper, or good old brown craft paper.

Sewing a bit more

A selection of stabilisers or interfacing - sew in and iron in

Some volume interfacing for bags, placemats, FME, .... I use a lot of this stuff!  I like to try all kinds for different projects, but one of my all time favourites is a felt interfacing from CeKa.  I find this one is suitable for most projects, either in a single layer, or a double layer.  They have English speaking people on staff to help.

My rotary cutter with board and ruler is something I cannot imagine not having! I use it almost daily, and it makes straight seams easy to achieve. You can cut napkins 6 in one pile without a single seam being a mm off! Very useful for handbag cutting out as well.  I basically cut out everything except lingerie with mine.   It was a very worthwhile purchase. I would recommend going for the biggest board possible - once your fabric is laid out for cutting you hardly want to move it about to get each seam on the mat!

To go with that I found an amazing knee saver at Birkenstock - yes, home of the famous German shoe, made for comfort and foot support instead of aesthetics and (in Germany) worn with socks when the day is cooler ;)  As our Berlin floor was laminate, which is hard on the knees without said support, it was a necessary purchase then.  Now that I have a big cutting table, I no longer use it much.

A selection of continuous zips in various colours.  If I want to make a cosmetic bag as a quick gift, I'm ready to go.  As they are continuous, I simply cut off what I need for each project, no waste, no need for buying many different lengths of zips.

Bias binding makers.  I could not live without these now!  I have all the sizes, but the most used one is my 25mm one.

I love my metal ones, but you need the machine to use them.
Magnetic poppers - every bag sewer needs these in their sewing room
And then, I LOVE my Kam Snaps!  Easy to use, hold well, so many pretty colours!  MUCH cheaper than the Prym ones, but work exactly as well.

Piping cord of various thicknesses, for clothing and cushions

Rigilene for bags, clothing, and various sundry projects.

Freezer Paper you'll see why when you hit this link!

Ribbons & Lace.  When I'm in a craft store, the grocery store, the florist, I keep an eye out for fabric ribbon.  I use it in so many projects, and having a nice selection on hand is great, and not a huge monetary investment.  Same goes for buttons.  I hardly ever specially go buy buttons for a project, I have quite a few in my sewing room, saved up over many years.

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