sewing tools and supplies for beginners

Do you get pins and needles just thinking of all of the different sewing tools? With so many different sewing supplies, it can be a bit overwhelming for a beginner. While some sewing tools are essential, others are fun, optional materials you can acquire later.

To help you navigate the world of sewing tools and understand what these items do, we’ve put together this beginner’s guide to check out before you head to your local craft store.

If you have ever been to a sewing or crafts store and wandered into the sewing notions aisle, you have seen a multitude of sewing tools, from rudimentary to sophisticated. That’s enough to give a beginner the jitters!

There’s no need to get overwhelmed by all these new things. Instead, let’s take a look at sewing tools and their uses. To make things easier, we’ll break the common sewing tools into categories.

Basic Sewing Tools

Before you spend all of your money on new, shiny sewing gadgets and accessories, make sure you have these basic sewing tools, and learn to use them correctly! These items will help you get started, get you through sewing lessons, and help you tackle beginner-friendly sewing projects.

Pins

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You’ll rarely make a piece without using straight pins. In the garment industry, the experienced seamstresses just hold the pieces together and sew away, really fast! They’re fun to watch, but it’s best to pin pieces together before stitching.

You can use standard pins, but make a note that when sewing silk, use the finest pins to avoid making permanent holes in your fabric.

Pincushion

A pincushion is a helpful tool to keep your pins organized and at hand when you need them. Alternatively, you can keep your pins in a metal container such as an old mint box.

Seam Ripper

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A seam ripper does exactly what it’s name implies. But why would one want to rip a seam? You might make occasional mistakes like stitching the fabric with the wrong sides facing each other, or stitching the left sleeve to the right sleeve opening, etc.

Trying to rip a seam with scissors could damage the fabric. The seam ripper is designed to slip between the fabric layers and snip the thread with precision.

Iron and Ironing Board

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Ironing fabric before cutting your pattern pieces can prevent disasters later. The fit of a garment depends on the precision of the cut. While assembling the pattern pieces, the seams must be ironed open, so do hems before stitching.

Ironing the seams after you finish your piece of clothing will give it that nice, professional look. Make sure you set the heat of the iron to the fabric you’re using. If it’s too warm for the fabric, it can leave a mark. Take note of the fabrication of your material at the fabric store, so you know how to care for it properly.

Hand Sewing Tools

Whether you’re learning to sew to fix your own clothes or to eventually take on more elaborate projects, make sure to stock your sewing space with these sewing tools.

Don’t forget to review the basic sewing stitches!

Thimble

When sewing by hand, you will need all of the above, plus (perhaps the most common sewing tool) the thimble. This nifty metal object (also found in plastic and leather) is shaped like a bucket and designed to protect your finger when pushing a needle through layers of fabric.
All you need is a basic thimble, but if you’re looking for something fancy, you can find thimbles decorated with stones that look like jewelry.

Sewing Needles

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Hand-sewing needles differ from sewing-machine needles. See the section on needles below for more details on the different types of needles.

To sew by hand, you will need hand-sewing needles. Do yourself a favor and practice threading a needle!

Scissors

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You’re going to need to cut fabric in order to sew! There are several different types of scissors. We’ll go into greater detail on the different cutting devices in this article, but for starters, invest in a quality pair of scissors that you dedicate to your sewing projects!

Machine Sewing Tools

This section includes essential sewing tools to make your sewing machine work, as well as accessories to help maintain your machine. So whether you have a shiny new sewing machine or a hand-me-down family heirloom, make sure you get the materials you need to keep your machine running strong!

Presser Feet

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There a several different types of presser feet. For general use, use the multi-purpose presser foot. One of the most common feet that are used is zipper foot to install zippers by pressing only on one side of the needle. It can also be used to insert piping, or a beaded trim, or whenever there is more bulk on one side than the other.

Bobbin

Wind the bobbin, and then install it below the needle to feed the bottom thread of the stitch.

Here’s an easy-to-follow tutorial on how to thread a bobbin.

Duster

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There is usually a small brush that comes with your sewing machine. You can use it to clean lint from the machine, or use an old toothbrush.

Screwdriver

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A screwdriver is a useful tool for sewists! You can use it to change your needles, or to expose parts of your sewing machine that need to be cleaned or fixed.

Oil

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Just like a car, the moving parts of a sewing machine need to be lubricated on a regular basis.

Cutting Tools for Sewing

Now let’s get into the different types of scissors and cutting tools that will help you with your sewing projects. Again, depending on your skill level, your project, and the material you use, you may not need all of these sewing tools right away, but it’s still a good idea to be familiar with the different cutting tools and how they function.

Sewing Scissors

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A good pair of scissors is crucial. When scissors are dull, they will chew up your fabric, and it will be very time consuming to cut even the smallest piece of fabric. Plus, the edges will be jagged. There are scissors for general use, and some sewing shears with specific uses.

Do not cut paper with your sewing scissors, ever, it will dull the blades. You can mark your fabric scissors with some colored tape on the handles.

General-Use Scissors

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In addition to sewing scissors, keep general-use shears to cut materials that are not fabrics, such as metallic trims, zippers, or even paper and plastic. This will allow you to preserve your sewing shears.

Tailor’s Scissors

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These scissors have tapered, pointed blades.

Bent Scissors

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These scissors have a bent lower blade, which keeps the blades parallel to the table as you cut the fabric, assuring more cutting precision.

Spring-Action

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These shears are equipped with a spring between the handles to reduce the amount of effort required to open the blades. This is nice if you suffer from carpel tunnel or arthritis.

Rotary Cutter

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A rotary cutter is made with a circular blade affixed to the handle. If you wish to work with silk, a rotary cutter will give you superior results when cutting your pattern pieces.

Just lay your pattern piece on silk, use your fabric weights to keep the pattern in place, and cut the edges with the rotary cutter. Use a smaller blade to cut garment pieces. A larger blade is great for cutting straight edges and is useful for quilting.

Pinking Shears

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Pinking shears have saw-tooth blades and are designed to cut the edge of woven fabrics in a zig zag pattern, to prevent excessive fraying. If you don’t have a serger or overlock machine, you can use pinking shears.

Dritz also has a product called Fray Check Liquid Seam Sealant that will prevent fraying when applied to the edge of your fabric.

Thread Nippers

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Use these to nip the loose threads after you finish stitching. It’s faster to grab this tool than reach for scissors.

Thread nippers are optional, but if you think you need them, get the all-metal ones by Gingher.

Other cutting tools include embroidery scissors, appliqué scissors, and buttonhole scissors.

Sewing Needles

You may be surprised by the number of sewing needles you will find in craft stores. Besides hand sewing needles and sewing machine needles, there are different needle types and sizes that work best with different types of fabric. In this section we’ll go over needle size and the different types of needles, so you will know which of these sewing tools you’ll need to complete your own sewing projects.

Hand-Sewing Needles

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Sewing needles come in different sizes. Your sewing project, type of thread, and type of fabric determine which needle you should use.

The size of the needle is the first characteristic. When sewing fine fabrics like silk, use the finest needle, to avoid leaving unwanted holes in the fabric. If you sew small beads to your creation, the needle must be very fine. Just pass the needle through the bead to test it. The size of the eye depends on the thickness of your thread. If you finish your piece with an embroidery floss, make sure to choose a needle with a larger eye, or most of your time will be spent trying to thread the needle.

Sewing-Machine Needles

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There are different sizes and types of needles for different weights of fabric. Most sewing experts recommend starting a project with fresh sewing machine needles. Often we blame tension or other machine issues on broken threads when it’s actually the needle causing the problem.

As a general rule, the greater the weight of the fabric, the larger the size of the needle.

Sewing Needle Size

Needle size is generally determined by fabric weight. Lighter fabrics require smaller needles, and heavier fabrics require bigger needles.

You will find two numbers on the needles’ packaging. For example: 80/12. The first number indicates the European size, so “80” means that the needle is 0.80 mm in diameter. The number 12 is the American size.

The sizes vary from 60 to 120. The 60 needles are very fine and can be used to sew silks and delicate fabrics. The American sizes range from eight to 19. Depending on the manufacturer, both sizes can be displayed on the needles’ casing, or just the American size in the United States.

Another thing to consider is the size of thread you use for your project. The eye of the needle should be large enough to pass your thread through without too much friction on the thread.

Sewing Needle Types

Universal Needles

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Use Universal needles to sew woven fabrics and thicker knits. The point of the universal needle has a slight ballpoint.

Ballpoint Needles

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Use a ballpoint needle to sew knits like jersey, to avoid snags in your fabric. The needle will slip between the fibers (as opposed to piercing) and won’t damage the fibers.

Stretch Needles

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The stretch needle is designed to sew elastic knits like swimsuit fabric, spandex, and even synthetic suede.

Denim/Jeans Needles

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Use needles marked as jeans and denim to sew denim and heavy woven fabrics. They have a medium ballpoint and their blade is reinforced. They’re made to go through thicker layers of fabric.

Using the wrong needle with heavy fabric may lead to your needle breaking.

Leather Needles

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Use special leather needles. They have a chiseled point that cuts through leather. They also work for imitation leather. It’s important to switch needles when you finish your project. The cutting point of the leather needle can damage your knits and woven fabrics.

There are many more types of needles and brands, such as Singer, Schmetz, Janome, and Dritz for home sewing machines. Check out the Schmetz website for more information on needle types, parts, and sizes.

Marking Tools for Sewing

Need to make marks that won’t damage your fabric? The following set of sewing tools are helpful for all types of projects!

Tailor’s Chalk

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You can use chalk to transfer stitch lines, darts, and other markings from your pattern to your fabric. Tailor’s chalk comes in various colors, and as a pencil or a chip with tapered edges. Test it on your fabric before marking your pieces. It should disappear when you rub it with your finger. If the mark remains, make sure to only mark the wrong side of the fabric or use tailor’s tacks.

Disappearing Ink

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You can find disappearing ink pens in crafts stores. The ink will disappear by evaporating after a certain time, or you can remove it with a damp cloth. Test the ink on your fabric, especially on silk.

Tailor’s Tacks

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This is an old technique, but it’s very efficient for marking darts and transferring other information from your pattern to your fabric. Simply hand-sew a loose loop of thread to mark a spot (use a thread in a contrasting color). Once the dart is sewn in, just pull the loose thread out.

Measuring Tools for Sewing

In addition to the indispensable tape measure, here are a few more sewing tools for measuring. If you need to modify patterns often, you may want to invest in a couple of these tools.

Clear Ruler

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A clear ruler comes in handy a lot when drafting a pattern and adding seam allowances.

French Curve

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When you must lengthen or shorten a pattern, you must blend-in the lines. Using a French curve allows you to draw a perfectly smooth curve.

Button Guide

This is a nice tool to find out the size of a button. It’s not absolutely essential, but if you sew a lot of pieces with buttons, you may want to invest in a button guide.

Hem Guide

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This is a practical guide to quickly measure the hem depth and curve on your garments. It’s square shaped with a curved edge. You can press the seam allowance by placing the guide between the fabric and the rolled hem.

Hopefully, this gives you a better idea of how sewing tools function. Remember, in the beginning less is more. Get the essential sewing tools you need to get started, and add to your collection as you learn and progress. If you need help with any of these sewing tools, make sure to ask a sewing teacher.

Most importantly, don’t forget to have fun! Happy sewing!

Marie BPost Author: Marie B.
Marie teaches sewing, fashion design, and animation in Glendale, CA. Marie studied fashion design at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM). She has been sewing for over 30 years. Learn more about Marie here!