sewing class: supplies

Posted by on March 7, 2012 in sewing class, stitch | 2 comments

Sewing class

I really didn't mean to disappear for a week, I was surprised with a cold and a tweeked back and just your usual life stress, but here I am now, and I'm excited to share this first episode of Sewing Class!

So, let's talk about the supplies you need for sewing. There really are not a lot, and if you start with the best quality you can possibly afford, most of these things will last you a really long time. If you take nothing else from this post, just remember that one point, please! It will save you a lot of trouble in the long run.

Of course, the first item on the list is a sewing machine. I'm not going to go into a lot of detail here because 1) I'm super opinionated about what brands are worth buying and 2) I have some links I'll share that say pretty much what I would have said anyway.

I have a Pfaff from the 1980's, and it's my second (both were hand-me-downs from my mom, who currently has another Pfaff). I've also sewn on Berninas. I recently learned that Pfaff is now owned by Singer, so my next machine will most likely be a Bernina. Who knows when that might be, however, because my Pfaff is still going strong. I am definitely a fan of German/Swiss engineering and metal parts. Some good advice about buying a sewing machine:

  • A Dress a Day wrote pretty much exactly what I would have written. Do your research, go to a local shop to try out machines, decide on your budget, look at used machines that were high-end when new.
  • Some more good suggestions at Wiki-How, "Don't let the number and variety of stitches persuade you to purchase a more expensive machine. If you don't use them, they may as well not be on the machine, so consider whether or not you'll use them with the type of sewing that you do. You can do a lot of sewing with a simple forward, reverse, and perhaps a zig-zag stitch." Yes, this is absolutely true! 
  • Sew Mama Sew has some good links to reviews and a handy list of questions in PDF format that you can print out to take with you to your local sewing machine shop

So, to summarize, absolutely try before you buy (only buy online if you've been able to try out the same model in a shop). Don't discount used machines, they are a great way to get a higher-end machine for a good price. Set your budget and get the best you can afford within those constraints-don't be tempted by 5000 fancy stitches or super-computerized embroidery machines, unless, of course, you can imagine 5000 projects that you can use each and every one of those stitches, or you just want to embroider everything you own. Start with a (good quality) simpler machine, and when you outgrow it, trade up for something better! 

Now that we've covered the biggest investment, let's talk about all the smaller stuff. Garment construction actually consists of three, equally important elements: cutting, sewing, and pressing. We've covered the sewing part, so now the next biggest purchase for sewing at home is a steam iron. Hopefully you already have one, but if not, again, get the best you can afford. You want an iron that can get nice and hot, and can generate lots of steam. I've had my Rowenta iron for about 12 years, it still works great, but I'm thinking about graduating to a real, gravity feed iron. These are what we used in my sewing classes in college, and what professionals use,  and no home iron comes close. It looks like there are some reasonably-priced models out there, so it's time for me to start doing some research!  

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Now for the Cutting part of clothing construction. Get some good scissors and don't use them on anything but fabric! Get them sharpened regularly, and a good pair of sewing shears will last you forever. Please don't bother with those plastic orange-handled ones, get some real, chrome-plated dress-maker shears, 8" is a good size. You should be able to find a pair for $25-$40, and they will be well worth the investment. Some good brands include Gingher (I think they even have these at Jo-Ann, so you could get a really good deal if you buy them with a coupon), Wiss, Mundial and Marks. I've had my Marks shears for over 20 years, and my Gingher embroidery scissors for probably just as long. I take good care of them and I'll never need to buy another pair. 

Once you have the big three (machine, iron, scissors) taken care of, the rest of your supplies will be easy to find and inexpensive to purchase. Obviously you'll need pins. I prefer glass-headed pins, so if I do need to press something while it has pins in it, I don't have to worry about melting plastic. Fine quilting pins work well. These are the ones I always use, they're extra fine and nice and long. 

Various measuring tools are necessary, at the very least a tape measure and a six-inch metal ruler. A retractable tape measure is handy, so you don't have to constantly re-roll yours, but mine is currently in my knitting bag, so I make do with a regular one at my sewing machine. While I'm sewing I often just keep it draped around my neck anyway. Stay away from fabric tape measures, as they can stretch out and then won't be accurate. I also have a large dressmaker's square and an 18" ruler and I use my 12"x6" quilters ruler quite a lot too. They are all nice to have, but not essential.

Of course you'll need needles. For hand-sewing, fine quilter's sharps are a good all-purpose needle. If you find the tiny eye on fine needles hard to thread, just keep a needle threader handy. You'll also want to keep a supply of needles for your sewing machine handy. We'll talk more about this when we start sewing, but again, quality is very important here. I only buy Schmetz needles, and try to keep a good supply of sizes 70, 80, and 90. There are some other specialty needles you might want to eventually invest in, but we won't need them for this project. Along with needles, get some good thread, Gutterman and Mettler are excellent brands. 

Also get yourself some marking tools, a disappearing ink pen and tailor's chalk are good places to start. I also use my embroidery scissor to cut notches in the seam allowance for marking. 

And lastly, but super important, make sure you have a seam ripper! If you're going to sew, you're going to need to un-pick sometimes. 

And that's it, everything you need to get started sewing. Anything I missed that you have and use? Do you already have everything? Any questions? 

Up next: choosing the right pattern size and selecting your fabric!


  1. I’m all set! Vogue patterns are $3.99 right now at JoAnn’s AND I had a 50% coupon, so I bought my fabric and lining too! Excited! I wish to make my skirt longer than the pattern, so I hope that’s not TOO hard to do! Looking forward to the next post!

  2. You are inspiring me to get open up that sewing cabinet

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