Any project is more enjoyable (and easier to do) when you have the right tools.
Sewing projects are not any different.
Having the essential sewing tools will allow you to prepare your material for accurate sewing, make construction easier, and hopefully allow you to feel less frustration when you have to correct a mistake.
Yes, even if you use the right tools, there will be times when you’ll need to pull out stitches, recut material, or fix other errors.
Note: This post is part of a series called Starting to Sew. This series is intended for people who are either new to sewing, have limited sewing knowledge, or know how to sew and want to teach their kids. It’s designed to help you prepare for wildly successful sewing experiences.
The Essential Sewing Tools
The list of tools described below are the sewing tools I use frequently regardless of what I’m sewing – clothing, home decor, purses, quilting, small upholstery projects, and the list could go on.
Because I use them regularly, I believe you’ll want them all when you sew, too.
To help you determine what you need to get now, I’ve arranged the tools by purpose and provided an explanation for each.
Another Note: While I feel all the tools described below are essential for sewing, to complete lessons 5-10 in the Starting to Sew series you will only need the following tools and fabric:
- a spool of brightly colored thread
- at least one bobbin that was made to go with your sewing machine
- about 1/2 a yard of fabric that contrasts with the thread
Essential Tools to Prepare Fabric
Scissors for Fabric
You’ll need a good pair of scissors that will only be used to cut fabric. Make sure the blades are long so you can get smooth, even cuts.
Scissors for Thread
Scissors (smaller than the fabric ones) with a sharp point are nice to have by your sewing machine to clip threads.
The sharp tip allows you clip the thread close to the fabric.
Scissors for Other Stuff
Cutting anything else with your fabric scissors will dull the blades resulting in uneven cuts and possibly damaging your fabric.
So, it’s a good idea to have scissors on hand for tasks like cutting patterns and other non-fabric things.
Storytime: Before I learned there should be a pair of scissors dedicated to cutting only fabric, I used the same pair for everything.
Over time, it became difficult to cut fabric with them. So, I went to the store and ended up buying another pair of scissors that looked exactly like the pair I had.
My memory isn’t clear on exactly how I found out I needed scissors only for fabric, but at some point, I put blue tape on the pair of scissors that was for everyday use so I could tell which ones were my fabric scissors. (You can see the blue tape in the picture above.)
I trained my husband and son to only use the scissors with the blue tape and to never touch my fabric scissors. To this day, I still have and use both pairs.
Cardboard Pattern Cutting Board
This foldable cutting board is approximately 34 inches wide and 56 inches long when it is opened up.
It’s an essential tool to have when you need a larger cutting area.
In additon, if the table you are cutting on has a nice finish, the cardboard cutting board is handy because it keeps the fabric from slipping when you cut and protects the tabletop from pin and scissor scratches.
Another great thing about it is it has measurement lines that are helpful when you need to square up fabric.
Storing the cardboard cutting board isn’t an issue because it folds up easily.
A 45mm rotary cutter is an excellent tool for cutting strips of fabric. I use it not only for quilting but also for many other sewing projects.
Rotary Cutting Mat
The rotary cutting mat is also called a self-healing cutting mat. This tool is made specifically to be used with rotary cutters. The sharp blade cuts into the mat but doesn’t leave any evidence behind that it was there. A 17” x 23” rotary cutting mat will meet most of your rotary cutting needs.
Rotary Cutting Rulers
Rotary cutting rulers are designed to be used with the rotary cutter and mat. They are made of clear plastic and have measurement lines on them. There are a variety of different sizes. I have more than 10 rotary cutting rulers now, but for years all I used were the 6” x 12” and 6” x 24”.
Different pins do different jobs and are meant to be used with certain types of fabrics.
With the wrong pin, you could pull fabric threads causing snags (wrong point) or make holes (shaft is too thick). This type of damage could delay getting the project done.
With the right pin, the point and shaft slide smoothly in the fabric and don’t leave holes or snags.
There are many different types of straight sewing pins but you don’t need them all when you are first starting your sewing journey.
Check out my Essential Guide for Straight Sewing Pins to help you determine which ones you want to purchase first.
With pins, you’ll want a pin cushion or caddy to hold them. In the picture above, magnets were glued to the bottom of the bowl, to make a caddy for holding my pins.
There are a variety of tools that can be used to mark fabric. My preference is marking pens that can be removed with a little water or disappear after a period of time with exposure to air.
Essential Tools for Measuring
A flexible measuring tape that is 60 inches long comes in handy in all different types of sewing projects.
A 6-inch sewing gauge is usually by my side when I am quilting or working with finished edges. It is a ruler with a nifty slider in the middle to get accurate measurements.
Essential Tools for Construction
I’ve learned you can never have too many bobbins. It is helpful to have several empty bobbins especially if you are working on multiple projects and/or using different colors of thread.
Bobbins are NOT one-size fits all. Each sewing machine has a specific bobbin. To keep bobbin-related problems to a minimum, make sure your spare bobbins are the right ones for your machine.
Sewing Machine Needles
Needles are a key player in your ability to get a good quality stitch. It is a good idea to keep a stash of sewing machine needles of different sizes and types. Your fabric will determine the type of needle you will need.
Needles can become dull, bent, or even get nicked if you leave pins in the material as you sew. Using a needle that has been damaged can cause stitches to skip as well as snag or cause other damage to the material. Needles can also break while you are sewing.
It is recommended to change the sewing machine needle after every project or when you change the fabric you are sewing.
This isn’t really a tool but it’s essential for sewing. For most sewing projects an All Purpose or General Purpose thread will get the job done.
Thread comes in all kinds of colors. When you’re not sure what color to buy get a neutral color such as ecru or light gray. I’ve found both of these colors work well with almost any color of fabric.
Running out of thread is never fun, so plan on keeping a few extra spools of neutral thread in your sewing box.
This sewing tool may become your best friend.
No matter how careful you are, more than likely, at least once during every project there will be stitches that need to be removed.
Having this sharp tool works better than anything else you might think to substitute.
Using an iron during the construction of a project gives the finished item a more professional, crisp look.
It can also be used in the beginning stages of a sewing project when you are preparing the fabric.
You want an iron that has multiple heat settings and the option to turn the steam on and off.
Essential Tools for Routine Maintenance
Sewing Machine Cleaning Brush
This little tool is necessary to clean lint and dust from the moving parts of your sewing machine.
When you sew, small fibers in the material and thread end up below the needle plate and in the bobbin area.
You should develop the habit of cleaning out these small spaces at the end of a project.
If you’re moving a lot of fabric through your machine, cleaning out loose threads and fuzz in the middle of a project is a good idea, too.
Many machines have screws to tighten the needle or hold the needle plate in place.
Your machine may have come with a screwdriver or other similar tool that will allow you to remove the screws.
If your machine has screws and didn’t come with a screwdriver, make sure you get one.
At some point, you’ll need to change the needle or clean out lint and dirt underneath the needle plate. The right size screwdriver means you can access these spaces easily.
Sewing Machine Oil
Oiling your machine regularly will keep it running smoothly. I learned this lesson in a public setting.
Storytime: I bought my first sewing machine when I was in my early 20s. It came with a small container of oil. However, I never used it.
Fast-forward 20 or so years – I was at my church’s weekly quilt group. I had brought my sewing machine and was working on a project. There were about 15 other women in the room, including my mom. We were all working and talking.
The lady working next to me asked if my machine was always so loud. I told her I didn’t notice it being any louder than usual. Then she asked when was the last time I had oiled it. I looked at her and said, “I don’t remember ever oiling it.” There was a collective gasp from around the room.
My mom looked at me with horror filled eyes, “Never?” she asked.
“No,” I said, “How often are you supposed to oil it?”
I received a variety of different answers from all the quilters that were there.
Basically, oiling a sewing machine is based on the amount of sewing that is done. It quickly became apparent to me that my sewing machine needed to be oiled.
When I got home, I looked in the sewing machine manual to see where to apply the oil and then lubricated my machine.
It became noticeably quieter when I sewed and I could feel a difference in how smoothly the machine was running.
Clips definitely need to be mentioned as a bonus tool.
In 2019 I bought myself a set of 50 clips because I’d been hearing how they were better than pins.
And I must say, clips are fantastic! They hold fabric together securely and you can’t accidentally stab yourself. Sadly, they can’t be used with everything.
With the variety of pins available for different types of fabric as well as the ability to get them close together, I consider pins to be an essential sewing tool.
Clips, though, are a great alternative for many projects and get my vote as a bonus tool!.
That Purple Thang
A Purple Thang has been sitting on the table next to my chair where I do handwork for as long as I can remember. I didn’t consider it an essential sewing tool until I heard from one of my readers. She said,
“One sewing tool that has become my go-to tool for making face masks is That Purple Thang. It’s great for pushing or guiding fabric pleats through the machine while keeping fingers out of the way. It helps with turning and getting the corner points, and it can be used to thread drawstrings or elastic through casings.”~ Sandy H.
It wasn’t until Sandy listed out all the ways she uses That Purple Thang, that I realized what a great tool it is!
While I had been using it mainly for applique and other handwork, it certainly has its uses at the sewing machine.
The sewing techniques Sandy listed aren’t limited to face masks, and That Purple Thang can make it easier to do them, so I’m including it as a bonus tool. 😊
Tip: If you search ‘thang sewing tools’ in Google or Amazon, results come up in colors other than purple!
Do You Really Need All These Tools?
When you don’t use the right tool for the job, things can happen during sewing construction resulting in a less than satisfactory finished project.
You’ll waste time because the project will take longer to complete. The finished project may look a little wonky. More likely than not, you’ll become frustrated during the sewing process.
Is it possible to complete a sewing project without the essential supplies?
Certainly. But you will enjoy sewing so much more if you have the right tools for the job.
As you’ll learn (if you haven’t already) there is no end to the number of sewing tools you can buy.
However, there is no need to go crazy and buy tools you won’t need at the beginning of your sewing adventure.
Instead, just stick to this list of essential sewing tools.
The sole purpose of this list is to make sure so you’ll have the essential tools to complete almost any sewing project you do right now.
Having the right sewing tools at your fingertips when you’re working on a project makes a difference.
Not only will your overall sewing experience be more enjoyable, but the quality of the finished project will look better, too, and you’ll be motivated to get started on your next project.
Next Article: First Steps to Set Up a Sewing Machine
My main goals are to support, empower, and inspire you to discover the joy of sewing.
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