Sewing notions are the highest revenue generator for any fabric or sewing machine store, and there’s an excellent reason for that. While you could go crazy buying everything you see hanging on the wall of notions stores, here are some tips on how to get started with your first sewing kit:
First, let’s focus on the sewing machine. While there is no need to purchase the most expensive unit with all the bells and whistles, consider some of the following features:
Simple to use for both sewing and quilting.
- Built-in stitches with easy selection.
- Automatic needle threader.
- Adjustable sewing speed.
- Wide table making it easy to work with quilts and other large projects.
- Built-in free arm for sewing sleeves, pant legs or other cylindrical items.
As you operate your sewing machine, you want to keep going without pause. There are two components that, when having them in abundant supply, will allow you to keep sewing: bobbins and needles.
Bobbin thread is your bottom stitching as opposed to topstitching, which makes up the visible stitches. Since you won’t be able to see your bobbin thread, you can use a different color from your topstitching thread. Some sewers focus on a white thread in their bobbins and use it as much as they can. Others ensure they always use matching thread.
Your machine will use bobbins specifically designed to fit. When sewing, you should always have plenty of the following:
- Choice of metal or plastic bobbins.
- A case or a rack to hold your pre-wound bobbins for quick changing and to keep them tidy.
Sewing Machine Needles
As you learn to sew different weights and textures, you will discover that there are sewing needles specifically designed for each type of fabric. Having an assortment of appropriate needles will save you time whenever needles break or bend.
The main characteristic of machine needles are their points:
- Ball Point – used for knit or other stretchy fabrics. Ball points do not stretch the fibers, allowing the material to retain its integrity during sewing.
- Regular or Universal Point – best for light to heavyweight fabrics. Universal points penetrate through rather than around the fibers.
You can identify sewing machine needles by the manufacturer’s brand or by the machine’s brand when sold by other manufacturers. You’ll find needles designed explicitly for embroidery machines, sergers, and high-speed sewing. Chromium needles cost a bit more but are worth it for their strength.
Some needles you should consider having on hand:
- Denim or canvas – for Denim, twill and lighter weight canvas
- Leather – for leather, suede, and buckskin.
- Sheer – for chiffon, voile, batiste, organza, georgette, and microfiber.
- Lightweight – for handkerchief linen, crepe de chine, gauze, taffeta, silk, charmeuse and tissue faille.
- Lightweight Sheer – for single knit, jersey, spandex, and tricot
- Medium weight – for broadcloth, corduroy, flannel, chintz, brocade, linen, velvet, synthetic suede, poplin, taffeta and satin
- Medium-to-heavyweight – for ticking, drapery fabric, damask, upholstery fabric, gabardine, wool, fake fur, and coating.
- Extra medium to heavyweight – for double knit, sweatshirt fabric and sweater knit.
Sewing or Dressmaker Scissors
With your choice of sewing shears, you join the club of protective sewers who disallow the use of sewing scissors for anything other than cutting fabrics. Mark them or have a special place to keep them safe. These shears are not for cutting even paper, let alone cardboard, for their sharpness will decrease, and they’ll never be suitable for fabrics again.
There are at least three pairs of scissors worth having in your kit:
- Dressmaker Shears – typically identified by the curved shape with a longer set of blades to ease cutting out your patterns.
- Pinking Shears – notable by the apparent zig-zag shape of the blades, made to reduce fabric fraying.
- Embroidery Scissors – typically a small set with long pointed tips to get in close for trimming thread or 6-strand embroidery thread. These scissors help with precision work.
Thread snips are spring-loaded scissors that typically have only one hole for a finger to fit for stability. They are easy to grab and use as they do not require the hand movement to open and close. You may find that getting good scissors is not cheap, which may be the incentive to keep them safe and protected from random use on any other materials.
Pins and a Place to Keep Them
Pins come in all sizes with a variety of features. Sewers tend to use pins with either the glass ball or round plastic ends, which makes it easier to see and pull them out as you sew. You want a decent supply of pins when matching pieces that must respond to contouring or shaping.
Pins placed perpendicular to the seam line (with the ball ends to the outside) make it easier to sew over and also pull them out as you go, if you’re not too fast. Have a safe receptacle to keep your pins off the floor. There is nothing more disappointing than using your bare feet to locate a rogue pin.
A magnetic pin bowl is a handy item. You can toss your pins there and be sure they won’t end up on the floor. However, do not underestimate the classic pin cushion. The material inside keeps pins sharp.
Hold fast to this rule in sewing: measure twice, cut once. There are options for measuring tools and straight edges for cutting, including:
- Tape Measure – flexible, durable, and perfect for measuring around body parts throughout garment construction
- Yardstick – a 3-foot-long hardwood measuring stick that is useful for marking hemlines and verifying grain lines.
- Rulers – either 12 or 18-inches in length, typically made of transparent or solid-colored plastic and used whenever you need a straight edge. Quilters are famous for their collection of specialized clear plastic rulers.
- Sewing Gauge – a metal ruler consisting of a hollow-framed 6-inch gauge with notched edges and a plastic slide to mark measurements, used to measure hemlines, seam allowances, and any other small measurements that call for checking or verifying alignments such as pleats and tucks
Thread is one area where you can go nuts or choose to accumulate as you go. If you start with some basics such as white, cream, black, and gray, you can buy assorted colors as you begin a new project. Avoid the bargain bin and opt for spools of higher quality to avoid pill and frequent breakage.
Threads containing a higher percentage of polyester are smooth and will not break as easily as 100 percent cotton threads. Rely on the knowledge and advice of the notion store clerk as you learn to determine the best threads for your collection.
You will want to have sufficient hand-sewing supplies. No matter what you make, you’ll always require some hand work. Plan for such items as:
- Hand-sewing needles – usually a variety pack with an assortment of needle sizes for any types of fabric. Have them handy for basting, attaching buttons, mending or hand-stitching a blind hem.
- Seam Ripper – used to remove stitches while preserving the pattern pieces. It has a protective ball on a short end of a “U” or “V” shape blade with a higher, pointed end.
- Tailor’s Chalk – used to transfer temporary markings from your pattern to your fabric.
- Water-Soluble Fabric Marker – allows you to make fine-line markings, so it’s another option for marking sewing instructions on your pattern pieces.
- Point Turner – used to push the fabric out on corners such as shirt collars and to create soft sculptures and tote bags, it’s a handy wooden tool with a tapered tip.
- Thimble – the best protection when you are pushing a needle through tougher or thicker fabric without the end going through your finger.
- Needle Threader – something you won’t want to live without. A flat piece with a closed thin wire that penetrates the eye of the needle. You can easily place the thread inside the needle through this wire. You’re welcome.
- Iron and ironing board – A stand by in any sewing room
Finally, purchase one or more plastic totes or bins to store your sewing notions and tools. We have strayed from the built-in sewing machines that came in their own beautifully crafted wooden desks. A sewing desk is not a bad idea, though, as it has drawers to organize your tools.
Make your sewing space work for you with the right tools and organizing them so that you can quickly reach supplies and never lose them. Over time you, you’ll realize you have accumulated a wealth of useful tools that make your sewing more comfortable and enjoyable.