Sewing 101: Basic Sewing Tools and Supplies

After your replies to my sewing confessions, (which by the way, I loved reading them all) I decided to do a sewing bare basics for all of us who are just starting out. Really. Let’s just go over the simple stuff, the stuff people assume you all ready know. If you do all ready know, you might want a refresher. Or better yet, share with us what you know. Your trick of the trade.

When I visit the craft store, the sewing section can seem a bit overwhelming. Not only the cost of the sewing tools, notions and fabric, but also the amount of supplies and tools on display. Really. What do I need as a beginner? What are the basic stuff to get me started? What if I just want to test the waters of my sewing skills and not quite ready to invest a whole lot of money into this?

The Basic Necessities

  1. Sewing machine. Not pictured above. I think you know why you need a sewing machine to sew.
  2. Pins and pin cushion. You will ned lots of this. It’ll hold things in place while you sew. Some people sew right over the pins, but I don’t… anymore. You can and most of the time you will probably be fine. But if your sewing machine needle happen to hit a pin, it can break your needle and/or cause your sewing machine to be off rhythm.
  3. Seam ripper. Take out seams. Fixes mistakes, not all but enough.
  4. Sewing machine needles. Check your sewing machine manual to make sure you get the right kind. You will have moments when the needle will break, either from hitting a pin or sewing thick fabric or other reasons. It’s nice to have some backup so you don’t have to stop your whole project when a needle breaks. There are different types of needles for different types of fabric. And some people like to switch needles before or after a project so they have a sharp one per project. I don’t. I keep mine on for a few projects. I do change it if it breaks, or for specialty fabrics, or if I see it is messing up my project.
  5. Sewing needles. Some projects will require you to hand stitching parts of it. Also good for attaching buttons if you don’t have that setting on your machine.
  6. Fabric scissors. Don’t cut paper with them. In fact, don’t cut anything but fabric with them. And if you want nice clean cuts, invest in a more expensive one. Cheap ones will do, but you really do get what you paid for in this instance. Although, you probably don’t need to purchase the professional grade ones that are $40-50 if you are just starting out.
  7. Safety pins. These guys will come in handy, especially for getting elastic through casings.
  8. Measuring tape. It’s impossible to sew without this. So get a nice thick sturdy one.
  9. Bobbins. Have extra empty ones to make switching thread colors easier.
  10. All-purpose thread. White is also a nice color to have in stock. Once you get more advanced in sewing, you might find the need to get into specialty thread. But for now, all-purpose will work for your projects.
  11. Iron and ironing board. Not pictured above. To have a more professional look and to make sewing easier, you will want to press your fabric at the seams.

Marking Tools

  1. Disappearing ink marking pen. Not pictured. It costs a bit more than the marking tools pictured above, but it is awesome. You mark on fabric and it wipes off with water. This way you don’t have to worry about your markings showing. I don’t have one of these. So it’s possible to mark fabric with what you have around the house.
  2. Sharpie. It’s dark, permanent and will bleed. So be careful to which types of fabrics you are using. And only mark in seam so you don’t see the marks later.
  3. Pencil. It’s lighter, but not washable on most fabric. So you’ll have to do this on the in seam too.
  4. Color pencil. Works the same as a pencil.
  5. Chalk. This is washable. But only visible on dark color fabric. And not as precise in its markings since the tip is thicker.

Other Sewing Stuff That You May Need

  1. Elastic. For waistbands, armbands and anything else that needs a stretch.
  2. Needle threader. I don’t use this. But if you have a hard time getting thread through the eye of the needle, this can be helpful. Some machines come with a needle threader that helps you pull the thread through the eye on your machine.
  3. Thimble. I don’t use this either. It comes in handy when you are hand stitching and tend to poke your thumb.
  4. Buttons. I have jars of buttons by color and this jar of random buttons. I take off all the buttons on clothing that I am throwing away. Not the ones I donate to Goodwill, but the ones that are so trashed that no one would want. It’s great for projects.
  5. Ribbons. You may find it handy to make ties or bows on your sewing projects.

Don’t Really Need But Nice To Have

  1. Yard stick. Not pictured above. Makes measuring and marking easier.
  2. Cutting board. The one pictured above is a small one. I first got it for paper crafts. I would eventually like to get a large one, but will have to save up for that since it’s quite expensive.
  3. Pinking shear. It has a zig zag cut. You can use it for a decorative edge. Or also great for finishing seams to prevent raveling of fabric edges. But remember to only use it on fabric and nothing else.
  4. Clear sewing ruler. Really nice for measuring and marking fabric when you are using a cutting board. The visibility is a luxury here.
  5. Rotary cutter. An awesome tool to cut straight edges. You will need to use it with a cutting board and yard stick/clear sewing ruler. And like the fabric scissors, this is probably something you will want to pay extra to get a nice one. I got the cheap one (pictured above) and it is not good at cutting. So if you are going to get one, get a nicer one.

» Tell me… What are some of your essential sewing tools? What tips do you have for beginners for where to find good prices on tools?

37 Responses to “Sewing 101: Basic Sewing Tools and Supplies”

  • Cecilia

    I have also used the last sliver of hand soap for marking fabric. It is good in a pinch, works great on darker materials and washes off. For the rotary cutters definitely go with one that has a squeeze trigger in it. Much safer to use, specially with kids around the house, and cuts straight down, instead of at an angle…

    Reply
  • Alex @alexcampbell11

    Thank you so much for posting this. I got a sewing machine for mothers day and I have never ever ever sewn in my life! I can’t even put a button on! I am a true novice and I’m trying to figure out what basics I need, etc so thanks!

    Reply
  • Sarah Lee

    I love my magnetic pin cushion. I can throw pins at it as I sew and it catches them and it even helps me find lost pins on the floor. It keeps my needles in a place I remember too! Highly recommend!

    Reply
    • Lili

      Nice!!! I was going to buy a cushion and a magnetic bowl :) didnt know I could have 2 in one. Thanks for posting this!!!!

  • Charlene

    I think the list of essential items depends on what type of sewing you will be doing. I think your list is a great starting point if you’re doing clothing sewing or home dec items. But, I began my sewing life as a quilter, and there’s a lot less I think are essential – lots of things that are nice, but essentials are a lot less.

    And, a caution on sewing over pins – if you do sew over pins, slow down your sewing as you go over the pin – otherwise you’ll have a skipped stitch at the least, a pin can break, a needle can break, or at the worst, your sewing machine timing can be knocked off kilter, then you have to pay an expensive bill at the local service center to get your machine fixed.

    Reply
    • mekaela

      sewing is very easy just to be careful in the pins so that youdont have a sick like my teacher ok

  • JaiCi

    I like that you said the rotary tools are nice to have but not necessary!! it’s true for beginners, but once you really get into it, they’re ESSENTIAL!!! I can’t imagine designing without mine :)
    Love this – good for you for getting this going for those that need assistance!

    Reply
  • Steph

    My mom is a craft tool junkie. I’m lucky that she thinks of me too..when things go on sale she buys one for herself and one for me. So I have most of the things on your list because of her. I need a pincushion though…the most basic thing of course!

    My mom’s serger came with a pair of bent-nose tweezers for threading the machine. We also use it to help thread the regular sewing machine needle, as well as to pull out stray threads from the bobbin area.

    Reply
  • Vero

    thank you so much for this post – I can’t wait to read more! I got a sewing machine 5 years ago…. and I still don’t know how to use it! It is so intimidating to even know where to begin….. hoping *you’ll* end up being the one to teach me!

    Reply
  • Leslie

    For pinking shears, I HIGHLY (I don’t think I can stress how much I mean that) recommend the Fiskars spring-loaded, Soft-Touch kind. I got a pair for Chreaster (Xmas and Easter combined, since I live in Spain and don’t often get to visit my family in GA) this year, and I will never use another pair. I have always hated pinking shears because most require so much effort to open and close, but these Fiskars cut almost easier than my fabric shears (also Fiskars, btw). They’re a tiny bit expensive, but WELL worth every last hay-penny, and you can get them half-off at Jo-Ann’s with the coupon. If you are going to buy new pinkers, PLEASE don’t buy any other without trying the Soft-Touch Fiskars first. You’ll regret it.

    Reply
  • Alison Marie

    I love my 1/4″ seam foot for sewing patchwork – best $7.95 I have spent on a tool, as it immediately made me neat & precise. Also, I prefer a magnetic ‘pincushion’ that’s more like a bowl, because I hate pulling out & putting back in all the pins into the stuffed kind. Plus, the magnet is great for picking up a big spill of pins on the floor!

    Reply
  • Michelle Balletti

    Whenever I need to get something expensive, I just wait to get a 40% off coupon. Usually Joann’s (I live in CA) will except competitors so I usually have more than I need. I’ve used my 40% off coupons to get a huge cutting mat, rotarty cutter, etc. I will be using it next to buy a 5 pack of blades for my cutter (which I think is essential to have on hand if you do use a cutter!)…thank you so much for your tips!

    Reply
  • Carol

    One of my favorite items is a small 4″ magnatized bowl. It is available from Harbor Freight for $2.00. It is used by auto mechanics to throw their bolts in. I throw my pins, thimble, scissors, needles in. They come larger but this is a great size. A recent major quilt show in our area was selling them for $8.00!!!

    Reply
  • Jennifer

    Tiffany,
    I need you. Have a chance to get a machine for Christmas. Which do you recommend for a newbie who wants to move to the next stage without getting a new machine?
    Thanks!

    Reply
  • Rossie

    I’m starting my sewing lessons on Saturday (17/12/11). Going thru this post, I can’t wait to start creating things of my own. I will try and get the basic tools. Thanks for the help.

    Reply
  • Bryant Dela Torre

    Thanks for the list,I’m a student ,now I know the sewing tools I can answer my exam tomorrow.

    Reply
  • Melissa

    On rotary cutters and scissors, Fiskars is good at a nice price, I paid around 10 dollars each for my rotary and orange scissors, and they are both great. Check amazon.com, they were twice the price in Joanns.

    Reply
  • Melissa

    It is bad advice to state that it is ok to stitch right over pins (placed at any angle!) Serious damage can be done to a machine if the needle hits pins or even one pin depending on the size of needle being used. The least of the damage being that your needle can break and tear your project or become bent and hit your throat plate making a nick in it which catches on fabric passing over it in the future. Knocking your machine’s timing off is another disastrous consequence, not to mention expensive. You’d be hard pressed to find many who would agree with youradvice. I request that you remove it from your site before misleading new stitchers to disastrous consequences.

    Reply
  • jeya

    thanks a lot. as beginner we now know the name of the tools. & i bought janome sewing machine.
    very often the thread get cut off. how to rectify this.

    Reply
  • angelica

    the sewing machine is very important to the people ..because if no sewing machine all people haven’t a clothes …!!

    THANK U VERY MUCH …

    Reply
  • elena kourchenko

    Very helpful indeed! I lost all my equipment in a fire and this was a great way to “remember”. I did have more sewing equipment than I thought! I enjoyed your writing style as well.

    Reply
  • Jeanette

    Hi! Loved the posting. The list is incredibly helpful, my husband got me my very first machine and I’m very excited to get started! Your list was perfect for me to get all the essentials needed. Thank you and kudos!!

    Reply

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