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Sewing room essentials

Thinking about setting up a sewing room or fixing up a space of your own? There are a few essentials that you can't get by without. Our quick list of sewing must-haves will get your space stocked and ready in no time.

sewing room essentials

These days you can get your hands on so many different sewing supplies that it's really kind of hard to figure out what you really need. Scissors and a measuring tape are a given, but what about cutting wheels, French curves, and disappearing-ink markers? Now, let's go through the best sewing tools and notions one by one.

Sewing machine

You can sew plenty of things by hand, but if you want to get serious, you're going to need a sewing machine.

Luckily, there are plenty of models to choose from, with reliable machines starting at a couple hundred dollars.

If you are on a tight budget, try shopping for the bottom-end machines from known manufacturers like Brother, Janome, and Singer. Their basic stitches (ideally with infinitely adjustable stitch length – see the manual) and presser feet should meet the requirements of all your day-to-day sewing.

Stay away from cheap machines in the discount aisle at your local supermarket. Sure they're cheap but, well, they're cheap. They tend to be hard to adjust and will just make sewing harder.

Hand-me-downs

If you are lucky enough to have an older machine from someone who no longer needs it, that's great. Just make sure that you have them show you how it works. Older machines can be a little finicky (I had one that would jam every time I had the thread tension wrong) and may need a visit to the repair shop.

Some older models are hard to find needles and presser feet for. Ask about that too.

If you are a beginner, you will want a machine that's easy to use. The fact that "can take a licking and keep on ticking" doesn't mean a lot if you can't figure out what goes where.

Serger, coverlock, industrial machines

Sergers, or overlock machines, are special sewing machines that know just one stitch (and its variations). The overlock stitch is used to sew knits because it stretches with the material, or is used to finish the edges on seam allowances.

Knits can be sewing with an ordinary sewing machine too, whereas sergers can't handle day-to-day sewing tasks. They are usually a second machine for sewers who want to use their special stitches.

A coverlock is an even more specialized machine used to finish hems on knit garments. It lays a flat, cover stitch, like the kind you might see on sleeves or the bottom edge of a t-shirt.

Industrial sewing machines are used in large sewing workshops. Usually, they sew just one stitch (for example a straight stitcher will only sew straight stitches) but they are lightning fast, robus, and can handle high loads. Industrial machines can now be bought for home use, generally by people who sew for a living.

sewing room essentials

Needles and thread

You don't have to stock up on thread ahead of time. Always buy thread to match your fabric. Before you know it you'll have a good supply stored up.

For day-to-day sewing, buy universal polyester thread. I recommend sticking with a single brand or type, so that you won't get frustrated having mismatched bobbin thread and spool thread when you sew. This can cause problems, so it's better to avoid mixing and matching to begin with.

Needles usually come in little gem boxes of five. You will definitely need universal needles, size 80–90. For stretchy fabrics and knits you will want stretch needles. You can buy other needles, for jeans or microtex, as you need them.

We've put up special posts on sewing thread and machine needles. See the links below.

sewing room essentials

Fabric scissors

Don't even think about digging that pair of scissors out of your junk drawer. To cut fabric, you need scissors made for the job.

There's no need to fork over half your paycheck for professional tailor's shears. You should be able to get a good pair of craft scissors for fifteen or twenty dollars. It doesn't matter if they are all-metal or have a plastic grip. Good brands to start with are Fiskars, Kai, and Prym, but there are certainly many others.

Most brands make sewing scissors for lefties too.

Once you have your fabric scissors, guard them with your life! Don't let them fall on the floor and never use them to cut anything but fabric. Especially not paper – or you will dull them! Have a pair of ordinary household scissors on hand that you can use for anything else, like cutting out paper sewing patterns.

It's also great to have a pair of small scissors around to cut threads and rip seams with.

sewing room essentials

Cutting wheels and pads

Cutting wheels, originally used mostly for quilting, have become a popular option for cutting fabric. For long, straight pieces, bias tape, and the like they are really handy. With a nice, big cutting pad (at least 2 by 3 feet) this can be a bit expensive. Nice to have, but not essential, at least not at first.

Measuring tape

Get yourself an ordinary measuring tape. They're a dime a dozen and they come in all kinds of colors, if that's important to you. The usual length is 60" (150 cm) and they're usually double-sided with inches on one side and centimeters on the other. Go ahead an pick up a couple, especially if you have a tendency to mislay them like I do.

You can also get a retractable measuring tape in a little case. While it's maybe not quite as practical for using at home, it's handy to tote around in your bag. You never know when you'll want to measure something in a shop.

It can also be nice to have a small tailor's square or a 12-inch ruler around for measuring hem widths and seam allowances on the fly.

sewing room essentials

Tailor's square

A tailor's square is like a wooden yardstick with a plastic bit at the end at a right angle with a curved edge. This tool helps you check right angles and sketch in curved areas like sleeve openings on a pattern.

Get a tailor's square that is 32" or 40" (80cm or 100 cm). For starters you can use a yardstick and a triangle.

Chalk

These days there are all kinds of marking chalk out there, from chalk pencils to wheels and even disappearing or wash-out ink. Pick up some ordinary tailor's chalk in white. Colored chalks should never be used on light fabrics because they may not wash out.

You can sharpen chalk with a knife or a special sharpener.

I have also had success with chalk pencils and chalk wheels. It's good to have options. Each fabric works best with something else and there are fabrics that are hard to mark with anything.

Pattern paper

You can make your first pattern on newspaper or a roll of gift-wrap, but you'll find pattern paper a little easier to work with. It comes in rolls of about 10 yards (10 m) but you can get bulk rolls that are 50 or 100 yards long too. Pattern paper is slightly translucent, so you can lay it over a printed pattern and trace easily.

A little tip: I like a nice soft 2B–3B pencil for sketching patterns (roughly a No. 1 pencil in North America).

Pins

You can never have enough pins. They always seem to disappear somewhere or end up in the vacuum cleaner. I like glass-headed pins (glass won't melt like plastic when you iron it).

Pins come in various lengths and widths. A common size is around an inch long (45 mm). If you plan to sew with silk or another fine fabric, it is definitely work picking up some extra-fine pins. They will let you pin silk charmeuse without leaving a mark.

sewing room essentials

Hand-sewing needles

Even if you have a sewing machine, there will still be times when you need to sew something by hand. Stitching together a gap, a bias tape, an invisible hem, snaps and buttons, decorative stitches... there's always going to be room for a little handwork. Get some universal hand-sewing needles. They're sold in every fabric shop. A pack with multiple sizes is perfect.

Storage boxes

Try to keep your sewing space organized and avoid the frustration of looking high and low for tape measure, chalk, or pins.

You don't need special sewing boxes. Any storage box that catches your fancy can do the job. Best are the see-through, stackable kind, so you know what's in there. For bobbins and spools of thread, it's nice to have a box with compartments so that each spool has its own space and they won't get tangled up. Make yourself a pincushion to keep your pins together. And for all those miscellaneous little items, a desk, a cabinet, a little chest of draws, or anything else you have at home can help keep everything in its place.

What will it cost?

Sewing supplies are not too expensive, with the exception of fabric scissors and a tailor's square. Here's a rough estimate in US dollars. (You'll have to add the cost of your sewing machine, furniture and storage boxes if you don't have those yet.)

Thread, 5 spools $10
Needles, 3 kinds $8
Fabric scissors $15
Household scissors $8
Measuring tapes, 2 $4
Tailor's square $50
Pack of tailor's chalk $4
Roll of pattern paper, 25 yds $8
Pins $7
Extra-fine pins $10
TOTAL $124

Enjoy your new space!

Do you have your own sewing space or sewing room? 

Which tools couldn't you get along without?

Share your tips!

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