Sewing can seem like an expensive or gadget-heavy hobby, especially when a visit to the haberdashery section in a department store or craft shop reveals racks and racks of tools, threads, fastenings and other bits and bobs. If you want to take up sewing to care for your clothes and live a more sustainable lifestyle, buying a lot of new items (often encased in plastic packaging) might seem counter-intuiative and off-putting.
We’ve all heard the saying “A bad workman blames their tools” but when you are sewing a variety of fabrics, quality tools make all the difference. Novelty sewing kits look really cute but they won’t always contain the best tools for the job, and the cheap haberdashery basics available from supermarkets or corner shops will be fine for sewing on a button but won’t last if you’re planning to sew on a regular basis. Poor quality pins and needles can snag your clothes, and blunt scissors make cutting fabric more difficult than it needs to be.
Of course, it’s possible to put together a cheaper sewing kit than the one I’ve assembled, but all the tools on my “must have” list are items I use every day as a professional costume maker: they are practical, durable and help to make sewing jobs a pleasure rather than a chore. It’s tempting to buy everything you might possibly need when you start a new hobby, but investing in a few key tools to start with and adding to your kit as the need arises is a more cost-effective in the long run, and means you don’t end up with a lot of excess clutter if you’re short on space. (Prices for the items on this list are approximate, and I haven't factored in shipping costs if you buy online.)
Fabric cutting scissors
I am left-handed but learned to cut with right-handed scissors, so they are useable, but the shaped handle (like this pair of orange Fiskars scissors) gets uncomfortable if I am cutting out for a long time. The Fiskars soft-touch multi purpose scissors have a soft grip and a spring mechanism, so they are great for ambidextrous stitchers and anyone with joint problems. Specialist left-handed scissors are also available from craft suppliers, but you’ll have less choice and they may be pricier. I've seen Fiskars scissors available for between £13 and £18, so it's a good idea to shop around.
I use a small, sharp pair of scissors for snipping threads, and for unpicking; I find the tiny pointed blades are more accurate than the hook of a seam ripper. My 4 inch Kai embroidery scissors are my favourite all-purpose pair, but if you’re attached to your seam ripper, the classic "Stork" embroidery scissors are a good buy. Kai scissors are around £13-£14, Stork scissors are between £6 and £8.
This is something you don’t need to spend a lot of money on, but as a left-hander I prefer one with measurements on both sides, otherwise I often find myself measuring in the “wrong” direction, or upside down! Extendable tape measures are fine for taking body measurements that don’t need to be perfectly accurate, but I find the flat metal end of a wider tape measure more useful when I’m measuring and marking an alteration.A decent tape measure will probably cost £2-£3.
Hand-sewing needles are a real personal preference; I prefer using a long, thin needle unless I’m sewing something very thick, but that won’t suit everyone. John James make professional quality needles, but sell them in sensible amounts for home sewing too. If you’re just getting to grips with hand sewing, I would recommend getting an assorted pack, then buying a specific size if you end up having a favourite. "Pebble" packs, where the needles come in a handy little container, are £1.45, needles in ordinary packaging are around £1.
These should be a straightforward item to get hold of, but if you’ve had to throw away half a pack because they had blunt ends, or had them bend out of shape or snap in half, you’ll know all pins are not made alike! Prym make a variety of pins in different lengths and widths; long thin pins for delicate dressmaking, and shorter, wider pins for tougher fabrics. A 25g box of Prym pins is just under £2.50
Really useful for fitting garments on yourself; your carefully pinned alteration won’t come undone as you take that piece of clothing off! Again, you want a sturdy pin with a sharp point that won’t damage delicate fabrics, in a variety of sizes for different garments and alterations. A pack of good quality safety pins will be around £1.75
This is perfect for marking alterations before you sew; the Hemline chalk is available in yellow and white as well as red and blue, and has a slightly waxy feel to it. It’s great for marking the insides of your clothes, or on fluffy fabric where a softer chalk won’t make a longlasting mark. The Hancocks chalk is loved by tailors because you can mark the right side of a garment with the white chalk and it brushes off easily. I like to keep the edges of my chalk sharp so I can draw a neat line; you can buy a chalk sharpening gadget, but I usually just use the blade on an old pair of scissors. A pack of 2 Hancocks chalks is about £2.50
Not everyone finds they need a thimble for hand sewing, but if you do want to use one it’s important to find the right size! People with medium to large hands will probably find something adequate in most haberdashery suppliers; if you have small hands or narrow fingers your best bet is probably Thread and Trimmings who supply seven different sizes of thimble (compared to the usual three - S,M and L).I’ve also found really comfortable thimbles in antique or bric-a-brac shops. A decent thimble shouldn't cost more than about £2.
Total: around £45.
Other useful tools I’d recommend adding to a sewing kit if you are doing a lot of mending and alterations would be pinking shears, a measuring gauge, a technical drawing set square and a darning mushroom! There are other pieces of kit that come in really useful if you are interested in making clothes from scratch, and I’m planning to cover sewing thread in a separate post, because using the correct thread can make a real difference to the success of a sewing project. Leave a comment or come to find me on social media to chat all things sewing-related, or if you think I’ve left something vital off this list.