What sewing supplies do I need? A beginner’s guide

We’ll talk you through a few of the sewing supplies you’ll need to start sewing. Get ready to top up your tool kit to begin dressmaking or home sewing.

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Beginner sewing supplies

If you’re all brand new to sewing, we’ll talk you through a few basic supplies that may come in handy along the way as you build your basic sewing kit. Whatever project you decide to tackle, these are the few essential bits and bobs you should always have to hand. With the following items in your kit you’ll be ready for anything!

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Guide to basic sewing supplies

  • Fabric scissors
  • Small embroidery scissors
  • Fabric
  • Needles
  • Thread
  • Sewing machine
  • Tape measure
  • Pins
  • Pin cushion
  • Transfer pencil or chalk
  • Iron & ironing board
  • Seam ripper

Fabric scissors

A pair of dedicated dressmakers’ scissors will help you snip through any fabric with ease. Look for some that are about 20cm (8in) long and have a curved handle to enable accurate cutting on flat surfaces, with pointed tips for precision. Avoid using your scissors on anything other than fabric or you will blunt the blades.

Fabric scissors

Small embroidery scissors

A small pair of embroidery scissors is one of the most reached-for items you’ll ever add to your stash. From tidying loose threads ends to unpicking rogue stitches, they’ll be your trusty friend for many a project in the years to come.

Fabric

You’ll usually purchase fabric by the yard or metre, but if you just want a small amount of material, opt for a ‘fat quarter’, which is a yard that’s been cut into four sections, making a piece of fabric that measures about 46x56cm (18x22in). You can buy these individually or in bundles.

Needles

The needle you use is dependent on what you’re sewing. You’ll find all sorts of specialist needles are available for embroidery, quilting and cross stitch, but a pack of assorted sewing needles is a good place to start. When you choose your needle, make sure the eye is just large enough for your thread to go through but not too large that it’s constantly slipping out. Use a sharp pointed needle for all sewing – the blunt ones are used for cross stitch and needlepoint.

Thread

There’s a thread for almost every occasion and your local fabric shop will be able to help you find the right one for your project. Cotton is a fabulous all-purpose thread, but polyester (or a mix) is handy if you need extra strength. Cheap thread is more likely to break easily, so it’s worth spending a little more for
a great finish.

Sewing machine

There’s a thread for almost every occasion and your local fabric shop will be able to help you find the right one for your project. Cotton is a fabulous all-purpose thread, but polyester (or a mix) is handy if you need extra strength. Cheap thread is more likely to break easily, so it’s worth spending a little more for
a great finish.

Brother sewing machine

Tape measure

Measuring fabric correctly is crucial to a perfect finished project (measure twice, cut once!), so a tape measure is one of your most important tools. Find one that measures around 150cm (59in) and has both metric and imperial units for quick conversions.

Tape measure

Pins

You’ll use these to hold your pieces of fabric in place. You might find traditional dressmakers’ pins fiddly to work with – if so, try pins with larger glass or ‘flower’ heads. Most are between 2.5-5cm (1-2in) long, so you could always collect a variety to use on different projects. Don’t forget to buy a tin or make a pincushion to keep them safe!

Pin cushion

Ah pins – the handiest of stash items but they get everywhere! Many a sewist has found escapee pins on their carpet or on the sofa. Keep a pin cushion in your kit to keep your pins-in-progress safe and sound.

Tailor’s chalk or fabric pencil

Before you start stitching you’ll need something to transfer guidelines on to your fabric. Tailor’s chalk is ideal for this because it goes on and comes off easily – so easily, in fact, that you may need to be careful you don’t brush it off by accident. Choose basic white or go for a coloured chalk if you’re working
with pale fabrics.

Fabric pencils are ideal for marking finer lines on to your fabric. They come in different types – iron-on, air erasable, water erasable and chalk (which will brush off). They also come in different shades, so you can find the colour that stands out best on your material. Soapstone pencils rub off easily and show up on darker fabrics.

Iron and ironing board

If we’ve learnt one thing from The Great British Sewing Bee, it’s that you can never press your projects enough. Not only is pressing your work essential if you’re making a quilt,  it will change your life if you’re making clothes too! No, literally… it will change your sewing life. Regularly pressing your sewing project neatens up the finished look and feel of your garment or project, and if you press regularly as you move through the stages of making a garment or quilt, you’ll help smooth the fabric and prepare it for the next stage. You don’t need a specialist professional iron and board though – your regular home iron will get you started.

Seam ripper

Everyone makes mistakes now and then, and this clever gadget takes some of the frustration out of unpicking your stitches. Simply slip the pointed end under your stitch (taking care not to catch the fabric as you go) and cut through it by gently pulling upwards. Look out for non-slip handles as these make the seam ripper easier to use.

Basic sewing supplies for beginners

Now level up your sewing supplies

As your skills develop, so will your toolbox. Buy good quality items and they’ll last you for years. Here are a few more tools and notions you’ll find handy as you start to tackle more complex projects.

Buttons

Whether you’re using them for practical fastenings or just for decoration, you can never have enough buttons! They’re usually sold by size (diameter in millimetres inches), either individually or in packs. Most are flat, but ‘shanked’ buttons have a loop on their underside that helps thicker fabrics to sit beneath them when the garment is buttoned up.

Fastenings

  • Snap fasteners (also known as press studs) are used to hold two pieces of fabric together and can’t be seen from the front.
  • Hooks and eyes hold fabric edges flush together or you can buy magnetic fastenings, which are ideal for bag and purse closures.
  • Safety pins are great for securing thicker fabrics or for threading  cord through casings.

Thimble

It’s a good idea to save yourself from pricked or calloused fingers with a thimble. They are usually worn on your middle finger to help you push your needle through thicker fabrics. Thimbles come in different shapes and sizes and are made from plastic, porcelain, metal or leather. Choose one that fits snugly but not tightly. embroidery scissors At about 10cm (4in) long, these are much smaller than fabric scissors. Whether you’re hand sewing or working on a machine, the fine, straight blade makes them good for trimming stray threads and removing excess fabric in tight spaces.

Thread cutter

Essential for the travelling stitcher, this nifty device enables you to snip your threads even when you don’t have the space for (or are not permitted to carry) scissors. Some cutters double up as a pendant, so you can wear them around your neck. If you plan to sew on a flight, take a minute to check the airline’s restrictions before you travel.

Beads

Use beads to add a touch of glamour and sparkle to your projects – choose from glass, ceramic, wooden or metal. Seed beads are the smallest variety, but if you’re new to beading then you may find larger ones easier to work with. Attach seed beads with a beading needle – it has a small eye to slip through the bead.

Metal ruler

Keep a ruler in your sewing kit to make sure you get perfect measurements every time. Your ruler should have both metric and imperial units – a 15cm (6in) ruler is enough for smaller projects. Go for durable metal rather than plastic and you’ll also be able to use it as a guide for creating straight lines  with a rotary cutter.

Rotary cutter

Used to cut fabric, rotary cutters are extremely sharp and should be kept away from children. They’re popular with quilters because they can cut several layers of material at once and give more even results than scissors. Decide what size blade you need before you buy – small diameters tend to be better at cutting curves.

Cutting mat

A cutting mat protects your work surface while you’re using a rotary cutter. Most are ‘self-healing’ (meaning that any scratches magically disappear after use) and are printed with grid lines to help you line up your fabrics. Cutting mats are about 2mm thick, come in a range of sizes and should be stored flat so they don’t bend and warp.

Large needles

It’s a good idea to keep a few larger needles in your sewing box, so you always have the right one available for your project. Tapestry needles, for example, are great for tasks such as threading elastic through a hem to create  a drawstring, while chenille needles are perfect for embroidery as they have
a larger eye.

Pinking shears

Some woven fabrics can fray easily, but you can help prevent this by cutting them with a pair of pinking shears. These leave a zigzag edge that’s great for storing fabrics and also makes a pretty decorative effect. Choose a pair with steel blades and a contoured handle that’s comfortable to work with.

Fabric pen

For extra precision, and lines that are easier to see on pale cloth, use a soluble fabric pen to mark out your design. Always test the pen on a scrap of fabric before you begin to ensure that it comes off easily with water, and avoid ironing over any of the marks because this can make the line permanent. Fabric pens are good to use for embroidery.

Embroidery thread

As the name suggests, these are most commonly used for embroidery, cross stitch and other forms of needlework. They’re usually made from six strands of cotton, which you can separate into individual strands. If you’re following a chart then you’ll see a key with numbers that correspond to the required colours of thread.

Sewing machine needles

You’ll find there are many types of sewing machine needle to choose from – including specialist varieties just for leather – and different sizes are suitable for different fabrics and stitches. To ensure compatibility with your machine, check the manual for recommended brands and weights.

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