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What Do You Need To Get Started

Have you ever started to make a recipe for a fabulous dish, only to find that you don't have all of the necessary ingredients? It doesn't come out quite the same, does it? Like cooking, one of the keys to successful sewing is having the right tools on hand to complete your project.

Let's assume that you are starting completely from scratch. Without a little information, your first shopping excursion can come out something like this:

Step 1: Walk into the sewing section of your favorite retailer.
Step 2: Stare at the seemingly endless choice of sewing gadgets, accessories and sewing machine choices.
Step 3: Get intimidated and walk out.

Believe it or not, two simple sets of tools are all you need to create anything from a basic pillow to a ball gown. Here they will be separated into two categories: the Hand Sewing Kit and the Machine Sewing Kit. Bear in mind that you need both kits to do any job, as they work together for the best possible results.

The Hand Sewing Kit

If you've ever seen those little travel sewing kits, you get the basic idea: a pair of scissors, some needles, thread in several basic colors. What you need for successful sewing takes a few extras – print out this checklist to take with you to the store, and then read on for specifics. These are absolute essentials, so skip an item at your own risk! Look for Simplicity Notions, available at your local Jo-Ann store.

  • Straight Pins
  • Hand Sewing Needles
  • Needle Threader
  • Shears
  • Seam Ripper
  • Tape Measure
  • Seam Gauge
  • Clear Gridded Ruler
  • Fabric Marking Pens/Pencils
  • Thread
  • Thimble


All About:

Straight Pins

All-purpose or dressmaker pins are made of rust-proof stainless steel, and are good for pinning most fabrics. Pins come with flat heads or with round plastic or glass heads. Many sewers prefer the round-headed pins, since they are easy to see and handle. 

Hand Sewing Needles

There are several types of needles on the market, ideal for different purposes. Don't spend too much time worrying about what size or type to get; make it easy on yourself by buying an assortment, with several different needle types and sizes in one convenient package. Most people find that regardless of what might be recommended, they use the needle that is most comfortable for them. Just use common sense – don't try to hand-sew a lightweight or delicate fabric with a thick needle, and don't sew denim with a super-skinny one. 

Needle Threader

Trying to thread the tiny eye of a needle with a piece of thread can be quite a task, whether you're a beginner, novice or expert sewer. Even sewers who normally don't use one have those days when the thread just won't go through, so it's a good idea to have one on hand. This little metal gadget has a tiny wire loop that goes through the eye of a needle; you then slip the thread end through the wire loop, pull the wire back through the needle's eye, bringing the thread right along with it. The wire loop is rigid, so it's much easier to get through the eye than a soft piece of thread that keeps bending and drooping, which is why it always works. 


There are many cutting tools to choose from, but a simple pair of shears is the best way to go. Shears are different from scissors in that they have differently-sized handles instead of same-sized handles, offering better leverage when in use. These asymmetrical handles are also bent upwards, so fabric stays flat on the table during cutting. You may want to invest in two pairs: one for fabric and one for paper – paper cutting dulls shears, making it difficult to cut fabric, which needs sharper blades to get a smooth, clean cut. 

Seam Ripper

Nobody's perfect, and accidents happen – in this case, the seam ripper is your best friend! This is a pencil-thin tool that has what looks like a tiny pronged blade at the end, with a protective cover that comes on and off as needed. Slide the long prong into the offending seam, and tug gently – the blade cuts the stitches, but not the fabric.

Tape Measure

One of the most important measuring tools you can own – this is a flexible fabric or fiberglass tape, measuring a total of 60". Most tape measures have imperial measurements on one side, and metric equivalents on the other. Just be aware: over time, fabric tape measures stretch slightly, so you'll need to replace it every couple of years or so. 

Seam Gauge

This is a small plastic or metal ruler, 6" long, with a sliding gauge that runs the length of the ruler. This makes is incredibly easy to keep a constant measurement to seam allowances, hems and even to mark top stitching. 

Clear Gridded Ruler

 This is exactly what its name implies: a clear plastic ruler that is usually 18" long and 2" wide, with inches, half inches, quarter inches and eighth inches marked as a grid. The great thing about this ruler is that you can lay it right on your pattern or fabric, and see clear through to what's underneath. 

Fabric Marking Pens/Pencils

There are as many ways to transfer pattern markings onto fabric as there are sewers, and everyone has their favorite method. Fabric marking pens and pencils are a foolproof way to do it; there's little chance in missing markings, or mistaking one for the other. Don't just substitute with any old pen or pencil, as the ink may not wash out – fabric marking pens and pencils are designed to come clean. 


The most important thing to remember when buying thread is this: go for quality! Cotton-wrapped polyester is the most common type of thread available, and good for pretty much any sewing project. When you pick up a spool of thread, check for a smooth finish; fuzzy thread equals thread that has weak spots and annoying lint issues. Don't be tempted by bargain prices – if it's not quality, it's no bargain! 


Chances are your mother and grandmother had one of these: a little metal cup that fits perfectly on a fingertip. The main job of a thimble is to protect the fingertip that pushes the needle through the fabric when hand-sewing, as even the blunt side of a needle can stick you. Many people don't feel the need to use one unless they're working with heavy fabric, but try one out for yourself and decide when to use it and when not to bother. 

Practice Hand Sewing

Now that you have your hand sewing kit together, it's a good time to practice some simple hand sewing stitches. Some hand stitches are used during the sewing and construction process, others are for finishing hems and seams. Once you get comfortable with these stitches, it will be easy to incorporate them when you're ready to sew up an actual garment from a pattern.

The Machine Sewing Kit

First and foremost, you will need a sewing machine. Most machines come with a few of the basics listed below, but it's doesn't hurt to check!

The Machine Sewing Kit Checklist:

  • Sewing Machine
  • Sewing Machine Needles
  • Bobbins
  • Presser Foot
  • Zipper Foot
  • Small Screwdriver
  • Sewing Machine Oil
  • Small Brush


All About:

Sewing Machine The most basic type out there is the best way to go for a beginner, so don't be persuaded by a salesperson to get the fancy machine with 1,000 stitch types and all of the bells and whistles. While in the store, read the details on the cards and booklets that are displayed with each machine, and test as many as it takes to find the one that's right for you. Remember, even if you're not paying top-dollar for the most advanced machine on the market, it's still an investment; you have to feel comfortable with it.
Think about what you plan to do with your machine. Do you want to do simple sewing and mending? Are fashion garments in your future? Quilting? Home Décor? Chances are a simple mechanical machine that runs straight and zig zag stitching is all you'll need. There are more complex, computerized machines on the market, but these can be more difficult to deal with if you've never used a machine before. Remember, you can always upgrade later!

Sewing Machine Needles

Like hand sewing needles, the best thing to do is get the variety pack – in fact, most packages of machine needles come with an assortment; two each of three different sizes. You'll find that sewing machine needles are color-coded and numbered; the basic rule of thumb is that the lower the number, the smaller the needle. A size 10 to 12 needle covers most projects, while higher-numbered needles are better for heavier fabrics and lower-numbered needles are best for very lightweight and sheer fabrics. Once again, let common sense be your guide: look at what you're planning to sew and pick the most logical needle. .


The principle of the sewing machine is that two threads are involved: an upper thread and a lower thread interlock to create an even, strong stitch. The upper thread is fed from the spool that sits on the spindle on top of the machine, but where does the lower thread come from? The bobbin is like a small spool of thread that sits inside the machine, and this is the lower thread that completes the link. Most machines come with two or three bobbins, but it's good to keep extras handy; this keeps you from having to unwind a bobbin every time you need a new color!

Presser Foot

Your new machine will come with a basic presser foot, which holds the fabric down while the needle goes in and out of the fabric. Why is this important? It keeps the fabric being sewn stable, allowing you to maintain even and straight stitching. The standard presser foot comes with two prongs, each sitting flat on either side of the needle.

Zipper Foot

Even if you're not putting in a zipper right away, a zipper foot is good to have. What makes it work is that instead of having two prongs like the basic presser foot, it has only one. This allows the needle to get extra-close to the teeth of a zipper, but the single prong still holds the fabric firmly in place as you sew. Why is it good to have even if you're not planning on putting in a zipper? A zipper foot is also essential for inserting piping and cording used in home décor.

Small Screwdriver

A small, flathead screwdriver is essential when using a sewing machine. It's needed to loosen and tighten the screw that holds the machine needle in place, so you can't change a needle without it. It also allows you to get to the areas that are recommended for oiling your machine.

Small Brush

A small bristle brush is perfect for cleaning out your sewing machine. With use, your machine can collect dust, lint and even small pieces of thread. Leaving it too long can slow down or even jam the inner workings of your machine, so it's important to brush out underneath the presser foot, the bobbin area, and any other nook and cranny that attract dust. A small but firm-bristled paintbrush works just fine. 


Check out the notions department for pre-assembled maintenance kits that include the screwdriver, machine oil and brush for simple, one-stop-shopping. 

Practice Machine Sewing

Once you have your sewing machine and accessories in hand, practice some simple seams and seam finishes to get comfortable with your machine and its capabilities. The more you practice, the easier it will be to actually sew a garment together.

Practice Seam Finishes

Another thing to practice is various seam finishing techniques. Since most fabrics ravel, it's important to finish the raw edges of your seams to keep the final project clean and secure – how the inside looks is as important as the outside! Different fabrics take different seam finishes, so practice them all.


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