Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Top 5 Favorite Sewing Tools

Skipping right over the obvious needle, thread, and sewing machine, here some of my absolute, must-have, how did I live without, essential sewing tools:

1.       An Iron

Yes, I’m one of those. When sewing a straight line I like for it to come out straight. When you see a seam connecting two pieces of fabric I like that seam to look finished. The best tool to accomplish these goals is your handy-dandy iron. On some smaller projects I swear I’ve spent more time ironing the piece than putting a needle and thread to it. Can you get by without pressing everything? Of course. Will anyone notice if I skip the ironing step? I will and that’s all the motivation I need.
Obviously, I have overused this baby.  Can anyone say, “Melted Fabric?”

The next one I purchase will be a nice, heavy iron with lots of steam! Any recommendations?

2.       Pins
I suppose my love of pins matches up with my desire to iron everything. Most of my time spent in functional (vs. creative) sewing is in the prep work. When you keep fabrics pinned together everything lines up so much easier.
In my younger years the type of pin I used didn’t really matter to me. I never really understood why people would spend the extra money on pins with decorative heads. Sure, they were cute and all, but so what? Wrong. Now that my hands are a bit shaky and my coordination isn’t what it used to be I’ve found that those darn, cute pins make all the difference in the world! Plus, when you drop one on the ground you can find it so much easier. I’ve even gone as far as making my own decorative pins now, an idea that really bloomed once I saw that someone else was doing the same thing (see this great Tutorial from no big dill.) 

Simple, long, satin pins no longer! A few glass beads and lots of glue later and I now have adorable fishy pins to add to my growing collection. Having different types of decorative pin-heads also helps me differentiate between pins that are used for different fabric types.

3.       Pin cushions
Another example of something I thought was superfluous, the pincushion. Sure, I had one or two of those red tomato deals in my sewing basket, but I never bothered with them. My pins stayed in their little plastic boxes ready for me to grab just as easily. Yeah, wrong again. Not until I started using decorative pins did I begin dabbling with pin cushions. I no longer had re-sealable containers that easily fit the big-headed pins in a way that allowed me to grab them without pinning myself.
Allowing the thought of using a pincushion made me feel like a sell out, for about a second. Using some of the bazillion scraps of fabric I had I just started sewing pieces together. Then I realized I had no stuffing/batting on hand and rummaged through the house until I remembered we had a new bag of Cotton Balls! My first homemade pincushion was stuffed too tightly. I occasionally have to struggle to get a pin into it. (Still worth it.)

For my second pin cushion, I wanted something that would better match my fishy theme, a theme that really started and stopped with those new pins. Think this one reminds you of an ocean and maybe seaweed? How about if you squint? Ask a small child, maybe they’ll agree with me then.

4.       Chopsticks
Not kidding. This actually comes in as a tie for #1… or maybe #2. Who am I kidding? They’re all my favorites, just in different ways, kinda like children. (Good thing I only have one child. I’d never be able to say that convincingly in person.)
My chopsticks come in handy in the sewing <dining> room for several reasons. First, turning out corners, pockets, long strips of fabric, what have you. Chopsticks are generally longer than those corner turning tools or inside-out/elastic threaders and therefore easier to manipulate. Second, they’re super cheap and can be replaced easily if you lose or break one. (Downside to some of the cheap chopsticks is that they will break if you push too hard. Or perhaps I just have frustration/anger issues.) Third, they come in handy when you have a super bulky seam or corner that just refuses to feed nicely through the sewing machine. I’m always afraid of sticking my fingers in too close to a machine needle while in use. A justified fear I assure you. To gently nudge your fabric without potential blood stains just use a chopstick to give it a little push. So. Stinkin’. Easy.
Word to the wise – buy rounded chopsticks. Don’t use the kind you get for free with Chinese take-out unless you want splinters in your cloth.

I figure you all know what chopsticks look like. Or did I need to include another one of my fuzzy pictures here too?  :-)

5.       A handy-dandy Ruler
It might help if you re-read #5 while thinking of Blues Clues. Well, because that's how it came out in my head. And it helps me.

Moving along... I suppose a standard back-to-school wooden or plastic ruler might help, a clear 3” wide fabric ruler is one of the best sewing tools ever made (don’t tell the chopsticks I said this). If you don’t have one I suggest you buy one ASAP. If you’d like you can finish reading first, but promise me you’ll go get one right after!
Usually longer and wider than the standard ruler you used as a kid, it makes measuring out fabric and holding it in place while you cut so much easier. Being able to see through the ruler lets you keep an eye on both pattern markings and fabric patterns, very helpful if you’re trying to keep lines straight. Having pre-marked 1” squares all along the plastic beauty, priceless, especially for those like me who sometimes make up patterns as they go. “Ah, that looks about right” actually comes out right more often.

Of course there are lots and lots of tips and tricks and gadgets out there to make your sewing experiences much easier. These just happen to be my favorites. A seam-ripper may be most important (shh, that’s a secret), but these versatile tools will save you so much time and aggravation. Having all of these items at the ready might just get you to the end of a complicated sewing project without needing an adult beverage. Although, now that I’ve typed that perhaps I should add a #6 to include a nice frozen margarita, on the rocks, no salt please.

Feel free to share your favorite doo-dads!


  1. Hi Carey,
    I use my iron constantly -- it never gets put away! I have a Rowenta made in Germany. I understand the Rowentas made in Asia are just not as good quality for some reason. Anyway, mine has lots of steam and a stainless steel plate that is easy to clean if anything weird gets on it.

    Love your pins! Where did you get them?

  2. I have my iron up all of the time also!! And just made pin cushions... they are quick and sew much fun to create!!


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