Did you get a sewing machine for Christmas and are overwhelmed at the thought of getting started? Given one as a hand-me-down from a loved one when they upgraded to something newer and nicer? Or have you had one sitting in the closet for years, collecting dust and fleeting thoughts about pulling it out of the box and turning it on?
Truthfully, my first machine sat largely untouched for the first couple of years I had it. My dear husband bought one for me as a surprise gift just after we were married; he’d heard me mention about wanting to learn how to sew and thought it would be a great gesture. It was a kind and thoughtful gesture but at such an early stage in our marriage (and when our budget was so incredibly tight) I didn’t take the gift to heart the way I should have. After we moved West did I finally find myself wanting to pull it out and really spend time sewing.
One of the toughest aspects of starting a new hobby or craft is amassing all the items you need to be comfortable starting. It can be expensive too! And unfortunately, sewing isn’t really any different. Here you’ve spent a fair chunk of money on a machine and now you need to buy a bunch of other “stuff” to go along with it. Where do you even start? Anyone who has glanced down the aisles at your local sewing store will tell you the choices, when looking for sewing gadgets, are numerous.
So to help make it a little easier to get started, I’ve put together a top-10 list of the most essential sewing notions for a beginner (besides fabric, thread and needles — I assume you’ve already figured out those 3 items).
Pins. To start off with, basic dressmaker pins are fine. They’ll go through most fabrics without bending and are cost effective. A box of 350 pins will cost about $4. Down the road you can up grade and buy ones with glass heads, or a smaller diameter to fit your sewing needs.
Seam Ripper. The teeny tiny one that comes with your machine will continuously get lost under stuff on your desk/table. Buy one that’s a little larger and easier to spot. A simple one will cost about $3. My biggest tip — don’t buy one that has a round handle. They roll off flat surfaces.
Bobbin Storage. I like the “bobbin saver” — it keeps bobbins from rolling around and unwinding all of their thread. The threads don’t get all tangled up with each other and the base is non-skid so it won’t slide around your sewing table. One of these costs about $7.
Sewing gauge. An invaluable tool to have in your sewing kit! It will help to measure buttonholes, mark hems and space pleats. Usually costs about $2.
Marking pencil. Use one to transfer markings directly onto your fabric. The brush on the end will help to remove the marking after sewing. They typically come in pink, blue and white and cost less than $2. I recommend a white one for dark fabrics and then a brighter one for lighter fabrics.
Finger presser. After sewing seams, you’ll want to press them open, or to one side, before sewing over them. Having one of these will save you from using your iron every single time. The plastic ones cost about $6. Mine finally bit the dust after 10 years — I knocked it off the table and the end busted off. I upgraded to a wood one and love it.
Small scissors. Perfect for notching pattern pieces and ideal for cutting thread. I like the 5″ size and highly recommend spending the money on a middle of the road pair. The 5″ Fiskars craft scissors cost about $14.
These next three items are going to be the most expensive to buy, and by some, would be considered optional. In my opinion though they make cutting fabric so much easier and more precise. I rarely use scissors to cut fabric unless I need to cut intricate curves.
Rotary Cutter. 45mm is the standard size. There is a learning curve with using one but after you get the hang of it, you’ll wonder why you ever tried cutting fabric with scissors. The 45mm rotary cutter by Fiskars costs about $15. Replacement blades will need to be purchased as they dull.
Self-Healing Cutting Mat. This goes under your fabric when cutting with a rotary cutter. It will take the wear and tear of a rotary cutter but will not get cuts, nicks or grooves on its surface. A 18×24″ mat costs about $25; a 24×36″ costs about $50. It’s a solid investment — when properly cared for, i.e. not allowed to warp, they will last indefinitely — I’m only on my 2nd one in 10+ years. My first one was ruined by a professional moving company, not me.
Ruler. You need a straight edge to cut with a rotary cutter. A clear, sturdy plastic ruler works best. I like one that is 4-6″ wide and has markings every 1/8″. A decent one costs about $10.
Remember too, that places such as Joann’s often run great sales on their sewing items so watch their online ads or sign up on their mailing lists to get their local ads. It’s not uncommon for sewing notions to be reduced 50%, especially the cutting tools. You can also search online for coupons to use if items are not on sale.