5 indispensable sewing tools I had completely underestimated

Ladystitcher Top Tools

When I first thought about learning to sew and make my own clothes, my mother gave me a brilliant present: a new sewing box with lots of useful bits and bobs inside including machine and hand sewing needles, a variety of pins, a spongey pincushion, good fabric scissors, tailor’s chalk (the sort that comes in a hard little square) and a measuring tape. This kit was a great toolbox for a new sewer starting out and I didn’t really think about adding any other implements or accessories for quite some time.

More recently, through reading different sewing blogs and books, I’ve come across suggestions for other sewing tools which I had initially dismissed as not being of particular use to a beginner. There are so many sewing-related gadgets and tools out there that it’s really hard for beginners to figure out what’s worth picking up and what’s an unnecessary expense. I soon discovered that I had really underestimated the usefulness of five of these in particular, and thought I’d share them in case you might be in the same boat in terms of keeping sewing costs down and limiting your sewing gadgetry.

1. Wax for hand sewing

It is almost ridiculous just how useful this has been for me in preventing thread from tangling up while hand sewing waistbands and bindings, or even just quickly basting two pieces of fabric together. A very simple, but very effective, tool for your kit which should be stocked in your local sewing store.

2. A really good marking pen

I used to rely solely on the standard square tailor’s chalk that came in my sewing box gift, but I found it hard to make accurate markings with it because the edges became dull so quickly and yet the chalk wasn’t soft enough to make a nice clear mark.

My husband bought me a chalk pen set at Joanne’s (it’s the red pen above) for Christmas last year. The pen came with a set of over a dozen white and multicoloured replacement nibs as well as a sharpener for replenishing the point. The chalk is good enough quality to mark any of the fabrics I’ve used it on, from wovens through knits, but rubs off really easily and hasn’t left any stains. I can’t tell you how much time and frustration this one pen has saved me!

3. Tailor’s ham

I held off on sourcing one of these for ages, mistakenly believing they were really only useful when inserting sleeves. Nope – the tailor’s ham comes in handy for pressing all sorts of shapes and seams. Pressing seams properly makes such a huge difference to how ‘finished’ a garment looks – and once the item is made up, there’s no going back in there to smooth things out!

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4. Bias binding makers

One sewing task I always put off tackling is making matching bias binding. It’s not that hard – just a bit dull! I bought these three Hemline bias binding makers which definitely make the task a lot easier. They’re really not essential for making binding – you can certainly make it just fine using a few pins, a measuring tape and a good iron – but they really speed up the process. The one I use most is the 1″ binding one, but the other two do come in useful.

5. A rotary cutter

I have a really good pair of fabric scissors and so for a long time I thought they would see me through just fine. However, I had a lot of difficulty in trying to cut lighter fabrics with any kind of accuracy using the scissors: the fabric kept slipping and shifting around when lifted for the scissors. I sourced my rotary cutter on eBay and bought a self-healing cutting mat at a local art supply store and have found them particularly useful for cutting knits (so quick and no stretching out of shape!) and very lightweight fabric. And the rotary cutter is especially useful when cutting fabric strips for binding!

So what simple, but brilliantly useful, inexpensive sewing tools do you turn to time and again? What else have I been missing out on all this time??


26 thoughts on “5 indispensable sewing tools I had completely underestimated

  1. I love gadgets too and also reading about other sewers bits n bobs.
    My latest gadget is a wooden clapper that my mum bought me for my birthday in October. I really don’t know how I managed without it. It really finishes things off when pressing.
    It’s the equivalent of setting your hair with a blast of cold air when blow drying! 😃✂️😃

    • Ooh, a clapper! Definitely keeping my eyes peeled for one of those – for someone who is not that keen on ironing, I’ve become almost obsessive about pressing things as I sew. Thanks for the suggestion!

  2. I’ve recently re-discovered a seam gauge or hem gauge–the little 5″ measuring tool with a sliding marker on it. I find that there are so many things going on in my head, I often forget the measurement as I move from one step to the other and the little slide holds it for me.

  3. Thank you for this article. As a beginner I basically have the things your Mum got you in your present box and haven’t yet moved beyond that. It’s really useful to hear about which things I should get next as obviously I can’t really get all the things in one go! I think a rotary cutter is working it’s way to the top of my Christmas list for starters 🙂

    • It’s definitely hard to choose when there are so many tools out there! None of the items in this list is very expensive – I think the ham would have been the priciest, at around €15 on eBay (though in the end, I got it for Christmas). I’ve definitely found the rotary cutter a great help for accuracy when cutting light fabrics.

  4. You have covered most of the tools I have been thinking about getting for the last few months or so….this might just be the starw that camels back and am off to sort that out! Another gadget I have been thinking of the Expanding Slimflex thingie for buttons. Seems good too.

  5. I’m also a convert to the seam gauge, they’re really, really useful. I think the number one ‘can’t do without’ piece of kit for any seamstress is a seam ripper. It’s probably the sewing implement that’s used most by me! x

    • Oh my gosh, yes. The seam ripper is the almightiest tool in my sewing arsenal. In fact, I just shelled out for a couple extra of the spendier kind. It’s worth it to have a good quality seam ripper (as opposed to the small, dull one that came in a cheap dollar store sewing kit I had lying around that I had been using).

  6. I have a great marker too…I couldn’t find it on Saturday and used my old chalk, I was lost! At some point I should really get/make a ham, it’ll help my pressing so much.
    P.s I’ve never measured a hem properly either 🙂 a guide sounds like a good idea!

  7. Must get some wax! One gadget I have that I use all the time (I inherited it) is a skirt/dress hem marker. You set your distance from the ground, stand next to it and get a very bored husband to put the pins in the groove and voila! Great tool , I even secretly enjoy the fact it annoys my other half

    • A double-purpose tool, I like it! 😉 I’d totally forgotten about this until you posted that comment, but my mother used to use a big metre stick sometimes as a hem marker. It was pretty unwieldy though it worked in a pinch! Hmm, it looks like it’s about time I started to really consider my hem-work…!

  8. I am ashamed to say that I have been using a biro since the lid cracked on my stupid sewing pen and it dried up. I rarely make anything light enough for it to show through, so I’m ok with that for now. I do want to get a tailor’s ham, but until I actually bother, I’m using a rolled up towel – it’s amazing how much difference even that makes! I’ve got a seam gauge, but I don’t exactly see how it’s better than a tape measure. My dressmaker’s dummy, Alan, has a hem marking thing – basically just a pole sticking out which helps you to pin at the right height – that’s useful!

    • Ha, the biro just shows how dedicated a sewer you are, Laura – no dried-up fabric pen is going to stop you! 🙂 I’ve been promised a dressmaker’s dummy for a birthday present, if I can find one, and that hem marking feature sounds really useful.

      • That is a very nice way of looking at the biro situation! Good luck with your search – I’ve got a cheap adjustable dummy which I got from a friend of my mum. It’s a petite one, and I’ve had to put it at the maximum measurements – it’s also wearing one of my bras stuffed with socks to try and make it a bit more Laura-shaped.

    • Hi Caroline, thanks so much for that tip! I’ve just had a look at the Burda pattern online and it looks very close to the one you’ll be making alright. It’s a lovely 60s style! Think I may need to treat myself… 😉

  9. Just found a brilliant cheaper substitute for pattern weights – a1kg slotted mass. You get 10 x 100g discs on a cute hanger. Quarter the price of ‘proper ‘ weights. Available from education suppliers.

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