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!

Ladystitcher Tools close

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??

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Take three: a hat-trick from Simplicity 1693

(Inadvertent French flag reproduction here...)

(Inadvertent French flag reproduction here…)

This is such an easy pattern to make that I’ve made it over the past few months not once, not twice, but three times.

I find Simplicity 1693 great to work with because firstly, there are no closure issues like zips or buttons, and, secondly, I like the smooth finish you get with bias binding along the edges.

I’ve made this pattern in three different fabrics: red wool-blend crepe, blue light shirting, and cream mystery fabric (it feels like a heavy crepe) from my favourite remnant bin in town. I had planned to make the short-sleeve shirt option for the cream crepe, but when I pinned the sleeves on, the whole thing looked really dated so I left them off.

The blue one is pattern option ‘F’ and the other two are ‘D’ minus the sleeves.

The hem of the blue top (version 'F' of the pattern) looks lopsided in this photo, but it actually worked out fine in real life!

The hem of the blue top looks really lopsided in this photo, but it actually worked out fine in real life (honestly!)

I used ready-made binding for all three necklines, but decided to make my own for the armholes of the blue shirting version (the white trim on neckline and armholes looked very bib-like when I pinned it together). Because of the cut of fabric I was working from, I only had very small strips of shirting to sew together to make the bias tape (meaning that it took a really, really long time and I’m not too enthusiastic about doing it again any time soon!).

Skills learned: Making bias tape from scratch.

Recommend pattern?: Definitely, especially for beginners. It’s also a handy one for quickly making some tops. I really like when a pattern includes several different options – it always feels like better value!

Simplicity 1693