Dedicated to all things sewing!
There are some basic tools and supplies you will need to get started. The full list of supplies and tools can be downloaded, please check the bottom of the page for the PDF. I also have a video of me explaining all the tools and supplies you’ll need.
Of course, you will need a sewing machine. If you are a beginner, it’s my recommendation that you not spend a lot of money on a machine. I recommend this because although you are eager to sew, you haven’t yet developed enough skill to decide if sewing is something that is right for you. Sometimes when we want to learn a new skill, along the way we realize that maybe it’s not something we really want to do after all. If you can, borrow a sewing machine from a family member or friend before you purchase.
It’s difficult to give a lot of suggestions as to what machine you should buy, but I would recommend that you set your price range. For a beginner spending $100 to $300 is a fair recommendation. There are plenty of machines in this price range to choose from. Also, keep in mind that after you purchase a machine, you will still need to purchase other tools and of course fabric and supplies for projects.
There are a few specifics I think you should look for when searching for a machine to purchase. The first thing I would look for is a machine that has the capability of making a buttonhole. Not just any buttonhole, but an “all-in-one” step buttonhole. There are machines that have multiple step buttonholes; this can be frustrating, as you will need to plan the size of your buttonhole manually. All-in-one buttonholes come with a specific presser foot that you set the button into, hit a button on your machine and it makes the complete buttonhole for you based on the button you choose. Another convenience to look for is a thread trimmer. Although this isn’t a necessity, it is nice to have, and once you get use to this function you will never want to go back to not having a thread trimmer. Also, most machines today have a needle threader, which comes in handy if your eye sight isn’t that great. Some are automatic, but usually the lower priced machines are manual, which means it will thread the needle, but you will need to manually load the thread once the threader has passed through the eye of the needle. You could also look for speed control. Some machines have a lever that slides from slow to fast. This is nice for beginners because getting use to operating the foot pedal for various speeds can be challenging.
For all of the lessons here at Apparel Arts Academy I will be using a Brother brand sewing machine. The model number is CS5055PRW. This machine is branded as a Project Runway Limited Edition. Check the Brother sewing machine site for its availability. This machine usually costs $125 to $150. If this machine is no longer available, there is undoubtedly a similar model within that price range. You should know however, that this particular model does not have a thread trimmer or speed control.
I added a Serger/Overlock machine to the list of tools because there will be knit classes available (if they aren’t available already). Additionally, a serger/overlock can be used to finish seams so they don’t fray or unravel. If you purchase a serger/overlock make sure it is at least a 2 needle 4 thread machine. To sew knits you will need the double needle four thread set up. I will be using the Brother brand serger/overlock, model 1034D. This model costs $200 – $300. If you can’t find this specific model, there will be similar models within that price range. If you’re not ready for this purchase just yet, I’ll show you how to finish the seam allowance with your regular sewing machine. Just keep in mind, that if you do plan to go forward with sewing knits, you will need a serger/overlock machine. I will not sew knits with a regular sewing machine, with the exception of topstitching, seam stabilizing and finishing.
An iron and ironing board are essential. These don’t need to be expensive items, although some irons can be quite pricey, but come with many options. A basic iron with low, medium and high settings will be fine. It doesn’t need a steam setting and I would recommend not using the steam setting because too much steam can shrink the fabric. Ironing boards come in a few styles, but all are basically the same. This is a tabletop ironing board for small spaces, and this is a full height ironing board. The covers on both models can be replaced when the fabric top becomes worn with use. There are wider options available, but that is a personal choice. I will discuss ironing and pressing during the projects themselves. Although ironing and pressing are essential tasks during the sewing process, ironing and pressing methods are specific to the individual project. It’s also a good idea to have a press cloth available. A press cloth is just a piece of fabric that will protect the project fabric from damage by the iron. I’ll be using a piece of cotton muslin for my press cloth.
You will need two pair of scissors. One pair will be for fabric ONLY and the other pair will be for paper. Do not get the two mixed up. Your fabric scissors should be good quality. Your scissors are like extensions of your hands, so choose something that you feel comfortable holding and cutting with. Test them out at the store if you can. Don’t think that the cheap-o pair of scissors at the dollar store will work for fabric. You need a scissor that that has a good sharp edge. Use the cheap-o pair for paper. I really like Gingher 8” shear with a serrated edge. The serrated edge grips onto the fabric as you cut. There are also Fisker brand and Kai brand, which are very good as well.
You will need marking instruments that can be erased or washed away. I really like Frixion erasable pens and markers. The markings you make on the fabric disappear when you iron. You could also use tailors chalk, which comes in a variety of colors. This particular chalk is pressed together as a solid piece, but washes away. There is also dust chalk, which you can add to a marking instrument that will draw a single line of chalk and can be refilled. There is another type of chalk I hesitate to mention, but you may come across it as you shop. It will be called Tailor’s chalk, but it’s not chalk, it’s wax. This also comes in a variety of colors. Beware if you use this that it may stain your fabric when ironed. This is wax like a candle. Also, if you purchase a specific color, then iron the wax, the dye that is in that wax will transfer to your fabric and may not wash out.
You will need a ruler and tape measure. These don’t have to be expensive items, but these rulers here are see -through. I’ve seen these rulers in blue as well. This is an 18” by 2” ruler with inch division of 1/16ths. This ruler is standard for all fashion programs and the preferred ruler for industry professionals. The reason behind that is because it is flexible and can be bent along armhole lines, hip lines and necklines and other curved areas where a measurement is needed. A tape measure will come in handy for measuring long lengths and fabric stores will have basic plastic tape measures for $1. A tape measure has a life span. Do not wad it up, or roll it up tightly. Remember, your tape measure needs to be accurate. Rolling it up tightly will stretch the tape measure, and wading up causes it to wrinkle. NEVER IRON YOUR TAPE MEASURE TO FLATTEN THE WRINKLES! This will stretch it out. Your one-inch could easily become 1-¼ inches! Loosely fold up your tape measure without creasing it, or hang it on a hook in your sewing room. When I was in the industry I changed my tape measure every month! Accuracy is key! That’s what will get you the job and customers coming back!
Purchase a nice package of hand sewing needles. I like this package because it has various types and sizes of needles. For the most part we’ll be using “sharps” size 7 or 9, we’ll get into specifics per project. While you are looking at needles, straight pins should be nearby. You can purchase this type with a ball on the head, I know a lot of students like these, but know that the ball is plastic and it will melt into your fabric when ironing. If you like the ball head and can afford it, try to find glass ball head pins. I actually prefer flat head straight pins like these. These are PRYM brand #21 Extra Fine pins. These are also great for draping fabric. However, I’ll be using these yellow ball head pins since they are readily available at most fabric stores.
You don’t know this yet, but the seam ripper you buy is going to become your best friend and your archenemy, so choose wisely. That’s a bit of humor, but for those who are experienced understand what I mean. Seam Rippers come in many different shapes and sizes. Again, you’ll need to choose one that is comfortable for you to handle. I like these larger seam rippers and shy away from these smaller ones, which tend to break easily. If you purchase a new machine, a smaller one like this may come with it. They’re not bad I just prefer something with a bit more weight.
Snips come in handy at the sewing machine instead of using your scissors. These aren’t a must-have it’s just nice to have so you don’t have to use your big scissors for small trimming. I like to leave my scissors on my cutting table and have a pair of snips at the sewing machine. These snips you can find online in a pack of 10 for about $10 or $12.
You’ll also need thread that matches your fabric. That means you need to purchase a new thread color for each project, unless your current thread matches the fabric you purchase. You will also need fabric per project. At the beginning of each project I will let you know how much fabric you will need. I will also let you know if the projects have suggested samples within the project. The samples in the projects will be mini projects that can be made of muslin or less expensive fabric than your main fabric. These samples are suggested for you to complete before attempting them on the actual project, such as zippers, welt pockets or buttonholes. There are separate tutorials for basic textiles (fabric) and thread choices.
You will need tape to tape the patterns together; unless you opt to have the larger files printed. I supply you with all the patterns for the projects at Apparel Arts Academy. All the patterns are PDF downloadable patterns and formatted for 8 ½” X 11” paper and A4 size paper. You will also have the option of downloading a larger print size, which is formatted for 36” and A0 sizes. However, for those students with home printers, tape will be necessary to piece the pages together. Invisible tape with a matte finish is recommended because you can write on it and it doesn’t yellow. For instructions on cutting and taping patterns together, please refer to that tutorial.
Other tools, such as a thimble will save your finger when pushing hand sewing needles through fabric, a needle threader to help thread hand sewing needles, safety pins to keep your work together and pushing elastic and drawstrings through casings, note pad and pencil or pen are suggested, but not necessary in the very beginning. Well, maybe the note pad and pencil or pen for notes would be a good idea.
I do have a couple other tools that aren’t necessary, but need an explanation. This is a notcher and this is an awl, typically used in the apparel production environment. These are pattern-marking tools. All of the patterns at Apparel Arts Academy are marked using apparel production methods. Using this method will give you a greater understanding of how clothes are made. However, I will explain how to read commercial patterns in a tutorial. The major difference in commercial patterns and industry patterns are their markings such as notches and punch hole or drill holes.
Notches are used to guide the sewer in the process of sewing as well as how to match up garment pieces together. In commercial patterns, all notches are marked as triangles on the perimeter of the pattern, regardless of fabric type. In the apparel industry triangles are used for knit fabrics. Woven fabrics are marked with slit or T notches. I use T notches on all my woven patterns, and this notcher clips out the paper at the notch so I can clip the fabric with my scissors.
This is an awl and it looks like a mini ice pick. This is used to punch holes in the pattern for marking. Punch holes, or drill holes are marked on the pattern for pocket placement, button and buttonhole placement and other placement of design details. The awl can punch a hole in the pattern so you can get marking tools through to mark that placement on the fabric. In some cases the awl can punch through the fabric instead of using a marking tool.
The notcher and awl are not very common in home sewing, but if you’re planning to go into fashion apparel as a career, these tools are standard.
I know this has been a long explanation of the tools and supplies, but I think it’s important for you to understand the tools, what they do and why they are important to have before you start a sewing project.