Selecting some starter sewing supplies and tools can make a really nice gift for someone who is new to this craft, especially if they are to go along with a basket. The main difficulty is in deciding what to get if you do not have much experience of sewing yourself.
I’ve sewn since I was a very young child, first with hand stitching and then later on with machine stitching. I have a very good knowledge of items that are useful for a beginner.
Some tools and supplies are dependent on the type of sewing. There are many branches that stem from this wonderful and fulfilling hobby such as embroidery, quilting, patchwork, toy making, garment making and more. Many of the items I've listed are useful across the different specializations.
1: Choosing Fabrics to Begin this Craft With
It’s pretty hard to start this craft without actually having some fabric to practice on. Fat quarters are a nice size at 18 x 21 inches and you can buy bundles of them. These make a very good gift and especially for someone wanting to get into quilting, applique and patchwork.
If you are buying fabric for yourself, it is much more cost-effective to buy a plain color cotton fabric by the yard or meter. A solid color will allow you to see your stitches better than with a patterned fabric, especially if you choose a contrasting color of thread. You can certainly notice mistakes better if you’re using a sewing machine where stitches are often smaller and neater.
For toy making, felt is a great fabric to use because craft felt is inexpensive to buy and it is very easy to sew through. Felt is also an ideal fabric to practice hand stitching and embroidery on because needles will just glide through the material. Acrylic felt or a mix of wool and acrylic is ideal while you are learning.
2: Fabric Markers
A temporary fabric marker is extremely useful for marking out patterns, drawing designs to stitch or embroider over and marking where to place button holes, darts and zippers. I prefer to use my water-soluble marker pens. These pens draw accurate and visible blue marks on fabric which can then be removed easily with a damp cloth.
Some people prefer to make chalk markings that you rub away when they are no longer needed. You can opt for the traditional Tailor's Chalk or a variety of chalking pens and pencils. A marker of some kind is an essential piece of kit and it is very useful to learn all the different ways to mark fabric.
3: Different Types of Fastenings
Press studs, hook and eye closures, velcro, zippers and small shirt size buttons are all different types of fastenings that you can get. Most of these are useful with creating garments to wear but are also handy for making bags and home furnishings such as cushions. It is definitely handy to keep a small supply of easy to sew fastenings in your supplies, especially for quick repairs on clothes.
4: Sewing Pins
Glass head pins are my favorite type. These have colored round glass heads at the top of each straight pin which makes them very easy to see and to feel. This is important because it means that you can quickly remove them from your pinned fabric. Speed and ease of removal is vital when it comes to machine stitching. When you are sewing on a machine, you don't want to keep slowing down or even stopping to take pins out. So, having pins that are easy to feel and see, makes removal very quick and easy.
You can also get plastic pins although the glass head variety are superior. You can keep glass pins in place while you are ironing your pinned fabric. If you use plastic pins, you will need to remove them or take extreme care when ironing since they can melt.
5: Measuring Tapes
You can buy really inexpensive tape measures but my favorite type for this craft is a nice long, retractable one. When you’re done measuring, you simply press the button on the case and the tape zips back into place. Having a retractable tape measure can save a lot of time and is easier than having to wind up one by hand.
A retractable tape measure like this one is easy and quick to use. Just press the button when you have finished measuring for the tape to wind itself back inside the case again. No more winding by hand.
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Retractable Tape Measures Save Time
6: Hand and Machine Needles
For hand stitching, look for an assortment of hand needles that come in a compact case. This makes it easy to find the size that you need and keep them organized.
For machine stitching, a set of universal machine needles is a great idea for beginners. Different sizes work with the weight of the fabric that is being sewn. Finer fabrics such as silks will need a sharper and thinner needle than a heavyweight fabric such as denim.
Darning needles have rounded and not sharp ends. These are a great choice for someone who also does yarn crafts such as knitting or crochet and they are great for using along with tapestry, counted cross stitch and plastic canvas so they are also very versatile. With these sewing crafts, you want a rounded end on the needle so that it will not split yarn strands or make unwanted holes in canvas.
7: Seam Ripper
A seam ripper is your best friend with sewing. It is for ripping out mistakes with sewing and when removing stitches from seams, particularly with ready-made garments. This allows you to make adjustments to clothes and other items. It is a really handy tool and one a beginner should have.
A pincushion is an essential piece of kit. I have two because I keep one next to my sewing machine and one in my basket for hand stitching. As well as providing handy storage, they can also make it easy for you to grab hold of the pins and put them in your fabric.
I like large pincushions that will hold a lot of pins and weighted ones that stay put on the work surface. You can also get magnetic varieties which are easier to drop pins into when you are speeding through machine stitching. A magnetic pincushion makes it easy when you are in the middle of sewing and want to remove pins quickly from your project. It is a great choice for a beginner.
9: Safety Pins
Safety pins have lots of uses and are really good for keeping fabrics together where ordinary pins might simply fall out and for clothes where sharp pins could scratch you when trying things on for size.
I really love curved safety pins. These are especially recommended for quilt basting where you need to hold multiple layers of fabric together. Due to curved angles, they are quicker to insert through thick layers but I find them easier to use all the time.
10: Scissors and Cutting Implements
A pair of medium-sized fabric scissors are useful for a range of sewing crafts. I also like to use a pair of small embroidery scissors since these are really useful for hand stitching and embroidery. I keep a second pair next to the machine for snipping off threads. If you get embroidery scissors with very sharp tips, you can sometimes use these for picking out threads instead of using seam rippers.
Rotary cutters used with a cutting mat are particularly good for making clothes and doing patchwork and quilting. Some people prefer these to using scissors for cutting through fabric.
See How a Rotary Cutter Works
11: Deciding on Threads
Some people swear by cotton threads and needing to have all natural products and that’s fine but I love my polyester Gutermann threads which I’ve always used for both functional hand stitching on clothes and machine stitching. I love them because these threads are great quality and very strong which means less breakages. Gutermann also make cotton threads and that is particularly useful to quilters who want to work with all natural cotton fabrics, batting and thread.
When buying for a beginner, smaller spools of thread at around 200 yards are fine to get started with. A white or off white, a black and a medium gray color will cover a range of uses. You can use the white with your lightest fabrics, gray with medium colors and black with very dark fabrics. You don’t necessarily need to match the color of the thread to the fabric exactly when you sew, although you can if you want to. It all boils down to personal preference but those 3 shades can suit most of the projects you are likely to start with.
Because I also do embroidery, decorative stitching and sometimes cross stitch as well, I also like my embroidery floss and for this I use Anchor and DMC threads. These are soft threads that look beautiful but can break easily and are not much use to someone wanting to focus on more practical and functional sewing.
Choosing Supplies is Easier When You Know What You Want to Make
Many of these items are useful for different types of fabric crafts. It can also be helpful to have an idea on the specific kinds of sewing that are in mind before you decide on what supplies to get. For instance, embroidery threads are of no real use to a beginner looking to make their own clothes and garments. A rotary cutter is useless for cutting around tiny pieces of applique used in hand stitching.
Sometimes it is worth looking for a good starter set even though they often tend to contain rather cheaply made items. Someone using a beginner kit for a while will get an idea of which items are most useful and they can then invest in some better quality separates.
Image Credits: The introductory image belongs to the author, Marie Williams Johnstone. All other images (unless watermarked with the author’s name) are product photos from Amazon.