Sunday, 10 June 2012

"What You Need to Start Sewing"

There must be hundreds of sewing things on the market, and while they can be helpful, they are not all essential. There are just a few things that are. While you can sew without a sewing machine, I have included it on this list because it makes your sewing much quicker, gives neater results, and is easier on your finger than hand-sewing.

   Sewing Machine You don't need a top-of-the-range sewing machine, but you must get a good one. Make sure it is from a brand you know and trust. If you get it from a dealer they will often have other services and a guarantee in case you need help or if something should go wrong. I got my sewing machine off eBay.co.uk and saved a lot of money, but if you choose to go there, make sure it says new, boxed and unopened. Amazon has some great machines as well, especially if you are in America. This one is very like mine (but has more features).


If you are shopping for a new sewing machine, please have a look at the post Things to look for in a new or beginner's sewing machine.


Scissors
You need three different kinds: Dress-making shears, paper scissors, and sharp-pointed embroidery scissors. Pinking Shears (which you may know as crocodile scissors) are an optional extra but anyone who learned to sew on a machine that doesn't do a zigzag seems to consider them essential.

Janome are a good make for scissors. Korbond seem to be okay for scissors as well, but don't bother with their thread; it's fuzzy and can melt onto your iron.

Dress-making shears are often bigger than paper-cutting scissors and have a crooked shape to them. The bend is so that you can cut while keeping the fabric as flat on the table as possible and still keep relatively comfortable. You should get some that are comfortable and light enough for you. Pinking Shears are often more expensive than dressmaking shears. I expect they must cost more to make, what with taking more metal and being so funny shaped on the blades.

I couldn't find any fine point embroidery scissors on the Amazon Associates thing, so I  added some to my A-store instead (the page about books, to your right).

I have added some left-handed shears here (not the pinking shears). My brother is left-handed so we like to know where to get left-handed things (even though he doesn't sew). Be careful when you get scissors that claim to be for both left-handed people and right-handed people. What they mean is that both the handles look the same. They are not really suitable. The difference between left-handed scissors and right-handed scissors is the way the blades lap. If you use scissors in the wrong hand, the blades will not push together so they won't cut. Here are two links for left-handed scissors: http://www.anythinglefthanded.co.uk/acatalog/dressmaking_scissors.html
http://www.ru-lefthanded.co.uk/pages/scissors.htm

Needles
Even if you sew mostly by machine, you will have to do some hand sewing occasionally, if only for basting. A good pack of Household Assorted Hand Sewing Needles will take you through nearly everything, unless you want a round needle or some other unusual needle. Hemline are a good make. Cheap needles can bend in your hand so, as always, get a good make.




Pins and Pin Cushion
Pins are absolutely essential. I use the ones with balls on their heads. They are more comfortable to use and they are easier to find if you drop them. A pin cushion with an emery will help keep them sharp and shiny so they last longer. About 100 pins will be quite enough. I've never needed more than that. In fact, I've bent some or they've got dull so I have fewer now.


Seam Ripper/Quick-Unpick
Absolutely invaluable. It's like an eraser for sewists! It is used for unpicking seams that went wrong, removing unwanted stitches, and cutting open buttonholes. Some people call it a buttonhole cutter, but a buttonhole cutter is actually something else that looks like a chisel. You will usually get a little quick-unpick with your sewing machine.

Before quick-unpicks were invented, sewers had to use their embroidery scissors to un-sew things. A quick-unpick is much safer for your fabric.




Tape Measure
Absolutely essential if you are making clothes. You can use it not only for measuring yourself (or whomever you are making clothes for) but you can also use it to measure hem depths if it is not a retractable one. Some people prefer to measure hem depths with a Sewing Gauge.

A retractable one is much better than an ordinary one purely because you can tidy it up much more quickly.

Make sure you get a fibre glass one so that it won't stretch.

By the way, if you find it hard to keep the tape measure level when you take horizontal measurements, you can use a narrow metal tape measure, like those
mini ones you get in small tool kits.


Sewing Gauge
This isn't necessarily essential (I don't have one -- yet) but I thought I should include it since I mentioned it under tape-measure, just in case you wondered what it is. It's like a ruler, but often with notches in it and a sliding marker in it. The Nancy Zieman one also works as a t-square and a circular compass.




Machine Accessories
Here are the things you need to start sewing with your sewing machine.

Presser Feet: Unless you got a "pocket money" sewing machine, it will have come with all the essential feet. Of course there are many others you may like to collect, but the most important ones are the standard foot, the zipper foot, and the buttonhole foot. You can read more about a few different feet in the post on Machine Feet and Accessories when I get it written.


Needles: A pack of assorted Universal needles will cover most jobs if you don't want to get a load of different needles. A size 90/14 will do most things you need as well. Using a smaller size means having to use a finer thread as well.

If you want to do top stitching (like you see on jeans) you can either use a triple straight stitch and regular thread and needle, or you can use Top-stitching thread and a top-stitching needle or jeans needle in size 100/16. The larger needle has a larger eye so that the thicker thread can get through without getting 'shaved'.


Bobbins: Different machines use different bobbins. Some Singer Sewing Machines like the Inspiration use wider, flatter bobbins than do most other sewing machines.

If you have a top-loading sewing machine you must get bobbins that fit. It does not seem to be so strict with front-loading sewing machines because the bobbin is kept in place with a rod that goes through its centre. Top-loading sewing machines have the bobbin just sit inside and if it is too small it will rattle around.

If you are purchasing extra bobbins, make sure you get quality ones. It may be best to get them from your machines manufacturer. It is important to get good bobbins because cheap ones may have sharp edges and snag your thread. Also, modern plastic ones are of better shape than modern metal ones in that they are rounder in the middle. Plus, they don't rust.


A brush for cleaning your sewing machine
As you sew, fluff collects in your sewing machine from your fabric. If you want your machine to work well, you have to clean it out and oil it (NB. if your sewing machine is self-lubricating, DO NOT oil it or it will need a professional to fix it).

If you did not get a brush with your sewing machine, you can use a medium width watercolour brush instead.





Other Things You Need
Other than your sewing kit, you will need somewhere to sew, something to sit on, an ironing board, and a steam iron.

Somewhere to sew and something to sit on.
A wooden table is best because it dampens the noise of your sewing machine a bit. Melamine is good too because it's scratch resistant so you can cut on it without feeling too cautious. You can help make your sewing machine quieter by making a sewing machine mat (quilted) to put under your sewing machine. It's kind of like a large place-mat. You will need a good sized table, at least as big as a dining room table if you want to sew comfortably (I like to have lots of leg-room even though I'm petite). If you don't have a special area for sewing, make sure you have somewhere safe to put your sewing machine when you're not using it.

If you have not sewn a lot (or at all) then it probably won't bother you too much if your chair is a little too high or low because you probably haven't had it perfect. You may like to use a typists' chair because you can adjust the height, swivel around, and wheel about. I have a small stool. (A word of advice: if you only have a small sewing room, a stool will be better than a chair because you have more room without the chair back.) A sofa won't do -- they're too squishy and relaxing. They're all right for hand-sewing though, when you want to relax.

A steam iron
If you don't have a steam iron you can get around that by using a damp cloth and holding your iron over it.

Good steam irons can get to be quite expensive and heavy. Instead of having a full size iron, I got a travel steam iron for about £13.99 at our local electrics shop called Hampsons (they're very good and helpful). It just fits inside a drawer when it's cooled down so I don't have to dust it very much either (not that I mind dusting, but it's not a hobby of mine).

Alternatively, you can often get start-up kits aimed at people moving into their first homes, that contain an iron, ironing board and various other things. They're really affordable. The best thing to do it to check your home-shopping catalogue (such as Littlewoods) or Amazon.

That seems like a long list so I'll sum it up:
  1. A good sewing machine
  2. Dressmaking shears
  3. Fine-pointed embroidery scissors
  4. Paper scissors
  5. Pinking shears
  6. Hand-sewing needles
  7. Pins + Pin cushion/emery
  8. Seam-ripper/quick-unpick
  9. Tape-measure
  10. +/- narrow metal tape-measure
  11. Sewing Gauge
  12. Presser feet
  13. Machine Needles
  14. Bobbins
  15. Sewing Machine Cleaning Kit/Brush
  16. Oh! And a box or a drawer to store your sewing kit. I have a Cantilever Sewing Box - you know, the ones that open up in layers. You may be able to get more in a sewing basket style, but I like that I don't have to dig around as much because I have three layers.
Tracing Wheel
A Tracing Wheel
Image from Goldstar at Amazon
Some people will probably add a tracing wheel to the list (and I would like to get a double tracing wheel for pattern making purposes) but for marking darts and things, I usually just baste. I don't have a tracing wheel, but a tracing pen, and I haven't had all that much use for it yet. Time will tell though.

All that looks a lot, most of the things are very small.

You can often get sewing kits very affordably with all the necessities, but don't get excited by the wealth of threads they seem to contain. It's usually rubbish and bad for your sewing machine. You can use it for basting, and hand sewing, but don't use it in your sewing machine. Gutermann the best thread. I won't buy any other make to put in my sewing machine. I thought Coats would be alright, but it left my buttonhole foot all linty. So, in short, only buy Gutermann Thread for your sewing machine.

What sewing thing would you not be without? Do you think I have put too much on this list? Please share your thoughts with new sewers by leaving comments below. And if you are a new sewer and want to know what something is and what it is for, please ask. I will have to answer you directly or as a future post because I can't see how to reply to comments on my blog. : )

Until next time, happy sewing!
Sabrina Wharton-Brown
The Sewing Corner, Hornsea