Sewing tools and gadgets, ranked

I’m currently 80% of the way to my 4th dress since I started sewing, and in that time I’ve googled a lot of things, for example: “how to work with silk” “how to sew pockets” “how to work with canvas”

Usually each of those has some recommended tooling, and I’ve found that sometimes I’ve waited for those tools and found they were well useful, but a lot of the time it’s turned out to be utterly pointless and I’ve regretted waiting before starting my project.

So, here’s a list of (some of the) things I’ve bought for sewing, by order of most used to least used.


1. Seam ripper or unpicker

This sort of goes without saying that you’re going to need one of these. You can get by with small scissors for a while, but it’s much easier and quicker if you have one of these.

2. Sharp fabric scissors

For my first dress I used standard kitchen scissors and this is fine if the fabric is easy enough to work with and you’re not super precious about straight cutting. Once you get to fabric you really care about or want it to be neat, though, you’re going to need some proper fabric scissors or “shears” as they’re sometimes referred to.

3. Water-soluble fabric pen

I’ll be honest - I mostly wrote this blog because I just bought a fabric pen in order to do button holes and pleats, and man. I wish I bought one of these earlier. Using a fabric pen enables you to mark in more complicated notes from the pattern where a snip or pin mark just won’t communicate the context. It also allows you to have some prescission over where the mark is. I bought one specifically for button holes because I wanted to make sure the line was straight to make it nice and easy to see it when sewing, and later found it really useful for drawing on pleating arrows. To remove it, you just get a damp cloth and rub on it and voila, it’s gone. Probably want to test this on an offcut of the fabric you’re using first just to be sure - and also pay attention to the instructions on the pen, for example mine warns not to iron it as it might become permanent.

4. Measuring tape

This sounds like something that should be higher up my list, but it’s not because you can get away for a while without one. I needed this in order to get my own measurements which is definitely something to do before you start since dress sizes vary so wildly for women when it comes to clothing. I assumed this would change a bit when I started using patterns, but for example, in the dress I’m making now, I’m a size 12. In the previous one, I was an 8, and in “standard” clothes I buy from a shop, I’m a 10. -_-

Also useful for making sure you draw lines straight and for measuring and lining up the grain line of a fabric.

5. Roller cutter + cutting board

I bought a roller cutter for my silk, and it’s sorta. a bit hit and miss whether it cuts the whole way or part of it. But, it made me a lot more confident making longer, diagonal cuts and makes it easy to cut where you’re cutting part way through the fabric and may want to cut from the edge. Secondarily to this I bought a cutting board to protect my table, although I’ve never really bothered with it on the table because my table is a crappy ikea table and the mat isn’t big enough to cover the whole table, so I mostly use it under fabric on my floor.

6. Tissue paper and masking tape

Again, this was for cutting silk. For anything that’s slippy, this is useful in order to add some friction between your cutting surface and the fabric so it won’t move about.

Masking tape is for taping it to the table, but I’ve also found it useful for where I’ve cut the wrong size from a dress pattern etc so that it’s mended properly.

7. Zipper foot, invisible zipper, button hole foot

When I first got my sewing machine, I accidentally removed the foot instead of lifting/lowering it, and I thought to myself “what a stupid design, why would I want to remove this?”

Since then I’ve bought a selection of feet which, to be honest I mostly bought the kit of 11 different feet because that seemed most cost effective on amazon and covered the ones I needed. I’ve ended up using…2 of those which is the zipper foot.

Separately to that I have a button hole foot which came with my machine, which is 100% necessary if you’re going to sew a button hole and makes what looked to me like it was going to be very fiddly magically done within 5 minutes.


8. Different types of needles

Whenever I see advice for working with different types of fabric, I generally see needles and thread comes up a lot. I don’t want to say this is useless advice, but in some cases it’s turned out to be a take-with-a-pinch-of-salt type of advice.

In the case of silk - I have no doubt that the microtex sharp-and-thin needles were needed, silk is very fine and I didn’t want to damage it, but in other cases, for example I’m working with canvas at the moment where the advice is to buy thicker needles, I’ve only found I needed to use the jean needles I bought for this purpose when I felt that the amount of layers I was going through might break my standard needle.

In general, I would probably say order the needles just in case, but don’t feel the need to wait for them to arrive before moving on. If you’re nervous about it, test your current needles on an offcut.

9. Different types of thread

In the case of thread, the advice for my silk was “buy silk thread for handsewing” and…it just slipped out all the time, so I quickly gave up on handsewing and stuck to pinning. I did however find buying thinner, sharper pins useful as I’d noticed my standard pins had left holes in the fabric. The advice for my canvas was “buy heavy duty polyester thread for machining”. I’ve tried the heavy duty stuff on it and it seems unnecessary and is very coarse, and not well balanced with the fabric thickness which is why you’d vary types of thread. I’d probably just in future buy the fabric and test it and eyeball whether the thickness is enough before going on to order new thread.

10. Most types of feet

In my aforementioned kit of feet, I also have an invisible zipper foot and an overlocking foot. The former I haven’t figured out how to use without jamming my machine (I figured out I can move the position of my needle and now invisible zipper feet are a doddle), the latter I’ve got by with just using the zigzag stitch. In both cases it probably depends on how detail oriented you are - I intend to learn how to use my invisible zipper foot to get a neater line, and overlocking is mentioned so often in patterns and the sewing bee on TV that I should probably give it a shot.

11. Pinking shears

I bought a pair of pinking shears because the canvas I’m using tends to fray quite a lot. In order to get around this I tried cutting the edges with pinking shears (scissors that cut triangles instead of cutting a straight line), and while that slowed the fraying, it did leave kind of a weird edge pattern where it frayed up to a straight line. Instead i’ve just zigzag stitched any raw edges (including before prewashing it) and this has worked a treat.