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Archive for the 'Basic Sewing Tools List for All Students' Category

Basic Sewing Tools List

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2015

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In a few instances, I have pictures of items I do NOT recommend,  so that you can see them.  Please take note of the one(s) I DO suggest you buy.

Places to purchase most or all of the items are:

Please take note of the one(s) I DO suggest you buy.
Places to purchase most or all of the items are:
Fabric Corner, Mass Ave and Mill St, Arlington
Joann Fabrics and Crafts, Burlington, Saugus, Natick, etc.
Fabric Place Basement, Speen St., Natick in the Cloverleaf Mall across from the Natick Mall

Wawak Sewing Supplies has most items and they are very well priced. They are located in Upstate NY and the Ground Shipping is quite fast.  I have arranged for them to provide a pre-selected set of sewing tools for my students.  You can call them at 1-800-654-2235.  Ask them to repeat Invoice #40355225-00 from Laura’s Sewing School (Cust # 5125558)  They will fill your order, charge you and drop ship it directly to your address.  The cost ($47.51 as of July 2014) is very good and may be even lower if items are on sale.

I have been sewing for over 40 years. I have tried most sewing tools available. My goal is to steer you to the best brands and styles, to save you from buying notions which are not worth using. I do not receive any recompense for my suggested list. Most of the items are inexpensive. The highest priced one is a good pair of dressmaking shears. Don’t skimp on those, they are worth every penny. They are the “good” scissors your mother wouldn’t let you use.

Portable Sewing Machine w/ pedal and power cord

Sewing Machine Manual Please bring this, it can help answer questions.

Metal BobbinsPlastic BobbinsMetal Singer Bobbins

Bobbins to fit your machine. These are not the same size for all machines and may vary in the same brand of machine. If you are not sure what you need, check with a sewing machine dealer or the website for your model of sewing machine.

Machine needles

Schmetz Multiple=Schmetz Universal Sewing Machine NeedlesSchmetz Jeans needles I recommend Schmetz brand. Universal style, Sizes 10, 12, 14 are the most common sizes. If you plan to hem Denim, buy size 16 or 18 Jeans needles.

The Universal works on both knits and wovens. Other brands will specify Sharp or Ballpoint needles. You need a Sharp needle for woven fabric and a Ballpoint for knits. What I like about Schmetz is that they are tempered. Just like tempered glass, when they meet a certain resistance, they break rather than damaging your sewing machine. They are very well made all around. The only caveat is that because they break,

Safety glassesEyeglasses I like to suggest that you wear either safety glasses or regular glasses, when you sew, to protect the possibility of a piece of a sewing machine needle getting in your eye when one breaks. Not to scare you! Just good to be prepared. I have simple safety glasses available. Kids think it’s cool to wear them but, many Teens do not like them. One solution: you can buy some fake glasses with clear lenses and cool frames at places like “Claire’s.” Also, for those of you with more mature eyes, if you forget your magnifying glasses, I do have some in strengths ranging from -1.00 to -2.50.

Small Screwdriver

Zoom Spout Oiler3 in One oil, or some other oil meant for sewing machines. I like the Dritz zoom spout oiler. It has an extending tube which can snake into tight spaces inside a sewing machine. It can be used around the house, on hinges, creaking knees, squeaky wheels…..

I provide irons and ironing tools at our classes.  But, this information, below, is for your own use, in case you wish to purchase an iron for home use…….

Ironing board and iron, when was the last time you enjoyed ironing?High end Rowenta, here's looking at you!Ironing at its heightsIron and Ironing board or pad. It comes down to this, if you do not like to iron, take your clothes to the cleaners, wear them wrinkled, or only wear wrinkle-free clothing. But, if you want the best results when you sew, you must find a friendly space in your heart for ironing. Irons are in most households and are absolutely essential to sewing well. You will not need an iron or an ironing board for class as I have several. A good quality iron makes a huge difference in the quality of your results. I recommend Rowenta brand irons. For a good one, you will need to spend over $50. Bed & Bath, JoAnn’s and other stores carry them. Do not buy the cheapest one. You get what you pay for. You can get a good deal at www.smallappliance.com. Sometimes, I find a refurbished Rowenta iron at Home Goods or TJ Maxx. Black and Decker makes a decent iron which I found recommended on Pattern Review. It is the Digital Advantage iron. I bought one at Bed & Bath, by using the 20% off coupon I got in the mail, the price came down to $40. They carry Rowenta’s, too.

Sewing Box

ArtBin Storage Box, ClosedOpen Tackle BoxTraditional Sewing BasketIt can be a formal Sewing Basket or a Decorative tin or Plastic lidded container. Something that will hold all your small sewing tools and notions. A small tool or tackle box works really well. Home Depot and Lowes have some plastic ones for $5. Pearl Arts & Crafts at Central Square, Cambridge, has a very nice craft box you may want to check out. They are located in Central Square. Playtime, just down the street from my shop, has some ArtBin boxes that work well. Recently, one of my students found a good one at A.C. Moore arts and crafts store.

Pencil, pen and notebook (8 1/2 x 11 inches)

8 Inch Chrome Dressmaking ShearsDecorative Handle GinghersMark's Mundial Cushion Soft Shears8 inch Dressmaking Shears, Bent Handle, Brands: Gingher Dressmaking Shears (Chrome, not the plastic with the metal blade insets, they are not strong enough to cut through thicker fabric) Marks Mundial Cushion Soft Lightweight Shears. For Kids, I find that the 7 inch chrome dressmaking shear by Gingher works well for them. It is lighter and easier for them to maneuver.  Kai Scissors are very nice and are now available at Fabric Corner and Wawak.

Thread clippersCompact Gingher Thread clippersThread snips I usually useThread Clippers This tool is small and works by squeezing the sides to cut. This makes it very easy to pick up and use. You don’t risk cutting the fabric as easily as with the large shears mentioned above. My favorite clipper is made by Clover. You can buy them at Clotilde for $12.50. (Or, I usually buy another brand of clippers at a discount rate, so you can buy one from me for $3)

Paper cutting scissors, inexpensive scissors from an office supply store. You will use these to keep from dulling your “good” scissors by cutting paper or tape, etc.

John James Hand Sewing NeedlesJohn James Sharps Hand Sewing NeedlesHandsewing Needles, I prefer John James English Needles. They are easily available at quilting shops and Fabric Place. (The package is white paper and has Black and Yellow stripes.) There are many types of hand sewing needles. The best all-around needle is called a “Sharp.” But, you may find it handy to buy a variety pack that includes needles for darning, quilting, tapestry, embroidery, etc. You can buy a variety pack of 50 needles for as little as $3 from Clotilde Sewing Notions (they are also available at the Quilter’s Way in West Concord.)

Thimbles are useful if you are going to do a lot of handsewing.  We mainly do machine sewing in class, so a thimble is really an optional tool.

Colorful, flexible thimblesMetal ThimbleNimble Thimble, leather thimbleThimble, a very personal choice. There are many types on the market. Buy one after you have a chance to try a few. I prefer a leather thimble called a Nimble Thimble. It fits comfortably over the tip of your middle finger (not your index or ring finger) and has a space at the tip for your fingernail to stick out. I take an XL in glove size but find that the Medium thimble fits the best. I know that Fabric Corner in Arlington and Fabric Place in Woburn & Framingham carry these. Most likely, area quilt shops will, too.

White Glass Head PinsDritz Glass Head PinsPins, I prefer the long (1 3/8″), white glass-headed variety (you can also get them in red, white or multi-colored). They are sharp, easy to use and the iron does not melt the pin head. Usually, you want to buy slender pins referred to as “silk” pins because they will penetrate most types of fabrics easily. You can purchase IBC glass-headed pins from Clotilde. Also, available at most fabric stores. If you buy a “Grabbit,” mentioned below, it usually comes with a set of pins. But, they are of a much inferior quality to the glass-headed.

Grabbit Magnetic Pin CushionPin Cushion, Box or Magnetic Pin Pad, I prefer the magnetic pad, then the box and lastly the fabric pin cushion. For fast pin access, the fabric cushion is impossible to use because you have to pull the pins out and stick them back in, one at a time. A small box makes the pins easy to pick up and drop back in, but if it gets tipped onto the floor, there is a lot of wasted time picking up pins. (And you can buy a telescoping magnetic wand to help you pick them up when they spill on the floor.) If you would like to use a box, I find that the best one has a rounded vs. flat bottom inside. The Tomato is the one familiar to most of us. The Chinese doll one is so cute. I use mine to hold needles. Etsy has some fabulous ones made by various craft artists. From fabric to felt, they are worth looking at.

The best magnetic pin cushion is the “Grabbit.” Any other brand just does not hold the pins very well. It does come with it’s own set of pins, but they are not very good. So, do buy the glass head pins I mentioned above. Brass or stainless steel pins will not work with it. But, the pins I recommend, do work with the “Grabbit.” It comes in a variety of lovely colors.

I love using a Magnetic wand to pick up pins from the floor, or car keys that have slipped to unreachable places.  It is an optional tool for your kit.

Telescoping Magnetic Wands/pointersTelescoping Magnetic wand with pinsTelescoping Magnetic wand. Cost is $5 from HomeSew, the hardware store or an auto supply store. This is the size of a pen when collapsed. It even has a clasp at one end that can hook over the edge of a pocket or notebook. It is chrome colored and round and as thin as a pen. It has a very powerful silver-colored magnet at one end. It is approx. 2 ft long when extended. It works well to pick up dropped pins. I swish it around the floor to pick up pins I may not be able to see, especially before vacuuming. The magnet is strong enough that it can pick up a ring of keys from behind the sofa, or wherever you may have dropped them. I have seen this kind of wand at the hardware store. Do not mistake this for a plastic magnetic wand that is sold in fabric stores, which is not what I am suggesting you buy.

Sewing GaugeSewing Gauge, this is a 6″ ruler with a blue or red plastic slider in the middle that can slide up and down most of the length of the ruler. They only cost about $1.50 and can be found at any fabric store. One of the most essential sewing tools and one of the cheapest. Do not buy the blue plastic one with a piece of chalk on the end. I tried to find a picture of one to show you. I couldn’t find one, but they must be available for purchase somewhere because I have had students bring them in.

Clover Fine Seam RipperBlue Seam Ripper, less expensiveSeam Ripper, they are inexpensive and are available in 3″ or 6″ lengths. Get what feels most comfortable in your hand (the 3″ length becomes 6″ long when you put the cap on the end.) You will need this tool and it is less than $2. If you don’t mind spending $5, Clover makes a really nice seam ripper that is strong, fine and sharp. Do not purchase the two-tone pink seam ripper from JoAnn’s. They are very dull.

White ChacolinerRed ChacolinerWhite Chacoliner in style I like the bestChacoliner, this is a marking tool that comes in 4 different colors and can be refilled. It works very smoothly. There is a little wheel at the tip that distributes a fine line of chalk across your fabric, which is easy to remove by brushing it off. I suggest purchasing the white color and then others if you end up liking it. Do not buy the one (not pictured here) by Fons & Porter, it does not roll at all well.

Retractable Round tape measure6 ft retractable tape measure, an optional but very handy item that only costs about $3. Not to be confused with a metal tape measure from the hardware store. The one that I am referring to is a flexible, coated fabric, tape measure. The casing is usually plastic. If you purchase one, I recommend the Hoescht brand. If you plan to make clothing, you do need to have one of these.


Before coming to the first session, go through all your sewing items and mark them with your initials or name. This includes your sewing machine, cords, pedal, etc. You’d be surprised how easy it is to mix yours up with someone elses’. And if you leave it here, it will help me know whose it is.

Preparing for your first sewing class

Tuesday, November 4th, 2014

 If you have a portable sewing machine, we recommend that you bring it to class.  That way, we can help you troubleshoot any problems and you will feel confident sewing on your own at home.  If you do not have a machine or it is inconvenient for you to bring it, we do have machines available for in class use.  The cost of $30 for the whole six weeks will cover the cost of maintenance, replacement needles and bobbins.  This can also be handy if you are just trying your hand at sewing and want to wait to catch the sewing bug before you purchase a machine.  It will also allow you to be a better informed shopper when you do go to buy one.  We have our recommendations, and are happy to let you know what we think.  We do not get any kind of financial remuneration for our advice about sewing machines.

We have some information we would like to share with you.  First, please look at our “Basic Sewing Tools List” located on the Sewing Tool & Supplies page on our website:


I have recommendations for where you can purchase these items.  I have tried many different sewing notions, or tools, over the 40+ years I have been sewing.  I have recommended certain tools and brands because I have tried them all.

  •  Locally, Fabric Corner, on Mass Ave in Arlington, has nearly everything on this list.  (We are now in the same building)

Their web address is:


They have an email list which is helpful to join.  They do not share your information with anyone and they often, usually monthly, send out a 40% off coupon via email.  That is worth a lot, because they carry quality materials.  By the way, my students, which you can consider yourself to be one now, receive a 10% discount at Fabric Corner.  This is good on any regular priced items, sewing notions, fabric, thread, etc.  Just tell them that you are one of my students when they check out your purchases.


  • JoAnn’s may be inexpensive, but the quality of their materials varies greatly and it may be hard for you to distinguish good from bad when you first start sewing.  You can trust the quality of materials from Fabric Corner.  They may cost a little more, but why not buy better fabric when you will invest so much time making it yourself?  Plus, well-made goods are usually easier to work with, look better in the finished product and last longer.

JoAnn’s does have some great sales on notions and patterns and thread and other stuff that makes it worth being on their email, as well as “snail” mail, lists.  I receive flyers with coupons every 2-3 weeks and am happy to share them with my students. The link below should take you to their web page for their current sales flyer.  They will also have an email signup box in the upper left corner of the page.


I think, in order to sign up for their postal mailing list, you have to do that in the store.  They do have a store locator at:


  • A favorite shopping venue for me, from the time I moved here in 1989 was Fabric Place.  Sadly, they closed a few years ago.  Luckily, one of the sons of the founding family decided to open a new fabric store, selling a wide variety of fabric, notions, patterns, and yarns.  They are located in Natick and are called Fabric Place Basement.     Here’s what they say on their website:

PETER ISAACSON, proprietor of Fabric Place Basement, has a passion for fabric and the background to match. As a kid, he grew up working (and playing!) at Fabric Place, the family business started by his grandmother. As a manager, buyer and later fabric sales rep, he traveled the country to locate the best fabrics at the very best prices, making connections with designers and suppliers everywhere. Ever since his family decided to close Fabric Place, Peter has dreamed of opening a great store of his own where he could bring together the creative people and the fabric they dream of at affordable prices. Fabric Place Basement is a dream come true. Now come visit and share the fun!

Peter has generously offered my current students a discount of 15% off their total purchases.  All you need to do is have me fill out a certificate for you to show them when you check out at the register.  I can do that on the first day of class.  Check out their website, and sign up for their specials at:


  • If you would like to skip the trip to the store, Wawak Tailor Supply,   Wawak has a website which is not very good.  They have a great catalog and phone service, so I suggest you go through that rather than online.  They have an online copy of their catalog, that makes it easier to find items. It’s in the left hand column of their webpage.  Plus, even though they sell mainly to businesses, they will sell direct to consumers, too. Their prices are 30-50% off retail prices, every day.


  • Some of my students have found good deals on not only books, but dressmaking shears and some other items at Amazon.com.  Amazing but true.  It works well if you have Amazon Prime or buy more than $25 worth of products, because then you get free shipping.  You may want to shop locally if you’re buying less than $25, or are in a hurry.

If your interest is in making clothing, PLEASE,PLEASE PLEASE, Read the following page on my site!


I say that because there is very important information about sizing, fabric choices, prewashing, and thread and so many things that will help you make a good choice of pattern and fabric.  I have pictures of patterns with links to the pattern company websites you can activate by clicking on the photo.  I won’t say any more here, since you can read, and even print out the page, on my site.

We are looking forward to having you in our class.  If you should have any other questions, please feel free to call or email.



Patterns for beginning clothing projects

Sunday, July 20th, 2008

I know what follows is a lot of text.  BUT, IT’S VERY IMPORTANT INFORMATION.  PLEASE READ IT THROUGH!  You’ll be much better informed when you go shopping for patterns and fabrics.

Before I say anything else…….CHECK YOUR MEASUREMENTS AGAINST THE PATTERN SIZE CHARTS!!!!!!!!!! The current retail market sizing does not coincide with the sizing the pattern companies use. The major American pattern companies got together in 1971 to agree on a standard for sizing their garments. They not only agreed on the standard measurements for each size but that they would not change them in the future. This means that, for the most part, those measurements matched the retail industry at that time, 1971. Over the last 43 years, the retail industry has been “deflating” sizes. Why? This is because most of us females will choose a smaller size number when offered 2 garments that are exactly the same. (Vanity is hard to admit!) Designers have been doing this for decades. Now all of the retail market has done it. And, the sizing has gotten to be very inconsistent from brand to brand and store to store. Sometimes, you don’t even know what size you will wear until you try it on.

One of the most basic things you must not get stuck on when you make your own clothing, is the number of your size. If you currently wear a size 4 in women’s, you may end up making a size 12 or 14 Misses in the patterns. The fit is what is important, not the number. Also, no matter what the style of the garment, your measurements are taken in the same place on your body as indicated on the size charts. Currently, the common placement for a “waistband” on clothing for young people (tweens, teens and young adults) is below one’s natural waistline and belly button. It can vary widely depending on the style. When the size chart refers to your waist measurement, it is referring to your natural waistline, which is above your hip bone and below your ribs. Usually, it is the smallest measurement of your torso. Please click on the following link to find the instructions to measure your body and size charts for McCall’s patterns. Each company has size charts listed on their websites.
All of the patterns have multiple sizes in each envelope. There will be at least 3 sizes, possibly more in each pattern. If your measurements span more than one size, that is OK. Several sizes are included with each pattern. If you bridge the gap between size groups (you straddle sizes 12 and 14 and the pattern you want comes in sizes (8-10-12) and (14-16-18), purchase the size that most closely matches the measurements you need for the garment you want to make. For example, if you are making pants and you are bigger on the bottom than the top, buy the larger size.

When you purchase your pattern, MAKE SURE YOUR SIZE IS INCLUDED IN THE ENVELOPE YOU PICK UP. STORES DO NOT TAKE RETURNS ON PATTERNS. The envelopes for different size groups all look the same, except in the small area designated to label what sizes are included in the package. Make sure you check for that. It will be along the top or side edge of the front of the pattern envelope.

I am including many pictures and links for patterns from the Big 3 American Pattern companies below: McCall’s, Simplicity and Butterick. Also, I found some interesting patterns from New Look and Hot Patterns. All of these are meant as suggestions for learning sewers (pronounced Soh ers). Usually, the less pieces and details, the easier the clothing is to make. Also, the less tailored, the easier it will be to fit you.

I strongly urge you to stick with woven cottons or linens/linen blends for your first clothing project. A nice stable fabric will be much easier to work with than something flowing or sheer or slippery. Please follow this advice. There is nothing more frustrating than to have to work with a fabric which is hard to control, especially without the experience to back you. Also, no knits! We wear knits all the time. They are so inexpensive to buy in ready-made clothing. But, for sewing, they are not easy to handle if you haven’t sewn clothing before.

When I mention cottons or linens, here are some examples. Many cottons designed for quilting are wonderful for pajama bottoms, skirts and tops. Flannel is great for pajamas. Linen and blends can work very well for any of these items depending on the weight, or thickness, of them. Cotton eyelet can work nicely. Also, for a closer fitting skirt or pant, you can find some nice bottom weights, like a stretch twill cotton, which includes a little lycra. Or a lightweight denim.
Please wash & dry your fabric ahead of class time. This will preshrink the fabric and remove any sizing (starch) and residual pesticides that have been added to the material to keep it well in transit and storage and on display. Do not use fabric softener in the wash or softener sheets in the dryer. If you will be using a fusible interfacing, the softener will keep it from adhering to the fabric. After the garment is made, it is fine to use fabric softener when it is laundered.

Make sure to check the back of the pattern envelope. It has a lot of information. Here are the items to take note of: a list of required “notions.” These are the items you need such as thread (which they may or may not list), a zipper, buttons, hooks and eyes, elastic, cording, etc.; you may need “interfacing.” This is material which goes between the layers of fabric to give you more strength and stability in certain areas or the gament like, the collar, cuffs and button band, the waistband, the neck and armhole area of sleeveless, collarless shirts, etc.; the patterns below may suggest lining, Bemberg/Ambiance rayon lining is wonderful or you may want a cotton batiste, but, I hope that there is no lining in your first project.

As far as thread goes, buy a good quality 100% polyester thread such as Gutermann or Mettler. Both are made in Germany. One spool is usually enough for a basic project. Do not buy discount, cheap thread. As with fabric, you will be spending a lot of time and effort sewing, don’t scrimp when it comes to thread. If it is low quality, your garment may fall apart at the seams. Purchase a color which blends with your fabric. If you cannot find the exact color, use one that comes close in the same shade (lightness or darkness.) If you must choose a color which is a slightly different shade, see which one blends better. Usually, go darker for a dark fabric and lighter for a light fabric. It is hard to judge how well a thread will match by holding the spool to the fabric. If you have ever tried choosing a paint color, you may have had the experience that the sample chip from the store looks a whole lot different when the color is intensified by being painted on a wall. The spool is like the wall, what we want is the “paint chip.” The color of the spool is too intense. Separate a tail of the thread, lay it across the fabric and see how that looks. It comes across a lot different. Perception of color is subjective. It is influenced buy the colors it surrounds.

When you first work with clothing patterns, there are so many things to learn. Your first pattern will be the hardest because of this. Patterns contain a lot of information, but they also assume a certain amount of understanding in order to work with them. Once you have gone through one pattern, with help, you will find that following projects are much easier to do on your own.

I mentioned some pattern makers above. There are many other companies which produce patterns for clothing. Burda is a German based company. They have many great designs, but for beginners, I find that their instructions and illustrations lacking. Kwik Sew is based in Minneapolis, MN. They offer patterns for clothing items you may not find in the big companies. The one thing that I don’t like for beginners is that many of their patterns include a very small “seam allowance” of 1/4.” The major companies usually use a 5/8″ seam allowance. It is much easier to work with when you are learning. Vogue produces many beautiful patterns. But, they lean toward designs which require more advanced sewing skills. So, keep them in mind for later projects.
There are small pattern makers. They can have very innovative designs. Often, the instructions are geared toward a more experienced sewing enthusiast, so I recommend that you gain some skill before endeavoring to use their patterns.

I say all this because I wish you success in your first clothing project. The best way for you to finish and have pride in your work is to keep things as simple as possible. Usually, simple pants and skirts are easier to start with than tops. Some of the patterns I link below include tops and dresses. Some are very easy, like a peasant blouse. Some are a little more involved, especially if it involves setting in a sleeve or collar. I tried to only list ones which I thought would be good for a novice. Some of the tops, included in pajama patterns & separates, may be for knits and I do not recommend that you make them at this time.

The links for the patterns will lead you to the online stores the their respective companies. There are many places to buy these patterns. The companies which produce them, local fabric stores, like Fabric Place Basement in  Framingham (www.fabricplacebasement.com) , or JoAnn Fabrics in Burlington, Natick, Saugus and elsewhere in the Boston Metro Area. I have links in the right hand column of this page for many resources, including a company called Sewing Patterns.com. They carry all of the pattern companies from big to small and offer good discounts and many sales.

I am happy to answer questions for you. If you want to know if a pattern no listed here would be appropriate for your project, please send me a link for it so that I can give you my feedback.


Butterick Pattern company is now part of McCall’s and Vogue. They do not have very many Kids/Teens patterns. So, go further down to Simplicity and McCall’s Listings to see more for youth.

It’s been some years, close to 6, since I wrote this post and the Butterick links no longer work.  I will come back and reload them soon.  And, I’ll fix the ones that don’t work below.



Simplicity has some nice styles and some very up-to-date looks for young people. They have patterns inspired by the show “Project Runway.” I do not link any of those here because the patterns are more complicated to follow. But, they could be in your future if you gain the skills to make them. The Simplicity web site also lists the New Look patterns.






McCall’s has a large selection of patterns. They have been around for awhile. There are some nice styles for kids and teens, as well as women and plus sizes. The McCall’s web site also lists the Hot Patterns.
The McCall’s links for patterns/pics are not working as I set them up over 6 years ago.  I will come back and fix them in the very near future.




They have a lot more patterns on their website, which is linked above. Check it out for yourself. They have a set called “No Sweat Easy Sew” which I show 3 of below.