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Sewing Machines, how they work

February 4th, 2008

Many of you find me online and are looking to learn how to sew or rediscover a lost skill. Now that is not true for everyone, since I do teach experience seamstresses, too. But, even if you have been sewing for a long time, you may not know how a machine works. We drive around town unaware of the mechanics of a car and we use computers while being technologically ignorant. And, that’s OK, because those machines are meant to be user friendly to those of us who don’t care to know how they work. As long as I can turn the key and go, I’m happy.

I do find that knowing how a machine works can be very helpful for understanding problems and overcoming them. Here is a website that you may find interesting for many items. This link will bring you to the sewing machine page. “How stuff works” is a great site for explaining and showing animated illustrations of how different mechanical items function. Make sure that you scroll down on this page so that you can see the animations.

When I sit down with a new student, whether they have experience or not, I try to show them how a sewing machine functions. And I explain how every standard household sewing machine is threaded in the same order. It may look different on different machines, but the function is the same. The first workable sewing machine was invented in the mid-1800′s. It is a fascinating history, for people like me who love to sew, and you can learn more by following this link to About.com Another history of the sewing machine is written on the Singer website.

The household sewing machine we use today is called a lockstitch machine. It is the one that has a thread on the top and one down below called a bobbin, which looks like a mini spool of thread. Each machine has a bobbin winding mechanism on it so that you can wind your own bobbins from the spool of thread which will be feeding from the top of your machine.

In the How Stuff Works illustrations, the first one is for a looping stitch, or chain stitch. That is done with one thread fed from the top. Your home sewing machine doesn’t do this stitch. But, this kind of stitching is like a chain stitch in crochet. It is a loop pulled through a loop and if broken, can come undone easily. Have you ever bought a paper bag of potatoes? There is a line of stitching at the top. It you cut the right end, you can just pull and all of the chain comes out.

There are other machine, used with fabrics, that produce a chain stitch. A Serger has multiple cones of thread and all of the stitches formed are made by the threads looping around each other. If pulled just right, they can come off. Of course, most people who use sergers, know how to secure the threads at each end so that this is unlikely to happen. If you look inside your clothing, you will find that the seams are all covered with thread, this is made by a serger, or overlock machine. If you want to see what one looks like click here The image you see is the model of serger/coverstitch machine I own. I wasn’t sure which one to input and there are so many brands. Just because I bought this one, it isn’t the only one I would recommend. If you want to read about the functionality, read here.

There is a series of videos I came across in my web search. It has thorough instructions on its use and how to thread and run it. The website is called Expert Village. This link leads you to the first video in a series about the serger. So, if you have a serger and need some help, visit this site to see if the video explains what you need to know. If you do not have a serger, but are curious about it, you can glean something from this, too.

If you have taken your clothes to be hemmed at the cleaners, especially dress slacks, the stitching will not show on the outside. This is because the tailor is using a blindhem machine. Often done in invisible thread, you will be hard pressed to see any stitches on the outside of the garment. These machine may also be used with curtains and other items. You may also find that it you catch your heel on the thread inside the hem, one too many times, that once the thread breaks, all the stitching comes out. The blindhem machine uses a loop stitch, and once it is no longer secured, it unravels.

So, the home sewing machine, is a lockstitch machine. 2 threads, one on top, the other below, are intertwined so that they are locked together and will not give way like a chainstitch will.

About.com has a page of interesting sewing links. I will link it here so you can go exploring, too.

If you have an old Singer, you can find out when and where it was made, by visiting the Singer website. All you need is the serial number off of the machine. They even show you how to find it. So, if you want to know when Grandma’s machine was made, visit Singer here. Or, there is one link off the About page you can explore, which will tell you the history of the brand of machine you own, or for which you are interested. It is called the International Sewing Machine Collector’s Society I have this linked to the Singer information page on About/ISMCS, but the left hand column sports links for all the old brands of machines. Some of the companies are still in business. And, some you may never have heard of. And, some of the current brands are not listed. But, it can be fun to jump around to learn what you can.

I have many sewing machines. Some are very old. My grandmother left me her old treadle machine, but it is in Minnesota, so I am not sure when I will be able to retrieve it. I have some early, electric, portable machines; my first sewing machine from the 50′s, plus some from later than that to modern computerized machines. Also, I have some industrial machines for my accessories business.

The majority of your sewing is a simple straight stitch. All of my machines from before 1960, have only a straight stitch function. In fact, I started on a “New Home” that my mother used, and it did a zigzag. Then she bought me a Viking which only did a straight stitch. At first I was upset, because I was ready to make buttonholes on a shirt I was finishing, and this machine couldn’t do it. But, it came with a buttonhole machine which had cams of various sizes and shapes of buttonholes. It makes the nicest buttonhole you have ever seen. I used that machine for several decades for all of my clothing and quilting. It was only a few years ago that I started using a more modern machine for those projects. And, it was only because I was wanting to be able to blind hem or overcast without changing machines.

I plan to put up another post about what I like in sewing machines. What to watch out for and what features are really helpful to have. I will also talk about Sewing Machine Dealers vs. big chain stores vs. online purchasing, including auction sites. Also, I am looking into posting some video instructions for “How to thread your sewing machine;” “How to wind a bobbin;” and other helpful items. I hope to have you be able to visit my site and get answers to questions you can’t find elsewhere. Or in a format that makes it easily understandable for you.

So, keep in touch and check back with me. If all else, just come to class and have me show you what you want to learn.

So Why would I want a Custom Dress Form? What does it do for me?

January 31st, 2008

I spent very little time talking about the value of using a dress form. I guess I lost myself in the excitement of how simple and inexpensive making a custom one could be. So, I thought I would talk about what is so helpful about a dress form, especially one that reflects your body shape exactly.

Most of the time, you may imagine dress forms as being only for designers, or tailors, bridal shops, costumers and SERIOUS clothing makers. And, sometimes the price seems prohibitive, or you just don’t know what to do with it!

Dress forms are a great way to fit clothing, check the drape of the fabric, and try design ideas or alterations of someone else’s design. If you want to make the effort of sewing your own clothing worthwhile, time and energy need to be spent in checking the fit several times during the construction process. A knowledgeable sewing friend is necessary to truly help you fit the garment well to your body. They can pin the fabric to fit better, hang better, flatter your figure better.

Most of us are sewing at all times of the day or night. We may not have that friend available at 1:30am when it’s time to check the fit in the seat. We can contort ourselves trying to pinch and pin and adjust, but it is very hard to do on ourselves.

What if, you had a clone of yourself to stand there for hours, never complaining, never needing to take a bathroom break, willing to be there until all hours of the night? What if they always agreed on your choice of music? Let you stick pins in them? Too good to be true? Not anymore.

The idea of a custom dress form is nothing new. From what I have read, paper tape dress forms have been around since the 1930′s. I’m talking about ones made out of layers of paper packaging/mailing tape, which are done in a similar way to the duct tape forms that I am referring to below. That was a time when most women knew how to sew. Machines would be tucked inside a sewing cabinet which looked like a table. When I say that women knew how to sew, I mean, they really knew how to sew. The styles and details and difficult tailoring were commonplace. Think back to some to the styles and how well fit they were to the body. I love looking at designs in movies from the 1940′s. Back then, it wouldn’t be so hard to find someone to help you with your fitting, because so many of your friends shared the same skills and interests. Now, it may not be so easy.

I love how some item that was designed for one use is used in a completely different way that it was designed for. When I worked at a Sail Loft on Lake Superior, I had this boss named Rich Smith. He wasn’t one to talk a lot or shower one with compliments. Glowing praise from him might be “Good job, LW.” He never used my first name. It would always be Wirkkala or LW. But, I always felt my work was appreciated and that he understood when a job was “yucky” or a pain. (this is becoming a shaggy dog story….) Repairing sails is hard work. The floor becomes your work table. The sails are huge, you crawl around a lot, sometimes they are smelly from being wet or moldy. The sewing machine was built into the floor, actually, it was suspended from the ceiling of the boat shop downstairs. Rich said that he didn’t think I wanted to see what held me and the machine into the floor. The machine was in the floor so that the weight of the sail didn’t pull it away from the machine while sewing. I would have to sit sideways on a stool, to keep out of the way of the sail as it fed through the machine. Sometimes, another person would have to pull the sail while I was sewing so that it would run through the machine straight and steady. The machine was very powerful and would go through very thick material, as much as 1/2-3/4 inch thick. The needle would get so hot from the speed and friction that it would smoke. If the area was really thick, we would spray it with silicone, to make the needle slide through the layers better. Rich had a great sense of humor. He would tell us stories about sailboat racing. Often the funniest were of times when things didn’t go well.

To drum up business, we would go to the sailboat races locally and in Duluth, MN. One time, we went to Duluth for the Wednesday evening race. It’s light late in the summer, until 9:30pm. We arrived at Canal Park for the pre-race meeting. One of the things that happens at the meeting is that anyone who needs crew for their boat, puts out the call and people respond. Since there were 4 of us, we split up between boats. I was put with a small, 22 ft boat with a 3 man crew. Because I worked in a Sail Loft, the captain assumed that I knew how to sail. On the way to his boat, I confessed that I didn’t know anything about sailing except how to be movable ballast. He looked me up and down and said that he doubted that I would be much use in that case. (I was really skinny then and my weight moving from side to side wouldn’t be much help to the boat’s tilt in the water.) When a sail boat is tacking, it heels over, or leans to one side. Usually, in a brisk wind, the crew sits on the high side of the boat to help it not heel over too far and help increase the speed of the boat through the water. If the wind is really slow, the crew may sit on the low side for the same reason, different circumstance. Sometimes, the only job a crew member will have is “movable ballast,” meaning that all they do is switch sides of the boat as it tacks (turns.) Movable ballast is the job given to people who don’t know how to sail.

When we got to his boat and I discovered how small it was, I became nervous. There was barely enough room under the boom for me to crawl from one side of the boat to the other when we tacked, even less with a life jacket on. Yet, I wasn’t in a situation where I felt I could back out. I came to wish I had. There had been a storm on the lake the previous few days. So, even though it was clear, the waves had turned into rollers which were 8-10 feet high. Rollers don’t crest, they just go up and down. Any of you ocean-going people are probably laughing at me right now. I am a lake girl, and where we lived, the Apostle Islands broke up the fury of the lake to some extent, therefore, I had never encountered being on a boat in that condition.

As we exited the canal into the lake, I realized I was in trouble and wished that I had not agreed to be a crew on any of the boats. But, it was too late. The whole time we were out there, I had only 2 wishes. First, not to fall off the boat and secondly, not to throw up.

When we finally finished the race and reconnoitered in Rich’s Suburban, we all sat there, thankful for the lack of movement. Rich said, “you’re out there and you think, ‘If the boat would just stop moving for 10 seconds, I would feel better.” One of the girls with us had been feeling nauseous on their boat, so she got sent to the low side of the boat. That way if she got sick, no one else would have to suffer for it. (Think of spitting into the wind.) This was a brisk night and you can imagine how it must have felt to have been near the water on the low side of a boat, as it is racing across the lake.

So, back to the unintended use of products. When out on a boat and a sail rips, duct tape is often used to temporarily hold the rip together. It works in wet and dry circumstances. Rich used to say, “…..and on the 7th day, God created Duct tape!” So, here I am, over 20 years later, continuing my relationship with duct tape in another way.

Finally, to get back to the value of a dress form. You can save yourself many headaches and disappointments if you can fit your clothing on a form that matches your body. You learn how to change patterns to fit you. What needs to be done to flatter your figure. If any of you watch “What not to Wear,” you will hear them respond to a woman who talks about needing to lose weight, “we want you to dress for the body you have now.” So, if it fits you well, it will make you look good and feel good. You can save yourself money and headaches in the future. It can also help you create with success instead of guesswork. Why? Different fabrics react differently in the same pattern. I made a pattern of a linen shirt I love. I used quilting cottons for my new shirt. The shirt came out fine, but it didn’t fit the same because the linen has a flexibility that the cotton does not. It hangs in a different way. If I had a form, I could check that on it and make adjustments. I will take pictures of those shirts so that you can see a “knock-off.” That means a garment for which the pattern is taken off of another piece of clothing.

So, after all of this, here is what you need to bring with you when you come to the workshop:

  • Long T-shirt or close-fitting turtleneck, this will become part of the dress form, so it has to be one that you are willing to sacrifice to the cause! If the shirt doesn’t go past the hipline, we can extend it
  • Leggings or tights to wear while being taped
  • Undergarments like you wear under most of your clothes, so that the form will be shaped (conformed, constricted, or left to hang) like your body is on a daily basis.
  • Breath mints, just kidding!

If you have been to the shop, or see the pictures on the site, you know that there are large windows across the front and on the door. All shades and curtains will be pulled closed and the door will be locked so that we won’t have any surprise visitors while we are holding this workshop. If at any time you feel uncomfortable, we will stop and cut the form off immediately.

I will walk everyone through the process and demonstrate the taping techniques. We may need to do some prep of your shirt, etc. and we will do that, too. I will supervise every form made so that you will be happy with the one you take home with you. No swapping!

I think that teams of 3 work really well. One person being taped by 2 others. One in front and one in back. I think it will go better that way and faster.

There are ways to make stands and fill the forms. I will present them to you and you can decide what you want to do. You will need to buy fiberfill, (polyester fill for pillows and stuffed animals) to fill and support your form. I have seen various options, included packing peanuts. I have seen it recommended that the bust be filled with raglan shoulder pads. Let’s see how it goes and I will answer any questions you have about finishing them. If need be, we may have a short follow-up class.

The final thing is that I can teach you how to use your form through the classes you take for sewing. If your body does change, you will know how to make the form. With help from a good friend, you can remake the form in short order and very little monetary outlay.

I look forward to seeing you soon!

Knitting in my family

January 30th, 2008

Though I have been taking the role of Sewing Teacher here, I do have a long history of knitting.
I learned from my Grandmother, Stella Karki. And, my skill was reinforced my an older lady, Emily Fouts, who attended our church. My grandmother used to make us mittens and hats. She would trace around our hands for the mittens, then make them and send them to us. She also made many slippers over the years. Doilies, wash cloths, afghans, etc. She dabbled in all sorts of crafts. I loved going to her house. I don’t remember ever being bored.

Slippers knit by GrandmaI am including a picture of some children’s sized slippers I found in some of Grandma’s things, my mother gave to me. Grandma had a Swedish background. She was born in the town of Biwabik, MN and lived there all her life. She called the slippers “tussu’s.” I don’t know how to spell it, but she pronounced it Tuh’ soo. She also used to tease us and say, “You better watch out or you’re going to get a full “tupin.” (two pin) When you are a kid, you just get what it means, so I never asked for its translation.

I knit many scarves, mittens, sweaters, shawls, bags, and I can’t remember all. Most of the items I made for other people.

Icelandic Cardigan knit by Laura Wirkkala But, I did keep this sweater. It is knit of Icelandic Lopi, which is a one ply, fat strand of wool yarn. If you are not careful with the way you knit, you can end up untwisting the yarn and having it break. It is very warm. This sweater is knit sideways. Most are knit from the bottom up, and some are made from the top down. But, this one was unusual in that it was knit from one cuff to the other. The sleeves are done circularly, so there is no seam. The front and back are knit flat and woven together at the side seams. The neck is picked up and knit and the front and bottom are crocheted.

I hope you come and enjoy the art of knitting with us. I am thinking of taking it up again in the evenings. I hope it can be a diet aid. Maybe if my hands are kept busy by the needles, I won’t be as tempted to munch after dinner. If it works, it would be a whole new method of weight loss!

Custom Dress Forms from household materials

January 27th, 2008

Got Tape anyone?
I am very interested in custom-made dress forms of late. Most of my adult life, I would buy a pattern, add 5 inches to the pants length and 2 inches to the sleeves, and the clothing would fit fine. I have steadily been gaining weight over the last decade and can no longer do that. Who wants to make clothes that don’t fit? It’s a lot of work wasted if you do not take the time to do the fitting. But, to do this well, you need a good sewing friend to help you, or a dress form that fits your body.

So, I have been researching custom forms and experimenting with forms made of duct tape or paper packaging tape.
Amelia and Alison, tote bags of their designDancing with herseh-elf....

These are pictures of my daughter and her custom-made form of duct tape. I am hoping to schedule a class to share my findings with you, so that you can make a form that fits your body, too. The first date I am considering is coming up fast – Sunday, February 9, 2008 from 10am-4pm. (NOTE THE CHANGE OF DATE!)

I have spoken to my current students, and many of you would like to do this. So, I say, “Why wait?” I am thinking that we should limit the class to 10 students, working in pairs, or even better, trios. If there are more students than I can accommodate that day, I will set another date soon. I will post a small list of what you need to bring, shortly. By clicking on the links in the paragraph above the picture, you can get a preview of what we will be doing. In fact, if you do plan on taking the class, I encourage you to read up as much as you can so that you will be familiar with the process.


Threads Magazine has had articles over the years about dress forms. Click here to view the a summary of the 4 different ways they recommend to making your own forms. Their article also includes links to various websites which have more detailed instructions and pdf downloads.
Amelia and front view of formAmelia's dress form Back view

The cost for the day is $90. We will have refreshments and lunch available. Duct tape is included. Plus most of the other materials needed. That way, you can eat when you are not being fit.

If you should have any questions, please feel free to contact me.

So, after all of this, here is what you need to bring with you when you come to the workshop:

  • Long T-shirt or close-fitting turtleneck, this will become part of the dress form, so it has to be one that you are willing to sacrifice to the cause! If the shirt doesn’t go past the hipline, we can extend it
  • Leggings or tights to wear while being taped
  • Undergarments like you wear under most of your clothes, so that the form will be shaped (conformed, constricted, or left to hang) like your body is on a daily basis.
  • Breath mints, just kidding!

If you have been to the shop, or see the pictures on the site, you know that there are large windows across the front and on the door. All shades and curtains will be pulled closed and the door will be locked so that we won’t have any surprise visitors while we are holding this workshop. If at any time you feel uncomfortable, we will stop and cut the form off immediately.

I will walk everyone through the process and demonstrate the taping techniques. We may need to do some prep of your shirt, etc. and we will do that, too. I will supervise every form made so that you will be happy with the one you take home with you. No swapping!

I think that teams of 3 work really well. One person being taped by 2 others. One in front and one in back. I think it will go better that way and faster.

There are ways to make stands and fill the forms. I will present them to you and you can decide what you want to do. You will need to buy fiberfill, (polyester fill for pillows and stuffed animals) to fill and support your form. I have seen various options, included packing peanuts. I have seen it recommended that the bust be filled with raglan shoulder pads. Let’s see how it goes and I will answer any questions you have about finishing them. If need be, we may have a short follow-up class.

The final thing is that I can teach you how to use your form through the classes you take for sewing. If your body does change, you will know how to make the form. With help from a good friend, you can remake the form in short order and very little monetary outlay.

I look forward to seeing you on Sunday, March 16th!

A new sewing machine for Christmas! Yeah and yikes!

December 29th, 2007

A new sewing machine can be both an exciting and scary prospect. It is very easy to be discouraged when you try to figure out how to use it on your own. There are a few simple things you can do to make sure that you have success when using your machine. But, the manuals aren’t always clear on what to do.

Here at Laura’s Sewing School, we LOVE to teach beginners. We love all of our students, but we are happy to open the fun world of sewing to new enthusiasts. I have yet to meet a machine I couldn’t figure out. And, I will be able to demystify its workings for you. We can make some fun projects right from the beginning.

There are still spaces left in the classes starting in January 2008. So, give us a call or send an email. We are happy to answer any of your questions and if you want, sign you up for a class.

I just missed the starting of a class! What can I do? I don’t want to wait for the next session.

November 2nd, 2007

A long title, I know. But, this happens often. You decide that you want to take a sewing class, find my website, but the classes just started, or they start tomorrow and you cannot free up your schedule until next week. If we have the space in the class you want, we can take late registrations and charge you a pro-rated fee. So, don’t be afraid to contact us when this happens. If you are a beginner, or any other level, you won’t have missed anything, because everyone works on their own projects, at their own pace.

Pictures of projects made by Laura

October 23rd, 2007

I have been sewing since middle school. I could not even begin to estimate how many items I have sewn. Not only for myself, but gifts for friends and family, plus as part of the many sewing jobs I have done in my life.

Here are some examples of my work. I will post pictures as I find them. Click on image to enlarge it. Then use the back button of your browser to return to this page.

Picture of Quilt made by me with my daughter, Amelia.  A small dress I made when she was a baby.  Dresser I painted and decoupaged.

This picture is of several projects. I painted and decoupaged the dresser on the left of the photo. The little dress above it, I made for my daughter when she was a baby. I came up with a way to cover gripper snaps with fabric for the back, so they would be less bulky than buttons. The quilt above the ironing board was a project my daughter chose to do. She picked the pattern, the fabrics and then helped with the construction. She loves ironing, so she pressed the folded centers of the flowers. She was worried about not being able to sew straight, so she press the clutch of the sewing machine while I guided the fabric for some of it. It’s like driving a car while someone else has control of the accelerator. Luckily, we all arrived safely. At the time, I was a member of the Quilter’s Connection. I was entering my Elephant walk quilt in the show. My daughter wanted to enter a quilt but didn’t really get serious about it until the Saturday before the Thursday morning deadline. You can guess what I worked on almost exclusively those 4 1/2 days. It was fun to work together with her. She was 5 years old at the time. She has been using a sewing machine since she was 4. Now, she is 8.
Before picture of chair I slipcovered for my sister, Peggy.After picture of chair I slipcovered in one day for my sister.

Before and after pictures of a chair I slipcovered for my sister. I did it in one day, while I was visiting her in Maryland. I brought along my Bernina Activa.
Sheer, blue curtains I made for my sister, Peggy.

I made these blue sheers for my sister, Peggy, too. They had some navy valances in place already, along with some cellular shades behind them.
My Sewing School sign in process Sewing School sign mounted on front of shop.

I had window lettering done by Tricia O’Neill in December 2006. Just a short time before opening my new space for classes. I felt for awhile that a sign above the shop was needed. The framework for the old metal sign was still attached to the front of the building. I measured it and decided to make my own sign. I used outdoor friendly fabric. First I traced the letters on my window and enlarged them 150% with a pantograph. Then I fused the cut letters to the background fabric. I had drawn chalk lines on the red fabric to help me space the letters. Then, I stitched them around the edges with UV protected thread. One I was done, I sewed heavy duty velcro to the edges. With help from my friend, Cynthia Murray, and her husband, we mounted the fabric sign to the framework on the building. Luckily, it fit. Now, I just have to get some lighting on it.

Projects by Kids & Teens Summer 2007

October 22nd, 2007

Over the summer, we offered week-long, sewing classes for kids & teens. The kids would meet in the morning and the teens in the afternoon. It’s is amazing what they accomplished in 5 days. Almost all of them were beginners. The youngest was 8 and the oldest 18.

Usually, I start beginners off with a simple apron. It is a project that is finished rather quickly and gives us a chance to talk about many of the basics about sewing: the grain of the fabric, pinning, cutting, prepping with the iron, how a sewing machine works and how you go about sewing a straight line of stitching. Also, it gives me a chance to determine how each student learns, so that I can give them the instruction they need.

After the apron, the most popular projects were; tote bags; fabric-tied, flip flops; pajama pants; quilted triangle bags, ribbon bulletin boards and several other items. Here are some examples of the work the kids did. Truly inspiring!

Click on image to enlarge it. Then use the back button of your browser to return to this page.

Alex, 8, wearing her pajama pantsAlison & Amelia with their flannel pajama pantsEsther's pajama shortsAmelia & Alison with their ribbon bulletin boards, no sewing involved.Maria's pajama shortsAmanda wearing the skirt she made along with the flip flops she decorated with fabric.Lillian in her peasant blouse, 6th project of the week she worked on.Stephanie wearing her flip flops and holding her triangle bag.Gina's flip flops, she decorated the edge, too.Emily and her reversible bag, her own design.Close up of Lillian's triangle bag.  She quilted the fabric herself before assembling the bag.Lillian's reversible tote bag, her second project.Natalie in her pajama pants, older sister of AlexJonah & Isaac, 8 yo twins, in their aprons.  Jonah is holding his beach bag.Stephanie in her new pajama pants.  The cat's meow.  (Fabric is covered with glittery cats)Gina's apronVeronica and bag of her own design, made for her mother.Amelia & Alison with their zippered pencil pouches.

Lizzy G. (teen)

September 13th, 2007

Finding Laura’s sewing school was a great opportunity for me, someone
who always wanted to sew but didn’t have the confidence to attempt it
on my own. I learn the basics of sewing in an extremely friendly, hands
on environment where no question was too stupid and mistakes were a
vital, accepted part of the learning process. In addition, I gained the
knowledge and understanding of the logic and background behind sewing
that makes me able to attempt projects on my own that I would never
have dreamed of trying before, with professional looking quality and a
sense of pride that you could never get from buying something in a
store. I would highly recommend that anyone interested in sewing,
whether their interest is in clothing, furniture upholstery, home
goods, accessories or any other category, sign up for a class with
Laura, where you can go at your own pace and chose projects that
interest you, because you won’t be sorry!

Interior of Lizzie's BagLizzie's Original Designed Bag

These pictures are of a bag designed by Lizzy. She has attended classes since January 2007. She made the pattern, quilted the fabric, inserted a welted zippered pocket on the outside and a double compartment pocket on the inside. The closure is made with a fabric covered button and a black elastic loop. Lizzy made this during a week-long, summer teens class.

Basic Sewing Tools List

July 30th, 2007

Scroll over the pictures for product labels.

Click on pictures to enlarge image.

Use your browser’s “back” button to return to this page.

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:

Fabric Corner, Mass Ave and Mill St, Arlington

Joann Fabrics and Crafts, Burlington, Saugus, Natick, etc.

Wawak.com has most items and they are very well priced. They are located in New York State and the Ground Shipping is quite fast.

fabricplacebasement.com  Natick, MA have most items.

I have been sewing for over 35 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…..

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.

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.)

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.

Tomato pin cushion we all know. Chinese doll pin cushionGrabbit 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.

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.