Getting Started with Sewing

Recently, one of my friends asked me to do a post on what you absolutely need to get started with sewing and I thought that would be a fantastic idea.  I’m as far from an expert as possible, but I thought I’d share with you those items that I have found to be absolute necessities and those that are just cool or fun to have.


1. Sewing Machine(duh..haha)

I started with a sewing machine given to me by my grandma that broke after the second use.  My hubby went out and bought me a replacement at Wal-Mart.  You can find it here.  It cost $200 and that’s pretty cheap as far as sewing machines go.  It comes with lots of different feet, but so far I’ve only used the regular and the zipper foot.  As far as I know, it doesn’t do an overlock stitch, but that’s okay with me because I own a serger.  However, if you don’t want to own(or have the room for) both a serger and a sewing machine, look for one with an overlock stitch and you won’t need a serger.

I like this machine and it does pretty well for my needs.  The only downsides are that it doesn’t do well through multiple layers of fabric(4-6 layers) and jams occasionally.

2. Dress Form.

If you’re going to be making clothes, this is an absolute necessity.  It will help you fit your clothes properly as well as hem skirts and dresses properly without an assistant(i.e., putting the garment on yourself and having a friend or spouse pin it for you).  I got mine from Amazon for $90 with free shipping.

3. Iron/ironing board(luckily you probably already have this!)

You’ll need this for ironing seams and hems.  I also use my ironing board as a place to pin my fabric together since it’s a nice flat surface.

4. A really good set of dressmakers shears.

Don’t bother with junky scissors from Wal-Mart(this is what I started with).  After lots of frustrating uneven cuts(which make it difficult when sewing pieces together), I broke down and got a pair of Gingher Dressmaker Shears.  I’m so glad I did.  They cut through fabric like butter, and even multiple layers of fabric is not difficult to manage with these.

Hancock Fabrics has them on sale for $19.99 right now. Or you can get them from Amazon for $26.99.  They are worth every penny.

These are so heavy duty and high quality, hubby has nicknamed them “Walker, Texas Ranger Shears”

5. Seam Ripper

Your sewing machine likely came with a seam ripper.  I purchased one from Wal-Mart for a few dollars that has a bigger, grippier handle and I much prefer it over the small plastic one that came with my machine.

You will make mistakes and have to rip out your seams, particularly in the early days.  This is the only way to take apart seams without damaging the fabric(like trying to cut them with scissors would)

6. Lots of Extra Bobbins and Bobbin Storage.

This is invaluable when you have lots of different colored thread.  It’s nice to have your coordinating bobbins ready to go and organized for easy use.  One day, I plan to build a storage unit that will store both my thread and my bobbins together, but until then I will happily use this bobbin holder.

7. Fabric, zippers,thread, buttons, patterns, ect.  The actual “stuff” you will be sewing.  I get most of my fabric from They have good prices, free shipping over $35 and free returns.  They’re also located in Georgia, which means I receive my fabric 1 day after they ship it.  I also buy fabric at Wal-Mart, Jo-Anne’s and Hancock Fabrics.  I’d love to visit a fabric district and score some really awesome fabric, but until then, I’ll be using the before mentioned stores.

8. Ruler and Seam Gauge

I just recently got this sliding seam gauge and it has really helped me make even hems and seams.  I use it constantly now.  A regular old ruler from any store will be another invaluable tool.

9.  Dressmakers Tape Measure

I honestly don’t even know where mine came from.  I have seemingly always had it and used to only use it to measure my fitness progression(hey I lost/gained x inches) and that sort of thing.  But it’s a necessary tool for sewing.  Not only will you use it to measure yourself and/or others, I use it to measure fabric I’m cutting that’s longer than 12in(my usual ruler length).

10. Heat N’Bond Iron on Adhesive

This stuff will be a life saver for certain tasks where you can’t use your machine either because you have to leave an opening to flip the fabric or it just won’t fit into your machine or if you’ve flipped around a long tube of fabric and find one little area that the seam missed.  You just cut a piece to fit what you want to adhere together and iron it in.  I use it all the time to close up the openings left in “squares” of fabric pieces sewn together(an example would be the bow on the Bailey Bag.  I took two pieces of square fabric, sewed 3 3/4 of the edges together with right sides together then flipped the fabric around through the 1/4 side I didn’t sew. Then I used heat n’bond to adhere the opening together. Looks a lot “cleaner” than sewing it closed by hand)

11. Marking Pencil or pen.

These are pencils or markers that allow you to draw on your fabric but that will either evaporate away or dissolve with water.  They’re helpful for not only marking things like darts and pleats but also for drawing in sewing lines.  I do this sometimes when I want absolutely precise sewing lines and I can’t use my pressor foot as a guide.

12. Scotch Tape

I use tape all the time when inserting zippers(got the idea from here).  You also may need it if you rip your patterns or for taping pieces of paper together to make a pattern.

Nice to Have, but Not A Requirement
1. Serger

I own the Brother 1034D Overlock Serger. It was recommended on several sewing blogs, had good reviews on amazon and is affordable(as far as serger’s go).  It’s pretty easy to thread.  I can thread the whole machine in about 3-5 minutes or less, compared with some people I have read talking about their serger either needing to be professionally threaded or taking 30+minutes.  Another benefit to this serger is that it uses regular thread if you want. For the first few weeks, I was buying 4 different spools of thread to match each project I wanted to serge, but I was going through my thread so quickly and it was annoying me to have to change, I ended up buying 4 “cones” of white thread and just use that.

You definitely don’t need a serger.  It will give you a more professional looking edge but as I mentioned above, you can buy a sewing machine that will do a stitch similar to a serger so you don’t HAVE TO HAVE one.  Also there are other ways to finish an edge.  Lately, I have been binding my edges with bias tape.  It makes the inside of a garment look pretty.

2. Cutting mat and rotary cutter.

I have a set of these that I bought on clearance, but to be honest, I almost never use it.  It’s useful for cutting strips of fabric, of which I haven’t really done much of, and I find it just as easy to measure and draw lines on my fabric using a ruler and marking pen then cutting it with “walker, texas ranger” as I do using this.

3. Pinking shears

I used these a lot more when I didn’t have my serger.  Pinking shears help your fabric not to fray along the cut edge, but since I’ve got a serger I haven’t been using these as much.  They’re good to cut along a curve to that the fabric lays flatter.  Mine are gingher’s(just like walker) and they are so heavy, they can be rather difficult to use.  Some people like to cut out fabric appliqués with pinking shears just for the decorative edge they give.

4. Bias Tape Maker

I don’t own this machine.  If I need bias tape, I either try to find some of the already made stuff in a similar or coordinating color to my fabric, or I make my own(via this tutorial).  I don’t have the budget for this machine, but I wouldn’t turn it away if someone gave me one!

Other wanna be seamstresses want to chime in with their must-haves or not-necessary but nice items?



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