Before you can learn to sew, you first need to gather all the tools you'll need. This is a list of the most essential
tools a sewer needs, but you’ll likely find yourself adding to this group over time.
A sewing machine, of course, is the most essential sewing tool. If you don’t yet own a sewing machine and
are looking to purchase one, you may find this article helpful: How to Buy a Sewing Machine.
Make sure your sewing machine can at least do the following:
- Sew a straight stitch that’s adjustable in length.
- Sew a zigzag stitch (this is a stitch that’s made by the needle moving side to side as your fabric
moves forward). If you plan to do very basic sewing tasks (like mending), this stitch isn’t absolutely
necessary. But it’s essential if you want to make machine buttonholes and sew certain seam finishes.
- Sew in reverse. Also not absolutely necessary for very basic sewing, however, it’s useful for securing
the ends of seams and for making certain decorative stitches.
If you have an older machine, one you either purchased used or that was given to you:
- You may want to have it serviced to make sure it’s in good working order if it’s a machine you’ve
never used. It would be so disappointing to start your first project only to discover your machine isn’t
- If you don’t have the manual for your machine, try to get it. The manual will explain how to use the
features of your machine and how to thread it correctly (which is very important). The manual may
also caution you about safety issues. To find the manual for your machine, try visiting the
manufacturer’s website. They often have old manuals available for download or purchase. There are
also companies that sell old manuals online. You might also try Ebay.
Look for pins 1½”-2” in length, labeled thin, extra fine, or silk. Longer pins can be easier to work with than Scissors
shorter pins and thinner pins are less likely to leave holes behind in finer, denser fabrics.
You also have your choice of pin heads – metal, plastic, or glass, and in many shapes and sizes. You may
prefer pins with colored heads because they’re more easily seen if dropped onto a carpet or the floor.
And use pins that are nice and sharp – dull pins can damage fabric. Also, don’t use old pins that are rusted,
nicked, or bent. They too can damage or stain fabric.
Look for scissors 8”-10” in length, labeled dressmaker’s shears or bent-handled scissors. The bent handle
of these scissors allows the blades to lie flat against your surface as you’re cutting. To keep the blades nice
and sharp, use these scissors only for sewing. (For more tips on keeping your sewing scissors in good
shape, see 10 Tips for Caring for Your Sewing Scissors.)
Flat Cutting Surface
You’ll need a flat surface to lay your fabric onto for cutting. Most sewers use a cutting board. The least
expensive ones are made from cardboard, can be placed on the floor or a table top, and fold up for
storage. There are also more expensive wooden cutting tables, some of which are meant to stay set up and
others can be folded for storage.
If you don’t have a cutting board, you can use a large table or the floor for laying
out your fabric. However, make sure the surface can withstand the scratches it may get from pins and
scissors. And note that a carpeted floor is not a good surface – your fabric needs to lay completely flat for
cutting. Plus, you wouldn’t want to risk cutting your carpet.
Hand Sewing Needles
You’ll likely be doing some sewing by hand, perhaps sewing a hem or sewing on a button. So get a package
of hand sewing needles in an assortment of sizes.
Machine Sewing Needles
Sewing machine needles become dull with use and need to be replaced. Plus, you’ll need to change the type
and size of your needle depending on:
- the fabric you’re working with
- the thread you’re using
- the stitches you’re making
If you get a package of assorted needles, you’ll likely have what you need on hand for each sewing job.
For more on choosing sewing machine needles, see Sewing Machine Needles - the Basics.
A seam ripper is a hand held tool that helps you take out stitching – something even the most experienced
sewer needs to do from time to time. It has a hook-shaped tip with a point at one end and a blade in the
“hook” area that cuts the thread. Use caution when using a seam ripper because it can be easy to
accidentally cut through your fabric.
This is a small ruler that has a sliding, plastic marker on it. It’s handy for taking smaller measurements.
Usually made of wood or metal, this is a good tool for taking longer measurements, such as a length of
If you’ll be making garments, you’ll need to determine your pattern size. So you’ll need a tape measure for
taking your body measurements. Look for a tape measure made of fiberglass because it’ll be stretch-
resistant. Test an older tape measure for accuracy by laying it against a yardstick to make sure the
measurement markings match up.
Pressing is an essential part of sewing. Since you’ll be doing a lot of it, you’ll need a good steam iron with
an adjustable temperature. (For more information on pressing as you sew, see How to Press. For
information on other pressing tools, see Pressing Tools.)
You’ll need a firm surface for pressing in order to produce crisp, professional-looking seams.
So, this is a list of the basics. But there are other tools you may want to add to your collection to make
certain sewing tasks easier and help you get more professional-looking results. See More Helpful Sewing
Tools for a list.
Learn to Sew Lesson #1: Gather Your Sewing Tools
|Sewing Information, Advice, How-to