I see lots of sewing gadgets in catalogues, on shopping channels and often in photographs of people’s sewing rooms and I often think it looks like you need a lot of equipment for dressmaking which couldn’t be further from the truth. So I thought I’d outline some equipment that I consider essential for dressmaking.
Three pairs of scissors
- Cutting out scissors. Mine are Wilkinson Sword and I have had them for what seems like forever. To be honest they are getting a bit blunt and I know I could do with a new pair but I am very attached to these.
- A medium pair which are useful for trimming seams. Not as bulky as cutting out scissors but not too small so as to cut through the trimming quickly and efficiently.
- A small embroidery pair which are indispensable and in my mind one of the most versatile tools of the job. They are used for cutting threads close to the fabric, useful for unpicking, great at holding down fabric as you feed it through the sewing machine, in closed mode of course, and similarly for carefully pushing out the points on collars, cuffs, belts, etc as well as cutting buttonholes. I had a precious pair of Toledo steel ones but a few years ago they gave up the ghost. I replaced them with a pair of stork scissors but also received a slightly bigger pair of stork scissors in a beautiful rose gold colour as a present. I also recently bought some art nouveau styled iridescent small scissors which are so pretty that I don’t want to use them!
Pins – I like the longer fine variety. These enable me to go in and out of the fabric twice if need be to create a firmer hold on difficult fabrics. I also have some extra fine pins for working with delicate fabrics such as satin, taffeta etc where standard pins would leave hole marks. I’ve also been working with leather recently and invested in some quilting clips in order to hold the leather down as again pins would cause hole marks. However, the little teeth on the clips also left a slight indentation, so I reverted back to using some clothes’ pegs for the job.
Needles – a variety of sizes depending on the fabric being sewn but now my eyesight is not as good as it used to be a large eyehole is appreciated!
Tape measure – goes without saying. I have two and I prefer my old one as it has good imperial measurements. I still tend to use imperial measurements on the whole but do switch between imperial and metric depending on which measuring system works best for a project.
Threads for tacking – usually white in my case apart from when working with white fabric. I am a big advocate of tacking. There are some things I just pin before I machine but for holding collars, lapels, gathering and other tricky pieces I think it is a case of ‘a tacking stitch in time saves nine‘ or in other words multitudes of unpicking and resewing.
Tailors’ chalk and pencils – for marking things such as buttonholes and button placement.
Small safety pin – for threading elastic in casing.
Sewing machine – with needles in varying sizes for use on different fabrics, No 9 for fine fabrics up to No 16 for heavy denim but I find a No 12 a good all rounder and have that in my machine most of the time. I don’t do a lot of sewing with knit fabrics but if you do ballpoint needles are recommended so as not to ladder the fabric.
Regarding a sewing machine I like a fairly basic mechanical model with forward and backward stitching, zig-zag and buttonhole facility. I would have no use for a 200 stitch machine and I honestly think the more features a machine has the more likely it is to go wrong and I’ve read that computerised models are harder to repair than mechanical ones. My current machine is the Janome Sewist 525S which is slightly up from a basic model as it has a needle threader (hurrah, the best thing since sliced bread) and a one step buttonholer which frankly I am not that impressed with and you can read why here.
I’m not really a gadget person when it comes to dressmaking and I think the list above gives you the complete toolbox for dressmaking. However I do have a few gadgets in my arsenal that I have found very useful.
A wheel chalk mouse – now if you are a Burdastyle magazine aficionado this device is a must. You pin your traced pattern pieces from the magazine onto your fabric and then set the mouse to 1.5 cm and whizz round all the pattern pieces to add the requisite seam allowance. There is also a 2.5 cm marking and 4 cm for marking hem distances. You can buy refills to replenish it. I couldn’t be without this now and go back to using a tape measure and tailors chalk or just eyeball it as I used to do (okay I admit I still do that sometimes).
Small Quilter’s measure – I recently purchased this, again to help with my Burdastyle pattern drafting. It is so useful for measuring out those rectangular pieces Burda uses for cuffs, belts, button loops, zip flies, etc.
A small measuring qauge – great as a quick measuring reference when you are marking up hems of various sizes. This is in imperial measurements.
Quick unpick – some people might list this as an essential toolbox item but I personally still prefer to use fine scissors for unpicking as I feel they give you more control. I have on several occasions ripped fabric using a quick unpick so that’s probably why I am wary now.
Expanding marker – this is useful for marking button or eyelet placement and you can see where I have used it here.
Scovill Dritz cutting board – I’m not sure if I can classify this as a gadget but it is so useful. The fact that it is now described as vintage shows you how long I have owned it. It folds out and protects your dining room table top. There are grid measurements on it to help line up straight grain and some useful diagonal lines for cutting bias strips.
The prize for most useless gadget – now some people might disagree with me and think this is wonderful but I have failed to master it. I can see that it might work on thinner fabrics. However for narrow tubes such as rouleau loops I resort to sewing a piece of string at one end of the tube and pull the string thus turning the tube the right side out. For large tubes such as belt ties I rely on the good old fashioned knitting needle method to push the tube inside out.
If you have any other gadgets which you have found particularly useful in dressmaking I would love to hear about them in the comments section. There might be something out there that I really need to add to my collection.