The 12 Must-Have Tools for Sewing DIY’s

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Earlier I shared my must-have list for jewelry DIY projects. And now I’m following up with this list for sewing DIY projects! (These Must-Have Tools for DIY lists are on my DIY Resources page if you’re looking for them.)

My mother taught me to sew back when I was 8 or 9 or so. My first project was a lopsided white stuffed bear with a face that looked both happy and sad at the same time. Since then, I’ve graduated to using and eventually purchasing a serger, learning how to use an industrial sewing machine, and even sewing my prototypes for my short-lived clothing line back in 2007. I love using patterns and making patterns, stitching things together from scratch and upcycling pieces, and basically letting my imagination run wild. Some of my favorite projects that I’ve shared on this blog have been my Cute Summer ShirtDress (the very project that launched my focus on DIY here on Chic Steals!), my Men’s XLSweatshirts to Blouson Top project, and more recently my Ballroom Skirt from a Shower Curtain. Here is my recommended list of really great tools for DIY Sewing Projects:

1. Seam Ripper

You.Must.Have.A.Seam.Ripper. You need it to rip back or to take apart pieces to be cannibalized, to fix stitches…this is vital to creating a perfectly-sewn piece (even if it didn’t work out the first time around).

2. Rotary Cutter

Perfect for cutting uber-straight lines, this is my favorite tool to get things cut out in a flash. (Don’t forget the cutting mat to go with it!) I like the OLFA but Fiskars makes a good version too.

3. Chalk Pencil

This marking pencil is my absolute favorite since it makes super-precise lines and works just like a mechanical pencil. LOVE.

4. Extra Bobbins + Bobbin Case

Who ever has enough bobbins when they’re sewing?? (I’ve been known to wind a new color thread on top of a half-filled bobbin when I’ve run it…which is definitely not a best practice.) Though you of course have to get the correct type for your machine, these ones are my favorite for my Singer. Plus a little case to keep them in will keep them neat and tidy instead of a tangled mess!

5. Sharp, Sharp Sewing Scissors

El-cheapo scissors won’t cut it (literally) if you do a lot of cutting and sewing. Prepare to spend around $30+ for an excellent pair of Gingher or Singer scissors, and they will last you a lifetime. (Just never, ever, EVER cut anything else besides fabric with them [especially paper]…this will dull them like nobody’s business.

6. Sharp, Sharp Pins + Emery-filled Pincushion

I’ve found that certain “decorative”-style pins aren’t all that sharp, and the round-headed ones tend to cause bumps when pinning a pattern to fabric in order to cut. I prefer the extra-sharp flower-headed pins so the pattern isn’t puckering and lifting, and they don’t get in the way of the machine foot so much. Plus an emery-filled pincushion to keep them all corralled is a must. You can also DIY your emery pincushion by following a tutorial here.

7. Hem Tape

Though I prefer to sew whenever possible, some stitchery DIY’s can be accomplished quite easily with permanent Hem Tape instead. (See my DIY J. Crew Sporty Pants and my DIY Windowpane Sweatshirt for example.) This hem tape is just great.

8. Curved Nail Scissors

I love love love these scissors! (They also appear on my Must-Have Tools for Jewelry DIY’ing list.) That’s how much I love them! They work great as thread snips if you don’t feel like investing in those, and help you poke holes and cut perfect buttonholes (just be careful of the curved edges).

9. Pattern Notcher

I fell in love with this tool when creating my clothing line, and again at the clothing factory I interned at in Portland. Normally you’d notch your patterns and fabric at center front and center back, and when matching sleeves. I don’t like using the scissors to notch, because often the cut is not easily visible in the fabric, and sometimes I notch too deeply, straight through the line of stitching. NOT GOOD. With a pattern notcher, it goes through the fabric in a lovely V- or rectangle shape and won’t go deeper than 1/4″, so no chance of ruining your stitching. It’s easy to see and looks professional, plus it can be used to notch the seam allowance of curved stitching. I LOVE IT and highly recommend it.

10. Pattern Weights

Usually I’d use any old thing laying around (my water glass, the sleeping dog, my glasses, the very scissors I actually need to cut with)…but having a group of dedicated pattern weights is extremely useful. You could of course DIY them and make them utterly cute, too.

11. Variety of Machine Feet

Though the project will often dictate what feet you need, I find myself reaching for the same ones over and over again. My Zipper Foot, Ruffler, Narrow Hem Foot, Butttonholer, and Teflon Foot (for leather/suede) help me stitch up a variety of projects with professional results. (the pack pictured is for low-shank machines)

12. Turn-It-All

I absolutely adore this kit I bought awhile ago. It’s for turning thin tubes of fabric (like for spaghetti straps, waist-ties, decorative tubing, and more). I often use the long thin metal rod in place of an awl for holding fabric under my machine foot, and for poking corners out and turning pieces right-side-out in general. I highly recommend this!

Any extra sewing tools that you can’t live without? Let me know in the comments!


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8 Comments on The 12 Must-Have Tools for Sewing DIY’s

  1. HannahF
    4.29.2014 at 7:06 am (1 year ago)

    Hey Carly, I’m loving this post! You didn’t mention rulers, which I find very important in my sewing diys. I’m just getting introduced to these chalk cartridge sets, and the turn it all kit. For weights, I have been using extra large washers from the Home Depot or Lowe’s. They’re so cheap and you can get a whole bunch of them

    • carlyjcais
      4.29.2014 at 9:28 am (1 year ago)

      Thank you Hannah! I was going to mention rulers, then realized that would make 13 items, so I left them out. I kind of felt some of my favorites were more pattern-making oriented, you know? Like my invaluable T-square, French curves, and flexible ruler. :-) But of course I use my measuring tape all the time even for quick DIY’s. That’s a great idea about the washers from Home Depot! You could just wrap them in fabric to make them pretty and they would work great. Off to get myself a bunch…thanks for the tip!!

      • HannahF
        4.30.2014 at 5:11 am (1 year ago)

        Yes. I’ll definitely wrap them in fabric now. That flexi ruler is a lifesaver! Thanks a bunch for turning me on to the the chalk and turn kit!

        • carlyjcais
          4.30.2014 at 6:34 pm (1 year ago)

          No problem! So glad it was useful for you :-)

  2. Jeannine
    5.20.2014 at 12:21 pm (1 year ago)

    Great list….wondering where I can get the Notching Tool and the Turn It All kit.

    • carlyjcais
      5.20.2014 at 7:23 pm (1 year ago)

      Hey Jeannine – thanks! Just click on the title of the item in the text, or the number of the item below the photo, and it should link directly to where you can purchase the items (in those cases, Amazon). Hope that helps! A Turn-it-All will change your life!! :-)

  3. Stacy
    11.15.2014 at 5:37 pm (10 months ago)

    I was really looking forward to reading this blog post, however, the ads are intrusive enough that I’m not bothering. I understand that you are trying to generate an income, but floating ads that scroll with me, and another at the bottom of the screen, as well as ads on the photos are just aggravating. There isn’t any room to actually read your great content. If you dont think the ads are annoying, just try viewing a blog post on a mobile device. Anyway, I hope this helps you make decisions on your future ad placement from a reader who is leaving your site, rather than browsing around or subscribing.

    • carlyjcais
      11.19.2014 at 1:38 pm (9 months ago)

      Hi Stacy, I really appreciate your feedback. I was not aware of many things you mention. I see when I try to access my site on the iPhone that there are a number of display issues (not just with the ads), but with content that isn’t properly resizing or displaying (an issue I hadn’t experienced in the past; it must have started with the latest WordPress update and the customizations on my current theme conflicting). I need to purchase a new theme to deal with the content display issues, but just haven’t had enough money to do so given my financial circumstances changed drastically earlier this year and I haven’t been able to set anything aside for new blog expenses on top of everything else. I am certainly not intending to aggravate or alienate the people who are kind enough to read my content at all.
      Regarding the ads, you can close the floating ad with the X if it is aggravating.
      The top adbar I installed with BlogHer, but was told it would not appear on mobile view, which I see is not true. So I have to email the BlogHer ads helpdesk about that.

      Thank you very much and I will try to redo my mobile site in order to make a less frustrating experience for my readers. Thank you for taking the time to let me know about these things. :-)


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