Sewing basics - Tools

Do you want to start making your own clothes? It can be very overwhelming at first so I thought I would make a guide with the basic tools and techniques that are helpful when you're new to sewing. Even if you have some experience I hope you will find it useful and inspiring. In this post we are going to talk about the basic tools you need to get started. 

1. Sewing machine. This is essential. If you're reading this you probably already have a machine or at least access to a machine. I used my moms machine until I moved out. Then I bought my Husqvarna Automatic for 1400 SEK (157$, 134€). A sewing machine doesn't need to be a huge investment. It's a good idea to opt for quality when it comes to your machine but price doesn't always indicate quality. Don't be afraid to test and change either! Just because someone else loves a particular make and model doesn't mean you will. That realization will come with time. If you have a machine that you inherited and it works - keep using it! And also take good care of it. If you have the manual you can see specific instructions. If you don't have the manual - you can probably find it online. You will want to remove dust so it doesn't build up and then clean it well. Use sewing machine oil and oil your machine by dropping it in the designated holes and on the moving parts inside the machine. This will look different from machine to machine. Here's a guide to oiling vintage sewing machines. And here's a more general maintenance guide

2. Sewing machines needles. This can seem like a jungle but don't worry it's not as complicated as you think. Different fabrics need different kinds of needles. The main distinction is between woven and knit fabrics. A standard needle is meant for woven and a stretch needle is used for knits. The standard needle is very, very sharp while the stretch needle has a softer point so as not to rip the knit threads apart. It glides through the loops of the knit instead, not destroying the fabric. There are more distinctions to be aware of - like the thickness of the needle. The thicker the fabric the thicker the needle needs to be. There are special needles for leather and denim too. Here's a comprehensive needle guide to get you started. You also need to change needle sometimes. I know, mind blowing :) After a big sewing project - change needle! Before sewing with a silky satin fabric - change needle! Can't remember the last time you changed your needle in your sewing machine? It's definitely time :) Let's think of it this way, after much use the needle will act more like an old saw than a sharp knife. It will scratch your fabric rather than going through it smoothly. You might not notice it with all fabrics but if you are sewing with a drapey viscose or a silky, satin fabric you will notice because of the broken threads creating lines in your fabric. So if you're starting on a precious ball gown in silk - use a perfect, new needle to sew. I did not do this when I started making fancy dresses at 12 years old. I just went for it and no one had told me about changing needles ever so often... I learned the hard way... It's a good thing I couldn't afford silk at the time because my fabric was not pretty after a few seams.

Bonus: here's me in a ball gown I made when I was around 15. This was when I had learned how to treat fabrics somewhat respectfully. 

3. Thread. Use good quality thread. Gütermann is considered the best by many but it's not the only quality brand. How to know if the thread is strong enough? Try to break the thread with your hands, as in try to make it snap. If it snaps easily it's probably a cotton thread. If it's hard to make it snap it's probably polyester and therefore stronger. But note that polyester is not a sustainable choice. Cotton thread can be used for most projects and it’s a far better choice for the environment. A lot is happening in this department as well. Now you can find recycled materials and also more sustainable choices such as lyocell for example. Explore your options! 

Choosing between two colours to match your fabric? Pick the lighter one. It will blend in better. If you can't find an exact match - why not try a contrasting colour instead? 

Threads on shelves in factory

4. Fabric. Choosing fabric, fabric shopping, collecting fabric... this is one of the most fun things about sewing! When you are just starting out you don't need to spend a lot of money on this though. Use old sheets, old clothes, curtains, table cloths etc. These are excellent toile materials. When you are first getting to know your machine and beginning to learn new techniques - you need practice, and loads of it. You need to try to sew the different seams your machine offers, play around with the presser foot pressure and the thread settings, you need to learn to sew straight and zigzag and sew a nice curve. You don't need anything fancy for that. When I stared sewing I used a lot of sheets and thrift store finds to practice. Altering clothes and sewing simple garments out of inexpensive or free fabric was a great way to learn without making a huge investment. When you you these kinds of textiles you will be more relaxed too and not as afraid to experiment which is really good. When you feel a bit warmed up you can start. 

5. Scissors. I would suggest investing in a good pair of scissors. Don't buy the cheapest fabric scissors you can find - splurge a little because it's worth it. I have a few fabric scissors. I have one pair of german vintage scissors that are heavy weight and can cut through layers of denim and other thick fabrics. Then I also have some "normal" fabric scissors. The most important thing is to only cut fabric with these scissors you invest in. Never ever cut paper or anything else with them. I have some great paper scissors close at hand at all times to not be tempted. I also have some really small scissors by my sewing machines to cut threads and such. 

6. Seam ripper. This is a really good tool to have. You will need to rip some seams, especially in the beginning. It's less dreadful if your seam ripper is sharp so make sure you aren't using a really old one just because that's the only one you have. They are not expensive and it's nice to have more than one. You can also use them for cutting button holes open. Read this blog post for a helpful seam ripper hack. (it's number 5 in the list). 


7. Iron + ironing board. Pressing seams is an art and you need to practice to get comfortable with it. Many beginners are not pressing and ironing enough before during and after their projects. I might be biased because of my tailoring heavy education but I think you should press and iron a lot. So many problems go away at the ironing board. And if you give your finished garment a good press when you are done sewing you will get a more professional result. Here's an in depth guide to pressing and ironing if you want to learn more. 

8. Other things that are useful to have. Measuring tape. You need one, at least. I have 5 or six and I still have to look for them. You will need to measure a lot! A seam gauge is something I use a lot as well. I measure seam allowances with this thing and I measure small things that I don't need a large ruler for. 

Seam Gauge, cm-Scale - buy now on architekturbedarf.de8. Pins and/or pattern weights. You will need something that can hold your pattern pieces in place when you're cutting your fabric. I use pins but I would like to upgrade to pattern weights instead. 

9. Patience & passion. Sewing will test your patience. You will learn so much when you start making your own clothes. New techniques, new things about your body and your style and your patience. If you have the mindset that you don't have to know everything when you're new and that you can figure it out it will be so much fun. Take the opportunity to learn, to grow and to experiment. Don't be afraid to try and fail and try again. Don't think there's a "right" way to do everything - that will only hold you back. There's a time and a place for learning "proper technique" and the very beginning isn't it in my opinion. Fearless sewing means daring to test your theories and see what happens. I see too many beginners getting stuck in perfectionism and being too afraid to "do it wrong" to even get started. You have my permission to test & try anything and everything and seeing it as an opportunity to learn. Your first projects don't need to be perfect. Why would they be? How could they be? If you are just starting - it will be messy ...and that's ok :) It can only get better from there. I didn't learn "proper" sewing techniques until I started fashion school at 20 years old or so. At that time I had been sewing for over 10 years. It was super fun to learn to make everything neat and perfect - and I could really apply it because I had so many years of experience. But I made some really nice things before that too. What I'm saying is I want to encourage you to try some fearless sewing without the expectation of perfection. Think big! Just try something crazy and see what happens! You will learn so much in the process. 


Do you have anything to add to this list? Let me know in the comments below. 

Until next time, 

Happy sewing!


Ploen Patterns

1 comment

  • Just to add about thread choice: polyester may be stronger but it’s not compostible or biodegradable as it’s plastic so not sustainable or eco friendly. The chemicals used to make it are toxic to the environment and workers making it and it’s a petrochemical product. Cotton compost within weeks, while the polyester threads of the garment stay intact and will not break down for centuries. What’s wrong with good quality cotton or linen thread, which was used for centuries in garment making? Or Tencel? All of which are biodegradable and compostable.
    Ploen Patterns replied:
    Christina, this is a great point. Most of the time cotton is a good choice and easy to find, you could also reinforce seams, sewing them two times for more durability, polyester is never necessary. I will review the blog post and update. I totally agree with you. Thank you for your thoughts! :)/Josefine30 maj 2024 kl. 17:48 skrev


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