Tuesday, October 22, 2013

So, you want to sew...Beginner Lessons Part 1 (Supplies)

My mom, who is an avid and extremely talented seamstress, immersed me early in the love for all things crafty - particularly those related to the sewing machine.  The next time I am visiting my parents' house, I am going to raid their photo albums and find the pictures of cute 5 year-old me sitting at the sewing machine and add them to this post.  I don't know what I was making at age 5, but I do remember sewing my own clothes in upper elementary school, so I've been at this for a while!  I often thought that it would be fun to teach sewing classes, and I certainly look forward to teaching Anna in a few years.  In the meantime, I wanted to write some posts for some friends (most recently, Rosie) who have mentioned that they wanted me to teach them to sew.  I will try my best to capture all of the lessons I learned from my mom, from my time spent working at a fabric store, and from the miles and miles I've put on my sewing machine over the years!

Today's lesson: collecting your supplies.  The following items are my essential "must haves" for beginners (and beyond - I used everything on Sunday when I made the pillows).  I've also added a few "nice to haves" on the list that a beginner could likely do without, but will make your experience more enjoyable/easier - especially as projects get more complex.


- A machine in good working order.  This doesn't necessarily mean a new machine; in fact, a few years ago I replaced my "old" brand-new machine with a "new" old one from eBay because I preferred the operation and sound of the older models with all metal parts.  The key - new or old - is that it does basic stitches and that it does them reliably (nothing is more frustrating - especially to a beginner - than tension that is all out of whack).  If you have an older machine, I'd recommend taking it to a repair shop for a tune-up, or at the very least have a friend who knows how to sew test it for you.  A new machine shouldn't give you trouble out-of-the-box, provided you've followed (with precision) the threading instructions.

- Extra sewing machine needles.  Believe me, you will not be happy when you're part way through a project and your ONLY needle unexpectedly breaks.

Thread (good thread).  Sewing kits (and sometimes even sewing machines) often come with cheap spools of thread that break easily and otherwise cause a lot of headaches.  I always buy Coats and Clark, which is a standard brand that most stores carry.  It's not the highest-end thread, but it always works well for me.  Look closely and be sure that you're buying general purpose thread (I believe their line is called Dual Duty) and not quilting thread or heavy duty thread, which are often sold on the same rack (but in fewer colors).  To start, I'd buy white, off-white, tan, and black - with those four colors, you might not have the ideal for every fabric, but you'd at least have something passable.  Thread can be expensive, so it's best to slowly build a collection as you need colors for specific projects.  The multi-color packs that I've seen usually have the cheaper thread in them, so stay away from those.

- Extra bobbins.  In almost all cases, you'll want your bobbin thread to match your top thread - so you'll need a bobbin for each color of thread that you use.  NOTE - there are different types of bobbins, and although they look interchangeable, not all of them are - there are more differences than just metal or plastic!!  Check your manual or ask at the store if you aren't sure what type your machine needs.

- Scissors (3 types!).  I don't think it would be an exaggeration to say that my Gingher dressmaker's shears are my favorite possession.  You don't need to start with that brand necessarily, but it is extremely important to have a nice pair of dedicated fabric scissors.  Then it is equally important to warn everyone you live with of the severe repercussions of using your fabric scissors to cut anything else, especially paper (it dulls them, which then makes cutting fabric super frustrating).  In your sewing basket, you'll also want a pair of regular paper scissors (to cut patterns and things, and because if you don't have them handy you'll be tempted to grab your fabric scissors and need to subject yourself to aforementioned severe repercussions).  Also, I highly recommend a pair of small thread snips.  They're less unwieldy than the bigger pair to cut threads and things, but I also prefer them to a seam ripper when (notice I said when, not if) you need to take things out.  I find that little snips to the stitches is overall less destructive than yanking at it with a seam ripper.

- An iron.  Ironing is essential to sewing.  Do yourself a favor and set it up when you start sewing, because otherwise you will be tempted to skip that step.  And, when you skip it, you'll be more frustrated while you sew (because it's just more difficult if things aren't pressed) and afterwards (because things won't turn out as well).

- Pins - straight & safety.  Straight pins are important for laying out patterns and for holding seams together before/while you sew.  Safety pins are just useful to have around - most specifically for pulling elastic through casings.

- A (non-retractable) measuring tape.  For, well, measuring.  I think that the few dollars (or maybe even cents?) for a tape measure intended for sewing is worth it, rather than grabbing a ruler or other random measuring tape you have at home.

**Updated, because this was on my mental list and didn't make it to the post yesterday:
- A pack of regular (hand) sewing needles.  Although most of your projects will likely be done by machine, there will be little parts (sewing on buttons, for example) that are done by hand.


- Pinking shears.  A fourth pair of scissors!  They're not essential, but helpful to have - for example, you can cut the raw edges of the seam allowances inside a garment to reduce the amount of fraying that happens in the wash.

- A turner / creaser.  I saw these near the quilting supplies at the fabric store the other day, and they were only $3 I think.  They're really useful if you're making something with corners (for example, a pillow case) and you need to turn it right-side out after sewing.  I use mine a lot.

- A cutting mat.  The essential part of this is that you have a large (ish) flat (no ish here!) surface to lay out fabric when cutting.  I used to always do this on the carpet, until I recently realized that it's much less frustrating to use the kitchen table or the peninsula.  The cutting mat provides a more firm surface (if you're working on the floor) or prevents scratches from pins and scissors (if you're working in the kitchen).  Bonus, it will become even more valuable when you break into quilting!

- Dritz measuring gauge.  This is a super handy-dandy tool that has a side measuring from 1/4" up to 2".  It's really helpful, say, if your instructions say to press something 3/8" and you don't want to deal with the big measuring tape while you iron.  (Warning, this little metal thing can heat up quickly!)

- A task light.  If you aren't in a brightly lit room (or even if you are), it's helpful to have a desk lamp pointed right at your work surface to help you see what you're doing.  If you don't have a dedicated space to leave your sewing machine set-up, this is obviously a hassle (one more thing to move in addition to the machine and the iron and everything else), so we'll just call it incentive to create a sewing room or a sewing corner where you can leave things set-up!


All of these supplies are pretty basic - you should be able to easily find all at a fabric store - or even in the sewing section of a Wal-Mart.  Particularly for the bigger ticket items (and the nice-to-haves), wait for a sale or a coupon.  Most craft stores are the type of places where you shouldn't ever buy something full price because their sales & coupons are frequent enough!

You will, of course need project-specific items (like fabric, elastic, buttons, etc.) but those are dependent on what you are making.  I will cover that in my next post - choosing your first project!  *Update, that post is now up HERE, and Part 3 (basic stitches) is now HERE.

If you have questions, feel free to contact me!  I'm also curious to hear from others who like to sew - what are your must-have items?  Anything I missed?

1 comment:

  1. Essential items for me: seam ripper! and small 6-8" metal ruler (it has a slide on it to set a length for measuring). Great job of summarizing what we take for granted.