Having the right tools and equipment when you start to tackle a dressmaking project can really help to make a difference, not only to the sewing experience but to the finished garment as well!
There are lots of tools and gadgets out there, but in this post I wanted to highlight the key basic set of items you’ll need for successful projects and share my top picks for extra items that you can add to your sewing kit over time.
A tape measure - Taking your own body measurements is the first step in choosing a size when you come to make a project so having one is a must. I prefer to use one that has cm and inches printed on the same side. Being based in the UK means that I regularly come across references to cm and inches so it’s useful to be able to measure in both units with ease.
Pins - nice sharp pins will be used during just about every stage of sewing from cutting out to sewing seams and finishing off hems. I like using these glass headed ones as they are nice and easy to pick up, but we do have a range of pins in the shop.
Keep them together with a magnetic pin cushion. We sell locally made wooden magnetic pin blocks that look lovely too!
TOP TIP - keep good habits with your pins and if some get bent or you feel they are getting blunt, dispose of them safely. Blunt pins can snag fabric and cause unsightly holes so aren’t worth leaving around in your pin pot or magnet.
Chalk marker - Being able to transfer pattern markings onto your fabric or draw in stitch guides will help hugely with the accuracy of your sewing. There are lots of different types of chalk markers available. My favourite ones, that I use the most, are the Prym cartridge pencil and the Clover Chaco liner. The cartridge pencil can be refilled with dressmakers chalk sticks and given very precise markings on fabric. I like the chaco liner for instances where I have to draw a straight line as either a cutting or a sewing guide. It has a small wheel in the nib that deposits the loose chalk easily and precisely. You can refill them too - yay!
Scissors - Dressmaking shears will make cutting out a dream. My favourite ones are the Prym micro serration shears. They come in two blade lengths and have little, mini teeth along the length of the blade that grip the fabric as you cut. This makes them great for lightweight slippery fabric and for thicker fabric, or if you are cutting through lots of layers as the teeth grip the fabric on the blade, rather than pushing it away.
You’ll also need a smaller pair of scissors for cutting smaller sections of fabric like notches or loose threads. Again, there is lots of choice here, but something with a small sharp pointy blade will do the job just fine.
TOP TIP - only ever use your scissors for cutting fabric to ensure they stay as sharp as possible. You could try tying a ribbon around the handle as a reminder for anyone else in the house that those scissors aren’t for general use!
Seam gauge - having a smaller measuring tool, that is firmer or more sturdy that a tape measure comes in really handy for all sorts of things when sewing. Again there are several different options, I find the length of this prym love one really handy but it can distort out of shape if you get it too close to the plate of the iron as you press. The aluminium one is better if you are using it close to the iron.
Hand sewing needles - whether its marking notches or other pattern landmarks on your fabric, or finishing off a project with a bit of hand sewing, there will always be a need for a hand sewing needle. I keep mine in this handy needle twister that works a bit like a lipstick. There is a magnet at the bottom of it, so when you twist it up, the needles fan out making them easy to see and to pick up.
Unpicker - it doesn’t matter how long or how experienced a dressmaker you are, it’s likely at some point during a project you will need to take out some of your stitches. It really does happen to all of us! It may be that your machine came with an unpicker, but you can get other ones that are a bit more colourful and easier to grip.
A regular sewing machine is a must if you are making your own clothes. It doesn’t have to be a super fancy one, but from my experience of using a range of models across the ‘Brother’ range it tends to be that the more you spend on a machine, the more you get in terms of features and ease of use. A good marker to look out for is a ‘one step’ buttonhole feature and a needle threader. If a machine can do this, it’s likely to have other features and qualities that you will enjoy using during your sewing.
I currently use a Brother Innvois VQ2, which has been given to me on loan by Brother. You can find out more about it in my review of the machine in this article. LINK HERE
A very close second to having a sewing machine is a decent iron and ironing board. Ironing and pressing is an essential part of sewing and dressmaking and having one set up as you sew is a must. You’ll find you are regularly moving in between the sewing machine and ironing board during garment construction.
I have used Philips irons over the years at home and in the sewing studio for workshops at g&g and always found them to be reliable. I’ve paid in full for all of them.
Optional extra - give your ironing board a ‘sewing makeover’ with a cover that has a handy grid printed onto it. It can help when pressing back seam allowances! We sell two sizes in the shop depending on the width of your ironing board - you can shop them in this link.
Having an overlocker is not essential for making clothes. However, if you are planning on doing a lot of dressmaking, I would say they are worth the investment. You can use them to finish off the seam allowances of woven fabrics in a quick, neat and professional looking way. You can also sew seams on jersey and stretchy fabric with an overlocker, making garment construction with that type of fabric even quicker.
I currently use a Janome 6234XL which was given to me, on loan, from Janome around 6/7 years ago. It’s always done what I wanted it to do and I’ve found it reliable.
The following tools aren’t essential but are ones I find that I use fairly regularly when dressmaking.
Vario pliers - These are super handy for applying buttons, rivets and snap fasteners of all types to your projects. You can learn more about how to use them in this article LINK HERE
Hole punch - This is useful for using along side the vario pliers if you ever have to make a hole in the fabric before attaching a snap fastening. I also use them for opening up keyhole buttonholes.
Quilting ruler - I use this a lot if I have to adapt sewing patterns as well as for marking longer straight lines on fabric, for example when making my own bias binding.
Hot hemmer - This is really handy for pressing hems as you can fold the fabric around it and press everything flat. It’s like a firm bit of felt so pliable and durable at the same time and the grid printed on it is useful to help you measure as you press.
Buttonhole cutter - This nifty little tool is just like a chisel but especially for fabric and opening up buttonholes with a clean cut. Just remember to use it on a self healing mat or other surface protector.
Loop turner - This is great for turning narrow channels of fabric the right way around. Think spaghetti straps or narrow belts!
Simflex - This expandable tool makes measuring out and marking buttonhole placement super quick and easy!