Tools and equipment
As with any craft, it is so much easier to complete a task if the right tools are on hand. Whether you are cutting fabric, paper patterns, or threads, there are appropriate scissors for each case. The same applies to needles, pins, and those more obscure gadgets that speed up the process and improve the finish. Use this chapter to select the necessary tools to help with your sewing projects.
As with any craft, specialist tools help in achieving a good result. While a needle is the minimum requirement, there are numerous useful tools, gadgets, and materials that can make a sewer's life easier.
8 Work surface
A flat surface at a workable height, such as a table or worktop, is a fundamental part of a sewing room. Although you can cover the floor with a sheet before laying fabric over it for cutting out, most work needs a handy surface to prevent your knees and back from aching.
There are some tools that may seem like luxury items, but after you've used them you will not be able to understand how you managed to sew without them.
These useful machines are for neatening raw edges and giving clothes a professional finish. However, they also perform many other decorative functions and, although not essential, are a great asset.
The needle is the principal piece of sewing equipment-- you must have one if you want to sew! Originally whittled from bone or wood, needles are now made from high quality steel in sizes for every application.
Anatomy of a needle
Can't thread your needle?
• Cut the thread at an angle. This makes it easier to fit through the eye.
• Place a piece of white paper behind the eye of the needle to make it easier to see the hole for the thread to go through.
• Use a needle threading wire or gadget. There are many of these on the market (see below), ranging from a simple diamond-shaped wire on a handle, to tiny hooks that pull a thread length through the eye.
5 Is your needle skipping stitches?
• It is important to choose the correct machine needle for each task. It saves time and produces better stitches.
• Embroidery and metallic needles prevent the threads from breaking or shredding, which means that you don't have to keep rethreading the needle.
• If you need to change the type of needle while there is still some life in it, don't discard it. Make a needle cushion with segments for different sizes and types of needle. Write the information on the cushion with a fine permanent pen or embroider it by machine or hand.
• Use a magnifying glass to read the size on the body of the needle.
• Replace needles frequently; don't wait until they bend or break. As the needles dull, they will cause skipped stitches and may even damage the fabric.
Simple storage bags
You will need:
• A mix of plain and patterned cotton fabric in the same weight
• Thread for making up (a contrast color looks attractive)
Threading your needle
One of the hardest tricks to learn when beginning to sew is how to thread small-eyed needles.
It is important to select the correct needle for the task in hand whether for hand sewing or machine sewing. Neat hand sewing is easier to produce with the correct size and type of needle and, although machine needles may all look the same, their subtle differences tailor them for particular threads or fabrics.
Pins are vital for preparing fabric to sew. Use them to secure a paper pattern to material for cutting out, to hold two pieces of fabric together in a mock seam to check the fit, or to hold pleats or hems in place before stitching. Whatever you use pins for, make sure they are sharp and rust-free.
Working with net or tulle
Use safety pins rather than standard straight pins when working with net or tulle. To divide a large section of net for gathering into a Full underskirt, use safety pins to identify the sections as standard pins will fall out.
A weighty alternative
When pins cannot be used--the fabric may be too thick to penetrate or pinholes will permanently damage the material-- weights are a good alternative. These might simply be kitchen weights or, for large soft furnishing projects, a brick in a wool sock. Use the weights to prevent a paper pattern from moving when you cut out the fabric, as shown right.
Transform a brick into a fabric weight
A large weight is useful for drapes and large soft furnishing projects. Add padding to the brick as shown to protect the fabric you are sewing. The handle makes it easy to move around.
Top tips for pinning
• Discard all bent and rusty pins.
• Keep a box or container for old pins and needles. When it is full it can be thrown away safely.
• Some pins have large plastic heads. Do not iron over these, as they melt!
• Use small-headed craft pins when pattern making. Large-headed pins can distort measurements that are critical to achieving a perfect fit.
• Do not sew over pins. Even if pins are placed across the seam it is not safe to stitch over them, as pins and needles may break and shatter, throwing up tiny pieces of metal. Simply remove the pins as you reach them.
• Attach paper patterns to fabric with pins placed within the pattern boundary. In this way you will avoid cutting them with scissors. It might not be a problem to the pins but it may well damage the scissor blades. Also, when pinning delicate fabric, the body of the fabric can't be damaged when pinning within seams.
Perfect your pinning technique
Everyone has their own preferences when pinning, but you wilt need to choose different methods for different tasks.
Pinning for beginners
If you have been sewing for years, pinning comes naturally. Beginners may find it more difficult. Simply put the pin through the fabric, then fold the fabric close to the point and bring the pin back to the surface.
Specialist gadgets and tools are available to make sewing tasks easier. Some of these are well known and easy to get hold of; others are more obscure, but make a real difference when tackling sewing problems. When you find something new, share it with your sewing friends.
17 Decorate plain fabric with a daisy foot
Bobby pin tube turner
If you do not have a dedicated tool to turn through a narrow tube, try this neat trick with a bobby pin. With a bit of practice, it is easy to make fine straps or button loops.
Cardboard tube seam roll
Use a cardboard tube for pressing narrow sleeves and legs of pants. You will need: a long cardboard tube; an old clean wool blanket or a length of 100% wool fabric and cotton sheeting.
Handy improvised tools
In addition to specialist tools, there are lots of everyday items you can use to help you when sewing.
A 100% cotton or linen dishcloth is a good alternative to a pressing cloth. Simply place it over a seam or hem to protect the fabric from the iron.
When sewing with springy, decorative threads on a serger, the thread may sometimes get caught beneath the reel. To prevent this from happening, cut up a pair of panty hose into lengths of about 6 in (15 cm) and slide a piece over the reel of thread. This holds the thread just close enough to stop it falling off and becoming stuck.
An iron is an essential sewing aid. It helps to produce a smooth, crease-free finished garment, and controls fabric edges and folds to make sewing tasks easier.
Which iron should I use?
The most common types of iron are listed below. Make sure you are using the best iron for the sewing task in hand.
Board of ironing?
There are three key points to consider when choosing an ironing board:
Buy a height-adjustable ironing board. Correct height is essential for comfort, and there will be occasions when you might prefer to sit rather than stand.
Ironing boards vary in length and some are wider than others. If storage space is not an issue, a longer and wider one is more useful, as it gives a larger surface, not just to iron on but to cut out on, too.
Cover your board with more padding and new fabric if it only has a thin layer over the mesh. The extra depth helps draw steam through the board and the padding reduces the chance of lines and ridges of seams or hems showing on the right side.