Welcome to your first sewing lesson! This post will introduce you to the tools, notions (a sewing term for small tools and accessories), and supplies you need to start sewing on your machine today. This is a short list compared to all of the possible sewing accessories. We will add additional notions and tools to our tool box as we learn new sewing skills. Let’s get down to business…
SEWING MACHINE A wonderful invention that revolutionized home sewing. There are many brands and categories ($$$) of sewing machines. Since we are learning how to sew, pretty much any machine will do. Many machines are so well built that they still run after 50 plus years. These machines are made with metal parts and you can tell this by the weight of the machine. I inherited my Grandmother’s machine from the ’70s and my Mother’s machine from the ’80s and they are still rockin’. If you have machine, but aren’t sure when it was last used, take it to a sewing shop for a tune up to prevent any breakage or headaches. Sewing machines come with a power cord and foot pedal unless you have a newer fancier machine or an old pedal machine.
FABRIC This is the fun part of sewing! Fabrics can inspire your project or bring the project you’ve imagined to life. There are many types of fabric, but we will get into all of the options in a later post. To begin, I suggest starting with inexpensive cotton based fabrics. Cotton fabrics are coarse and easy to maneuver. Also, an inexpensive cotton fabric will give you more fabric to play and practice with. I suggest purchasing a small amount (1/2 yard or less) to start. Your fabric selection will determine the types of thread, needles, and presser feet you will use.
THREAD SPOOL Talk about options! Like fabric, there are many types of threads as well as a myriad of colors. You want to select thread according to the fabric weight, purpose, and color. There are two types of thread that are best for general sewing: polyester and cotton. Polyester thread is an all-purpose thread made of 100% wound polyester or cotton covered polyester. It’s strength and elasticity is good for sewing with synthetic, natural or blended fibers. Polyester thread labeled ‘all-purpose’ is a good weight for general sewing. Mercerized cotton thread is a strong thread with out any stretch or give. Size 50 is a medium thread suitable for light and medium weight fabrics. All of this info is located on the top and bottom labels of the thread spool. I suggest picking one of these threads to learn with.
When selecting thread based on color, select thread that is the same color or slightly darker than the fabric. For patterned fabric, select thread that matches the dominant color in the pattern. When starting to stitch, I suggest using contrasting thread and fabric colors (pink thread and white fabric) so you can easily see the stitches.
Your thread spool sits on top of the machine and feeds down to the needle. You will use your spool to feed thread on to the bobbin, which sits under the needle in the machine.
BOBBIN A specialized spool of thread that sits under the needle and feeds thread up. Machines have plastic or metal bobbins. Bobbins are specific to sewing machines so check your manual to be sure you are using the proper bobbin. We will learn in a later tutorial how to wind the bobbin with thread. It’s a quick and easy step that ensures your two threads are matching in weight, which is necessary when sewing.
MACHINE NEEDLES Like thread, machine needles correspond to the weight and type of fabric as well as the type of thread. Needles also vary by point, shape, and size of the needle eye. Sizes range from very fine (7/60) for delicate fabrics like silks to large (19/120) for heavy fabrics like fur/leather. Like bobbins, machines use certain types of needles. Check with your manual if you don’t have a needle that came with the machine. Needle size is indicated by two numbers: a large top number that’s the shaft diameter in millimeters and a smaller bottom number that indicates U.S. standard sizing. A universal point (130/705H) is appropriate for most woven and knit fabrics i.e. use this type of needle. Machine needles are used for the same purpose as hand stitching needles, but differ in form. Machine needles have the eye (the hole thread goes through) at the tip, which is opposite of hand needles. They also have a shank, which inserts into the machine. It is round in the front and flat in the back.
PRESSER FOOT Again with everything in sewing, there are many types of presser feet. The presser foot is determined by the fabric, sewing technique or stitch type. You can do different sewing techniques with the different presser feet. A general purpose foot will be used for general sewing. Your machine should come with at least one presser foot and it’s usually a general or straight stitch foot.The presser foot holds the fabric down against the feed dogs, which push the fabric forward.
FABRIC SHEARS Larger steel scissors specific for cutting fabric. They have 7″ or 8″ long blades hinged on a screw with bent handles. The bent handles allow the fabric to rest flat on the table when cutting. You will easily dull your scissors if you cut anything else than fabric. It’s tempting, but keep them away from paper. If you invest in a good pair of fabric scissors, they can last a lifetime. Like knives, sewing scissors can be sharpened and many sewing stores offer sharpening services (do not sharpen scissors yourself). Avoid using these scissors for cutting machine threads. Their large size increases the possibility of cutting threads and fabric (I have made this mistake too many times).
EMBROIDERY SCISSORS Small scissors (3″ or 4″) specifically for detail work and cutting threads. Having two pairs of scissors will allow you to dedicate a pair to be with your machine preventing you from searching for scissors in the middle of sewing.
PINS Pins are used for holding patterns to fabrics, appliques/trim to fabrics, fabrics to fabrics, etc. while sewing. Pins come in different sizes and types based on fabric. For general sewing, #17 (1 1/16″ or 26mm) pins are most commonly used. These are medium sized slender pins made of rust proof metal with a flat head. Plastic bead pins are fun to use and are easier to see when sewing. However, they will melt if ironed. Check your pins before using. I’d toss bent pins and pins with a messed up point because they can damage your fabric.
PINCUSHIONS Whether it be magnetic or stuffed fabric, purchase a pincushion. Pins are slippery little guys and can end up all over the floor if you aren’t careful. Magnetic cushions are great for picking up pins easily. Pin cushions store the pins and allow you to easily grasp pins when needed. They are used on the tabletop or on your wrist. Another option is to have a magnet attached to your machine to collect pins. You can have as many pin cushions as you like!
One of my vintage sewing books suggests a few extra things you need when sewing. They are comical yet truthful…
PATIENCE “Don’t spoil the fun by doing something silly, such as failing to read the instructions or swing something so carelessly that it comes apart the first time it is washed.” Sewing is difficult if you try to do things in a hasty manner when learning. Take your time to learn the skills and plan accordingly.
COMMON SENSE ” in large doses. This is one of the virtues that makes sewing simple.”
TIME “Don’t try to make your first dress in one afternoon – not many of us can go straight through from pattern to party in one fell swoop.” Set aside dedicated time for sewing. I’ve found that when I focus on one part to complete I do things correctly, more efficiently, and feel accomplished when my sewing time is up.
Now get out there and gather all of your materials. We will get to know your machine next!