Sewing School: Get Your Gear

Welcome back to Sewing School!

Today, it’s all about the gadgetry and gear that goes into the Making of a Cute New Item of Clothing.  First, though, let’s look at how the sewing cycle usually goes:

  1. Fall in love with a fabric and with a pattern for it.
  2. Cut out the pattern and fabric; sew it.
  3. Realize something’s wrong with the fit; pick seam apart.
  4. Fit it, pin it, sew it.
  5. Check for fit again; curse a bit; pin, pick seam apart, re-sew.
  6. Continue, cursing as needed, until you have a finished garment (most times) or until you never want to see the damn object again (a few other times).

Now, unless you plan on stapling your pieces together and pulling seams apart with your teeth or sharp knives, you’re gonna need you some gear. After all, what would a hobby be to me if it didn’t involve STUFF?  Stuff to know and love?

So, my dear soon-to-be-converted sewista, here is the magical stuff that you will need to get your stitch on.  There’s tons more stuff that you can pick up, and much prettier (read:  more expensive) stuff than what I own, but you won’t go wrong with these basics, which I’d say are absolute must-haves.

First of all, you need to snag yourself a sewing machine.  If you have never sewn before, it might be a good idea to try using someone else’s machine for a bit, not just to get an idea of whether you like to sew, but also to see what you might like in a machine.  If you can find an aunt/grandma/neighbor with a machine, you can bribe them with baked goods, but chances are they’ll just be happy for some company–and a hopeful sewing enthusiast to talk sewing with.

I could tell you about machine features, but I know that I just want a machine with a top-loading bobbin, a good stretch stitch, and simple stitch layouts.  I’ve bought two, both under $200 US, and I’ve been very happy with them, especially with my current partner in crime, the Brother XL 3750–it’s more than adequately sufficient for my needs and doesn’t have stuff that I can press by mistake, so I can recommend it heartily.  However, you can find out a lot more about machines by checking out Erin’s how to pick a sewing machine post on her blog, Dress A Day.

Next up, you need some needles–nothing fancy required here:

You’ll also need pins (and the ubiquitous tomato pincushion):

There are a few different kinds of pins out there.  I use Dritz all-metal silk pins and extra-long satin pins because they stay sharp and don’t leave obvious holes in my clothes.  I don’t like pins with plastic ball tops because I’ve been known to iron over them and create a plastic disaster on my clothes and ironing board, but if you are a careful sort, they are very nice too.

You will definitely need scissors:

I should have a purpose-made pair, but I’ve been slumming it with this standard-issue office pair quite nicely.  However, I’d advise getting purpose-made scissors for sewing and crafting in the larger size for cutting patterns and fabric, plus a small sharp pair for snipping threads, etc.  You’ll want to use these ONLY for sewing (no dog haircuts with your sewing scissors, please).

Next up are the tracing wheel and paper, which you’ll need to trace out pattern markings onto your fabric:

And my best friend, the trusty seam ripper without which I couldn’t live (or be dressed):

You’ll also need chalk for marking fabric and the occasional hopscotch sewing break:

And measuring tape, for measuring yourself and your fabrics:

Plus this nifty ruler thingie–I haven’t a clue what it’s called, but I do know you’ll need for marking hems and taking folds of fabric in evenly:

And, finally, you’ll want a makeshift garbage for spare fabric bits and threads–I use an empty butter container for this.  Not sexy, but very utilitarian.

There are, of course, a whole lot of optional goodies that you might want, and that might make sewing life more fun–stuff like  pinking shears (you know, those badass-looking scissors that cut in zigzags), a rotary cutter and surface (like a pizza wheel cutter and cutting board, but for fabric!), a french curve (for marking curves, as it says)… The list goes on and on.  However, you can’t go wrong with the basics I’ve given here.

Now go forth and shop for your sewing goodies!


I’ll be back tomorrow with our regularly scheduled programming–I ate, I wore clothes, and I had a great 30-lap swim, but you’re just going to have to take my word for it….

Sewing School: Picking Your First Sewing Pattern (Or, I Want THAT One!)

Note:  We interrupt the daily feed of regularly scheduled activities (eating, wearing, and shaking of my boom-ting for healthful purposes) to bring you the very first in Sewing School, a series of posts on how to start sewing.  This post features no food.  But I guarantee that, if you sew, you will get hungry and think of food.  Or eat food while wearing the stuff you sew.  Or, if you really get into it, forget to eat because you love sewing so much and can’t stop until you finish your showstopping item.

Comments and suggestions from sewers experienced, new, aspiring, or McQueen-esque are welcomed and wanted.


I’ve been sewing for a long time, though by no means would I consider myself an expert.  Watch me attach facings or hurl expletives at the buttonhole attachment on my machine and you’ll see the kind of seamstress I really am.

However, I’ll gladly deal with facings and buttonholes if I’m making something I absolutely love–and so will you.

The trick to starting is to find a pattern for sewing something you actually like and want to wear.  It may be really easy to make a cushion cover, but unless you actually want to use it, you’re not going to feel as inspired to sew it.  Nothing against cushion covers, though–and if you do make one, make one for me too because I can’t make myself sew one.

So, onto patterns:  pick something you like and would actually wear.

You probably want to find something that isn’t too fitted to avoid dealing with finicky measurements, raising and lowering waistlines, etc.  By no means am I advocating that you make  yourself a muumuu.  Though, if you want to make yourself a muumuu, go right ahead and rock it on your own bad self–but no need to send me one.

For men, a good starting pattern might be a simple button-down shirt.  I don’t sew for men and I’ve never made anything for my man (which is why I cook with guilt), but I assume that a simple button-down shirt would be the easiest thing to make (bar buttonhonles, which would take a bit more work but are not inordinately difficult).

For ladies, I’d go with a skirt or a tunic-type top, maybe even a tunic-like dress that could be cinched at the waist.  These things don’t require lots of fussy fitting.  Basically, if it can be bought in a small, medium, large, etc. at the store, it’s a good bet it will require minimal fitting–and therefore minimal frustration for the beginning sewista.

“Pattern Suggestions, Teacher!”, I hear you ask?  But of course!

We can go with something like this skirt (Simplicity 2451)

Or this skirt (Simplicity 2606), which I admit has what appears to be an elastic waistband (that can be covered with a nice belt in these fashionable times):

Or even this gorgeous Burdastyle skirt (the Michelle skirt), which you’ve seen plenty of times on me, as here?

The good thing about all three skirt patterns here is that, even in the case of the slimmer tulip skirt (Simplicity 2451), the only place where you need to 100% ensure that it fits properly is around the waist, because they all float outwards from the waist to accommodate all shapes so you don’t have to worry about how it fits on the hips.

If you are blouse-inclined, something like Simplicity 2892 might be a good start.  Just ignore the hideous billowy main picture (unless billowy is your bag-it’s just not mine) and check out the sassy belted options, which would look adorable with a pair of shorts (if going casual) or a sharp pair of jeans or pencil skirt (for more glamour):

Or even something like this:

Of course, there’s nothing to say that you can’t go for a dress!  If you do, I’d suggest trying your hand at something with the same basic lines as the tops above, such as the Burdastyle Anda Dress or something like this:

Now, don’t let me be a bossy madam and tell you exactly what you should or shouldn’t be sewing; if you cannot live a second longer without trying to sew a fitted-body dress as your first dress, or a frothy and ruffled and flared cupcake of a blouse, by all means go right ahead.  And if you feel the need to make something with a slinky knit, more power to you (and make sure the pattern is labeled “for knits”).

But there’s a method to my madness advice.  The reason I’m pushing suggesting the looser, more forgiving patterns is that they are more loose for interpretation and more forgiving of beginner gaffes than items where you need to worry about the placement of the waist or the exact alignment of the pattern’s darts in relation to your very real, um, assets.

In all honesty, the most important things to keep in mind about the pattern you pick for your first sewing foray is that it should be something you can conceivably make, wear, and feel like the coolest girl (or man) on the block for putting together.  The easier the pattern, the more you’ll enjoy your first sewing project–and the likelier you are to sew again.

My true agenda is now revealed:  I’m out to make converts of all of y’all.


So, ready to start looking for patterns?

  • Check out, which is my undisputed number one, cheap pattern mecca.  It carries a HUGE variety of the  big four pattern makers (McCall’s, Butterick, Simplicity, Vogue), available for delivery by mail or–my lifesaver–by download.  Trust me, this site’s downloadable patterns are what keep me in sewing fun now that I live in Trinidad and having mail sent from abroad is impossible without having it stolen unreliable.
  • If you want to see the patterns from in larger detail, you can always search for them on (where you can buy them too, if you’re into paying a bit more than on
  • Of course, you can also search directly on McCall‘s, Simplicity, and Butterick‘s sites, where patterns will be full price.

Now, I don’t want anyone reading this to assume that I don’t support Vogue, Burda, or Hot Patterns, or even the beautiful and creative designs by small pattern-maker Colette.   I just find that the instructions in Simplicity, McCall’s, and Butterick are incredibly easy to follow (even when patterns aren’t marked as easy, which most of the ones I’ve picked out are) compared to the instructions provided by Vogue and Burda (the latter of which makes instructions for even the easiest of designs so complicated that it makes my eyes cross), and I haven’t yet made anything from Colette or Hot Patterns.

So, though the McCall’s/Simplicity/Butterick patterns may not be Project Runway-worthy, they will sew up nicely and provide a great base for some beautiful fabrics, which we’ll be talking about soon.  But I’ll give you an idea… think pretty, think cotton.