What to give the seamstress who has everything?
November 25, 2011 6:47 PM   Subscribe

What's a super fancy thing to buy the seamstress in your life?

My partner is a seamstress with a robust sewing room. She spends much of her non-work time drafting patterns and making apparel and she's just great at it.

Last year for Christmas, I got her custom sewing tags and she loved them. For her birthday, I got an old sign from an abandoned textile mill that's now mounted to the door of her sewing room.

This year I want to get her a tool, but I don't know enough about sewing to know what's awesome to have. I want something like the best muslin fabric to buy (is that an oxymoron?) or awesome drafting tools or the classiest pins or the best scissors ever or the finest bias tape maker on the market.

MeFi sewers -- what's on your wishlist this Christmas?
posted by 10ch to Home & Garden (30 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Gingher shears are quite nice (though you should check and see if she already has a pair). JoAnn's frequently carries sets of Gingher shears + accessories in pretty patterns, if that seems like something your partner would like.
posted by enlarged to show texture at 6:53 PM on November 25, 2011 [3 favorites]

Muslin is supposed to be basically a throw-away; I wouldn't try to make that fancy. Gingher shears are on my list, but she may already have some.

I'm in love with this embroidery knife from Sajou. Maybe she'd like the thread display, some gorgeous rosewood scissors, or some amazing ribbon?
posted by runningwithscissors at 6:54 PM on November 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

Gingher tools are pretty awesome and I want basically all of them. The 8" shears are nice and so is their rotary cutter.

Does she have a big self-healing mat for her cutting table? They are a little pricey and wear out after some months of heavy use, so a replacement would probably make a good gift! I sure wish someone would buy me one once a year, anyway.
posted by bewilderbeast at 6:58 PM on November 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

Does she have a dressmaker's dummy? A really good one, especially in her actual size, can be pretty expensive, so a lot of people make do without, but I bet she'd love to have one in her size if she doesn't already.
posted by decathecting at 7:02 PM on November 25, 2011 [11 favorites]

Depending on what she likes to make, you can possibly figure out what fabric she's coveting right now, and get her a few yards. I've gotten people these yardage reference cards (and have a set myself) and they are awesome to tie on to a package -- and would provide you a reference for the above-mentioned fabric.

Otherwise, she might need a sewing machine tune up (mildly expensive sometimes and a pain to execute, IMHO), a few pairs of "garbage" scissors for cutting things that she doesn't want to use her shears on (I go thru "garbage" scissors pretty quickly) . . . I don't know if you can easily snoop through her stuff and see what's getting old and worn, but I kind of recommend it.

If she likes vintage things, and you want something to package a few smaller items in, you can get a great vintage sewing basket (I have two of those, pink & yellow, and they are hilarious, and happened to come with a bunch of fun vintage notions inside, too, which is its own fun).
posted by Medieval Maven at 7:08 PM on November 25, 2011

This isn't all that expensive, but it's vintage and useful and neat: a Sewing Bird (or "third hand," which clamps to a table and holds one end of a long seam so you can hold the other and use your spare hand to actually stitch.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:40 PM on November 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

Does she have every color of (cotton) thread?
posted by TWinbrook8 at 7:46 PM on November 25, 2011

Oh my you all are the best! I will go snooping around the room when she's out tomorrow and look for evidence of pre-existance or wear, as the case may be.
posted by 10ch at 7:50 PM on November 25, 2011

This is pretty much me! I would think you were my wife, except that I didn't get those things for presents already!

The things I badly want right now are: The Threads Magazine DVD archive, good pinking shears, a rotary cutter (you need a cutting board for this, but I have one already), a teflon and a walking foot so I can sew leather and other tricky fabrics, and better lighting for my work area. I would also love any and all of Claire Shaeffer's books if I hadn't just given in and bought them for myself. If your partner is an advanced clothing sewer I can't imagine that she either doesn't know Shaeffer's stuff or wouldn't love it.

I really would not want the threads suggested above (especially cotton thread - I either use polyester or silk) because (totally unlike my quilter mom) I only really sew with the colors I like to wear.
posted by crabintheocean at 8:19 PM on November 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

A good iron. Maybe even a steam generator or a gravity feed iron. (Don't forget to get a new ironing board cover at the very least, or maybe even a whole new ironing board to keep the spiffy new iron company.)

While Ginghers are supposed to be great, they may not be for her -- they make my hands hurt, so I use Mondials.

A set of pressing tools (a tailor's ham, a seam roll, a clapper).
posted by jlkr at 8:44 PM on November 25, 2011 [2 favorites]

Ran this by my Costumer GF...

She oohed and ahhed at the idea of a nice, heavy new iron, so if I could +10 that suggestion, I would. +1 will have to suffice.

Other suggestions, which start to rely more on you knowing her tastes and/or measurements include quality fabrics from Liberty in London or, say, vintage sewing patterns. She recommends you try Etsy for the latter. Sorry for the lack of links - would if I could.
posted by TangoCharlie at 8:54 PM on November 25, 2011

I would love to have a dress form in my size, and I'm not even a heavy sewer!
posted by two lights above the sea at 9:17 PM on November 25, 2011

I am a bit...spacey and have said that a great gift for me would be, like, 14 seam rippers so I can always find one. Perhaps this is not the case with your wife but it's a cheap idea to add in. They're only about $2 but I still only have one or two. Perhaps there is something she curses about when she sews.

I love my rotary cutter and my giant self healing mat. I thought they were only for quilters and I only make clothes but they are great for everything.
posted by artychoke at 10:04 PM on November 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

Here's my wish list:

Gingher Pinking Shears
Dressmakers Dummy
Large Self-Healing cutting mat and a nice rotary cutter
I'd also be thrilled with some pretty glass pins, maybe as a stocking stuffer

If your lady doesn't already have some great storage for her notions and fabric those might also be really helpful.
posted by TooFewShoes at 10:21 PM on November 25, 2011

I love love love my Kai Scissors. Best scissors ever! (they are smooth and light!)

A bunch of color cards and a gift certificate for thread?

A weekend at a sewing expo woul be a cool experience gift (there are other shows than these but this company has lots of shows. I go to the Puyallup (Washington) Sewing and Stitchery Expo and it's pretty cool to take classes and to shop!

Does she have a good set of pressing tools like hams, sleeve rolls, etc.?

A coverstitch machine would be useful and cool if she sews with knits a lot (or wants to!)
posted by vespabelle at 10:27 PM on November 25, 2011

I just bought myself an extra-wide ironing board (18 inches wide) and it is sooooo nice to have the extra room on the board, especially when I'm pressing the fabric after washing, but prior to cutting.
posted by dogmom at 11:20 PM on November 25, 2011

The best sewing-related gift I ever got was a serger. I never knew how badly I needed one until I actually had one.

Second best would be a six-pack of seam rippers and/or small Gingher scissors so I could have one by the serger, one by the sewing machine, one by the couch and one in every possible place that I might need to rip out a seam (mistake) or cut off a loose thread.

The threads magazine DVD is a great idea - so is a gift subscription to threads or Burda or Stitch - maybe check her sewing room for a magazine she has but doesn't subscribe to...

Gift a class with Susan Khalje if at all possible.

For a small gift, I got some of these a year or so ago, they'd be useful if she does fitting or alterations.
posted by bendy at 1:00 AM on November 26, 2011

Also a rotary cutter (or a big batch of blades if she already has one) is awesome.
posted by bendy at 1:02 AM on November 26, 2011

Slightly to the left of the wonderful suggestions above, how is the lighting in her sewing room? I'm sure she has some overhead and some task lighting but it's one of those things where if you're used to working in dark conditions you don't realize how much of an improvement can be made. If you're okay with it not being a surprise (or maybe the not-surprising portion of the gift) then installing some attractive wall-mounted task lighting could keep surface area clear and really improve the workspace.
posted by Mizu at 1:39 AM on November 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

If she doesn't already know about Spoonflower you could surprise her by custom designing some fabric and buying it for her.
posted by Iteki at 2:05 AM on November 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

I am a seamstress, and I've been jonesing for a high-quality craft lamp, like this Ottlight magnifying lamp.
A high-quality grommet machine might be nice if she makes corsets and other lace-up things. I love my $80 eyelet/grommet setter (similar to this one), but you can get fancier versions. They do take up space, though.

If she's into hand sewing, or lesser-known arts like tatting, check out the Lacis catalog. (Or, if you live near Berkeley, CA, visit the awesome store.) They have all kinds of obscure tools and Victorian-style accessories, like beautiful needle boxes and pincushions.
posted by Nibbly Fang at 7:59 AM on November 26, 2011

Gorgeous fabrics carries exactly what it says. A stash of nice fabric is awesome. Nthing the dressmakers dummy, and the iron. Rowenta are generally considered to be really good irons.
A good set of high-quality scissors, as in, not just good shears, but duckbill scissors for trimming close to stitching and seams, pinking shears are always useful, and some nice 5" scissors would be useful. I have gingher, but I hear that the Kai vespabelle mentions are great too.
Swedish tracing paper is great for tracing patterns, It has advantages over muslin in that it doesn't fray or stretch. Birch Street Clothing has the best deals on it, as far as I can tell.
There have been a lot of clothing books published lately. Many of them are for beginners. It doesn't sound like your partner is at all a beginner, So check to see if These are on the shelf: Fabric Sewing Guide, The Claire Shaeffer books mentioned by crab in the ocean, Japanese pattern books are great. this one and this one have been translated into English. You can find other non-translated versions on ebay. They are mostly illustrations, so language isn't too much of a problem.
I don't have these , um, yet, but they might be of interest: Stitch Magic and Sewing Linings.
posted by annsunny at 10:31 AM on November 26, 2011

Whatever else you decide on, here's a sure-to-please little stocking-stuffer to consider:

A hemostat. You or she can read more about them as the ideal, but not-so-common, point-turning tool here, here and here.

5- or 6-inch ones with straight, smooth or serrated tips are perfect for point turning and general use. They're so inexpensive you could easily get a set.
posted by dpcoffin at 11:49 AM on November 26, 2011

@dpcoffin -- she has one of those and I have NEVER understood what it was for. (thank you)
posted by 10ch at 11:52 AM on November 26, 2011

This discussion is awesome! I just want to add that if you decide to go with a dummy, don't make it a non-returnable surprise, make it a homemade coupon for one of her choice, or just tell her ahead of time that you'd like to get her one and let her choose. Dummies are really personal, they work in different ways and have different pros and cons. There are only a couple of commercial styles that I would find useful at all, and someone who didn't know my requirements wouldn't be able to tell which.
posted by crabintheocean at 12:24 PM on November 26, 2011

You're welcome:)

Your reply encourages me to post what I first thought when seeing your question:

1. A "robust" sewing room is probably already well supplied with well-chosen tools, and…
2. By definition, a craftsperson's tools (and especially their chosen materials) are highly personal and very specific.

In other words, it seems likely that she's already got a very specific, and probably quite short, wishlist, and it would be possibly counter productive to invest in something major that wasn't on that list (it doesn't sound like "It's the thought that counts" is what you're going for here).

I'd make it my goal to get a glimpse of her list somehow before plunging on something big (like a dress form or serious yardage, for example)! Failing that, maybe a gift certificate or a surprise shopping spree would be the ticket…

That said, if you mentioned bias-tape makers because you know she does a lot of that, maybe one of these would be a cool luxury to have around. I could dig it:)
posted by dpcoffin at 12:25 PM on November 26, 2011

Oh! another thing that may already be in the sewing room, but since your partner is drafting patterns, maybe some high-quality rulers. The set is nice, but you could check into a French curve and square or t-square as separate items if something is lacking. Vogue Fabrics also has some fantastic fabrics.
posted by annsunny at 12:38 PM on November 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

@dpcoffin - Agreed and I appreciate the advice.

While there is much here that she has (I see now her sewing room is very well stocked!), this thread has still been so educational and inspirational. I really do want to surprise her, and while I'm long familiar with how picky she can be, there are enough ideas represented here that reminded me of conversations we've had that I'm equipped with some great ideas for both big and small gifts.

I also went to the fabric store with her today — OMG I LOATH THOSE PLACES — and dropped some questions that also further helped me suss out her preferences. I'd never had known to ask them for it not for all the great contributions here. Thanks again, everyone!
posted by 10ch at 3:09 PM on November 26, 2011

She sounds pretty well outfitted, but a cordless iron is always nice to have. What about a sleeveboard, or a new dressmaker's ham? These things are for ironing and pressing, such an important step in sewing, and having the right tools makes everything oh so much easier.

Clover makes mini quilting irons that are really nice for ironing tiny hard-to-reach places that can't be put on a board. They're fairly cheap too.

Or a nice big rotary cutting mat?

And scissors -- really, really good quality scissors (or pinking shears) are an expensive but nice thing to have! (what about a small gift, take all of her scissors to be sharpened?)
posted by custard heart at 3:36 PM on November 26, 2011

If you're looking for a little something for a stocking stuffer, or for another occasion, I love the Selfish Seamstress's blog, and her haiku always makes me laugh.
posted by peagood at 10:59 AM on November 28, 2011

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