Sew help me
May 7, 2012 8:40 AM   Subscribe

So I've bought a sewing machine. Now what else do I need to get going?

I just bought my first sewing machine, yay! I like to hand sew little things, but know nothing about using a machine. Ultimately, I would like to be able to sew and alter my own clothes. I'm signed up for classes in June, but want to practice a bit on my own in the meantime. What else do I need besides a machine to get going?

- Scissors, I presume. Anything I should look out for? Any specific product recommendations?

- Thread: what type?

- Fabric: what type of fabric is good for a beginner to practice with?

- Pins. Is a pincushion necessary at this stage?

... and?

I have set aside about 50 euros for initial supplies. If you could help me compile my shopping list, I would be most grateful!
posted by guessthis to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (22 answers total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
You need some extra bobbins and needles that fit your machine, as those parts break and can stop a project cold if you don't have spares.

You also need a seam ripper so you can undo practice stitches and mistakes easily.
posted by cranberry_nut at 8:45 AM on May 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm a super ultra novice, but things I use all the time are a stitch ripper, a rotary cutter, and cutting mat.
posted by i_am_a_fiesta at 8:46 AM on May 7, 2012

My very first sewing project was a pillowcase made out of cotton quilting fabric and it was super easy but very helpful for remembering the basics (right sides together, how to hem). The fabric cuts cleanly and doesn't stretch, which makes it easy to sew with. I love my rotary cutter and mat but didn't really need it at first, so if you're tight on funds I would just get a good pair of scissors. I love Gingher but they can be pricy.
posted by brilliantine at 8:52 AM on May 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Scissors -- separate scissors for paper and fabric! this is important! Never use your fabric scissors to cut out patterns. This will dull the edges, and soon you won't be able to get a clean cut. I also like to have a small pair of snippers to cut loose threads.

Thread -- just an all-purpose thread will be fine. Don't cheap out.

Seam ripper, pins (no pin cushion necessary), extra bobbins, extra sewing machine needles in a variety of sizes (they make variety packs), measuring tape.

Beginner fabrics -- fleece, quilting cottons, twill. Avoid slinky knits and silky fabrics at first.

Have fun!!!!
posted by Malla at 8:52 AM on May 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'd recommend going to a craft/hobby store and getting a set of items: tape measure, seam ripper, that paper you put under patters to trace the darts and stuff onto fabric, a tri-fold board you can put on the floor to cut fabric out on, stuff like that. Also, hooks/eyes, snaps, elastic and other notions you might generally need around the house. White thread, black thread for putting buttons on things.

I recommend the pincushion, keeps your pins organized and the little baby tomato on the end is filled with sawdust, run your needles in there a few times to keep them sharp.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:02 AM on May 7, 2012

Honestly, I'd just buy a few basics and whatever I specifically needed for whatever project I was working on rather than assembling some huge stock.

You do need scissors, dressmaker pins, a pin cushion or tray (Pin Pals, which are a magnetic tray for pins, are fun to use because you can just throw the pins at them), a measuring tape, a stitch ripper, and a packet of bobbins to suit your machine. Also you'll need sewing machine needles. Buy a few packs of assorted kinds.

I've had a few pairs of sewing scissors over the year, and whatever your fabric store sells will be fine. Just don't use those scissors to cut ANYTHING but fabric!!! I keep a second-best pair for cutting paper patterns.

When it comes to thread, buy good quality: Gutermann, Mettler, or Coats & Clark are all good brands. Poor quality thread might be useable for hand sewing, but it'll make your machine throw a fit.

Most fabrics sew quite easily. Jersey is the easiest to work with because it doesn't fray or need to be edge finished. I'd recommend a jersey skirt for your first project. Or you could make some throw pillows or pillowcases.

You will also need an iron and ironing board, so get those if you don't have them.

You might find this thread, in which a man asked what sewing supplies he should put in a Christmas stocking for his beginning sewer wife, to be helpful reading.
posted by orange swan at 9:07 AM on May 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Good shears are a necessity. They are an investment for a reason - they can (and should) be resharpened over and over. They are not disposable. I use Gingher shears, and I have a couple pairs.

Magnetic pin cushions are the best.

Seam ripper, for sure.

A rotary cutter for clothing is not what I'd recommend for a beginner, unless you are quilting (doesn't seem so from the question). A self-healing mat large enough to do projects on will be quite expensive. You are better off with (as above) quality shears and a pattern cutting board.

Craft scissors for cutting paper. DO NOT use your super nice shears on paper.
posted by Medieval Maven at 9:09 AM on May 7, 2012

Fabric: I think a light cotton which isn't slippery or thick and doesn't have a strong texture (so NOT corduroy or velvet, etc) is best to practice on. Jersey's OK but maybe start with a plain weave rather than a knit. Try making a curtain, a small drawstring bag, or pillowcase for practice.

Pincushion: not strictly necessary, you could also use a wadded up piece of cloth, but it will help keep your pins sharp, and help you avoid stepping on them. Don't use bent pins or ones that are dull! Only sharp, straight pins!

Thread: should be of an appropriate weight for your fabric. Look for something marked for "general use," usually a polyester/cotton mix. If you use a strong contrast color rather than one that matches your fabric perfectly, this will help you spot issues and learn to sew straight;)

Needles: should be changed often so they stay sharp--dull needles can break and will tear thread and cause all sorts of issues. They should also be the right type for your fabric, you need heavy needles for heavy fabrics and light ones for light, and there are special needles for knits, etc (check the package).

A class is a good idea. There are things you might accidentally do which can harm your sewing machine or yourself, and things you can learn to do which will help you work faster and with less frustration.
posted by epanalepsis at 9:20 AM on May 7, 2012

Scissors: I like my Fiskars shears. The offset handle is more comfortable for cutting fabric that's lying on a flat surface, and the blades are ever-so-slightly rough (not actually serrated, but not totally slick) so they grab the fabric rather than squeezing it out of the closing blades. They're cheap but surprisingly good. Actually, I use a rotary cutter nowadays but the mats are pricey and the blades ain't cheap either, so hold off on that investment until you're sure you'll keep going with this hobby.

Fabric: you want something like a bedsheet, because it's not too heavy, slippery, stretchy or textured. In fact an old bedsheet is a good thing to practice on if you have one that's ready to be retired. Names of some fabrics like this: poplin, chambray, broadcloth, "quilting fabric".

Thread: all-purpose thread is good. A fabric store will have a big rack of Gutermann (since you're in Europe) or Coats & Clark spools. Serger thread on cones is a little too thin for regular sewing, and no-name discount spools can be sketchy.

Pincushion: nah. Get pins in a little box or can and keep 'em there.

Other stuff: seam ripper! I use a "third hand", AKA "clamp & bird" a lot to hold fabric taut while ripping or hand sewing, but that's probably a luxury you can put off for a while.

My secret to minimizing frustration is to baste obsessively, and only sew permanently when you're satisfied with each seam. As you get more practice, you won't need to baste easy stuff like side seams, but sleeves and princess seams are worth the extra time.

And my super-duper secret to basting is to use nylon monofilament thread in the bobbin. This stuff sucks for regular sewing but it's a game-changer for basting - it's stiff and slick and you can pull out long sections of stitching in a single tug. Use normal thread in a contrasting color in the needle, loosen the needle tension slightly, use a long stitch (4 mm or so), and baste right on the seamline or about 0.5 - 1 mm to the right. Check your work, then sew normally right next to the basting, literally one thread-width away. As long as you don't pierce the basting thread, you'll be able to remove the basting in one or two pulls. (Use the seam ripper to break the nylon thread every 10 - 20 cm, then pull it out. You may not even need to cut it first.) Note: this stuff is springy and wants to pop off the bobbin, so keep it in place with a rubber band or something when the bobbin isn't in the machine.

Welcome to a rewarding new hobby! Enjoy!
posted by Quietgal at 9:21 AM on May 7, 2012 [4 favorites]

You can get sewing beginners kits that have a selection of tools you need to get started, on the cheap. It gives you a feel for it and you can then replace the tools you use a lot with higher-quality versions. Craft and fabric stores in the U.S. usually carry them; I imagine the same is true in the E.U. You'll probably want nicer scissors pretty quickly but the pins and tomato and seam ripper will last you a long time. And if you never use, say, the marking wheel, you can stick it in a drawer and then when you NEEEEEED a marking wheel, you're like, "Wait, I don't have to go buy one! I have one!"

(The thread is usually just the tiny bobbins for hand-sewing buttons back on in emergencies, but you can always stash them in your desk at work with a couple needles and, voila, you're the person who's prepared for emergencies!)

Sometimes sewing machine manufacturers make them with needles and bobbins for the machine, plus a few other tools. Take a google!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:59 AM on May 7, 2012

Others have covered the basics (and I didn't know the little strawberry thing on some pincushions let you sharpen your needles!), but I'll let you know what I think is most important: read your sewing machine manual!

I find sewing by hand pretty basic, but sewing by machine is often more of a hassle than doing a project by hand for me, because I use my sewing machine so rarely that I have to remind myself how to thread the needle, make new bobbins and troubleshoot common issues on it.

They all sound like they should be obvious, but actually doing simple things on your sewing machine isn't always as intuitive as it should be!

Oh, and some extras I just thought of: replacement needles that fit your specific machine and extra little plastic bobbins, so you can have generic white and black thread ones ready to go for small projects.
posted by misha at 10:00 AM on May 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Really, just to start, grab an old pillowcase or cotton shirt and play for a bit. You will notice that you need different needles for different projects. You will find that you must adjust the tension with various stitches and fabrics. Play for awhile, get used to the feel of the machine and what it can do and then go shopping with a simple project in mind.

Sewing is as fun and inexpensive as you make it.

All the above suggestions are great for once you get into it. I would add a good ironing board that will fit next to your machine and an iron. It's so much easier to hem things if they are ironed first. I lightly iron my patterns as well. Always pre-wash and iron your fabric.

Also, make sure you have good light, a comfortable chair, and plenty of space to lay out your patterns.
posted by myselfasme at 10:02 AM on May 7, 2012

You'll need a way to draw on your fabric - there are blue or purple felt-tip pens with ink that vanishes when hit with a damp cloth, but they only work on light colors. For darks, a piece of blackboard chalk or a sliver of soap are the classic tools, though I'm sure there's something fancy that you could spend more money on, too.

If you're going to sew a lot of different weights of fabric - say, a summer shirt, and re-hemming jeans - you'll probably want different strengths of needle. Just like for hand-sewing different fabric weights vs embroidery needles vs darning needles, there are a lot of different kinds of sewing machine needles. Not just strong vs delicate, but also sharp-tipped vs ball-tipped (a gauze or chiffon fabric, you want to be sure the needle shoves between the weave instead of skewering/snagging a thread and disrupting the smoothness of the fabric). I'm not expert enough to be the one to explain it, but there's a lot of stuff out there.

There's a definite benefit to waiting until you need it, so you can go to the store and get the thing that exactly matches what you want. There's a definite benefit to having a stash of stuff in the house in advance so you don't have to go to the store (but then you have either a massive stash, or only approximately what you need, or both).

If you don't have an iron and an ironing board, you should go buy one. Right now. Really.
posted by aimedwander at 10:03 AM on May 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Nobody seems to have asked yet - what are you going to make? You can go to the sewing store and look through the patterns - they have easy beginner patterns - to find something that you would like to wear or to have in your house (pillows, curtains, whatever). Pick one and read the instructions on the back. They tell you which type of fabric and which notions (buttons, zippers, etc) that you need.

If you want to alter your clothes, look at the cloth of the items you might want to alter, then get that type of fabric from the store to practice on. Denim is very different from T-shirt knit and that's very different from flat cotton shirting fabric. Get a half yard of the ones you need, and practice making straight even stitches, and making darts. You'll probably also want a pack of sewing machine needles for different fabrics, too. You can't sew denim and silk with the same needle.
posted by CathyG at 10:17 AM on May 7, 2012

A good ironing board and iron is the most important tool for sewing items that look professional- get one that is hefty and has multiple settings. I have 3 pairs of Scissor, one for cutting patterns, one for cutting fabric and a little sharp pair I keep next to the sewing machine to clip the thread when I am done sewing- I always backstitch and trim the thread at the machine to there are no hanging threads to clean up. And I love very sharp pins and a magnetic pin cushion.
posted by momochan at 11:21 AM on May 7, 2012

When making patterns I always create a test garment in muslin. It's cheap (usually a light brown/undyed color) and is light enough to see markings on to practice with. I suggest getting muslin to practice sewing a straight line, testing out different stitches and seeing what your new baby can do.

I'll also second a nice pair of Ginghers like these 8" dressmaker shears. They're expensive scissors but make a huge difference! When I took classes we were able to order them at a discount through school. It's a long shot, but see if the place you're taking classes at can get you a cheaper price on scissors or a bolt of muslin. Have fun!
posted by Bunglegirl at 11:35 AM on May 7, 2012

If your sewing machine is in a bedroom (as was always the case in my house, growing up), then I suggest getting a heavy cardboard pad the size of a double bed to cut fabric on. You put it on the bed to cut fabric, and it folds up and stores flat, but boy, it makes cutting fabric easier when you don't have to do it on your knees on the floor.
posted by LN at 11:50 AM on May 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

There are tons and tons of great tutorials on YouTube. How to check tension, how to do a french seam, how to do a simple project, how to replace a needle, how to sew a zipper, and all sorts of garment and quilting techniques. YouTube taught me how to sew!
posted by barnone at 2:06 PM on May 7, 2012

I second aimedwander; you can buy chalk in various colors, but what I use is a sliver of soap that was left once I used most of the bar. Very handy, and washes out. And yes, definitely on an iron. I don't have an ironing board; I just lay a towel out on the floor, counter, table, whatever, and use that.
posted by lemniskate at 3:46 PM on May 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

A pair of small scissors to use as thread snips can save a lot of time. They don't have to be as nice as your shears for cutting fabric, but don't use them on paper either. The best time-saving trick I learned when sewing costumes for the theater was to put the small scissors (with as blunt a tip as possible) on a string around my neck. Anytime you have to clip a thread you don't need to fumble with the shears, and you never have to look for them.
posted by newg at 3:53 PM on May 7, 2012

One last thing: a needle threader. They're invaluable.
posted by de at 12:40 AM on May 8, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks to everyone for the many useful suggestions!
posted by guessthis at 4:46 AM on May 8, 2012

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