As with any hobby, sewing can eat as much money as you have to spend. But you don't need to own every gadget in the haberdashery department to be able to make clothing. Below is a list of the basic kit you need to do most sewing projects. Apart from the sewing machine, none of it is very expensive.

  1. A sewing machine.
    All the sewing books I've seen take a page or two to explain how you can sew things by hand, but face it: given the choice between spending days with needle and thread and just buying something, you'll be off to the shops, won't you? I would. You don't need a fancy one; anything that does a straight stitch will do. I made my first jacket (the hardest garment) with a Singer that had started life pedal operated and been electrified in the Fifties.
    Using a sewing machine takes skill and practice. Get someone who knows how to teach you to thread the thing, and spend some time practicing on spare scraps of material before you do a serious project. Along with the sewing machine, you will need a stock of sewing machine needles and bobbins.
  2. Scissors of several types. All sewing scissors should be reserved for cutting cloth, because paper will dull them.
  3. A tape measure
    Not the metal self-retracting things carpenters use, but a flexible cloth or plastic one that you roll up yourself. It should have both inches and centimeters on it.
  4. A seam ripper
  5. Needles
    Sad to say, almost every project requires some hand sewing. Get an assortment of different types. You'll use the same thread that you buy to use in the sewing machine for your project.
  6. Pins
    It's often useful to have a pincushion for these, but not necessary. Get ones with colored heads if possible, because they're harder to lose, either on the floor or in the garment.
    (Some people use glass-headed pins, which don't melt when ironed. I tend to be careful not to iron my pins, to avoid damage to the iron, and therfore use the cheaper plastic-headed ones.)
  7. An iron
    Most sewing requires massive amounts of ironing as you go. Hard to do without an iron.

With the basics above, you can do pretty much anything. However, there are a few things that are handy if you have them, in ascending order of impracticality.

  1. A seam gauge
    In tight spaces, this can be easier to use than the tape measure. It's also more suited to confirming seam allowances
  2. More scissors
    • Embroidery scissors, which are very small, will come in handy for cutting threads at the sewing machine and while hand sewing.
    • Buttonhole scissors, where the blades don't reach all the way back to the hinge, are a handy way to open up buttonholes. (You can also just use ordinary sewing scissors, if you fold the cloth across the buttonhole stitching).
  3. Tailor's chalk
    This is useful for marking on the fabric itself (check in an inconspicuous spot to see that it comes off). You can use ordinary chalk, but tailor's chalk is denser, and shaped to give you a thin writing line.
  4. Storage space
    As time goes by, you'll develop a stock of buttons, thread (at least one spool per project you've done), interfacing, and fabric remnants. Plus all the items listed in this write-up.
  5. A tailor's ham and sleeve roll
    You'll need these for ironing the sleeves of finely tailored garments, such as jackets. However, since they're just cloth shapes stuffed with cotton, you can make your own.
  6. A tailor's dummy
    You can buy these in sewing shops, at exhorbatant prices. They come in different overall sizes, and are adjustable, so if you gain or lose a few pounds, you can adjust the dummy to suit. (Note that men will have a harder time finding dummies than women, as a rule.)
    An affordable alternative is a duct tape double, if you are willing to stay exactly the same size and shape.
  7. A room of one's own
    Until you have a sewing room, every step on a project is bound by the requirement to set up before and clean up after, because the space is needed for other things. That can add quite a lot of unproductive time onto your sewing.
    Any room you don't usually use will do (I use the guest room). A good sewing room has a few requirements:
    • Good light. You'll need to judge color, thread needles, find dropped pins, and see what you're doing on tricky tasks.
    • A cutting surface. It doesn't have to be a table, unless you've got mobility problems. A sufficient stretch of carpeted floor will allow you to spread out your fabric and lay pattern pieces on it. And one advantage of using the floor: the cloth can't slide off of your surface in a heap at a crucial moment.
    • Somewhere to put your sewing machine, say, a desk.
    • Storage (see above)
    • A door. So you can close it, shutting the world out (or your sewing mess in).

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