Thursday, June 23, 2011

Brilliant basics

Tonight, I'm not talking about sewing progress, or lack thereof .  (pants cut out.  Simple pull on ones because I didn't have enough fabric for real jeans)  Much.  Or the exhaustion that comes from taking care of a two-month-old fussy baby and an active three-year-old.  Instead, I thought I'd talk about sewing tools.

I've heard a lot about things people think they have to have for sewing.  And with the sheer volume of gadgets available online and in the fabric store, I can understand why people think they have to have such-and-such tool.  But I've been sewing for most of my life and while some of the tools I've acquired are occasionally useful, I thought I'd talk about what I really do have to have for sewing.

1)  Sewing shears.  And I'm not talking the cheapies.  While I lived with the cheap Fiskers and Singer scissors for years, you'd never believe how much easier it is with a good, quality, pair of sewing shears.  I have Ginghers.  They're lovely and sharp... and did I mention sharp?  And yes, I do keep band aids next to my sewing table.  (It is actually possible to cut yourself with closed scissors.  I've done it.... but trust me, the good shears cut through fabric like butter)

2) A seam ripper.  Actually, multiple seam rippers.  They have a tendency to grow legs and walk away... and break.

3) A seam  gauge.  I know, it's a weird tool to say is essential.  But for small measuring jobs, it's absolutely a life saver.  I use it to mark buttonholes, measure hem widths, and basically anything else that a six inch ruler with a little plastic guide to keep you consistent is good for.

4) A tape measure.  If you want to have a prayer of making clothes that fit, you need to be able to measure the body the clothes are being made for.

5) A chopstick.  It's invaluable for turning collars and cuffs and pressing out points.  And yes, it's free!

6) A 12 inch school ruler.  Very useful for spacing buttonholes.

7) Parchment paper.  I don't use expensive pattern drafting paper.  Instead, I go to my local grocery store and stock up when it's on sale.  Especially when I have coupons, too.

8) Pins.  I'm a pinner.  It's how I was taught, and twenty years later, I've never taken to the pattern weight method.  Be sure to read the packaging to make sure you're not getting something too heavy for what you're sewing.

9) A sewing machine.  Preferably one that makes buttonholes.  I'm not the only one who thinks that older models are better because they're sturdier, last longer, and for neat, even stitching, you can't do better.  I have a Pfaff 1222E.  It's older than I am, and does everything from sew denim to quilt quilts without a hiccup.  (most of the time.)  It was state-of-the-art in about 1965 according to my manual.  If you do have an older one, find someone in your area that specializes in old machines and have it serviced.  It's worth the money.  If you're in the Atlanta area, I recommend Kirby Sew and Vac in Mableton, Georgia.  Their repairman is fantastic.  And you should see their collection of vintage machines for sale!

10) Embroidery transfer paper.  I know it sounds a little hinky, but really, it's the best stuff in the world for transferring pattern markings.  And you can use your chopstick to help.

11) Washable fabric marking pencils.  For marking buttonhole placement and any alterations.

12) A pencil.  You know, the kind you used in school.  Any time I need to alter a pattern, that's what I reach for.

While there are undoubtedly other tools out there that are useful to have, the dozen I listed above are ones I couldn't sew without. Occasionally, I need other things... like the hammer in the junk drawer in my kitchen for things like snap, grommet, jean button, and jean rivet installation, but usually, that's what I've got around me when I sew.  One thing I didn't list, though, was paper scissors.  I never, ever use my sewing shears to cut patterns.  (Members of my family have been promised death, dismemberment, and unspecified torture if they use my shears for anything but fabric.)  For that, I have a pair of $5 paper scissors I got in the office supply section of Wal-Mart.

Thread, patterns, notions, and fabric goes without saying.  Though the pattern instructions----those, I recommend you throw them over your shoulder and ignore them. That's what I've done almost since the beginning!

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