Friday, 10 April 2015

Staple Stitching & Sewing Tools

I'm often asked by new stitchers, and those coming back to stitching, about what tools do they really need in addition to a sewing machine.  Now as you can imagine, this is very much a matter of opinion and in my view depends on whether you like to gather gadgets, or if like me you really only want those tools that you are actually going to use!  Over the years I've tried all sorts of tools and with the plethora of new options regularly appearing for sale, I'll give any of them a go - before I buy!  Here is what I think is a staple stitching and sewing toolkit - ready for a Somerset stitch workshop this weekend.

Cutting Tools
I often say that 'stitch workshops' might be better titled 'cutting workshops', as more time is often spent doing this than stitching!  No matter what your stitching preferences are, you simply cannot scrimp on cutting tools.  First and foremost you really really must have a good pair of fabric scissors!  They do not have to be mega expensive, just sharp and not used for anything else other than fabric.  If you have an old good quality pair, the starting point is to get them sharpened - £2.50 in my part of Somerset!  If that doesn't work, buy yourself a new pair and treat them with reverence.  A pair of embroidery scissors too is a must have.  You can get all sorts of handles on the various scissors now, so the basic rule is try in your hand before you buy to see what feels comfortable.  I would also add in a stitch ripper which comes in jolly handy when you have one of those stitching days that doesn't quite go to plan!  A rotary cutter is also a tool that many stitchers swear by once they've mastered with a ruler and cutting mat as follows. 

Measuring Tools
I've had my tape measure for many years and it will always be in my toolbox, along with a metal ruler.  I have moved with the times though and I would equally not be without a cutting mat and ruler for measuring.  While they are primarily promoted for quilters, they really are a great tool for many stitchers and once purchased and mastered, like me your tape measure will likely get rest.  If possible, try out a few with a rotary cutter before splashing out the dosh, particularly the ruler - workshops with other kindly stitchers are perfect for this.  Mats and rulers come in various shapes and sizes and working out if you are more likely to use metric or imperial is an important factor. 

Marking Tools
Marking tools for textile work have multiplied like varieties of breakfast cereal!  As open as I am to new products, I do think that a great deal of money can be wasted.  For me marking when stitching falls into one of two categories - a mark that will be cut through or stitched over and will therefore disappear and a mark that needs to be removed after cutting or stitch.  If it's the former type of mark, the simplest way is the good old lead pencil - assuming that the mark will show up on the fabric.  For all types of marks, I'm a big fan of chaco liners, basically a refillable pen that draws a very thin chalk line with a wheel.  They come in 4 colours, white, blue, pink and yellow and brush off most fabrics, but do test first.  I would add in one more option for a mark which you want to disappear and that is a frixon pen where the mark disappears when ironed.  I've only recently started using them, so I strongly advise to test out on fabric before you make that mark!

Pressing Tools
Modern life without iron is now very much possible.  I need to tell you though that stitching without an iron will not bring happiness!  Aside of it being a prerequisite for lots of modern projects, pressing as you go is usually vital for quality results - and I emphasis pressing as opposed to ironing which is for shirts and bed sheets - maybe!  Get the best iron you can afford - read lots of reviews to find one with a long lead that doesn't leak!  A mini iron is also handy to have.  Buy an ironing board & sleeve board with a mesh base - the heat and steam are conducted through the fabric much more effectively.  Also get or make yourself a pressing ham to get a achieve sharper finish on anything with an unusual shape.

Sticky Tools
This is where I move into the realms of more modern stuff.  I have tried out may types of sticky stuff for fabric, but the reality is that I come back to just a few products.  First and foremost is 505 Temporary Spray which from my perspective is a must have.  A light dusting of this spray makes most fabrics tacky and therefore radically reduces the need for pinning and tacking.  I'm also a fan of Prym Fray Check for any fabric where a frayed edge appears as soon as you touch.  There are also occasions where a little cheating is called for, that is not stitching, and Beacon 3 in 1 Craft Glue is the only fabric glue I ever use.  It is not overly pungent, it dries quickly and without leaving a mark on most fabrics.

Stitching Tools
And last but certainly not least there are basic stitching tools that everyone knows.  Even if hand sewing isn't your thing, it is really helpful to have a good range of hand needles.  The types from the smallest 'sharp' to the largest 'doll' needle are many and I'll cover in more detail in another post.  A leather thimble is also a pretty smart move and has saved my finger being shredded on many a project and is far more comfortable than any metal thimble.  As for pins, throw out those tiny rusty things that you inherited goodness knows when and buy yourself some lovely new long pins with heads you can see.  Oh and a magnetic pin tray is rather nifty too, as long as you don't mind your pins being magnetised! 

Of course what's good for me might be very different indeed for another stitcher and as I've said, I am always open to new suggestions so please do tell me if there is some seriously useful stitching and sewing tool that I'm missing out on!

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