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Dressmaking series – essential items

I am starting a new beginner dressmaker series here on my blog. Today’s post, which will go over the things we need in order to be able to sew, and things that will make life a lot easier. If you are interested, why not subscribe to me through bloglovin (the link goes through to my account which you can then follow).  So, let’s get on to this post:

The things you will NEED in order to sew…

In this list, I will talk about the items that you must have in order to do dressmaking on a sewing machine. There are a lot of extras which will be listed further down, but to begin with lets go over the items you just can’t do without:

Sewing machine – This goes without saying, if you want to make attire on a machine you must invest. You can get really affordable machines on the market that are low end with no frills. I’ve had to buy a back up machine because my mid-end machine is being serviced. I recently bought a Brother LS14 Metal Chassis Sewing Machine and for what I paid I am impressed. It can still be a bit of an investment if you do not have much of a disposable income but you do need one.

Fabric – You are going to need fabric in order to make clothes. There are a vast range of fabrics on the market, but some can be very pricey. If you do not have much money but want to buy some nice patterned fabric, you can get polycotton very cheaply (as little as 2.99 a metre). is a good place to start. Alternatively, you dont have to buy fabric – have a look around your home; do you have a duvet cover or sheet you no longer need? Or men’s shirts you could take apart and make as something else? Maybe you have a cotton tablecloth or curtains you were going to take to the charity shop… talking of which, charity shops are also a great source of cheap fabric (I made my wedding dress toile out of a duvet from the charity shop).

Scissors – This is something else you wont get away without but they can be bought cheaply. My best advice for you is to have separate scissors for fabric and paper, as paper will dull the scissors very quickly. Most supermarkets sell dressmakers scissors for about £5-6 and they will do fine (I had a pair of these for £18 months before I invested in some Ginghers). As well as dressmaking scissors, I would also suggest you invest in some snips to cut threads and snip into and cut away seam allowance, you can also get these in the supermarket for about £3.

These are the dressmakers shears I have: Gingher Knife Edge Bent Trimmer Shears 8″ With Molded Nylon Sheath G8 (£18)

These are the snips I have: Polkadot Polka Dots DUCKEGG Embroidery Scissors And Cross Stitch Sewing (£4)

These are the dressmakers shears I used to have: TAILORING SCISSORS 10.5″ STAINLESS STEEL DRESSMAKING SHEARS FABRIC CRAFT CUTTING Fusion (TM) (£5)

Thread – another essential is thread, without this you cannot attach your pieces of fabric together. Like everything else in sewing, there is a wide range of pricing for thread, not to mention thread for lots of different jobs. You should be able to get reels of polyester thread for 99p a go and this is good enough. I have used higher end threads and to be honest I don’t see a big difference. I still use the cheaper end thread.

So, you ‘could’ start your sewing journey for as little as £80! But life can and does get a lot easier when you add in some other not essential items such as these…

Some luxury items that are helpful…

Clear ruler/curve ruler – I bought my 18 by 2.5 inch clear ruler very early on and it has been one of my most used items. Although not really necessary (you could use anything with a straight edge), it will make your life a lot easier. A clear curve ruler will also help you out especially if you intend on designing your own patterns later on, but even when tracing other people’s patterns, especially if you dont trust your free hand.

Measuring tape – I was undecided whether this was essential and decided not as you could find other ways of measuring. However, one thing you will need to do when you make a pattern up is know your bust, waist and hip measurement. Sometimes patterns will come in sizes 8, 10, 12 etc similar to shops but do not rely on this as measurements will almost certainly be different. Soft Tailors Fiberglass Tape Measure. Pack of 2 (** Dressmaking Taylor Tailor **)

Patterns – Patterns, along with fabric, can become highly addictive so be warned. There are lots out there on the market with a variety of styles, shapes, sizes so you will find something you like. Prices can vary too. I almost always purchase my patterns from independent designers as you will often get a sew along to go with it, offering additional help. Although often a bit more expensive, it is worth it I find. You can also purchase a paper pattern or a PDF pattern, there are pro’s and con’s to both which I will talk about in the future (let me know if you would like this included in the series). Check out for lots of patterns.

Tracing paper – while you can cut your paper patterns straight to the size you need, it is advisable to not do this in case you change sizes in the future. There are lots of ways you can manage your patterns but my preferred method is to trace. There are lots of choices for this, you could do it like a pro with Swedish Tracing Paper, or use actual art tracing paper, freezer paper, greaseproof paper, or even interfacing! It really depends on your price range. For a long while I was using greaseproof paper but got fed up with this as you cant cellotape pieces together properly, so I moved on to art paper, but then I did a collab with Creative Industry who distribute Swedish Tracing Paper and I was hooked! Its not the cheapest option though and I am intrigued to give interfacing ago, like Little Miss Lorraine in her latest vlog. Check out Creative Industry for industry standard tracing paper.

Marking tools – I have tried a wide variety of marking tools and havent come across one that stands out from the others. I’m not a huge fan of the chalk pen, or indeed chalk. I quite like the pens you can rub out (I forget their name but will link them). I also like the invisible markers and the water removable markers. Some people also like a tracing wheel and carbon paper, but it wasnt for me. Whatever type of marking you chose it is important to chose a type that will show up well enough on your fabric, and mark it for long enough – especially if you plan on taking your time to finish a project.

Pins & pin cushion – Likewise, there are a lot of different pins on the market for different types of projects and fabric weights. They are mostly inexpensive and can be sourced in most haberdasheries, supermarkets, pound shops etc. When I first started to sew I would favour the big quilting pins which is common amongst new sewers but these days I would not be without my silk pins. They are a little more expensive but they are slimmer, less likely to damage fabric especially delicate fabric, and they wont melt when the iron goes over them. I love wrist cushions for holding pins, they are so convenient especially when fitting and draping, but make sure you get one with a hard base otherwise the pins will come through and stab you. Another way of storing pins I love the idea of is with a magnetic dish. I dont have one, but it is on my list to buy!

Rotary cutter and mat – if you buy nothing else in my list of non-essentials, you will not be sorry to invest in these items. They are probably my favourite out of everything listed! These items literally changed my seamstress life! The mat can be an investment as getting a decent sized mat isn’t that cheap but I have two because you cannot do without these if you are serious about dressmaking. Well, you can, but cutting with scissors takes much much longer! There are lots of different rotary cutters out there on the market but I find my basic one does the trick. The secret lays in the blade, and replacing it regularly.

Seam ripper – These little things are real treasures; whether you are about to embark on your first project or you are an old hand with he sewing machine, you will want to invest in one of these. Some people prefer to use snips but I think its far safer to have a seam ripper to hand. They’re super cheap, I bought mine for a pound. Something a lot of people don’t do is replace them regularly which you definitely should do as the blade will dull over time.

Point turner – technically speaking you don’t need one of these, you could (carefully) use the end of your scissors, or a knitting needle, or a pen with a lid, BUT… if you are into your gadgets them I would encourage you to pick one of these up. I have one and do use it regularly. It really encourages points to come out very sharply.

Hand sewing needles – It is inevitable that you will, at some point, have to do hand sewing. I know, I know! No one likes hand sewing (myself included) but if you want a professional finish you’d better get used to sewing by hand quickly. Whether its tacking down bias, a facing, or hems, using a needle and thread will really take your sewing up a notch or two.

Iron & Tailor’s ham – An iron is very close to essential. You can complete sewing projects without one but the chances of it looking professional would be slim. The good news is most of us have an iron knocking about the place, and you dont need anything more special than a household iron for sewing. So dig it out, but if it has burns on the plate I would definitely try to remove these before using on your lovely fabric, or alternatively use a piece of thin fabric (a pressing cloth) between the iron and your lovely fashion fabric! A tailors ham is in no way essential but this will help you to shape your darts nicely and iron anything with a curve. Otherwise you could wrap a towel up in the shape of a cylinder and use that.

So what did you think of this list? Was it helpful, did you agree or would you have listed different items, let us know in the comments below.

The next post in this series will explain what you should look for in a sewing machine and some examples of good machines for beginner sewers.


One Comment

  1. Janeyo Janeyo

    This is GREAT really nice easy read and so true!i must get myself a cutter n mat as yes cutting can take forever especially with rayon. Thanks Claire x

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