Sewing 101: What equipment do you need?

retrochick.JPGIvy says:

So, to begin my “How to sew for people who have no clue” series, let’s talk about what you are going to need. The first thing that comes to mind usually, other than a sewing machine, is material and patterns. Because, come on, there’s nothing more enticing than a pattern for a gorgeous dress or some yummy fabric. But we’re not going to cover material and patterns in this post because those are such big subjects they really need their own posts.

So, what do you need other than material and patterns?


A sewing machine. Natch. This is probably the hardest decision you will make when starting to sew. What kind of sewing machine should you buy? A Dress A Day has a good answer for this one. But let me add a bit about getting a vintage machine, since that’s what I’m using. Often, you can find a good used machine for half nothing at a thrift store, and sometimes you’ll get really lucky and someone will give you a vintage sewing machine. If the machine has sat unused for several years, or you don’t know if it has been unused for several years, take it into a local repair shop and have it tuned up. If you go to the website for the manufacturer of your machine, you can find where they have authorized repair shops. These are generally good places to go. I had an excellent experience with my local authorized Singer repair shop.


The sewing machine’s manual and accessories. If you don’t buy your machine new and instead get your machine from a thrift shop, it may not come with things you really need like a zipper foot, and in the case of the above picture, a buttonhole foot. It may not come with a manual. You can purchase a manual from eBay, the manufacturer’s website, or you can Google your machine’s name, model number, and the word “manual” and sometimes you can download a PDF of your manual for free.

Once you have a manual, read it from cover to cover. Seriously. Read it twice. This will teach you all about how to use your machine, and it’ll also teach you a bit about sewing. I’ll do a tutorial later on about how to thread your machine, but all sewing machines thread a little bit differently, so it’s important to read your own manual. Read the manual. Read the manual. READ THE MANUAL!

Whoo, got a bit excited there. You’re also going to need bobbins. Lots and lots of bobbins. You can buy bobbins at any fabric store for most models of sewing machines. Just take your bobbin in there or know your model number and brand, and you can buy them fairly cheaply.


Pins and a pincushion. Or something to put your pins in, it doesn’t have to be a tomato like mine. I’m thinking about making myself something I can stick on my wrist, since I seem to leave my tomato across the room whenever I need it to be next to me. This is where having kids comes in handy, though. “Nate, can you bring mommy’s tomato over here?” When my kids grow up, I’m either going to have to train my dog to bring my tomato or else I’m going to have to make that wrist pincushion. Or I could always get up off my lazy tush and get my own tomato. Hmmm, a quandary.


Good, sharp scissors. Ideally, you should have a pair of scissors for cutting fabric, a pair of pinking shears, and a pair to give the kids when they want to cut stuff out because you are cutting stuff out. Never use your good fabric-cutting scissors to cut paper. Ever. Nobody is really sure why, but my mom told me that, her mom told her that, and her mom’s mom told her that. I think it’s a big conspiracy by the scissors companies to sell more scissors.

(Just kidding, cutting paper with scissors dulls them and eventually, they won’t be able to cut fabric. Or so I hear. I’m still thinking conspiracy.)


A steam iron, and an ironing board. Remember yesterday I said you were going to have to become one with the iron? I wasn’t joking. So, if you don’t own a steam iron, get one. If you don’t own an ironing board, get one. You are going to use these a LOT. There’s just no way around it.


A seam ripper. Preferably a good one. Take it from me, either buy a good seam ripper or else never seam rip while angry. Otherwise you’ll end up with the handle of your seam ripper in one hand and the point in your cat’s eye.


Something to mark your patterns with. The cheap way is to use chalk. The not-very expensive but might make you have a coronary from being totally irritated way is to use tracing paper and a tracing wheel. Or you can do a combination of both. Or you can use specially designed markers. Or whatever. Just make sure you mark your patterns. No worries, we’ll get to this in its very own tutorial. But if you start without me, mark your patterns.


A nice, floppy measuring tape. Sure, you could always use a string and a carpenter’s measuring tape, but accuracy is key. Not to mention I have six measuring tapes. Six RETRO measuring tapes. Let me know if you need one. Centimeters not included.


More measuring implements. I have no idea what the blue thing is called, but it sure is handy to have. The only problem with these blue things is that they tend to just vanish, so get two. You also need a ruler and a yardstick. Well, you technically don’t have to have a yardstick, but it’s handy to have to help you cut things out straight and draw straight lines, etc. I don’t have a yardstick yet, but I’m going to steal acquire one from my mother very soon.


Something to put all your junk in. Or else you’ll lose something you need and then you’ll go stomping around grumbling about how the kids moved the very item you need, and then you’ll find it under your seat cushion just where you left it. Well, maybe that’s just me. But definitely get a place to keep your stuff.

And that’s all I’ve got for you, except a link to another “basic stuff you need to start sewing with” for your perusing pleasure. Our lists are pretty similar because, well, there’s only so much stuff you need to start sewing. But hers and mine are a bit different, so go check out Life With Monkey’s list while you’re at it.


  1. Kate on October 12, 2013 at 11:12 pm

    I loved reading this!! My grandma used to sew everything and now that she’s gone I want to learn how and this was a great thing to read to get started! It was so much fun to read and sounded like my grandma was talking right to me!

  2. Louise on March 27, 2013 at 7:44 am

    I just found the greatest thing for sewing today! Its called a bobbin rewinder. It works on batteries or plugs in and you don’t have to unthread your sewing machine every time! Price ranges $13 on Ebay – to $35 or up on internet. I’m planning on getting one as that’s one of my weak points of the machine.

  3. Louise on March 27, 2013 at 7:43 am

    I just found the greatest thing for sewing today! Its called a bobbin rewinder. It works on batteries or plugs in and you don’t have to unthread your sewing machine every time! Price ranges $13 on Ebay – to $35 or up on internet. I’m planning on getting one as that’s one of my weak points of the machine.

  4. Emily on January 26, 2013 at 11:49 pm

    Thank you so much! I’m a stay at home momma and I have been trying to think of something to do while I am not being busy being a mom… which is never. That and I am getting sick of crocheting hats and wash cloths. I am heading to the store tomorrow with my list thanks!!

  5. John on May 12, 2011 at 12:42 pm

    Clear and concise advices here. I'll use it to start equipping my work room 🙂
    My recent post Sewing Machine Cabinets Reviews Great cabinets at remarkable prices

    • Erica on December 11, 2012 at 7:58 pm

      I just took my first sewing class and I absolutely love your blog. You are hilarious and this is super helpful for someone just learning! Thank you!!

  6. Samantha on April 26, 2010 at 4:06 pm

    Excellent post. This is something every budding sewer should do.

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  8. Elizabeth on February 2, 2008 at 7:57 pm

    About not using sewing scissors to cut paper, did your mother know my mother? In my old age, I’ve decided that our mothers were, in fact, correct on this issue, as well as on the issue of not running with them in the house.

  9. JRae on February 2, 2008 at 6:16 pm

    Oooh, maybe this will make me use the sewing machine I asked my mom for and haven’t touched in 5 years! 🙂 Thanks… please post pictures of you in your creations so we get some more inspiration… 🙂

  10. tink on February 1, 2008 at 10:11 pm

    Good post!

    Debbie, great idea for a sewing box – I’ve long outgrown mine, but the prices of sewing boxes have always sent me screaming.

  11. *more sewing advice* at *o, pish posh!* on February 1, 2008 at 1:22 am

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  12. Debbie M on January 31, 2008 at 3:24 pm

    If you’re planning to buy some sort of box to store your sewing things in, fishing tackle boxes are the least expensive way to go. You still get all the lovely compartments, but it will cost you much less than if you get something specifically designed as a sewing box.

    And you can always start with a paper bag until you’re sure this hobby will stick and start to get a real idea of what you’ll want.

  13. natalie on January 31, 2008 at 1:34 pm

    I’m so glad you’re doing this series! I’ve been jonesing for a functioning sewing machine lately and this is good motivation.

  14. Amy on January 31, 2008 at 1:08 pm

    This is a really great list! My mother-in-law bought all of this stuff for me for one of my Christmas gifts (except the sewing machine), but she also bought a few things that I probably won’t use until I am more of an expert (like a rotary and a cutting board). I did like that she had a magnetic tray for my pins which was super handy.

    I started my first sewing class last night. I am amazed at how much I was able to absorb in two hours. Our fist project is sewing pillowcases. Next week, I learn how to sew an apron.

    Great series, Ivy! I really appreciate the help!

  15. Christy on January 31, 2008 at 10:30 am

    This is great, Ivy! Thanks for doing this series.

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  17. Awesome Mom on January 30, 2008 at 11:51 pm

    The blue thing is called a seam gauge or at least that is what my mom told me it was called.

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