Friday, August 10, 2012

What's in Your Sewing Kit?

Having a sewing machine is great when someone has a wardrobe malfunction. My friend and coworker definitely thought so when his pants ripped one morning as soon as he arrived at work and he didn't have time to go home and change. But when sewing your own clothes, sometimes you need an emergency kit of a different kind. If you have the following sewing supplies and tools on hand, your next sewing emergency may be repairable.

Assuming you have an iron, a sewing machine, and a good pair of fabric scissors, here is a list of many other notions I've accumulated. Some are fabulous and I don't know what I did before I owned them and others are novelty items that really aren't a lot of use.


Rubbing alcohol can be used to remove interfacing residue that has marred your fabric. Foil-wrapped alcohol swabs are handy to keep in your sewing area for this purpose.

Clear plastic buttons. these can be used to help stabilize larger buttons that are on the front of a garment. These "backer buttons" add strength and stability. For reinforcement, use backer buttons that have the same number of holes as the buttons on the right side.

Beeswax. You can buy beeswax from your sewing supplies store or in a pinch use a beeswax candle. Run thread over the beeswax to lubricate the thread and prevent tangling; to strengthen thread (it prevents abrasions); to use multiple threads together (beeswax "glues" them together).

Bleach. Using chlorine bleach and hot water in your washing machine removes oil stains and some scorches but only on cotton and linen fabrics. Hydrogen peroxide is an alternative to use on woolens -dilute it with 50% water and always test for colour fastness.

Boning. Boning is usually used to add support to strapless garments but in a pinch, it can be used to strengthen a collar or waistband. (Also see Petersham ribbon)

Chop Sticks. Used for poking out corners.

Collar Stays. These are short, maybe 2-inch long rectangular plastic with one end that is pointed, that are used in men's shirt collars to help maintain the point of the collar and the strength of the collar as well. They slip into little rectangular pockets and are meant to be taken out before laundering. They are quite successful at maintaining the crisp shape of a collar and as such, should not be reserved only for men's shirts.

Elastic Braid. Braid is stronger than the knit form of elastic and when you find it in a tone that matches your skin colour buy a whole lot. This item can help repair many garments, and when the colour of your skin, is ideal for working with even the sheerest fabric.

Clear Elastic. This thin elastic is actually quite strong. It can sit next to the skin without affecting comfort.

Elastic thread. This thread is so handy I don't know where to begin. Is there a bit too much fabric at the neckline? Use elastic thread to create flattering ease. How about the need for a quick gathered line near the hem? It's also great for elasticizing openings on baby clothes and of course, its great for smocking too. It comes in black and white generally, but do keep your eye out for other colours. This thread does begin to break down after a decade or so though, so beware old thread.

Hook and Loop Tape. I like the cheap white kind of hook and loop tape but there are a variety to choose from. You can purchase it by the yard or in packages of dots, squares or small lengths. You can use these as substitutes for snaps or buttons.

Fat Quarters. Or scrap fabric that you can use for all sorts of things like making your own bias tape.

Fusible basting thread: I am not sure if they sell this in Canada. I found this on a trip t the US for some cross-border shopping. It temporarily holds a seam in place for fitting. Definitely not a necessity but fun to own!

Fusible Interfacing: Avoid the ones in packages that are designed for crafts. Buy it from bolts at the fabric counter and try to match it to the weight of the fabric.

Fusible Web. This is on the back of fusible interfacing because it is what sticks the interfacing to the fabric when heat is applied. You can by the fusible web separate from the interfacing for another option when determining stiffness in sewing.

Iron Cleaner. I didn;t own this for the longest time and now I don;t know how I lived without it. It is available in tubes at any fabric store. It is a petroleum product so be sure to give your iron a test run after cleaning to get the cleaner off.

Magnet. I bought a heavy duty magnet bar at the dollar store (but you can buy them at the hardware store too). These are great fro when you drop your pins everywhere - you just wave the bar over the pins and they all fly to the magnet. Do not put this anywhere near a computer though - it will destroy your hard drive.

Measuring Tape. I have the traditional flexible measuring tape and the one from the hardware store (for use when making draperies).

Pinking Shears: Great for making seam allowance neat and tidy without a lot of work.

Pins and Pin-cushion: straight pins to hold your fabrics together think of them as extra fingers. A pincushion is a must to hold your pins in place and having several is a good idea i have one at my cutting table and the other by my sewing machine. I like the metalic ones that pick up pins.

Safety Pins. I have a few jars of safety pins in three sizes. They really work in a pinch. Keep a few on hand at the office for garment emergencies.

Sandpaper. Helps to remove fuzz from fabrics.

Seam Ripper. Need I say more?

Seam Sealant. This stops fraying and is so useful on those expectantly crazy fraying fabrics. It does not wash out so use it wisely. I read somewhere that it can really add stability to buttonholes, but I haven;t tried this trick myself.

Sewing Gauge – I bought mine on Ebay and I love it. A sewing gauge is actually a small metal ruler with a sliding marker ideal for measuring seam allowances. When i need to press in a 1/4 inch or 1/2 inch i just slide the blue slide to the desired measurements and place it on the fabric to check that i got the correct width and iron. Do you need to add seam allowance to a paper pattern piece? Use your sewing gauge! How about measuring strips of fabric when making your own bias tape? Use your sewing gauge. This thing has tons of uses.

Skin-coloured fabric. Find some that matches you and stock up. It is great for sheer projects...

Snaps. I have tons of these and sometimes I wonder why I buy them. Then all of a sudden I need them for a quick baby bib I'm making or on a coat. MAKE SURE YOU TEST THEM BEFORE SEWING THEM ON. I learned that the hard way.

Spot cleaners. Need I say more?

Soap. I keep those last little slivers of hand soap to use for marking. It's cheap and it smells nice! Oh, and it works!

Stay Tape: Used to stabilize areas that may stretch and become stressed with wear, stay tape is a must for knit shoulder seams. They can also fix a gaping neckline.

Thread. A variety of types and colours are ideal. In a pinch, brown is supposed to be the colour to use when trying to make do - it blends in with most dark colours.

Tweezers. Gets into the tight spots your fingers can't.

Velcro. You can buy this in tape or in small dots. It comes in black or white. It is a handy fix for emergencies and a good closer for children's costumes.

White Vinegar. This can help set creases when diluted 1:1 with water. Keep some in a spray bottle near your iron.

Yard Stick. Some call this a metre stick instead. It is great for measuring. Mine is wood but I've heard that metal is better - maybe because you can clean it.


  1. Great info!! Do you have any favorite places to shop for fabric and sewing supplies online? I see you mentioned ebay. Or are you lucky enough to live near a great sewing/fabric store?

    There is one cute fabric shop near me but it's on the small side. We have 2 hancock's fabric stores nearby, and the walmart has a fabric section (although i'm not sure if i'd buy fabric there, but they do have some supplies), but that's it.

    1. I only buy fabric online from Ebay - or, I only have so far. I don't like the huge shipping costs to Canada. I do live very near a fabric district, so I have plenty of access to good fabric at good prices. I am lucky I guess. And I don't know if I would buy fabric from Walmart either, but generally Walmarts in Canada no longer have fabric sections, so it doesn't matter what I think!

  2. Great post, comprehensive. :)

  3. I keep spray starch in my kit too. It really helps with difficult to iron fabrics.

  4. Great post. Thanks so much. The soap slivers idea is brilliant!



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