Your Sewing Tools

To do good sewing it's necessary to have good tools; to know the name of each tool; to know the care and maintenance of each tool.

The processes in sewing construction are cutting, measuring, marking, pinning, and stitching.

1. Cutting

Shears — are cutting implements over 6 inches long and having one handle larger than the other. Their bent handles permit the lower blade to rest on the table to avoid disturbing the pattern and the fabric. Choose shears of an overall length of 8 to 10 inches, and with a lifetime guarantee. Left-handed models are available.

Pinking Shears — have sharp saw-toothed blades and are used to finish seams that would ravel. Buy a reliable make about 9 inches in length so they will be strong enough to use on heavy fabrics. Left-handed models are available. Pinking shears should never be used for cutting out garments because:

  • they don't cut accurately around curved areas and notches;
  • the cut line isn't definite and seam allowances are not always accurate;
  • some cut edges should not be pinked.

Scalloping Shears — cut a scalloped edge which also resists ravelling.

Both pinking and scalloping shears are excellent for decorative trim, applique and handicrafts. Both are available in several lengths.

Serrated Shears — have one serrated edge and one knife edge. They are special shears for polyester double knits, synthetics of all weights, bonded and heavy weights. The cut smoothly through two layers of material without slippage. Polyester fabrics dull ordinary shears.

Sew and Stretch Shears have a special edge on both blades which never needs sharpening.

Scissors — are a smaller cutting implement ranging from 3 to 6 inches in length and are made with ring handles. They are necessary for hand sewing, for clipping, notching and trimming. Choose a pair 5 1/2 or 6 inches long with a thin, sharp lower blade. The thin, sharp lower blade is necessary for cutting buttonholes and set-in pockets.

Thread Clippers — a small cutting tool that fits in the palm of the hand, with a spring action that instantly re-opens the blades after each cut — ideal for snipping threads, clipping seam edges and ripping seams.

Care of Shears and Scissors

Use for sewing only; use household shears or paper shears for other things. Never cut paper, oilcloth or thick cord; it will ruin them for cutting fabrics. Handle your shears and scissors with care — dropping them can spoil the edge. When cutting material, be sure all pins are out of the way. Have your shears and scissors sharpened by a reliable person — one who is qualified to sharpen them. Good shears and scissors, if well cared for, will hold their edge for years. A drop of sewing machine oil on the blades, near the screw, will help them to work easily. If the blades “drag” or “bite” each other, the screw needs adjusting, or one edge may have a slight nick from cutting on a pin or dropping. The nick, unless very deep, can be removed by using a piece of carborundum if it's deep take them to a reliable scissor sharpener. Wipe blades frequently to keel) them free from dust.

Because pinking shears require a special type of equipment to be sharpened, they may have to be sent back to the manufacturer. It is well to keel) your expensive pinking shears for dressmaking only and have an inexpensive pair for paper and some types of handicrafts.

Do not lend your shears or scissors unless you know they will be handled with care and used for cutting materials only.


Accurate measuring is essential for accurate cutting, stitching and fitting. Tape Measure Choose one of good quality that will not fray or stretch and has metal ends; one that's sixty inches long, numbered on both sides, with the numbers starting at the opposite end on either side. (Some are available with centimeters and meters on one side and inches on the other.)

Rulers — Choose a 6-inch and a 12-inch flexible, transparent ruler of the type used by draftsmen. These rulers are marked with parallel lines, running the length and the width of the ruler, spaced and 3 inch apart. The parallel lines are very handy when marking for bound buttonholes, set-in pockets; measuring the width for cutting bias strips; checking seam allowances. The 12-inch ruler is indispensable for measuring curved edges such as armhole seams, neckline seams, if you wish to use a sleeve or collar from another pattern.

Yardstick — Useful for marking long straight lines, checking grainlines, and marking hems. Choose one of good quality that will not warp or buckle.

Skirt Marker — Several types available. Those which use pins are very satisfactory, but with the chalk marker you can mark the hem yourself.

Plastic Triangle — An 8-inch, 45-degree set square of the type used by draftsmen. It is indispensable for cutting a true bias — lay the sides of the right angle along the grainlines, and the side opposite the right angle (the hypotenuse) marks the true bias.

There are many other measuring devices available at notion counters, sewing centers and dressmakers’ supply houses, such as, T square, combination ruler/curve, gauge for marking scallops, and so on.


Many construction markings must be transferred from the paper pattern to the fabric.

Dressmaker’s Carbon or Tracing Paper — is available in many colors; used for transferring markings to the wrong side of the fabric. Choose the type that's washable and dry cleanable; the marks disappear. All dressmaker’s carbon paper should be used according to the manufacturers’ instructions and used only on the fabrics which they suggest. Sometimes the markings show through on the right side of the fabric. It is advisable to test on a sample of your fabric.

Tracing Wheel — (1) a toothed steel wheel attached to a handle, to be used with the tracing paper to transfer pattern markings; (2) a smooth- edged tracing wheel which can be used without ripping or tearing the pattern or damaging the fabric; (3) needle point wheel — best for marking thick woollens.

Read the instructions for suggested fabrics, also for warnings regarding the use on certain fabrics.

Tailor’s Chalk — There are two kinds and both come in small flat pieces. Used to identify wrong side of fabric, garment pieces and fitting alterations.

(1) Chalky type — white or colored, may be used on all fabrics because it brushes off easily.

(2) Waxy type — is used for pure wool fabrics only. The markings are removed by pressing with a warm iron. On other fabrics the wax will leave an oily mark when pressed.

Chalk Pencils — in white, blue and pink, can be sharpened to a point to draw an accurate line, have a brush on the end for removing the marks.

Magic Transparent Tape — can be used to mark the wrong side of the fabric, garment pieces, buttonholes, pockets, stitching lines, and so on. You can write on it. It can be removed without damaging most fabrics — if in doubt test it on a sample.


Buy dressmaker’s pins. There are a number of types:

(1) Steel pins — have needle points and don't bend.

(2) White brass pins — guaranteed rustless — the very fine ones often bend when being used.

(3) Ball point pins — designed for use with all knitted and elastic materials. The rounded point pushes aside the fabric yarns and doesn't damage the yarns or pierce and tear elastic threads.

Pin Cushion — Most dressmakers make a fair-sized one of dark denim or drill — about 3 1/2 by 5 inches will hold plenty of pins for pinning patterns on fabric. Stuff the cushion as firmly as possible with sawdust or bran — be sure it's very firm. Fill one side of the cushion with pins and put your needles in the underside, so they will lie flat against the cushion — take a couple of stitches in the fabric and they will be less apt to slip inside.

Emery Bag — small bags, usually “strawberries”, filled with emery powder. Use the bag to polish pins or needles by pushing them in and out of the bag. Never leave pins or needles in the emery bag because they will rust.

You can make a very good substitute for an emery hag by making a tiny 1 1/2 square cushion stuffed firmly with very fine steel wool.


Hand sewing. There are a number of kinds of hand sewing needles, ranging from size 1 (coarsest) to size 10 (finest). There are packaged assortments of each type. It pays to stock a wide range so that you can find your favorite needle for each fabric. Gold eye needles make threading easier.


- Sharps — medium length, round-eyed, best for dressmaking and mending.

- Betweens — shorter than Sharps, round-eyed, used for fine handwork and tailoring. Sizes 7 and 8 are sometimes known as quilting needles.

- Straw — round-eyed, long and slender, used for basting, hand-shirring and millinery.

- Embroidery — same length as Sharps, with a long eye to hold several strands of thread — often used for hand sewing.

- Calyx-eyed — open at the top for quick threading.

- Ball point — for all knits and elastic fabrics. Their rounded point slips between the yarns, preventing the breaking and splitting of the yarns.

- Darners — longer than embroidery needles, long-eyed, and used for darning in light materials.

- Short Yarn Darners — extra coarse, heavy darning needles, used for darning and wool embroidery.

- Double Longs Darners.

- Glovers — have three-cornered points, used to sew on fur and leather.

- Tapestry — large-eyed, blunt points, assorted sizes, used for wool embroidery and needlepoint.

- Crewel — large eye for embroidery threads.

- Chenille — short, sharp-pointed needle with large eye for embroidering with heavy or tufted thread.

- Bodkin — a large, blunt needle, in various sizes, with a large eye, used for drawing elastic, tape, ribbon, etc., through a casing or series of eyelets.

* Beading — extremely long and fine for beadwork and for restringing beads.

Needle Threader — an inexpensive aid to threading fine-eyed needles if your eyesight isn't as good as it might be.


The type, weight and color of thread will be determined by the fabric you are using.

If you can't get an exact match in color, choose a shade slightly darker, because thread seems to sew in lighter than it appears on the spool.

- Mercerized cotton thread (Sheen) — strong, lustrous. The size 50 is suitable for most fabrics. “Heavy duty” is a stronger version, usually used for home furnishings and some heavier fabrics.

- Silk thread — Size A — used on silk, wool and synthetic fabrics. Can be used for basting on velvet and pile fabrics because it leaves the least mark.

- Synthetic threads may be nylon, polyester, polyester core (wrapped with cotton). They are strong and have elasticity — good for knits, stretch and permanent press fabrics.

- Button thread, or Button and Carpet thread usually waxed or glazed, extra strong.

- Buttonhole Twist — Size D — a heavy silk, good for handworked buttonholes, handworked details, and sewing on buttons,

- Six Cord Cotton — Size 10-Size 80 — smooth, strong and elastic. Size 40 is made in numerous colors and is called Machine Cotton — is suitable for sewing on heavier fabrics. Cotton thread tends to be stiff and to “stand out” on many dress fabrics so isn't used as much as mercerized cotton thread.

- Basting Cotton — a fine thread that doesn't mark the fabric as much as a heavier thread when pressed. It clings well for tailor’s tacks and when used to baste is easily broken or snipped when you want to draw it out.

- Darning Cotton — plain or mercerized, usually of several strands, used for mending hose hut is also good for tailor’s tacks.

- Embroidery Cotton loosely twisted cotton thread of varying number of strands. Used for needlework, but is also good for tailor’s tacks — six strands is excellent for fine nets and very loose-woven fabrics.

(Darning wool and knitting wool is best for tailor’s tacks in coarse net, eyelet, and lace fabrics.)

- Elastic thread covered elastic thread used on the bobbin of sewing machines for shirring. Follow the instructions that accompany the thread.

Beeswax comes in small cakes; is used to wax thread for sewing on buttons (will wash out on washable garments).

A little wax applied to sewing thread when hand-stitching will help prevent the thread from twisting and snarling.

To prevent thread from snarling when you are sewing by hand, make the knot in the end of the thread that came off the spool last. (The exception to this rule is when you are using an imported thread. It will likely have a “right-hand twist” — in that case the knot should be in the end that came off the spool first.)

When you are using double thread, knot the ends singly, and there will be less snarling and twisting.

Thimble — is very necessary for good sewing. You will use the side of the thimble to 1 the needle through the fabric for some kinds of stitching and the end for other stitching. (Tailors and professional dressmakers use a tailor’s thimble which has an open end and use the side of the thimble for all hand stitching — the finger remains in a natural, relaxed position and light or heavy pressure is applied as needed.)

Select a thimble of hard metal with indentations small enough and deep enough to keep the needle from slipping. It should fit comfortably on the second finger of the hand.

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Wednesday, 2009-04-08 2:30