Anyone who has met me will testify that my sewing holdall carries an unfeasible amount of gadgets. Listening to Desert Island Discs at the weekend inspired me to discern which are my sewing equipment essentials; standards such as needles and thread not withstanding.
1. The Shoben Patternmaster is an absolute essential. I use the metric version for soft furnishings, and the imperial one for working with garments. The parallel lines help you mark seam allowances in an instant, the diagonal lines are handy for cutting bias strips and the various curves conform to hips, necklines, armholes etc on virtually all garments. It takes a while to get used to the functions – but is worth persevering with.
2. My favourite small hooks have a bone or ivory handle, and come from vintage sewing boxes. They are really handy for pulling snags in knitwear through to the wrong side, making swing catches and sorting out ladders in tights.
3. A scalpel is much better than an unpicker, which is usually blunt, bent and difficult to control. Have courage, concentrate, light your workspace well and slice the stitching with a nice sharp blade which is frequently replaced. The fabric will remain unscathed.
4. Getting a level hem can be jolly difficult when shortening a skirt or dress. A hem marker stands level on the floor, and is filled with powdered chalk. You set it to the finished hem length. There is a little air puffer at the end of a tube (think turkey baster technology) which when squeezed directs a line of chalk onto the garment. It is possible to fit yourself and straighten your own hems with this, avoiding the need to stand on the table whilst a willing neighbour does the work, as seen in the movies. I have a vintage version, but this one from Morplan does the job.
5. This comes in a plastic case and is reminiscent of a lipstick. The barrel contains powdered or french chalk and there is a tiny metal wheel at the tip of the marker. When you run it along the cloth, a fine dotted line of chalk is dispensed which facilitates accurate sewing and easy removal. Available in blue, white, yellow and red.
6. If you do any quantity of sewing, a thimble is essential. Silver is my preferred choice both due to the weight and the fact it warms up quickly on a cold winter’s morning. Over the years I have found a few of this design in flea markets. The little flowers are perfect for the needle to sit in as you push through.
7. Do not be afraid of large scissors; with practice you will be able to manoeuvre them round tight corners and intricate shapes. Large sharp scissors are essential when dealing with both heavy and very fine cloths. I know it is counterintuitive, but you need scissors with stature for chiffon. Mine came from an antiques shop years ago, and with an annual trip to the sharpeners have stood me good stead for 18 years.
8. Bernina make good, solid machines with metal parts that withstand the test of time. From about 2002 they moved various parts of their production from Switzerland to the Far East, and reports from sewers, teachers and sewing machine mechanics say that their quality has declined in an age when other makes are improving and cheaper. My warhorse of a Bernina was purchased in 1997 (I also have a couple from the 1970’s as back-ups). If you are in the market for a machine, either pick up a Twentieth Century model or seriously consider a Janome.
9. This is brilliant. There is a fragment of razor blade within each notch on the thread cutter so a clean cut is obtained. The slightly dubious floral design is functional as it provides a rough surface to hold the thread against whilst you sever it within a notch. I wear mine on a cord around my neck so it hangs level with the sewing machine plate. No more fumbling with scissors at each end of a stitch line!
10. Always use a damp pressing cloth when making/ altering garments. It prevents shine occuring on the fabric, which is a major risk, especially with silks, wools and synthetics. You will be able to shape the fabric much more easily, and use a hotter iron without risk. My preferred pressing cloth is an clean, well worn, ancient white tea towel.