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How to buy the best sewing machine

Sewing machine essential kit

By Jess O'Leary

Article 4 of 4

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Sewing machine essential kit

Before you start using your sewing machine, read our guide to the essential kit you’ll need.

Once you've chosen your sewing machine there's a host of extra kit you'll need before you get going.

Making sure you've got stuff such as fabric scissors and pins will make life easier and you'll need them for most sewing tasks. 

If you haven’t bought your sewing machine yet, compare sewing machine brands using the results of our survey. We asked owners of big-name brands, including Singer, Janome and Brother, to rate everything from ease of use to build quality and whether they would recommend the brand.

Scissors

You’ll need at least two pairs of scissors:

  • Bent-handled shears These are used for cutting fabric. The lower blade is angled so that it allows fabric to lie flat while it's being cut. They should only be used on fabric – never use them on paper or card as it will blunt them.
  • Sewing scissors You'll need a second, smaller pair of scissors for trimming seams and facings.

If your sewing machine doesn't have an overlock or zigzag stitch, it's worth investing in a pair of pinking shears, which have zigzag blades that form fray-resistant edges. And you might find a thread clipper useful – these have spring-action blades but no handles making them easier to use to clip threads as you sew than a pair of scissors.

Tape measure

A tape measure is essential if you’re making clothes or curtains or generally cutting fabric. We’d recommend making life easier for yourself by buying a retractable tape measure, which automatically rewinds the tape at the touch of a button.

A clear plastic ruler can be useful for marking out where you'll sew your seams when you're just getting started.

Fabric marker

You'll need some kind of marking tool for transferring pattern markings on to fabric, and perhaps for marking out where you want to sew your seams.

Tailor's chalk blocks are the most basic sort of marking tool; chalk is removed from fabric by brushing.

You can also buy tailor's chalk in pencil form, use a quick-marker pen, or use dressmaker's carbon paper with a tracing tool.

Pins

Pins are essential for joining pieces of fabric together temporarily as you assemble your work. Look for all-purpose pins to begin with, but remember to invest in finer pins if you will be sewing delicate, expensive fabrics.

Pins with colourful plastic heads can be easier to see, both on your fabric and when you drop them on the floor. A magnet is helpful for retrieving steel pins.

Pin cushion

These are very useful for keeping your pins and needles to hand while you're sewing. There's also less chance of creating a horrible mess with a pin cushion than an open tin of pins, if you knock it on to the floor by accident.

A wine cork makes a satisfactory impromptu substitute.

Buy spools of all-purpose polyester thread in white, beige, black, navy, green, brown and red to start off with.

Pins, needles, scissors... having the right kit to start with will make sewing easier and more enjoyable.

Seam ripper

You’re bound to make mistakes when you first start sewing, so a seam ripper is useful.

Also known as a Quick Unpick, it's a small hook with a blade at the bottom that you push through the fabric to open up seams and buttonholes.

Sewing machine needles

Buy a multi-pack of sewing machine needles in different sizes so you'll have something for light-, medium- and heavy-weight fabrics.

Buttons

There's no need to go out and buy a wide range of buttons. Remove the buttons from clothes that are too well-worn to go to the charity shop, and keep the spare buttons that are supplied with new clothes.

Sewing box

It's useful to have somewhere to keep all your sewing stuff together.

It doesn't need to be a dedicated sewing box; a simple plastic food box is good enough to begin with.

Ironing board

You won't get great results from your sewing machine if you work with crumpled fabric. Pressing your work as you go is the key to creating beautiful garments and soft furnishings.

Use an ironing board with a padded cover, a steam iron and, if necessary, a pressing cloth. 

Sewing books

A good book on how to sew can make life easier for sewing machine and needlework beginners.

Look for a book with a guide to the parts of a sewing machine, using and adapting patterns, how to use stitches, plus basic and advanced techniques.

Sewing machine tips for beginners

  • Read the instruction booklet - this can be full of helpful tips and advice on how to use your particular sewing machine properly
  • Try out all the available stitches on your sewing machine, as well as different combinations of the stitch length and width dials. Make a note of the settings when you're happy with the results
  • Try out your stitch length, width and tension on a piece of scrap fabric before launching into a fresh seam – it'll save unpicking later. Also, check the front and underside of the fabric to see if your stitches are good
  • Replace your sewing machine's needles frequently (every eight hours or every project) to avoid skipped or broken stitches
  • Use the right sort of needle for the fabric - a ballpoint needle for stretch fabrics, for example
  • Thread the sewing machine carefully, with the presser foot raised to highest position so the tension discs are separated (and thread can easily fall between discs)
  • Check the needle is inserted the right way round (flat side to the back) and isn't bent
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