Tools I Can’t Live Without

Anyone familiar with my shop knows that I sew pretty much anything and everything for people. My rack currently contains formal wear, tents, boat covers, winter coats, ski pants, summer dresses, jeans, curtains, uniforms, a leather motorcycle vest, helicopter covers and a prototype in progress. I sew a lot. I sew a considerable variety of items every week. There are certain tools that I simply couldn’t live without.

My custom tool belt

When I was small, my dad was a framer and wore a tool belt pretty much all the time. As my business grew and I got tired of trying to remember where I set my tools down, I figured it was time to make one for myself. I spent a couple days developing it and building it and over the next week or so, I fine tuned it. I couldn’t function effectively without it.

Stitch Ripper

As someone who does a lot of repairs and alterations, many jobs begin with taking seams apart. I have two seam rippers. A large one that I use most of the time and a very fine one. My main one is a large sturdy and inexpensive tool. The second one is small and has a very fine blade, perfect for working with fine fabrics like silk, chiffon, crepe or satin.

Scissors and snips

I have several pairs of scissors. I have a couple scissors that I have had for 20 years. These lightweight 7″ shears have been relegated for the jobs that I don’t want my new shears used for. I have 3 pairs of Xsor scissors, 8″ and 9″ long that I use every day. I keep one pair in my tool belt and I have others hanging up at my two main work stations. These have plastic handles and are sturdy but light enough that my hands don’t tire out. I have a small pair of embroidery scissors as well, though I don’t use them very often for my sewing jobs. I have a pair of thread snips hanging in each work station.

Rotary cutter; cutting mat and grid rulers

I have two rotary cutters. One always has a fresher blade than the other. Whichever blade is fresher is used on fine fabrics, the less fresh one is used on the heavier fabrics like denim, canvas or Cordura. Cutting chiffon and similar requires a pristine, razor sharp blade!

Without my cutting mats, the cutter would be useless. I have a set of three mats that are designed to be aligned together on one table. The measurements reflect this. This is fantastic when I’m trimming curtains.

I have three different grid rulers that I couldn’t live without. One is 6″ x 24″; one is 3″ x 18″ and one is 4″ x 4″. Used in combination with the cutting mat, which has a grid printed on it and the rotary cutter, this allows me to align items and trim them with precision and ease. These tools were quite pricey to purchase initially, but they are worth every penny.

Leather coin thimble

My leather coin thimble has its own little pouch in my tool belt. I first began using this when I was in my hand quilting days, many years ago. I have been using the same thimble for around 25 years and it’s still in just as lovely condition as when I bought it. It’s the only thimble I ever use.

Long quilting pins and safety pins

I love my long pins with plastic heads. For most everything, these are my go-to. The bright yellow plastic heads are easy to spot. Because I work with a lot of very robust items and forms of gear, the pins need to be very long or I can’t hold the layers together effectively. For slippery fabrics or to mark where a hem needs to land I generally use safety pins. They are handy and they don’t fall out.

Seam gauge and retractable measuring tape

I use the seam gauges so much that I wear all the printing off them! I keep one in my tool belt and one in my hemming area (with 3 designated machines: a coverstitch, a blind hemmer and a 3-thread rolled lingerie edger). The little slider means you have a way to indicate your measurement with less risk of error. When the measurements go into the 16ths of an inch it’s very easy to misread the ruler. And yes, for some things I do measure it in 16ths. I sewed a bridal hook onto my retractable measuring tape so I can keep it hooked on my belt. I prefer this over the old yellow tape measure because it is compact and doesn’t get in the way. I used to have a tape measure around my neck when I worked, but it would constantly slide off and fall on the floor. That irritated me. So this is better

Tweezers and serger threader

Between these two gadgets I can thread all my machines without any cursing required.

Pliers and Screwdrivers

When customizing zippers (brass, aluminum or plastic) pliers are indispensable! I use needle nosed, side cutters and electrician’s pliers. The screwdrivers allow me to change needles and feet on my machines.

Specialized Feet

On my straight stitch machine I have a few feet that I absolutely couldn’t live without. These include my basic 1/4″ foot; my rolled edge foot that results in a 1/8″ hem and my zipper feet. (The rolled edge foot took me years to master; I’m glad I persisted!)

Crochet hook

When I complete a serged seam, I like to use a fine crochet hook to pull the ends into the serged seam. It’s nice and tidy and it keeps the end from unraveling.

Stop watch

This allows me to accurately track the time I spend on sewing jobs.

Other specialized tools are nice to have for occasional use. The ones that stay on my tool belt are there for a reason. Each has its own spot. When I need them, I don’t have to look. I reach and there they are.

Happy Sewing!

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