Five Sewing Tools I Use All The Time

When I talk to people about learning to sew they often start off enthusiastic (yay!) and then start to feel intimidated (boo!) … especially if they’ve just walked through a Big Chain Fabric Store and seen the oceans of Special Sewing Stuff that’s available. Do they need all of it? Do they need any of it? What the heck is some of it for, anyway?

Once you have your basics — your sewing machine, your iron, a good pair of scissors, and half a dozen seam rippers, a few more things can make a big difference, but acquiring the entire notions aisle is not necessary (or desirable). Here are a few sewing tools I use all the time:

1. A really good invisible zipper foot.

I put an invisible zipper in almost everything I make … and for many years I muddled along with a narrow foot or even those pink-and-blue snap-together feet that you sometimes get in the zipper package. Don’t do it. This foot is less than $5 (for my machine, anyway) and is completely worth it.

2. The Dritz EZY-HEM.

I’m pretty much a sucker for anything with deliberate cheesy marketing misspellings, but the EZY-HEM really is easy. It saves SO MUCH TIME when pinning machine or hand-sewn hems, and it’s extremely satisfying to run over this (metal, indestructible) tool with your steaming iron. Highly recommended, and under ten bucks.

3. Tailor’s Ham.

You’ve probably read by now that half of sewing is really pressing, and it’s true. A tailor’s ham lets you really steam curves so that your collars, facings, sleeves, and so on all lie flat nicely. Also, it’s really fun to throw a tailor’s ham at people who bother you when you’re sewing (joke). There are plenty of tutorials online that teach you how to make your own, but since they can usually be had for well under twenty dollars, I prefer to buy one and save my sewing time for other stuff. Also, I’ve had mine now for …. fifteen years? So I think it has been amortized sufficiently.

4. Small scissors.

I know I said that you just need one pair of good scissors, and that’s true. But it’s incredibly convenient to have one or two pairs of these teeny (four-inch) scissors around. They’re great for snipping threads, clipping curves and points, and other close work. You can get nicer ones, but since I tend to drop these on the floor a lot (or lose them to someone who uses them for things that AREN’T FABRIC) I buy a new eight-dollar pair once a year or so.

5. A really big ironing board.

Okay, so this is more than ten bucks — it will set you back over a hundred, most likely, especially if you upgrade to a muslin cover. But, again, sewing is mostly pressing, and a really good ironing board will last you decades. Mine is actually a Rowenta, but I couldn’t find any good pictures of that model. You’ll probably have better luck buying your big ironing board when the Giant Chain Fabric Stores have their 50% off sales, if you can wait that long. A giant ironing board will make pressing just-washed fabric and hand hemming (when you use the board to support the skirt fabric) go much faster.

I’d love to hear about your must-have tools, or the ones you use all the time. Tell me about them in the comments!

Mailing It In

This is one of the chic-est mail order patterns I’ve seen:

I mean, look at the sunglasses, and the jaunty collar, and the nonchalant hands in the pockets! She doesn’t seem to mind at all that she’s thirty feet tall! And the townswoman looking on in awe seems pretty cool, too, and completely unafraid of being stomped on.

My favorite thing about mail-order patterns is the metadata on the envelope — I love the name and address, and the postmark, and the information about what newspaper (sometimes) it was ordered from. It personalizes it. I like to think about Mrs. Whoever Somebody sitting at the kitchen table, in her housedress with a cup of coffee, and clipping out the pattern order form and sending it in full of big plans for a new dress.

This giant woman set out this morning to go grocery shopping, and then at the last minute said “the heck with picking up a gallon of milk” and headed off to the local art museum. After that she’s going to sit out on the lawn with a book and a picnic, and if she gets around to it, she’ll pick up some milk at the deli before the kids get home from school.

I’ve only sewn up a couple of mail-order patterns, but I hoard them like crazy. In my mind they always smell slightly of strong coffee, whether they really do or not.

This pattern is on sale right now — Jen at MOMSPatterns is having a sale on all mail-order patterns, 50% off!


The Last Dress of Summer

Last dress of summer

Every year I make the last dress of summer. (Some years I make it more than once.) Even here in Greater Suburbopolitan San Francisco … digression: I really have trouble with the phrase “the Bay Area” — I mean, it sounds like something you tell your doctor when you have an embarrassing ailment: “It hurts in … [vague gesture] the general bay area.” Also: lots of places have bays: Massachusetts, Tampa, Wisconsin [they have a Green one!].

Sorry, epic digression. As I was saying … hereabouts … where it will be summerishly warm for another couple of weeks, at some point in October lightweight and light-colored cottons start to feel seasonally inappropriate. And judging by the number of people I saw in the city wearing corduroy and tights today (when I was perfectly comfortable in a sleeveless dress), I’m not the only one who inclined to go by the calendar instead of the thermometer.

Yep, this is ANOTHER Vogue 9929, in this Michael Miller gray and green key print:

I really like the key motif. (Prediction: I think keys are the new bicycles. They may even be the new birds, mustaches, and owls.)

The way you can tell when you’re sewing the last dress of summer is that it takes a real effort to finish it. When you started it, you were excited to get it finished so you could wear it, but then at some point … you slow down. You start to fondle pieces of corduroy in your fabric stash, and think about what might look good with boots and leather jackets. You work on it, not because you want to hasten the wearing of it, but because you need the cutting table for something that has sleeves, or is mustard-colored, or that is plaid (or all three).

If you give in to giving up, if you don’t buckle down and finish the last dress of summer, one of two things will happen: there will be a freak early-fall heat wave just when you are SOOOO BORED with all your summer clothes, and/or you will gain or lose a size-changing amount of weight before summer dress time rolls around next year. This is guaranteed. If you *do* finish it, though, you’ll only wear it a couple-three times before it gets autumned out by last year’s unfinished Last Dress of Winter wannabe, which you will finish immediately after finishing the Last Dress of Summer. This is also guaranteed.

The upside is that the Last Dress of Summer often turns out to be The First Dress of Spring, because when you dig it out on the first warm day next year, it will feel absolutely brand-new.

There are other ceremonial-slash-seasonal types of clothing, of course … some of my favorites are The First Day of Wearing Those Tights You Bought On Clearance Last Spring That You Thought Would Never Go With Anything, But Somehow This Year Work, and It’s Still Too Cold For Sandals But These Are Super-Cute Day (in Chicago this would happen in late April/early May), and everyone’s junior-high favorite, First Day It’s Cold Enough to Wear Your ¬†Fashionable Back-to-School Sweater. (Which, when I was in junior high in Florida, didn’t usually happen until after Thanksgiving. Torture!) And of course many people celebrate Charmingly Ironic Holiday Sweater Day (or week) as well as (under varying levels of duress) the annual Day of Wearing the Gift Well-Meaning Relatives Gave You Last Year at This Event.

Of course, you can’t take these seasonal influences too far … or you wind up with this.

What’s your last dress of summer?

Today's Pattern Story


Plaid: I Vant. To Suck. Your BLOOOOOOOOOOOOD.

Yellow: I wonder how my dress would look with a bow? Not red, of course, but maybe white? Or green? I’m getting hungry, I don’t know why Mina said we’d have lunch here, I don’t see anywhere to eat …

Pattern and sale today thanks to Jen at MOMSPatterns — use the code ‘hotsale’ to save 25% on all orders until midnight EST tonight, Monday October 1.