Essential Sewing Tools and Equipment

Building Your Sewing Kit

Sewing Tools

The Spruce / Mollie Johanson

As you learn how to sew, it can be overwhelming when you see all the different sewing tools available to you. There are lots of options, but you can get by with only the essentials and this list is the perfect guide. Choose the sewing tools you need and build your own sewing kit.

  • 01 of 15

    Sewing Tape Measures

    Sewing Tools - Tape Measures
    The Spruce / Mollie Johanson

    A tape measure is a must-have tool for sewing. You might even want more than one, including a small retractable measuring tape to carry with you.

    Sewing tape measures are usually marked with inches on one side and centimeters/millimeters on the other. 

    The most common use of a tape measure is to take body measurements, but you can use it for any measuring task. Because it is flexible but firm, it can stand on its edge and measure the distance around an item, such as a circle.

  • 02 of 15

    Sewing Gauges

    Sewing Tools - Measuring Gauges
    The Spruce / Mollie Johanson

    Sewing gauges are hand tools for measuring small areas as you sew.

    Gauges come in a variety of forms. The most common to have is a 6-inch aluminum ruler with a slider. Small, oddly-shaped gauges have markings for the most common sewing measurements for checking seam allowances, hems, or other small measurements.
    Although gauges are not a necessary tool, they are inexpensive and handy for all hand sewing, marking alterations, hemming, checking the width of your seam allowances, and more.

  • 03 of 15

    Pins and Pincushion

    Sewing Tools - Pins and Pincushion
    The Spruce / Mollie Johanson

    A pincushion holds straight pins and needles while you are working. The standard tomato pincushion is a classic, but you can choose from many options.

    Pins also come in a variety of styles, each with their own purposes. You may want to buy different types as you need them, but a pack of pins with large, visible heads will work for most of your sewing needs.

    Good pincushions are typically filled with sawdust and wool roving. The wool roving contains lanolin and prevents the pins from rusting. If you make your own, crushed walnut shells make a good substitute for sawdust.

    The strawberry that is attached to most pincushions (but also available separately) is filled with fine sand or emery. The abrasive action of these fillers removes dirt and rust, keeping the pins sharp and smooth.

  • 04 of 15

    Hand Sewing Needles

    Sewing Tools - Needles
    The Spruce / Mollie Johanson

    Hand sewing needles come in varying sizes with different types of points. 

    The most commonly used hand sewing needles are called sharps. Sharps have a medium length (in comparison with all available needles), have a rounded eye for the thread, and are suitable for almost any fabric.
    When choosing a needle, use what's best for the project to save yourself some frustration. Use heavy needles on thick or difficult to sew fibers. Use finer needles on fine or delicate fabrics. Other specific hand sewing needles include embroidery needles, upholstery needles, quilting needles, doll needles, and more.

    With most needles, the larger the size number, the smaller the needle.

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  • 05 of 15

    Sewing Needle Threader

    Sewing Tools - Needle Threader
    The Spruce / Mollie Johanson

    Failing eyesight or just being tired can make threading a sewing needle difficult. It doesn't have to be. Use a needle threader to solve the problem.

    The wire of a needle threader easily passes through the eye of a needle, then opens and creates a large opening for the thread. Then you can pull the wire and thread back through the eye of the needle.

    Use your needle threader with a needle that has a large enough eye for the thread you are using so you are not forcing the thread and needle threader through the eye of the needle. Forcing the wire can cause it to break.

  • 06 of 15

    Seam Ripper

    Sewing Tools - Seam Ripper
    The Spruce / Mollie Johanson

    Mistakes happen and seam rippers remove unwanted stitches.

    The fine tip of a seam ripper lets you pick out single threads, while the rounded tip allows you to remove stitches along a whole seam without tearing the fabric.

    Take the time to learn how to use your seam ripper so you're ready when it's time to fix a sewing error.

  • 07 of 15

    Sewing Scissors

    Sewing Tools - Scissors
    The Spruce / Mollie Johanson

    Sharp sewing shears help keep your cutting accurate while preventing hand fatigue. Generally, it's worth it to choose a high-quality pair of scissors and spend a little more money to start.

    Using fabric scissors on anything other than fabric will dull them, causing uneven cutting, shredded fabric, and hand fatigue. It's a good idea to keep them tucked away with sewing tools and teach family members never to use your good scissors.

    To keep your scissors in good condition, clean the blades regularly and oil them occasionally. Avoid overextending the blades by trying to cut through too many layers at a time. 

  • 08 of 15

    Pinking Shears

    Sewing Tools - Pinking Shears
    The Spruce / Mollie Johanson

    Pinking shears have jagged blades that fit together to cut a saw-tooth edge on your fabric.

    For many tightly woven or non-fraying fabrics, a pinked edge is sufficient as a seam finish. This is especially handy when working with light-weight fabrics that a sewn seam finish will add too much thread or weight to the seam. Using pinking shears on non-fraying fabric such as fleece helps reduce a blunt edge from showing through when pressing a seam and adds a finished look to the fabric.

    As with other sewing scissors, use pinking shears only for fabric, and keep them clean and oiled.

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  • 09 of 15

    Pressing Tools

    Sewing Tools - Iron
    The Spruce / Mollie Johanson

    As you sew, it's important to press your work with essential pressing tools. At the very least you should have an iron and ironing board. 

    A press cloth prevents your fabric from scorching when applying more heat than you would if you were just ironing out wrinkles. They are available in different weights, including see-through press cloths. If you don't have one, a piece of muslin will do, but it's worth adding to your sewing tools.

    Hams and sleeve rolls are wonderful for pressing curves and seams that are in a tube area without creasing another area of the garment. They're worth having if you regularly sew clothing, but you can get similar results with a tightly-rolled towel. 

  • 10 of 15


    Sewing Tools - Bodkin
    The Spruce / Mollie Johanson

    A bodkin is a handy tool to have but not a "must-have" item. Use this tool to thread or replace drawstrings, elastic, and other items enclosed in a casing.

    Bodkins come in different styles and textures to make the process easier. The simplest form looks like an oversized needle. With this type, the item you're pulling through a casing gets threaded and doubled over like with a needle. A tweezer-style bodkin grips the item and doesn't need to be doubled, which is useful in tight casings.
    If you do not have a bodkin, you can use a safety pin to pull the item through a casing, but it's often a bit more difficult to grasp and guide.

  • 11 of 15

    Sewing Machine Manual

    Sewing Tools - Sewing Machine Manuals
    The Spruce / Mollie Johanson

    A sewing machine manual is the most important accessory you can have for your sewing machine. It is an essential tool for getting the most out of your machine.

    The manual for your sewing machine guides you through every step of operating your model. It provides details for built-in stitches and features, and it helps when the machine malfunctions by offering troubleshooting details.

    All sewing machines may be similar but to understand what your sewing machine is capable of doing, you will need the manual for your sewing machine make and model. If you no longer have the manual for your machine, you can contact the company that manufactured your machine, and many are available online for free.

  • 12 of 15

    Sewing Machine Seam Guide

    Sewing Tools - Seam Guide
    The Spruce / Mollie Johanson

    Sewing machine seam guides help you sew consistent, accurate seams.

    The most commonly used seam guide is on the throat plate of the sewing machine. Sewing machine feet are also commonly used for narrow seam allowance guides.

    Attachable, adjustable guides offer a raised surface to prevent straying beyond the guide. This type of guide is best for long straight seams. They do not work well with curved seams. 

    Painters masking tape also works well as a guide. It firmly attaches to the bed of the sewing machine and doesn't leave a sticky residue.  

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  • 13 of 15

    Fabric Rotary Cutter

    Sewing Tools - Rotary Cutter
    The Spruce / Mollie Johanson

    Rotary cutters quickly and accurately cut fabric with straight lines. You should always use a rotary cutter with a cutting mat and ruler.

    Because this tool is very sharp, it's important to learn how to safely use a rotary cutter. The cover should always cover the blade when you aren't using it. Just as you wouldn't use fabric scissors on paper, do not use a fabric rotary blade on paper.

    If a rotary cutter drops, the blade may get a knick, which affects the cutting. Blades also dull over time, reducing their effectiveness. In either case, replacing the blade makes for more pleasant fabric cutting.

  • 14 of 15

    Rotary Cutting Mat

    Sewing Tools - Cutting Mat
    The Spruce / Mollie Johanson

    If you want to use a rotary cutter, you need to have a cutting mat.

    These mats or cutting pads are available in a variety of sizes, including folding mats. The mats are self-healing so rotary cutters don't cause damage to the mat and the mat doesn't damage the rotary cutter.

    Always use a rotary cutting pad on a hard flat surface and avoid using craft knives or razor tools on your mat. Be sure to keep your mat clean by wiping it down with a damp cloth from time to time or as needed.

  • 15 of 15

    Rotary Rulers

    Sewing Tools - Rulers
    The Spruce / Mollie Johanson

    Rotary rulers are a great tool to assure that you are getting squares and angles that are perfect.

    Most cutting rulers feature 1- through 1/8-inch markings as well as 30-, 45- and 60-degree angle markings, but some include even more markings. You can use them alone for measuring or in conjunction with rotary mats and rotary cutters.

    A 6- by 24-inch ruler is a good all-purpose size, but depending on the type of sewing you want to do, purchasing additional rulers can make the job easier. For example, if you want to cut pieces for quilts, unique ruler sizes and shapes speed up the cutting process.