Favorites (Part II): Tools of the Trade

This may be a bit of a touchy subject for people. Everyone has their own “holy grail” items and brand preferences, but sometimes it’s a lot to sift through for a newbie just getting into sewing. I’ve used a lot of brands over the last decade (… I think I just aged myself), and I have a few tried and true favorites and some things where I know brand doesn’t matter. I’ll make a separate post for prop tools later.

The only thing I will not touch on will be sewing machines. Machines are dependent on your budget, preferences and use. I have some personal preferences and have used a variety of machines at different levels of burliness (from the super cheap home use to industry grade). If you want a recommendation or a brand review, I’m more than happy to do one at requests.

Shall we?

(again, no affiliation to these brands. These words are my own and I am not sponsored)

Shears/Cutting Tools

So really quickly: shears are asymmetrical whereas scissors are symmetrical. When you start upgrading your cutting tools, make sure you get shears.

Unfortunately, this is the one section where I’m going to be brand dropping like crazy because your cutting tools do matter.

Depending on your budget, if you can get the all metal Ginghers, do it as soon as you can and protect them with your life. They’re burly, they cut through a lot of materials and if you can afford it and splurge on the spring loaded ones, your hands will thank you. Nearly all of my fabric and thread tools are Gingher (I have two pairs of nippers, one pair of embroidery scissors, a pair of light weight shears, a pair of dressmaker’s shears with the spring and one pair without and applique scissors). They’re readily available either online or at your local craft store like Joann’s (I don’t think you can use a coupon on them, though, but keep an eye out for sales).

Friskars are a really good runner up and my second favorite. My school shears were a pair of Friskars and they did a solid job. I had another pair that I used for years for my larger projects because they had longer blades, but they got downgraded to my heavy duty paper shears. They give super clean cuts and they’re a lot more budget friendly.

My favorite pair of thread nippers are a pair I got from Daiso and look like the super old school ones. They’re sharp as hell and I just got them recently, but they’re getting their use in for my bead work.

For rotary cutters, I alternate between my 45mm and 28mm Olfas. I know Friskars offers a cheaper alternative, but I don’t know how long the steel lasts. These are pretty crucial for lightweight and knit fabrics, and if you’re cutting a LOT of strips of fabric for ruffles.

When it comes to pattern making, I have cheap-o scissors that can’t cut fabric to save their lives. They work. *shrugs*

Marking Tools (fabric, paper, otherwise) and writing implements

Okay, first thing’s first: for the love of all that is cosplay, the only time you should be using sharpie or permanent marker is when you are marking paper.

Got it? Good.

(well, maybe if you’re making adjustments on a muslin and the only thing you can find is a sharpie)

For fabric, there are a lot of different fabric pens and chalks. I personally use the light blue Clover brand quilting pen that disappears with water for light fabrics, and a piece of white tailor’s chalk for dark fabrics (or a pin. Or I don’t even mark). I don’t like the purple one that disappears with air because I have a tendency of putting down projects and picking them back up days later. I have this one chalk pencil that acts like a mechanical pencil and has chalk refills. It’s pretty bomb, and I think it was fairly inexpensive.

One of my friends likes the Pilot Frixion pens. They erase on paper and if you use them on fabric and hit it with a hair dryer, the markings will disappear. I haven’t tried these out personally, so I can’t attest to how well they mark fabric (but pretty well from the looks of things).

I keep a lot of pens, markers and pencil lead around my cutting area for patterning and the like. I’m partial to mechanical pencils since I’ve been using them since I was in kindergarten (growing up in an Asian country kind of makes you a stationary snob, tbh). I’ve been through a few barrels, but I’ve been loving my Pentel STEIN (0.5mm) recently. It has a comfortable size and it’s all metal. I tend to lead towards 2B pencil lead because I’m fairly heavy handed and HB is just a bit too hard for newsprint and bristol board. Use whatever is comfortable, though!

Measuring Tools

A ruler is a ruler, right?

I have seven or eight different rulers, a bunch of french curves and I’m pretty sure I’m missing some… you can never have too many straight edges.

I love using quilting rulers; they make cutting bias strips super fast, the grid makes pattern making super easy and they’re sturdy. I have four omnigrids in different sizes, but anything that’s clear with the markings will work. I reach for these all the time.

If you’re serious and want to get into pattern making, invest in a set of pattern making rulers or a good set of french curves. Some brands have different hip curves, and unfortunately the one I had to get for school doesn’t work so hot for my body shape. You can find a few sets off of google by typing in “pattern making rulers” into the search bar.

(I still use my quilting rulers as my straight edge)

Paper (Patternmaking and the like)

Here’s a tip: go to your local art store, like Blick or Meininger’s or Pearl Art, and get a roll of tracing paper. Or order it online. This stuff is indispensable if you’re thrifty and want to save your pattern pieces.

Hit the pattern tissue with your favorite iron to flatten out the fold marks, trace off your pattern pieces with the tracing paper and a sharpie, and modify to your heart’s content. That way, if you lose a few inches, you can use the pattern again, or you can modify the tracing paper pattern to accommodate some extra girth. You can even save your modified versions for use later on.

I also keep newsprint (great for patterning armor pieces, too!) and bristol board on hand. Bristol is a decent alternative to oaktag, but it doesn’t work so hot for large pattern pieces. Butcher paper or brown is fantastic for those huge skirt pieces since it’s inexpensive and you can get them in large rolls.

(I also keep a lot of spare large envelops around to store my pattern pieces)

Needles and Pins

Uh… do they sell more than one brand? I’ve been using Dritz for years because that’s what is available. I have specialty needles for beading that I got from a jewelry supply site, but I think that’s generally it for needles. Just keep an eye on the size of the eye and you should be peachy for whatever you need to do.

Pins, though. Please don’t get the ones with the big fat head and the large diameter for anything but wig work.

Seriously, just don’t.

They leave huge holes in your fabric, and they don’t pierce well, not to mention the fact that they don’t lay flat. I’ve seen a lot of people use them and struggle.

If you’re using super lightweight fabrics and have to pin, get silk pins. Some sites offer glass head silk pins like these. If you’re getting into draping and working directly on the form, get dressmaker pins. The tiny head won’t add millimeters to your pattern, which will make a huge difference in the long run. I used to use the big plastic head pins when I first started and those have been kicked over to my wig styling kit. If I need pins, I’ll dig through my box for my silk pins.

(… though, honestly, most of the time I’m using pins for marking darts and keeping pleats in place or draping. I rarely pin when I sew, now)


I’ll admit it: I’m a Gutermann brand whore.

They have those 1000 m white and black spools and with the BOGO sales, it’s a great deal!

But really, C&C and Gutermann are both available at Joanns and they’re solid. If you want to top stitch/color match, find whatever matches the best out of your color choices for the all purpose. I tend to just stick with white, black or gray, or something close to the shade because I’m pretty lazy about changing my threads. My serger has primarily Gutermann cones, and I don’t color match anymore for those.

The only thing to make sure is that your thread won’t snap under tension, especially if you have an industrial machine. Those suckers have six or seven tension points, so you have to do a snap test (yank on a length of thread. If it pops, it’s not suitable. If it holds, you’re good).

Miscellaneous Things

… So I don’t know what category these fall under, but:

  • A setting tool if you get into corsetry, or just like grommets, like the one they have at Gold Star Tools. It used to take me two hours to hand set grommets and now I can do a corset in about ten minutes. It saves so much time, elbow grease and they’re inexpensive if you use them a lot, and it makes the process much more enjoyable. They also have a lot of different dies for setting rivets, snaps, boning tips…
  • Thread Heaven: it’s a synthetic version of beeswax that is a god send when it comes to beading, embroidery, handsewing… etc. Basically, if your thread will tangle, use this or beeswax and it will save a lot of sanity.
  • Containers and boxes: my boyfriend loves me quite a bit, but he hates how messy I am. I’ve been trying to be better about organizing, and the Container Store is where I go to get things to … attempt to corral my many notions. I’m a huge sucker for the Poppin line, as well as their basic containers (I am the proud owner of 8 of their jumbo box). You’re going to have to play around and mix and match things to find what works best for you for keeping things organized.

Am I missing anything? Do you have a holy grail item that I need to try out? Let me know! Also, ff anyone is interested in seeing how I keep my things organized, leave a comment and I’ll do my best to oblige!

Thanks for reading!

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