I've been sewing since I was five years old. My grandma taught me how to hand-sew, embroider, and so on, but she never told me what basic materials and tools I'd need to properly equip a sewing box. Can you tell me what these might be? --Marilisa Garate, Cerezal, PR
Here are a few tools to start your sewing kit. You'll find that you add to it continually, as you work on different projects.
Needles: Have various sizes on hand for sewing with different types of thread.
Stainless-Steel Straight Pins, Glass Pins: These pins are great because they're easy to spot if you drop them, and you can also iron over them. If you iron over pins with tops made of colored plastic, the plastic will melt.
"Strawberry" Pincushion: Buy one with an emery board attached for sharpening. This helps keep your needles sharp and removes any rust.
Sewing Scissors: These usually have one pointed and one rounded tip for trimming and clipping seams and facings. Make sure they feel comfortable in your hand and are sharp. Use only for cutting fabrics.
Pinking Shears: Used to cut zigzag or scalloped edges, which are ravel-resistant, which helps to finish seams and raw edges.
Seam Ripper: Quickly rips seams, opens buttonholes, and removes stitches. The finer the tip, the easier it will pick out small stitches.
Thread Clippers: Keep these agile clippers next to your sewing machine. You'll need them to snip threads as you sew.
Embroidery Scissors: These are smaller than thread clippers -- about 4 inches long. They have two pointed tips -- ideal for precision cutting.
Soft Tape Measure: Because it's flexible, it's good for body measurements.
See-Through Grid Ruler, Metal Seam Gauge: Helps make quick, accurate measurements for hems or buttonholes.
Thimble: Keeps those needles away from your fingers.
Fusible Tape (Stitch Witchery): Gives a nice, crisp edge to hems. Fold fabric over, leaving tape in between, and press with an iron. The tape binds the fabric together. Some people use this in lieu of a stitch.
Fray Check: Apply this liquid to the edges of fabric to help prevent unraveling. It's also good for sealing machine-made button holes. Be sure to test it on a small area of the fabric before you use it.
Beeswax: Run thread through beeswax to keep it from snarling and also to strengthen it.
All-Purpose Thread: A must. Buy some basic colors like black, white, brown, and navy, as well as other colors that appear in your home or wardrobe.
Heavy-Duty Thread: Good for sewing on buttons. It may also be referred to as "dual-duty thread."
Needle Threader: A helpful tool for those of us with maturing eyesight.
Various Fasteners: Have black-and-white shirt buttons, snaps in assorted sizes, black-and-white Velcro, and hooks and eyes on hand.
Tailor's Chalk or Fabric-Marking Pencil: Makes marks quickly and easily directly onto fabric.
Dressmaker's Tracing Paper: This is good for patterns with multiple sizes. Trace the patterns directly onto the tracing paper to avoid having to use your original pattern.
Tracing Wheel: Makes marking lines. Comes with either a smooth edge or a serrated one. The smooth edge is used on finer fabrics such as silk; the serrated, which leaves a dotted line, is for heavier fabrics.
Point Turner: This tool pokes out the tailored points in collars, lapels, and pockets.
Assorted Safety Pins
I want to buy myself a sewing machine that's suitable for some of the projects you do on the show. What features do I truly need? Can you tell me how much I should consider spending? Would a used machine be okay? --Stephanie Arvizu, Los Altos, CA
A sewing machine is a major investment, so it's important to choose the right one. It's imperative that you feel comfortable using whatever machine you end up buying. Since you're a beginner, look for a simple one that's easy to operate. Make sure your machine can sew at least five different stitches, including: a blind stitch, which is used for hemming; an overcasting stitch, which protects raw edges and closes seams; and a zigzag stitch, which protects the raw edges of a single layer of fabric.
Martha is an avid sewer, so a computerized machine, with just about every option imaginable, is perfect for her. Changing stitches on such a machine is easy -- there's no need to fiddle with attachments. But a more basic, less expensive model might suit your needs just fine.
Since sewing machines retain their value for quite a while, you may also be able to find a great used machine. Paul Adinolfi, the owner of Stitch in Time Sewing Machine Center in Darien, Connecticut, who has been in the business for twenty years, says you should be able to find one for as little as $100 to $200. Many dealers do sell used machines that they have reconditioned. They may even offer a warranty on these.
Depending on how much you choose to spend, you may find a machine with additional features, such as automatic buttonholing, speed variables, and functions for sewing woven and knit fabrics.
Make sure you buy the machine from a trustworthy dealer, one who can offer you the technical support and training that you'll need to keep on learning how to use all the different functions on your machine. And be sure to ask whether or not you'll be able to trade in your model, should you "outgrow " it.