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Absolute beginner's shopping list
What do we really need to buy?
Everyday Sewist
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Everyday Sewist
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Subject: Absolute beginner's shopping list Date: 11/16/04 9:02 AM

I'm a self-taught sewist, so when I first started sewing, I didn't really know what to buy. I spent a lot of money on books and notions, not wanting to miss out on some special technique or gadget that would make it all easier. Instead, (though I truly enjoyed the books) I overwhelmed myself with too much information. And some of those notions just became clutter.

Now I realize that I could have saved money by getting just a few vital supplies and books. That's money I could have spent on fabric for practicing my skills. :blush:

I hope this is not too long-- but here's what I would probably buy if I knew then what I know now. (I'm not saying this is ALL you need, but rather a recommended list of things to get you started):

Books:
--A learning book to get you started. My favorite is Sew U, because it covers all the basics and has patterns included.
--A good "encyclopedia" of techniques. I like Vogue Sewing; many people prefer the Reader's Digest sewing book.
--A good, easy, fitting book. This is VERY subjective and unfortunately it's very hard to find them at libraries or bookstores in order to compare them. IMO the easiest ones for beginners are Nancy Zieman's books, but I don't think they are the best. My favorite is Fast Fit by Sandra Betzina but it's not the most user-friendly.
--A fabric guide. I like More Fabric Savvy. A fabric guide tells you what kind of needle, thread, and interfacings to use with each fabric.
If you plan to sew a lot with knits, you might want to add Sew U Home Stretch.

Notions:
--Extra-fine, glass-head silk pins. Because they are high quality, easy to use, and can be used on any fabric including knits. I got mine mail-order, though I think I've seen them in quilting sections of the chain stores too.
--High-quality shears, such as Gingher. I love my rotary cutter, but you still need scissors so you might as well buy them first. Cheaper Fiskars are o.k. but mine went dull really quickly.
--Schmetz needles. Start with a set of Universal in a variety of sizes; then refer to your fabric guide book when you're ready to branch out into specialty fabrics.
--A good steam iron and ironing board.
--A pressing ham.
--Measuring tools: A flexible gridded see-through or "C-thru" ruler (in the quilting dept.) and a tape measure are all I use.
--A seam ripper.
--For marking: I love my Chaco-liner. It works on almost every fabric and it makes a finer, smoother line than regular tailor's chalk. I prefer chalk rather than markers, because markers are more likely to stain.
--A thimble and hand needles. I like my leather thimble because it's soft.
--Thread:  Stay away from the "bargain" thread bins. I usually just buy an all-purpose thread to match my fabric. The fabric guide books also give specific recommendations.

Machine:
Make sure you have a straight stitch and zig-zag with adjustable width and length. If you are buying used, keep in mind that some machines more than 20 years old or so are harder to thread. On my machine, I love my one-step buttonhole. I also like the speed control function, which enables me to sew without fear that the machine will speed out of control.
---------------------------------
That's my list--I'd be interested in hearing what others consider "essential" for absolute beginners.

UPDATE 9/13/08: I edited my list because some new books have come out since I first wrote my list and I also discovered the Chaco-liner since then.
-- Edited on 9/13/08 10:24 AM --

Athelas
Athelas
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Date: 11/16/04 9:52 AM

Good topic and great list!

I also like to buy good thread in many colors when it's on sale, various weights of interfacing when it's on sale, and elastic in various widths when it's on sale (see a trend here? :winkgrin: )

I find these are the 3 things I am most likely to either forget to buy, run out of, or change my mind and add to a pattern, and I hate to have to stop sewing when I actually have found a few moments!

Deepika
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Date: 11/16/04 9:53 AM

Great list Betty! Here are my additions:

1. Tracing paper for marking darts ( I use the saral tracing paper from joanns)
2. Tracing wheel for using with tracing paper
3. Transparent paper from art supply store to make a copy (tracing) of the original pattern.
4. Washable Markers for tracing the patterns.

Thats all for now. I might add more later.

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Lorna C. Newman
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Lorna C. Newman
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Date: 11/16/04 10:26 AM

An absolute must is a hem guage.  To measure off hems, seam allowances for pressing under, measuring small amounts for trimming.  From measuring buttons and buttonholes to hems, this is a must.

Another must for marking is some sort of marking tool.  I have spent $$ ontrying different ones over the years, but my faves are water soluble marking pens (air dissolving ones wear away too fast) and good old fashioned chalk.  I use these for marking things too small or niggly for tracing paper.  I mark my notches as lines after cutting so that I can see them better, I use them for marking off hems ... Very valuable!

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Like Miss Frizzle says "Take chances, make mistakes ..." isn't that what fitting is all about? I am happily taking chances and making mistakes as I fit muslin after muslin ...
newmansneedle.blogspot.com

JoleneF
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Date: 11/16/04 11:38 AM

Another must for me are my fabric books. FAbric Savvy by Betzina and Sew Any Fabric by Shaeffer.

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Jolene

redhead
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Date: 11/16/04 11:43 AM

I have what I call my desert island sewing kit.  It contains

needles
white thread for basting and tailor's tacks
tape measure
silk pins
seam gauge
seam ripper
buttonhole cutter
bodkin
point turner
gingher shears

I have many other useful notions, but these are the ones that I always seem to need.

candyo
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Date: 11/16/04 9:52 PM

I like your list, redhead, except I'd trade the bodkin for a tracing wheel and tracing paper.  I've never used my bodkin  :blush:

When someone tells me they want to sew, I tell them to do the following:

Get a copy of "Sewing for DUmmies"
Sign up for the joann mailing list, so you never pay full price for anything
Buy a Brother machine for under $100 from Wal-Mart.  If you decide to stick with sewing you can upgrade and use the cheaper one when your main one is being serviced, or pass it along to someone else who wants to learn to sew

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Talitha

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Date: 11/17/04 1:40 PM

When I very first started out sewing, people would give me all these sewing supplies from the back of their closet. Half of the time they didn't even know how to use them, and even more of the time I didn't either. I'm too much of a beginner to have a whole list of "this is what you need", but these are somethings I wish I knew before.

--All pins are NOT created equal. I inherited pins; I figured, pins are pins. Everyone here has recommend silk pins, which I know are supposed to be finer. Well, I've always wanted finer pins, but I've also liked the pins I've used that are long and have larger heads (quilter's pins?). Much easier to grab and work with. I think it would always be good to have some larger/stronger pins on hand, even if the silk pins are the "best"--use the larger/stronger ones for thick or bulky fabric. (Fleece, denim, faux fur, etc.)

--I especially want to second what Candyo said about the JoAnn's mailing list. After going to JoAnn's and being appalled that even supposedly buying patterns at 50% of it was still $8 and up!! Now I'm steamed that try to rip you off most of the time, even while claiming to have them onsale. Everyone I know flat-out refuses to buy patterns unless they're being sold for a dollar. The first time I saw one of those sales, I bought as many patterns as I could, thinking this only happened about, oh, 3 times a year, tops. Now, if I don't see them go on sale once a flyer, I'm shocked.

--I also second that the first machine be cheap, or preferably free. It seems like it's not too hard to find someone who has, or knows of someone who has, a machine they no longer need and would be glad to get rid of. If you have a choice, though, I'd make sure I got a drop-in bobbin, not a vertical one. It jams a lot less and is a million times easier to use.

--Seam ripper, tape measurer, marker (I like the combination marker where one end dissappears in the air and the other end dissappears in water, but chalk also works. Hey, when I started out I just used a ball point pen!;), iron, and scissors all all totally necessary. (Though I find Fiskars scissors that you can buy at any office supply store work fine for me, so I've yet to invest in "good" pair of scissors. They do dull quicker, but you can buy another cheap pair, or find some places that sharpens scissors for a few bucks. Or use dull scissors, like I do!!;)

--I don't even know what a bodkin is. I've always fudged a point turner. I think I have a seam gauge, but I never use it. I don't have a buttonhole cutter, but a small pair of embroidery scissors goes on my list of "musts". A tracing wheel and paper are great for darts, but anything can be fudged.

--I have totally fallen in love with supposed quilter's items--the rotary cutter, huge self-healing mat, clear gridded rulers (I use these rulers for EVERYTHING--buttonholes, and hems, and lots of other things). Totally expensive for notions (in my opinon), so I asked for them for Christmas instead.

--I never had room for an ironing board, so I always fudged and through a towel over a table. A pain in the neck, and hard to iron things on, but it does work in a pinch. Then I got a traveling ironing board and a half size. Much more out of the way, but you can iron so much easier on them.

--I do have a ham. I haven't used it yet. If I ever (hopefully!;) get to tailoring, I'm sure it will be necessary.

--Hand needles, machine needles, bobbins, thread, interfacing, invisible zippers and invisible zipper foot (I actually put in my first zipper, accidentally an invisible one, with a alll purpose foot. Well, the zipper hasn't fallen out, but it isn't invisable!;).

--Books are very personal. I'm glad there's a long list of suggestions here. But there I some books that I would love to have, that I can't recommend to other people of different temperments, and vice versa. For instance, I know a lot of people love Sandra Betzina, but (don't hang me for this) she gets on my nerves. Even if she gives technically good advice, I never like reading her books. Also, she doesn't inspire me to do better, which is what I like in books. Then again, I know a lot of people like sewing so much better now that they've found a quicker easier way to do it. So while I don't want to bad-mouth Sandra Betzina, I will never ever buy her books. Our personallities just don't mix.

--Get both Fitting Finess and Fit For Real People. The whole point of making clothes is making clothes that fit, and they won't straight of the pattern.


Please suggest lots of books. I can never have enough books. I am especially looking for good (not necessarily the easiest) books on pattern altering--not altering for fit, but altering to change from one style to another.

The only problem with books is that some times you run out of room to store them. But if you do wall to wall bookshelves, then your house becomes better insulated, and it hides the ugly wall-paper the previous owners put in. Books have indexes, they don't forget, and they don't tell you "I told you so" when you try it your way first and ruin your whole project.

candyo
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Date: 11/17/04 7:09 PM

Talitha, don't be ashamed of disliking an author's style.  Nothing wrong with that.  Personally, I hate the Reader's digest sewing book with a passion.  It's dated, even the revised editions.  What young person wants a book that screams 50's housewife?  I'm sure nobody's going to crucify me for hating that book- it's all opinion.

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Everyday Sewist
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Date: 11/17/04 8:50 PM

That's true! That's why I wanted to start this thread, because I knew there would be alot of opinions--and a lot of agreements too. New beginners can take confidence in buying the most popular items, and the rest--well, just go with what opinions "speak" to you!   :smile:

Quote
I think I have a seam gauge, but I never use it.


I never use mine either. Ever since I got that see-thru ruler, I use it for almost everything!  Measure and mark the "sew-to" line for a hem, mark seam allowances, mark grainlines, turn it on its side and bend it to measure curved lines on patterns.

I do, however, have an "EZY-HEM"  gauge to use for pressing hems, if I'm afraid they are going to leave an impression when pressed.

Quote
I am especially looking for good (not necessarily the easiest) books on pattern altering--not altering for fit, but altering to change from one style to another.


Have you seen the pattern alterations forum on this board? They have design experts who can answer questions on changing the style of a pattern.

Here are my favorite design books:

Good, not necessarily easy: Patternmaking for Fashion Design by Helen Joseph-Armstrong. Another is Designing Apparel through the Flat Pattern by Ernestine Kopp. I have both, and prefer the Kopp book. Be sure to get a newer edition (I have the 5th). IMO the new one is more user-friendly than some of the older editions I've seen at the library. I reviewed both of the above on this site.

Easy books: Make Your Own Patterns by Renee Bergh (sp?). I don't have it, but it sounds like a good book, from the descriptions I've read. I have another old (1970's) book called How to Design Your Own Clothes and Make Your Own Patterns, which I like too. It uses basic commercial pattern styles as starting points for design. (I think the Bergh book works similarly.)

I don't actually do much designing except for the simplest alterations; but those books sure did help me to understand patterns and fitting.

(And just to avoid confusion, I don't consider any design book a necessity for absolute beginners.)

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