Paper Dahl

Having been sewing for quite some time (25+ years), I sometimes forget how long it takes to accumulate all the necessary supplies and equipment to be ready for virtually any garment project. Sure, there are various notions that are purchased on a garment-by-garment basis, but there are also those items that you use over and over for pretty much every project. I’ve also recently realized that some of them are a little more obscure than others. (And that there are some items every sewist supposedly needs that I NEVER use – ahem, pinking shears.)
So, I wanted to do a post to share with you my 20 must-have sewing tools. These are items I use in almost every single garment I sew, and I find each of them to be crucial to sewing success.

Ready to have a look? Okay, but first, you should know that there are affiliate links in this post. OH NOES! The scandal. I KNOW. But you see all the photos below? I took those because I own all these items and paid for them all with my own money. These were not provided for review, and I stand by all my recommendations. Yay!

pressing ham

Pressing Ham

I only recently learned the virtues of the pressing ham. It’s so wonderful for pressing curved seams around necklines, armholes and rounded hems. You know how annoying it can be to press a curve around the end of your ironing board? The pressing ham solves that. It’s good for pressing your ready-to-wear garments, too.

seam roll

Seam Roll

Same story with the seam roll. I wasn’t quite sure what this was for when I bought it, but I got it on sale and figured it couldn’t hurt. Well, it’s genius! It allows you to press sleeves and other tube-like parts of your garment without putting unsightly creases along the edges.

oliso iron


I admit it: I’m a total iron snob. That’s right…I own a $160+ iron. But stay with me here. This isn’t just any iron. This iron is truly magical! Even my mother and mother-in-law sing the praises of this iron, and you guys know how difficult it can be to convince the grandmas among us that anything’s better than what they’ve been using for 40 years (amirite?). This is the Oliso® Pro™ Smart Iron with iTouch® Technology TG1600, and it has a ton of amazing features. I’ll be reviewing it in more depth soon, but my favorite thing is does is to lift off of the pressing surface when you take your hand away from it. This may not sound like that big of a deal, but when you’re pressing intricate things, it’s a godsend.

Also, I dropped this iron from my ironing board and broke it a few months ago, and I kid you now…Oliso customer service called me on the phone within MINUTES of my sending an email to customer service. They sent me out a brand-spanking new iron pronto. Seriously.

olfa rotary cutter

Rotary Cutter & Blades

I was also late to the rotary-cutting party. I thought they were something that only quilters used. BUT. I am a total convert. I own several of these but my Olfa Deluxe Rotary Cutter (60mm) and its corresponding OLFA 60mm Rotary Blades are in constant use on both quilty-type things as well as garments. I know a lot of garment sewists use these on knits, but I don’t discriminate. I like cutting both woven and knit fabrics with my rotary cutter. It’s also a must for cutting long, straight lines for things like bias tape.

olfa cutting mat

Cutting Mat

Ditto on the cutting mat. I had a smaller one of these for a long time and only used it for cutting small pieces for quilts and such. My mother-in-law recently upgraded me to a larger OLFA 24″ x 36″ Double-Sided, Self-Healing Rotary Mat (thanks, Gale!), and I have never looked back. It’s the perfect size to cut most garment pieces with aforementioned rotary cutter. They are a little pricey but SO worth it. I use it in conjunction with my smaller one to give me a nice, large cutting surface.

easy rule II

Cutting Ruler

Next up is the Wrights 6-1/2-Inch-by-24-Inch Easy Rule II. I use this to help me cut straight lines with my rotary cutter and cutting mat. And you can measure with it! Imagine that.

magnetic pincushion

Magnetic Pincushion

If you’ve never used a magnetic pincushion, you are truly missing out on life. With a fabric pincushion, there is some skill required to actually get the pin in the proper place when you pull it out of the fabric. But with a magnetic one, you basically throw the pin in the general direction of the thing, and it magically ends up where it’s supposed to go. This is especially useful when serging a long hem and quickly pulling out pins as you go (hopefully, anyway). Nobody wants to stop and look for the pincushion every time they pull out a pin. Just throw and go.

tube turners

Turning Tubes

Do you hate turning small-circumference tubes? Yeah? Me too! Wait, not anymore. Because now I have these nifty turning tubes that make even really skinny, strappy-type things super easy. They come in packs of three and are invaluable for making straps, belts and other skinny things. 



Okay: confession time. I usually use a cloth diaper safety pin to pull elastic and drawstrings through casings. However, sometimes I need something a little skinnier, and the Dritz Ball Point Bodkin does the job. It’s also faster, but I am stubborn and like my little safety pin. Doh.

teflon pressing sheet

Teflon Pressing Sheet

This is kind of an obscure item that I purchased for pressing laminated, waterproof fabric, but this Teflon pressing sheet has come in handy for ironing all kinds of delicate and/or meltable materials. I used it on my Grainline Morris Blazer to prevent putting melt marks on the polyester. Works like a charm, and you can see your garment through it (unlike a pressing cloth).

glass head pins

Glass-Head Pins

Pins are pretty self-explanatory, right? Yes, but there are definitely some that are better than others. I prefer glass-head pins so they don’t melt if you iron them, and I think longer, 1 3/8″ glass-head pins are the bee’s knees. These colorful ones were given to me by my sewing machine sponsor, Janome (Oh yes, and the magnetic pincushion, too. I totally lied when I said I bought all these items!), but the linked ones above are very similar.

hand-sewing needles

Hand-Sewing Needles

I have recently been turned on to the beauty that is Tulip Japanese sewing needles, and I really hope someone buys me a gift set like this someday, but until then, I will use my standard-issue Dritz hand-sewing needles for various tasks like…duh…hand sewing. I also like to keep the really large-eyed ones around for pulling thread tails to the back of the garment after double-needle stitching or cover stitching. You can use them to pull serger tails through the previous stitches to finish serged edges as well.

paper cutting scissors

Paper-Cutting Scissors

Yes, you need dedicated scissors to cut your patterns and other paper items! Don’t ruin your dressmaking shears! Scotch Precision Scissor, 8-Inches (1448) are a basic and good option for trimming those PDF patterns and more.

must have sewing tools-14

Dressmaker’s Shears

I have been a big fan of the Gingher 8-Inch Knife Edge Dressmaker’s Shears ever since I used my grandmother’s as a child. I’ve also tried the whopper 10″ ones, but the 8″ ones feel perfect in my hand. It’s imperative that you have scissors with a very sharp point for cutting fabric since you sometimes need a very precise point. My home economics teacher always said to “never put the point farther than you want to cut.” I tell my sewing students that same thing because it’s SO true. Blunt-tip scissors are no good for sewing. Trust me.

sewing seam gauge

Seam Gauge

I use a basic Dritz Seam Gauge with Point Turner to measure seams and other small things. You can use the pointy end for getting nice corners on your garments, but personally, I use a 10″ bamboo knitting needle for that. 😀

sewing pattern weights

Pattern Weights

As a young girl, I learned to attach pattern tissue to my fabric with pins. (Does anyone still do that?) Now, I use large washers that my husband bought for me at Home Depot. These Fender Washers 18-8 Stainless Steel – 1/4 x 2″ (.281 ID x 1-1/2 OD x .062 Thick) Qty-25 are very similar to what I use, and a 25-pack is perfect for your typical pattern. They’re much less expensive than actual pattern weights, so bonus points for that.

bias binding makers

Bias Tape Makers

Bias tape makers come in several different sizes, but I find that I use the 1/4″ Clover Bias Tape Maker and the 1/2″ Clover Bias Tape Maker the most for garment sewing. The larger one pictured above is great for quilt binding, but I don’t have a use for it otherwise. If you’ve ever made your own bias tape, you know that it’s SO MUCH BETTER than the store-bought stuff. Don’t even go there. It’s stiff polyester, and, well, it can very easily ruin a neckline or armhole. You can also make really lovely piping with these.

buttonhole cutting set

Buttonhole Cutter Set

I did not even know these were a thing until I ruined a few garments with my seam ripper. (Has anyone else ever done that?? The pin trick doesn’t always work so great!) This Buttonhole Cutter Set is 1) cute, 2) functional and 3) kind of fun-to-use, so it’s a win-win-win in my book. Used in conjunction with a little Fray Check , it helps you get a perfectly cut buttonhole that doesn’t fray and look all gross like ones cut with a seam ripper. The awl is good for accurately punching the little hole at the end of keyhole buttonholes.

sewing measuring tape

Tape Measure

What garment sewist could live without a tape measure? This is pretty self explanatory, but I do prefer the old-school, wider Singer 60-Inch Tape Measure as opposed to some of the narrower ones you see around today. I find that the narrow ones can stretch out and even break, but these last forever and stay accurate longer. 60″ should be plenty long for any garment sewing needs.

sewing seam ripper

Seam Ripper

And finally, what sewing room would be complete without a trusty Dritz Deluxe Seam Ripper? I know there are more snazzy versions of these on the market, but I’ve never found a need for an LED-lit, automatic, battery-operated seam ripper. (But hey, I’d love to try one!) This model has always done the trick for me.

That wraps it up for me! Keep in mind that this list does NOT include supply items that have to be replenished often (tracing paper, tailor’s chalk, etc.). I’ll do a separate post on those. It also doesn’t include the actual sewing machines. I’m planning to review all my machines, serger and coverstitch very soon. Stay tuned! And be sure to subscribe to my new mailing list!

Did I miss anything? What are YOUR must-have sewing tools? 

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5 years ago

Backup! Orliso’s warranty covers dropping the iron??? That covers the price right there!
I use the same washers for pattern weights and love them.

Lauren Dahl
Lauren Dahl
5 years ago
Reply to  Ramona

I just told them it was having problems, and they didn’t ask any questions. I hadn’t even filed the paperwork to get the warranty, but they took care of everything.

5 years ago

I’d add an awl to your list – I have a normal steel tipped one as well as a gentler one made out of plastic with a hera marker at the other end (clover hera marker for applique & sewing).

Lauren Dahl
Lauren Dahl
5 years ago
Reply to  Veronik

Oh, nice! Thank you!

5 years ago

Turning tubes?? What?? I’m on my way out the door to get me a set!In defense of pinking shears, I have recently started using them from time to time to trim seam allowances instead of notching and clipping curves. Pretty sweet.

Lauren Dahl
Lauren Dahl
5 years ago
Reply to  Leslie

Right??!! As for the pinking shears…I am just so afraid of messing up and cutting right through my seam since that’s always done on curved edges.

5 years ago
Reply to  Lauren Dahl

Yep, you’re right. It is a risky business.

5 years ago

Ditto on most of these. I am a huge iron snob now too. I got a gravity feed iron for Christmas last year and I will NEVER go back — love that thing! I have a tailor’s ham but haven’t bitten the bullet and bought a seam roll yet. Joann’s is having a big sale this week — maybe I need to do that!

Lauren Dahl
Lauren Dahl
5 years ago
Reply to  Katie

That’s when I got my seam roll – at one of the Joann sales!

5 years ago

How did I not know about a buttonhole cutter set?! Thank you!

Lauren Dahl
Lauren Dahl
5 years ago
Reply to  Sarah

Yes, it’s great!