Baby stitches

Ev­ery be­gin­ner needs to start some­where. Here is your guide to start sewing.

Sew Ideas - - Contents - by SHAMILAH PETERSEN

The ba­sic sewing ma­chin­ery, gad­gets and ac­ces­sories that you'll need to get started

If you are think­ing of start­ing to sew, you’ll need to in­vest in ba­sic sewing ma­chin­ery, gad­gets and ac­ces­sories. Your ba­sic sewing kit should con­tain the fol­low­ing:

Cut­ting tools

There are many cut­ting tools from which to choose, but a pair of dress­mak­ing shears is the best way to go. Shears are dif­fer­ent from scis­sors in that they have two dif­fer­ently sized han­dles, of­fer­ing bet­ter lever­age when cut­ting long, straight edges. The asym­met­ri­cal han­dles are bent up­wards, so that the fab­ric stays flat on the ta­ble dur­ing cut­ting. Left­handed shears are also avail­able. The length of the blade can vary from 20 to 30cm. It’s a wise idea to in­vest in good qual­ity dress­mak­ing shears as they will last for­ever; cheaper scis­sors of­ten break in half at the joint. Some dress­mak­ing shears, known as pink­ing shears, have a ser­rated edge on the blade that helps con­trol the cut­ting of light­weight fab­rics.

Mea­sur­ing tools

Buy good qual­ity equip­ment to en­sure that your mea­sure­ments are pre­cise. You will need a tape mea­sure 150cm in length, with me­tal tips and prefer­ably one that has the num­bers in cen­time­tres or inches printed on both sides. Try to choose one that is the same width as a stan­dard seam al­lowance (1,5cm), which will be use­ful when you have to keep a con­stant mea­sure­ment for seam al­lowances and hems.

Mark­ing aids

Mark­ing cer­tain parts of your work is es­sen­tial to en­sure that things like pock­ets and darts are placed cor­rectly. Choose one of the fol­low­ing:

1 Tai­lor’s chalk is ideal for mark­ing most fab­rics, comes in ei­ther a square or tri­an­gu­lar shape and is avail­able in a large va­ri­ety of colours. The chalk easily brushes off fab­ric. A chalk pen­cil is also avail­able and is easy to han­dle.

2 A wa­ter or air-sol­u­ble pen re­sem­bles a felt marker pen. Marks made can be re­moved from the fab­ric with a spray of wa­ter or by leav­ing it to air-dry.

3 A trac­ing wheel and dressmaker’s trac­ing or car­bon pa­per are used to­gether to trans­fer the mark­ings from a pa­per pat­tern onto fab­ric. TIP If you opt for a pen or a trac­ing wheel and car­bon pa­per, test it on a scrap of fab­ric to en­sure that the mark made will not be per­ma­nent.

Nee­dles and pins

Se­lect sewing ma­chine nee­dles ac­cord­ing to the type and weight of the fab­ric to be sewn and the thread used. Nee­dles vary ac­cord­ing to the type of point and thick­ness of the nee­dle – the larger the num­ber, the larger the nee­dle. For ex­am­ple, 60/8 uni­ver­sal nee­dles are used to sew finer fab­rics such as silk, 80/12 for medium-weight fab­rics such as cot­ton, and 90/14 for heavy­weight fab­rics such as denim. Nee­dles are sold in packs of five.

1 Hand-sewing nee­dles are clas­si­fied by the shape of the eye, the length and the point. Don’t spend too much time wor­ry­ing about what size or type to get – make it easy on your­self by buy­ing an as­sort­ment. There are con­ve­nient pack­ages avail­able that con­tain sev­eral dif­fer­ent types of nee­dles.

2 Dressmaker’s pins are sim­i­lar to house­hold pins in shape and thick­ness but are slightly longer. Pins come with flat heads or round plas­tic or glass heads. En­sure that the pins are thin and made of stain­less or nickel-plated steel, or rust­proof brass.

3 A pin­cush­ion will keep pins clean and sharp. Choose a fab­ric cover – a foam cover may blunt pins.

Sewing ma­chine

A sewing ma­chine is your ma­jor in­vest­ment – even if it’s sec­ond-hand. Shop around care­fully and check what dif­fer­ent brands and mod­els do and how well they func­tion. The sewing ma­chine doesn’t have to have the latest elec­tronic gad­gets, in fact, zigzag stitch­ing and au­to­matic but­ton­hole fea­tures will see you through most of your work. Prices vary ac­cord­ing to the brand, model and its ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

Nice-to-have ex­tras

(These are re­ally for the ex­pe­ri­enced or com­mit­ted dressmaker.)

• A cut­ting mat is used in con­junc­tion with your dressmaker’s wheel when trans­fer­ring pat­terns onto fab­ric.

• A sleeve board is ac­tu­ally two iron­ing boards at­tached one on top of the other. They are de­signed for press­ing small or slim ar­eas such as sleeves that do not fit over your reg­u­lar board.

• helpsA dressmaker’syou to make dressa per­fect­ly­form or fit­ted dummy gar­ment. If you wish to con­tinue dress­mak­ing or if you in­tend start­ing your own busi­ness it is def­i­nitely a good idea to in­vest in one. The ba­sic dress form is fully ad­justable for bust, waist and hip mea­sure­ments and it comes on an ad­justable stand. This means you can set each sec­tion of the model to your own mea­sure­ments as well as to your cor­rect height.

• An over­locker will re­duce your sewing time, and it also pro­duces a pro­fes­sional fin­ish as it stitches the

seam, trims it and binds the raw edge, all at the same time. Over­lock­ers are es­pe­cially use­ful when work­ing with stretch knits, sheer fab­rics and fab­rics that fray easily. For ex­am­ple, a ma­chine with three or four threads will give your seam a bit of stretch. This is a great way to pro­tect the seam and to make sure that it doesn’t come loose or un­ravel. How­ever, keep in mind that an over­locker isn’t es­sen­tial for ev­ery­day use or, for ex­am­ple, sewing bed­ding or cur­tains (when you can use your zigzag stitch on your sewing ma­chine). But it will come in handy if you’re selling clothes and want a pro­fes­sional fin­ish. There are many over­lock­ers from which to choose and, like sewing ma­chines, their prices vary ac­cord­ing to the brand, model and the over­locker’s ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

Your work area

Whether you’re us­ing a cor­ner or a whole room, you will ben­e­fit from hav­ing a ded­i­cated sewing space. Keep the fol­low­ing in mind when set­ting up your area:


The most im­por­tant pieces of fur­ni­ture are your sewing ta­ble, a cut­ting ta­ble and a com­fort­able, ad­justable chair. Se­lect the largest ta­ble top that your space can ac­com­mo­date, en­sur­ing that it is the cor­rect height for you and that the counter’s sur­face is smooth and durable. Make your own ta­ble by us­ing an old door and two tres­tles – you can get these at any hard­ware store selling tim­ber.

A peg­board mounted on the wall near your cut­ting ta­ble is ideal for hang­ing scis­sors, rulers, ro­tary cut­ters and so on. Make your own by buy­ing ma­sonite with punched holes (avail­able per me­tre at most hard­ware stores).


Plan your light­ing care­fully, keep­ing in mind that you need gen­eral light­ing to il­lu­mi­nate the room and task light­ing such as lamps to high­light the work ar­eas. Al­ways check that lights don’t shine down on your head, which will cre­ate shad­ows on your work.


Cre­ate a peace­ful, cre­ative am­bi­ence in your work area by mak­ing sure that the walls are painted in pas­tel shades. Dark colours ab­sorb light and light colours re­flect it. If you plan on us­ing dark colours, you will need more light­ing in your room.

Press­ing sta­tion

You will need a place to iron your projects as you work. Make sure the room has an elec­tric­ity point to plug in your iron and that there is suf­fi­cient space for an iron­ing board.

Good ideas

• In­vest in one pair of dress­mak­ing shears and opt for an or­di­nary pair of scis­sors for cut­ting out pat­terns. Cut­ting pa­per dulls shears, which makes it dif­fi­cult to cut fab­ric.

• Trim­ming scis­sors are used for more del­i­cate cut­ting and trim­ming and range from 10 to 15cm in length.

• In­vest in a seam rip­per. Mis­takes hap­pen. This makes this handy tool your best friend. It has a tiny ex­tended blade at the end, with a pro­tec­tive cover that can be re­moved as needed. Slide the small cut­ting blade at the base un­der the stitch to cut the thread. Var­i­ous sizes are avail­able to cut through light to heavy­weight fab­ric seams.

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