9 tools needed in your sewing factory

I’m back from my trip to Florida, did anyone miss me?

The universe is conspiring to tell me to write this post about tools you need in your shop. First review the selection of sewing and drafting tools I’ve recommended before (also on pg 146 of my book). Buy those, not something else you think is an acceptable substitute or maybe even better or that costs less but is “just as good”. For example, to reduce occasional stitch skipping and seam compression, you need a sewing hammer. Please note I am being very specific. I’m not saying to buy a hammer you can use with sewing and to be creative or inventive or thrifty in your choice of one, I’m saying to buy this one and no other.

Speaking of being specific about tools, I have finally figured out what I dislike most about quilting rulers. Please do not buy the latter, they are not better than a B-95 and they cost much more. First they are too thick to be pliable, they are too shiny (high glare makes them hard to use for long periods of time), they are too wide to be handled readily in seam walking and lastly, the hash marks on them are also too wide. Do not use wooden rulers of any kind; if they are not yet warped it is only a matter of time . Buy Fairgate metal rules designed specifically for the apparel industry -these are two inches wide so you can weight them down with a pattern/cloth weight which you should do whenever drawing long lines. Buy a ruler that is at least as long as the widest fabric you have. Also buy an L-square. There is no other way to true off right angles for the length you need. T-squares have too small a head. Southstar has most of the rules you need.

But back to my opening premise, generic tools you need in addition to the basics I mentioned above. If you have sewing machines, you need:

  • A flat and philips head screwdriver (in the drawer* of every machine),
  • a metric and inch socket set (maybe even a nut driver set),
  • a set of allen wrenches,
  • a set of adjustable wrenches,
  • a hammer,
  • a pair of needle nose pliers,
  • wire strippers,
  • a drill with wood and metal drill bits
  • and a can of silicone spray.
  • If you’re feeling brave, a set of SAE and metric taps and dies. I’ve only used them myself once but people who have come in to help me fix stuff were thrilled I had them.

As far as tool size, get the mid range size. Not too small and not too large.  FYI, bolts on cutting tables take a 1/2″ socket. If you are like me, you will need a socket on one side and an adjustable wrench on the other to loosen and tighten the table bolts. The sewing machine table bolts are larger but easily handled with a 6″ adjustable wrench. In the sewing room, a 6″ wrench is my favorite size (I hide my pair and don’t let anyone use them). When getting pliers of any type, get ones that spring back open or prepare to be very annoyed some day in the future when it’s all gone south already. Your basic wire strippers are fine. Any wire stripping you may need to do is 12-20 gauge (the higher the number, the thinner the wire).

Before I forget, take pains to notice what tools your stitchers bring to work and how they use them. You should probably buy them replacement tools so they can take their stuff home. In fact, you should buy a set for everyone. Most of the time, stitchers only a short (6″) metal rule, a pair of snips (aka nippers), a wax and a chalk pencil and maybe scissors. Personally, I think it is a bad idea that they have scissors because they should not need them. Most important are the snips, I keep a pair on every sewing machine.

Oh, I almost forgot. One of the reasons I wrote this is because a friend sent me a link to Amazon’s Supply, a beta site for tools and materials used in shops, labs and factories.

*One day Mr F-I and I were visiting his mother. She was saying her now deceased husband was crazy because when she sold their home, she found two screwdrivers in one drawer in every room of the house.  Mr. F-I and I looked at each other and we both thought the same thing -“that’s brilliant!” and we’ve been working on doing the same here.

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  1. David S. says:

    You forgot an essential part of a tool kit: a tool box. It needs to be big enough to hold everything that’s supposed to go in it, with a fair amount of empty space. If it’s not big enough, tools don’t get put back, and then they’re lost; if there’s too much stuff in the box, tools that are there can’t be found. A lock is probably a good idea, too. For the number of tools Kathleen is suggesting (and I’ll defer to her expertise on the matter), a tabletop box is probably fine. If you’ve got a bigger space, a rolling box allows you to move the tools to the work site.

    I’m also a fan of screwdrivers that take interchangeable bits. You can get a set of bits that has every one you’re likely to ever need for not much money, and if you discover you’ve lost one, or need one that’s not in the kit, additional ones are generally cheap. I’d also make sure the tools in the machine drawer fit the screws on the machine they’re going to be used on. On my singer, it takes three different flat bladed screwdrivers to change the needle plate, feed dog, and presser foot out. (I could make do with one, but the right tools are easier, faster, and less likely to screw up a fastener.)

  2. Jess Latham says:

    I would add to the list for stitchers:

    sewing machine tweezers
    cleaning brushes (especially pipe cleaners for those little metal pipes that the thread goes through on some sergers, those can get clogged with lint)
    tally counter
    needle threader for loopers
    fingertip moistener
    headphones and mp3 player : )

  3. Kathleen says:

    Good one David, a tool box. The funny part of it is that I have a little metal toolbox that I really love, that is where I keep my favorite tools I don’t let anyone use. I have a favorite ratcheting screwdriver with interchangeable tips I keep in there too. I also have the big tool chest on 5″ casters that is almost taller than me. I bought that for me for Christmas last year. I can put just about everything in it except the larger tools ( drill press, table saw, compressor etc).

    It is also true that you often need a variety of screwdrivers but like you, I usually make the one work. Oh wait, I keep a set of jewelers screwdrivers in the drawer of my main machine for bobbin case tightening and such.

  4. Theresa in Tucson says:

    If you don’t have to worry about pilferage a canvas zip bag with handles works nice for the most used. DH bought his at a military surplus and keeps his most used tools there. Your late FIL had the right idea. We keep trash scissors in three rooms in the house plus both kinds of screwdrivers. Some places have gremlins that hide things so one must periodically gather them all up and redistribute them to their proper places. And thank you for the picture of the sewing hammer. I’m going to check Pop’s machine shop first to see if we have one and if not go buy one at Tandy Leather.

  5. Katherine says:

    I love the story about having screwdrivers in every room! I bought my 7 yo son a complete screwdriver set for his birthday and he has been over the moon…and it is amazing how often we borrow stuff from him because it is easier than going downstairs to fetch our tools.

  6. Sandy Peterson says:

    Welcome home Kathleen, of course we missed you!!!

    There’s a lot of great information in this article, thank you……………….and aw, major bummer!!, we just stopped in Nashville on our way home from Atlanta, and if I knew about Southstar we could have stopped there to pick up a couple of things!

    It’s funny, because as we were planning our trip to Atlanta we were trying to think if there were some places that we would like to stop at while we are traveling, and all we could think of was the Guitar Center in Nashville. And we did stop there on the way home, (very interesting by the way).

    But now, I am for sure going to put together a list of places that I would like to stop at when we travel, just in case, and I have thought of this before, but never really followed through. You just never know where life is going to take you, so it’s best to be prepared!

  7. Alizah says:

    Thanks, Kathleen, for making me aware of AmazonSupply – that is a cool idea and definitely useful for a lot of people. I wonder how the local hardware stores will cope with it though. Maybe in the end it’s just like another HomeDepot moving in across town…

    I think I’ll get myself the sewing hammer you recommend. Do you think it would have any effect on fleece, or is the material too “bouncy”?

    Sandy, I hope your trip back from Atlanta was fun – you have such wonderful kids. It was great meeting you all!

  8. Kathleen says:

    Jess, I missed your comment because I must have been composing mine when your comment came in. I definitely agree on the tweezers, ditto brushes. I’ve given up on needle threaders because I can’t seem to ever find one but yeah, those are good too.

    Canned air: I use that too, pretty hard to do without it.
    Hairspray is occasionally useful, get the non-aerosal kind for spritzing thread ends that defy being threaded.

    Alizah: I don’t know if the hammer would be good on fleece. Is fleece the only fabric you will ever sew?

  9. Lisa Blank says:

    It’s great to have you back, Kathleen. Of course you were missed!

    Thanks for a handy list and to the commenters who have added more. After I got my industrial machines a few years ago, DH presented me with my very own toolbox complete with many of the items you’ve listed. I was tickled!

  10. Marie-Christine says:

    Welcome back Kathleen!
    I’d add something to the snippers – a ribbon so they can be worn around the neck. Makes a huge difference for me in terms of efficiency (they always migrate under something otherwise).
    I have scissors in every room, does that make me crazy too? Also Kleenex, but that’s another topic.

  11. Million says:

    A rubber mallet is also handy to have around if you use rubber cement for any of your procedures. It’s used by shoemakers, which could be part of your manufacturing process if you make costumes. I cannot speak on behalf of traditional bespoke shoemakers, but conventional shoemakers use rubber cement to attach soles to the bottom of shoes.

  12. Alizah says:

    Kathleen, I’ll have other things under the needle of course :-) I was just curious if it would be effective on fleece, since that’s what I’m most concerned with right now. But for $19, I’m pretty certain you can’t go wrong with this hammer… Thanks for the recommendation!

  13. Quincunx says:

    Thanks for clearing that up, Million. Here I thought “rubber cement” was a regionalism and the reason I couldn’t find anything but contact cement in the home-improvement stores–and I certainly needed ‘contact cement’. (When duct tape isn’t enough to keep things which shouldn’t move from moving, add contact cement.)

  14. Maripat says:

    I use a pair of nippers to cut zipper teeth to make a zipper the correct size. I also use an adjustable IV pole. I put a formal on a hanger, hang it from the pole, then position it on the ironing board to press. The rest of the dress hangs freely, but doesn’t touch the floor, and both my hands are free.
    One ore thing I use razor blades for ripping open seams. You can buy the kind that telescope out of a handle, but I just use straight razors.

  15. Maripat says:

    Ummm, to clear up confusion, I call my little thread snippers “snips”. The nippers I referred to are found in the hardware store and are normally used to cut wire. Instead of a pointed nose like needle nosed pliers, they have a flat nose with a cutting edge of about 1″.

  16. Lisa B2 says:

    Oh! More things to add to my list! But I think we have a bunch of the tools already. No drill yet, though. I’m sure DH won’t notice if I bring all the tools upstairs to the sewing room. (He either doesn’t ever notice or it takes him a long time to notice.)

  17. Lisa B2 says:

    So with the sewing hammer, do you just pound your seams and topstitching and stuff? I ordered the one you said then saw a basket of them by the irons at Fabric Depot, on the floor, no sign or any info on how to use them, just a basket w/ them w/ price tags on each one.

  18. Maripat says:

    @Lisa, you pound your thick seams. I only need it for jean hems. I cut, fold up once, fold up again, then pound it until it gets flat. I then use a jean-a ma-jig (there is a similar product called a hump jumper) to help even out the presser foot when it is getting over that hump. If Kathleen doesn’t mind the link, I have some photos on my blog, here at LearningAlterations.com

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