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Dressmaking Equipment List

The following is a list of sewing equipment divided into two sections. The first will be difficult to do without, and the second part is stuff that is useful, but not essential.

Essential Dressmaking Equipment


  1. Sewing machine: This does not have to be full of the latest electronic gadgets! The ability to do zigzag stitching and automatic buttonholes will see you through most difficulties. A good second hand machine can be an excellent bargain. If you sew a lot, it is essential to have the machine serviced regularly. As a professional dress and costume maker, I tend to have my machines serviced every year to 18 months. For a home sewer, every two years should be sufficient, but check in the manual for the manufacturer’s recommendation.
  2. Dressmakers tape measure: These come in 60″, 100″, and 120″ lengths. A standard 60″ tape is fine to begin with, unless you are very tall!  The standard 60″ dressmaker’s tape is 5/8″ wide – the same width as a standard commercial pattern seam allowance!
  3. Dressmakers shears or scissors: For cutting out fabric only! A good quality pair is a good investment. Look after them, and they will last a lifetime! Never cut paper or thread with them!
  4. Paper scissors: For cutting out patterns. They need to be about the same size as the dressmaker’s scissors, but a cheap and cheerful pair will do fine.
  5. Small sharp scissors: For cutting buttonholes and threads
  6. Pins: Dressmakers pins come in several lengths and gauges: I find that Extra Long, Extra Fine ones work well on all but the thickest fabrics. Discard any that become blunt, rusty, bent, or otherwise damaged, as this will damage your fabric.
  7. Hand Sewing Needles: A mixed pack of hand sewing needles will be useful for most hand finishing techniques.
  8. Tailor’s chalk: For marking the fabric
  9. A ruler and a pencil: For pattern altering.
  10. Iron and ironing board: For pressing as you sew: essential for good results. If you are contemplating doing a lot of sewing, or need to buy a new iron, consider one with a stainless steel plate, as this is far easier to clean than any other sort, and accidents will happen!

Useful (but not essential) Dressmaking Equipment

  1. Tissue paper: For drawing out pattern pieces and making alterations
  2. Pritt stick: For gluing pattern pieces together. Unlike Sellotape, it will not shrink with age, and can be ironed without disastrous consequences for the iron! Neither can it spill all over the sewing equipment and fabric!
  3. Pressing cloth: One is good, two is better! A reasonable alternative for most things is a clean tea towel or two. They prevent iron-shine on the fabric when pressing, and prevent iron-on interfacing sticking to the iron and the ironing board. A damp pressing cloth and the right technique are far better tools than a steam iron when sewing. Steam irons are great for the family laundry, but sewing uses a different technique. Old-fashioned butter muslin is the best: wash it before the first use, to ensure that it is lint-free and will not leave bits all over the sewing.
  4. Point Turner: For giving really sharp points to your corners without poking through the fabric. Do not use scissors!
  5. Meter rule: For altering patterns, drawing patterns, and measuring hems
  6. Thimble: To protect your fingers as you sew: I hate them, but others cannot sew without one!
  7. French or bendy curves: For altering and drawing curves on patterns and drawing patterns. You can buy special curved rulers for doing this later, if it is something you do a lot.
  8. A large hog bristle artist’s paintbrush: Far better than the ridiculous little nylon thing that even the best sewing machine manufacturers give you to dust the lint and fluff out of the machine! Size 10 is ideal. Nylon ones cause static and are to be avoided.
  9. A box: Something to keep all this stuff in! I use a large Carver toolbox, but all you need is something handy to bring things to class in.
  10. A bag: To carry unfinished garments and fabrics to and from class to keep them clean, dry, and together.

In addition to this, there are hundreds of fascinating gadgets out there for the home and professional sewer that make life more interesting, fill the sewing box, and are wonderful Christmas and birthday present list items! Some are a joy to use, a few will become life-long friends, and many are more a hindrance than a help. Which will fall into each category is an entirely personal thing. My button covering thingy is a well-used friend, but the standard needle-threader I find neither use nor ornament (except for the ones for threading the serger, but that’s a different story… ).  I used to hate ALL needle threaders, but I recently acquired a machine that threads the needle right to left (the Singer 15-88 elsewhere on the site), and try as I might, I cannot thread this beastie with my left hand, so I use a threading gadget!  I also have one for classes, to help kids thread hand sewing needles.

I have a huge and overflowing toolbox and too many bits to go with my sewing machines for the boxes and drawers  that fit onto the machines or come in the cabinet, because I am a dedicated gadget freak, and a completist, and cannot bear to let a gadget pass me by. Most are far from essential. Some I have bought for a particular job, and never used again, some were bought for me and some I have fallen heir to over the years.

If you have inherited an older machine with gadgets you are not sure about, and no instruction book, it is worth contacting the manufacturer, as they may well be able to help. Singer is particularly good at this with their older machines. You will need to tell them the model number of the machine you have, so have it to hand before you call them. There are a number of useful sites on the Internet, and sewing pattern magazines like Butterick and Vogue carry advertising for all the major manufacturers. If you buy a second-hand machine from a reputable dealer, they should replace a missing instruction book before you buy the machine. If they don’t, get one as soon as possible.  It will save you hours of frustration.

© 2010 Kate Dicey & Bamber Sewing Machines