Dressmaking for beginners – what equipment you really need to start sewing
Basic dressmaking equipment
You don’t need that much to get started. Apart from a sewing machine and iron, beginners can buy the essentials for under £30. You’ll also need a table to work at and a bit of space to store your equipment.
The bare minimum
- Tape measure – preferably with cm and inches. A standard 150cm/60” length is fine unless you are very tall.
- Pins – dressmakers steel pins that are reasonably thin and long. My pins are size 34 x 0.6mm with flat heads.
- Sewing needles – packet of mixed hand sewing needles
- Sharp dressmaking scissors or shears for cutting fabric with – most people advise buying the best you can afford. However, until you find out whether or not you’re going to take to dressmaking, I’d recommend just buying a reasonable pair that is not too expensive. You can get a good pair for about £20. Don’t buy the cheapest available as they really don’t cut all that well. Once you’ve got your dressmaking scissors, only use them to cut fabric to avoid blunting them. Threaten anyone else in your house with a painful death if they pinch them for cutting paper or anything else!
- Tailor’s chalk or dressmaker’s chalk pencils – pencils are probably easiest to mark the fabric with. It’s good to have a dark one (generally pink or blue) and a light one (white).
- Ruler, pencil and rubber – for making alterations to patterns.
- Iron and ironing board – unfortunately ironing is a major part of dressmaking. You’ll need to iron fabric and patterns, and often use the iron to press seams and darts. A steam iron is useful but it doesn’t need to be an expensive one.
- Sewing machine – you could get by without one if you like hand sewing and have lots of time but dressmaking is much, much quicker using a sewing machine.
Some other very useful things for beginners
- Pincushion and magnet – helpful for not losing pins in the carpet and then standing on them. You can always make your own pincushion.
- Seam ripper – very cheap and very handy for fixing mistakes. I use mine quite a lot …
- Small sharp scissors – for cutting thread.
- Cheap scissors or shears – for cutting out paper patterns. I find it’s good to keep a pair of cheaper scissors with my dressmaker’s shears so that I’m not tempted to use the shears for cutting evil, blunting paper.
- Large artist’s natural bristle paintbrush – for cleaning fluff out of your sewing machine. Sizes 10-14 work well for this.
- Extra bobbins for sewing machine – buy a pack of plastic bobbins to fit your machine so that you can have several colours of thread on the go.
- Pressing cloth – to prevent shine on fabric when ironing, and to help avoid sticking interfacing to your iron. You can use a tea towel.
Where to buy dressmaking equipment
For basic supplies, try your local sewing shop if you have one or John Lewis. These are also the best places to look at sewing machines. You could also try arts and crafts shops as they sometimes have a limited range of sewing things.
You might be able to pick up some things second-hand in charity shops. I wouldn’t recommend buying scissors second-hand though unless you can try them on some fabric to check that they’re sharp.
I’ve put together some recommendations for basic dressmaking equipment on Amazon.
Another good option for buying online is Fred Aldous: they have pins, needles, tape measure, seam ripper, dressmaker’s shears and small scissors.
Things to think about buying later on
There are lots of things that you could buy but it’s probably best to wait until you need them or get really into making stuff. Some of them are:
- Dressmakers dummy – this is really useful for fitting blouses and shirts, but they are not cheap. You can make do without one.
- Extra feet for your sewing machine – your machine should come with a few different feet but you may need some extra. Zipper feet for ordinary and concealed zips are particularly useful.
- Storage and organisational things – storage racks for threads and bobbins, boxes for fabric, findings, and haberdashery. The plastic boxes they sell in DIY stores for organising screws can be useful. It’s easy to get carried away with buying lots of different boxes (I find that anyway)
- More specialist ironing equipment – proper pressing cloth, tailor’s ham for pressing curved seams and sleeve board. One day I’ll have these!
- Pattern making stuff – plain pattern paper (though any paper will do really), French or bendy curves for making patterns and a metre rule.
- Bits and bobs – things like a stiletto for turning points, strap turner, pinking shears, the list goes on! All nice to have if you are working on a project that will use them but not in any way essential when you are starting up.
See the clothes-press Amazon shop for ideas.
Where to put all this stuff
You will need a table to put your sewing machine on when you are using it. If you can set up an ironing board nearby, that will make your life much easier.
It really helps if you can find a corner in your home somewhere to put a table and store your stuff. It’s much easier to find time for sewing if you don’t have to spend ages getting all your equipment out before you start, and it helps a lot if you can leave things out when you’re in the middle of making something.
However if this isn’t possible, you could use any table to sew at and you can cut fabric out on the floor.
- All about sewing machines
Do you need a sewing machine, types of machines, how to choose a sewing machine, where to buy.
- Dressmaking for beginners
Equipment and books, courses and tutorials, where to get help and inspiration, choosing patterns and buying fabric.