Household Items v. Specialist Equipment

Basic Equipment

Sewing doesn’t have to all be about fancy or expensive equipment. There are loads of things lying around the house that can come in useful. From left to right, above, we have a school ruler v. dressmaker’s measuring tape, bamboo point turner v. butter knife, and chalk marker v. washable felt tip pen. I found a wooden spoon very helpful during my recent Pyjama Party sewalong!


Are there any household items that you use as sewing tools? I can’t wait to hear. The whackier, the better!

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75 Responses to Household Items v. Specialist Equipment

  1. Ginny says:

    The wooden spoon handle is also very useful for pressing seams open up narrow things like straps, belts and baby sleeves! And because of its rounded shape it means you only press right by the seam line so you don’t get the dents on the right side from the edges of the seam allowances.

  2. Tracy says:

    I would be lost without a chopstick to turn fabric inside out-they get right into the corners, without going through the fabric!

  3. wot2eat says:

    I sometimes use a straight-sided glass tumbler to flatten my seams. Does that count as wacky?

  4. redricrac says:

    My mom taught me to use a knitting needle as a point turner. I use canned vegetables to hold down patterns instead of pins sometimes.
    Love your blog!

  5. Cocktail stick for sewing on buttons? Can’t claim the idea as it’s a tip I picked up from The Sewing Book by Alison Smith.

    • Cocktail stick?! How does that work? Am intrigued.

      • You put it on top of the button and then sew your thread over the stick and through the button. When you’ve got enough thread through your button you take out your cocktail stick… This leaves a button dangling on some thready loops. You then wrap your thread around these loops making a sort of wrapped thread ‘stalk’ for your button to sit on. Once you are happy with the sturdiness of your stalk your tie your ends in.
        There’s probably a pucker tailoring term…

      • lisa g says:

        it’s called a shank and i use a toothpick… or that’s probably the same thing as a cocktail stick?

    • Sewer From Across The Pond says:

      Some people use a match.

      • LSV says:

        Yep, I use a (unlit) match!

      • Holly B says:

        I’ve used a match as well. Works wonderfully every time! I’m enjoying reading some of the other ideas here. It sure beats spending more money on equipment that I can spend on fabric instead!

    • Wendyp says:

      I use a tooth pick too, I only put it under the button, but next time I will hold it on top of the button, I think that will go easier…

  6. Sue Macdonald says:

    Have used a wooden spoon also chop sticks!! Those things you put between the toes when painting with varnish are good for holding machine bobbins so they don’t unravel!!

  7. Aleksandra says:

    I frequently use a silicon basting brush and a plastic wet measure to brush water on to my interfacing before I steam it. I kept forgetting to pick up a new spray bottle, so I improvised.

  8. Portia says:

    Masking tape from the diy store and and hole reinforcers from the stationers; well documented on my blog, lol! Also, baking parchment/greaseproof paper for tracing patterns and paperclips instead of pins for holding leather together. (Plus tea and coffee for natural dyes instead of dylon/rit dye)

    Ps I think the cocktail stick Penny maybe refers to/is to do with, creating the button “shank” perhaps?? Could also use a matchstick.


  9. helensteynor says:

    I’ve used a lightbulb instead of a wooden darning egg/mushroom when darning socks

  10. Carol S says:

    I have 2 hefty vintage staplers that get constant use as pattern weights.

  11. Jeanine says:

    I live in such a tiny apartment there’s no room to block my knits on the floor…I totally block them on top of old towels on my 1995 ford escort in the California sun. I’m sure my neighbors think it’s completely normal.

    • Ros says:

      I do mine on towels on my bed. Pin them straight into the mattress. I find that even if the knitting is still damp by the time I have to go to bed, the shaping holds.

  12. Claire ire says:

    Knitting needles here as well. Have been known to use satsumas to hold patterns in place, when I run out of metal washers that is. Biscuit tins for sewing boxes definitely, then you can enjoy the contents.

  13. lisa g says:

    my favorite tool… a hammer to whack bulky seams into submission!

  14. Nothy says:

    I’ve used the ends of soap bars for transferring marks to my fabric. It works just fine and the fabric smells great too. ANd I recently had a post about substitutions for light-weight interfacing and in my internet search found a suggestion to use dryer sheets!!!! I tried them on a wearable muslin and they seem to hold up fine.

  15. PDX Gretchen says:

    I have a pair of cooking chopsticks that I use for point turning and turning fabric tubes inside out. They’re nice a long and and have blunt ends, so no accidental poking through the fabric. I also keep a little plastic Chinese sauce dish (such as you might pour a splash of soy sauce into) by my sewing machines, to drop pins in as I remove them before sewing. My main pin dish (a ceramic hamster food dish) stays on my cutting table.

  16. sewexhausted says:

    Crayons for marking, pencils for turning straps, and “stuff” for holding down patterns (whatever I can find w/ a little weight to it)… 😀 I like the can idea- I will have to steal that one! ~Laurie

    • redricrac says:

      My favorite cans are the small, flat ones, like tuna and green cans. Boxes of spaghetti are good for long stretches of pattern, like side seams or reaching up into shoulders. Have fun!

      • Speaking of pattern weights…. For my wedding 8 years ago I bought A LOT of small but heavy tealight holders from Ikea for like £1 each, now I use about six of them as pattern weights, but I have access to about 20 more!

  17. gMarie says:

    I’m not reading the comments first so forgive me is some have already been said – sharpies for pattern tracing, hammer for cover buttons (gently), snaps and upholstery uses, I have some wooden dowel for pressing and I keep a heavy duty stapler in the space for upholstery. g

  18. Fiona K says:

    I use the same tip for buttons – only with a hair grip rather than a cocktail stick! My gran showed me years ago!

  19. Catherine says:

    I use a tea towel to make any flat surface into an ironing board – not sure if this is handy or just too lazy to fight the hall cupboard for possession of the ironing board. It’s amazing what specialist equipment we already have at hand in our homes. Cx

  20. Gosh… I’m all about improvising. I’ve used a credit card to unscrew my presser foot attachment in the past but I recently learnt that you can also do this with a standard presser foot itself! And those washable pens that I insisted I needed in order to revise for my A-levels but have been hanging around for 12 years are now being used. I’ve rubbed chalk on a piece of string, attached it taught from the bottom banister to the radiator pipe (checked it was horizontal with a spirit level) and brushed against it turning round gently to mark a hem! Like the comment above… any tin from the kitchen cupboard will do for pattern weights.

  21. Marie says:

    Not strictly a ‘household’ item, but I’ve been known to use bananas as pattern weights before. Don’t judge me ;o)

  22. Karen says:

    I use my lint roller all the time to clean up the mess I make on my ironing board when I clip seams. It’s also good to get rid of those pesky cat-hairs that mysteriously show up in my sewing room. (I also use chopsticks as turners on occasion).
    The best household sewing helper, however, is cocktail hour.

  23. I use ink bottles as pattern weights! Or the cat, but I’m not sure if he qualifies as a household item.

  24. I use cutlery as pattern weights. I just grab some from the drawer and it holds everything in place while I cut out. The knives are the best.

  25. JacqC says:

    I use a piece of dried spaghetti to pick up tiny gems and sequins. You lick the end of the spaghetti, it sticks to the sequin, drop it into place and sew (or glue!). Very handy when my daughter had dance costumes that needed embellishing. I read this tip somewhere – I appreciate it’s probably unhygenic! 🙂

  26. carmencitabs says:

    My new fave thing are Pilot Frixion pen. I can’t be credited for that as I picked it up in a Crafty class. Just don’t do it in the cold as the pen marks will show up again on the outside. I staple leather, I use washable glue sticks on zippers and masking tape to mark seams. I photocopy and scan patterns when needed, freezer and waxed paper to trace Burdas. It’s endless, everything can be an end to a mean.

    • Anne-Marie says:

      I use a Sharpie pen on frost cloth from the garden centre for tracing patters; it doesn’t bleed through on the pattern sheet, the cloth doesn’t rip, it comes cheap on 1-metre wide rolls and and you can even baste it to do a quick fit after.

  27. carmencitabs says:

    I forgot! I also use a chisel and a hammer to open up buttonholes.

  28. Katrina says:

    I’ve been pining for a French curve for months, then realised my lunchbox (shaped like a slice of toast) has the exact curves I need to draw, definitely saved a few £ there!

  29. Shar says:

    I’m getting some great ideas from reading the comments! I put old sewing machine needles and bent pins in a pill bottle with a child proof top. I used to just weave them through some left over fabric and throw them in the trash, but this seems safer.

  30. SKP says:

    Eraser as darning egg for doing the toes of toe socks…ends of old bars of soap for marking fabric…spare change as pattern weights…

  31. Caro says:

    Our old bathroom sink taps are my upstairs pattern weights, downstairs it’s food cans. I use baking paper for tracing patterns and I have my pins in a seashell by my machine.

  32. LubbyGirl says:

    I’ve found that lids work GREAT as patterns for tortilla warmers. And I quit buying those pencils for marking fabric – found that my plain ol’ soft lead pencils for doing crosswords work just as well, and are definitely double-duty.

  33. Vivid marker for writing on toiles. Chopsticks for everything! I am in love with the genus toothpick button suggestion above, too. Knives, forks and spoons as pattern weights. The other night, I used a wine bottle to help wind skeins of embroidery thread – just take off the papers, drop the circle over it, and wind onto a floss bobbin. No tangles. I imagine TWO wine bottles would work well for winding wool in the same way 😉
    I’ve probably mentioned before the quilter’s trick of masking tapping a plastic shopping bag to the table just beside the sewing machine – gives a perfect spot for scraps and offcuts. I imagine those sewing with kittehs and puppehs might find this is just another challenge for their pets, however!

  34. Marie says:

    Wonderful post and amazing tips! I have used knitting needles as a turner. Thanks for sharing.

  35. Pat says:

    I have a small one pound canned ham that I use to flatten pesky seams.

  36. I’m with the chopstick brigade for turning corners and I’ve used a light bulb as a darning mushroom (you don’t hold them hard, so there’s little fear of their smashing and causing damage). I use a bag of marbles (or perhaps decorative stones, whichever is nearer) as a weight. My best bit of make-doery, though, was a very long piece of dowel for a v-e-e-r-y long piece of binding I needed to turn through (there were probably easier ways of doing it, but I was after a certain look). Even my long wooden spoon was fairly frustrating, but then I visited my husband’s workshop. Mm. Fair repayment for all the times he’s borrowed my tools – and never returned them! 🙂

  37. Kathleen says:

    I’ve used a screwdriver to turn corners before. I’ve used old posters we didn’t want anymore as pattern paper and I’ve used a sleeping cat as a pattern weight. The last one was pretty risky but it worked out.

  38. Catherine says:

    Sometimes I find tailors chalk is not strong enough so I use regular chalk. Also I wanted a magnetic pin catcher but I only had 1 very strong magnet that’s about 1cm wide so I stuck it on the underside of a jar lid and made a bigger magnet!

  39. Thanks for this! So useful 🙂

  40. Elle C says:

    I use a construction tape measure for cutting out fabric. My cutting table consists of a piece of plywood with my cutting mat on top. I line the board, mat and fabric up so they are all straight. I use the tape measure to true the grainlines. I lock it in place on one end and then just slide it along the edge of the plywood making sure the rest is straight. So much easier than keeping my eye on 12 3/16 or whatever. I hope this makes sense.

    I use rolls of adding machine tape for either pressing over (to avoid seams showing) or sewing over when sewing fabric that makes my machine skip stitches. Easier than cutting strips of paper.

    I also use Frixion pens for marking on fabrlc, but I also use them for tracing out Burda magazine patterns. I colour the pattern pieces in an easily seen colour, trace the pattern as normal. When done, iron the pattern. Marks gone. Ready to trace the next pattern.

  41. Elle C says:

    I forgot my favourite! I have three rubber doorstops to tilt the back of my machine up, much easier to see and less neck strain. I have been doing this for years. Love it.

  42. Sabs says:

    I use baking paper to trace patterns, remotes, tins and my phone as pattern weights and made my own thimble out of scrap leather!

  43. Lorinda says:

    My favorite gadget is a little measuring guage that was made for an engineering research company as a give away item. It is 15 mm or 6 inches. Metric measurements on one side and inches on the other side. There is a pocket clip that slides to mark your measurment. Unlike the flimsly guages sold in the sewing stores this item is precise and holds the depth mark until I change it. The inch side is marked with Inch, half inch, 10th of an inch and 50th of an inch marks. The back side has a conversion chart with 64ths in to metric measurement conversions. I have a lot of sewing tools now but they were collected over the years. I am a big fan of improvising when necessary, especially when something I have on hand works well for double duty or the specialized tool is not a frequent use candidate.

  44. KellysSewing says:

    I use a bobby pin to turn small tubes. A slight clip in one edge, insert one leg of bobby pin through clip, insert bobby pin into tube and turn. You can make the slimmest tubes!

  45. Lucy Lovell says:

    I use a velcro hair roller to pick up all those snipped off threads from my carpet as they don’t get along with my hoover! You just rub it over the carpet and they stick.
    A tip I got from work (I repair / alter work wear) is to use a craft knife to undo seams, probably best avoid for delicate fabrics but otherwise it is a very quick method.
    I use newspapers as pattern paper for those times when it isn’t necessary to have a grid to mark a block out on.
    I also have been known to sellotape patterns onto fabric…. which is my guilty (now not so) secret!

  46. ZoSews says:

    Glass coasters as pattern weights – perfect! 😉

  47. ShanniLoves says:

    Not sure if these are all that wacky but here goes…My hubs nasty vienna sausages cans as pattern weights, plain old school chalk for markings, pencils as point turners, and a small wooden cutting board. I use this when I’m mending holes in pants. I stick it in the pant leg, put the patch in between the board and fabric. It’s helpful when trying to pin your patch on. Otherwise I was constantly pinning the other side of the jeans!

  48. Erika says:

    My mum used to use gift wraps as pattern papers, and when I need to draw a small pattern piece I still do so as well sometimes! Also, when I was taking sewing classes for which I needed to make half-scaled sleeves I used rolled-up dishcloths as a seam roll. And on straight lines I sometimes use my set triangle (is this a proper word? I google-translated it and after that image-searched it to check wether this was really how a ‘geodriehoek’ was called) for easy distance checking.

  49. Kelly says:

    I use diamond “jewelers” tweezers for guiding work close to the needle, saves fingers. I have a clay tool with small ball shaped ends, again guiding fabrics and working under threads when ripping a seam. Magnetic parts dish, think auto parts store $5 vs. $12 for a smaller dish that said “quilting”. Needed a thread guide for a large cone, used a piece of floral wire to create a loop on the arm of my adjustable tasklight. Light bulb for darning, used a dried gourd for years too.

  50. Sarah says:

    I’ve used mini bottles of perfume as pattern weights before, yay for resourcefulness! 🙂

  51. I use the old cardboard rolls from paper towels and toilet paper to hold rolled up pattern pieces, and just write the pattern info on the cardboard. They iron flat in no time and are easy to store in a basket this way.
    I actually just posted about all the sewing supplies to be found at a hardware store last month:

  52. GiGi Hooks says:

    I had 15 balloon weights left over from a Christmas party. I kept them and now use them to hold fabric in place instead of pinning.

  53. Pingback: Notes from an [aspiring] Savvy Sewist - Mrs. Hughes

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