Three Investments To Improve Your Sewing

How do you know what is a wise sewing investment and what will be a waste of money? Trial and error. Don’t even talk to me about marking pencils or loop turners. But there are some items I am grateful for every single time I use them, and they’ve improved my sewing. They may not have been cheap, but they’ve been worth every penny. Here are my top three!

clapper ii

Wooden Tailor’s Clapper

When I bought a piece of wood for the best part of £30, I wondered if I’d finally lost my marbles. Now, I use this on a weekly basis and quietly send a prayer of thanks to the Sewing Gods. This makes such a difference on pressing open seams, finishing and turning ties or other tube items, turning up hems… You name it. Pressing fabric isn’t just about applying an iron. It’s the science of steam, and this baby will turn you from a fresher to a graduated doctor of sewing. Nurse, pass me my clapper!

invisible zip foot Collage

Invisible Zipper Foot

I could have winced when I ordered this baby. Scratch that, I did wince. Over £30 for a sewing machine foot? Are you insane? As it turned out, no. This baby really does make the difference between Will Do to Can’t Beat when it comes to inserting an invisible zip. It also saves you a lot of swearing. It’s one of my most oft-used and oft-thanked items. Worth every penny that no longer goes into the swear box.

fusible interfacing

Quality Fusible Interfacing

Once upon a time, I used cardboard as my interfacing. Joking – just. Then I discovered that there was a whole range of interfacing that was of an altogether different standard. True, it was more expensive than some of the fabrics I bought on Walthamstow market, but it meant I no longer had collars that stuck out like saucers, or button bands that creaked when I moved. It also meant my interfacing wouldn’t disintegrate the first time it went through the washing machine.

In fact, once you discover the range of interfacings out there, it’s easy to become a bit obsessed. If you want a full run down, I suggest a visit to MacCulloch & Wallis. (Though am I the only person whose heart sinks at their new premises? So clinical, so modern, so lacking in personality. Where’s the visiting parrot and the ancient lino? I miss those things! I know, I know, progress, rent rises and new train lines. Still…)

These are the three items that immediately leapt out at me. Do you have any recommendations for sewing items that might be a bit pricey but are really great investments?

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68 Responses to Three Investments To Improve Your Sewing

  1. Marissa says:

    Agree with all three of these things! I also thank my stars for my collection of vintage pattern weights (so small and SO heavy) along with my giant rotary mat and cutter. It has reduced up my cutting time by at least half!

    • Oh yes, the mat and cutter. Problem is, now I crave a decent height cutting out table rather than my wobbly circular dining table (that is covered in scratches from the rotary cutter).

  2. Chris says:

    I would second the rotary mat and cutter suggestion. And yes yes yes to quality interfacing. In my case though, the biggest impact was my “new” sewing machine, a 30 year old Bernina without any electronics, bought on Ebay for 400 €, that sews better than anything I’ve sewed on before. That doesn’t mean to say that I would say no to a new Bernina, but somehow the Sewing Gods aren’t listening…

  3. sewmanju says:

    So what’s wrong with the loop turner? It gets a bad press I think. How else do you turn tiny straps and tubes the right way out?

    • Not with that abomination!

      • Jen (NY) says:

        The loop turner was one of my first purchases when I stared sewing again. It certainly looked promising in the package! I have since discovered that other methods are somewhat easier…

      • Katie M says:

        I love my loop turner. I make the tiniest rouleau loops for buttons with them. You just have to get the hang of it, and you have to sew incredibly small seams.

      • Alice says:

        Now, now, don’t be a snob. If it works for sewmanju then don’t belittle her use of a contraption that you wouldn’t think of using. I personally use the ribbon sewn within the tube and voila! You can see the method on Pinterest.

    • LinB says:

      I adore my Fasturn tube turner. I made a special bag for it and its instruction manual, that hangs right beside my machine so I can grab it at a moment’s notice. It is one of the few specialized pieces of equipment that I would replace if it ever wears out.

      • Deon says:

        The Fasturn really is good. The first time I used it, I just stared with my mouth open that it was so easy to turn a tube, and so quick. I called me sister, and she agreed – it turns the loop so fast that you think something must be wrong. How could you pay so much for something that’s over so quickly? But man-oh-man does it work.

    • Claire says:

      I Love my loop turner!

  4. ivygirl2112 says:

    Maculloch and Wallis not convenient for everyone, also rather pricey. English Couture Company has excellent selection.
    I agree with you entirely about the three choices you have made for vital sewing tools. Good quality interfacings save such a lot of frustration!

  5. Miriana says:

    You are the worst sewing toys and trinkets enabler on the whole web! Cease and desist. I thought you lost your marbles long ago when you bought the little chisel to open up buttonholes. I’m rather attached to my metre long steel ruler (and stupidly thrilled when I can buy sewing stuff from non sewing outlets… they sell chisels in B&Q dontcha know). And am absolutely with you on the interfacing. I took your English Couture Company recommendation a while back.

  6. A walking foot (/ even-feed foot). Also in the category of incredibly expensive machine feet – mine cost £40 which, ow. But absolutely invaluable for working with fabrics that for whatever reason (too thin, too thick, too rough, too slippery, too many layers) refuse to move smoothly through the machine on their own. Best sewing widget I own, hands down.

    Also! Proper clappers with their shaped ends run expensive, but a reasonable substitute – a big chunk of un-painted wood with at least one smooth, flat side – is possible to achieve at home. My clapper is part of an old chair, I think – I found it in the neighbours’ back yard, cleaned it, sanded it and it works a treat.

    • How could I forget the walking foot? I’m absolutely sure a good clapper can be made from an off cut. It’s basically a piece of wood to stop the steam from escaping the fabric, without sweating the fabric.

  7. Charlotte says:

    Definitely a decent sized cutting mat and good weights. I was gifted with some heavy but perfectly sized ones by a friend of mine, which were industrial metal washers stacked and wrapped in ribbon. Gorgeous and useful. Also useful – the bamboo pointy thing (can’t remember the name) for pushing out corners etc. Oh and decent scissors! 😀

    • Oh, decent scissors – yes, yes and thrice yes.

      • LinB says:

        I have beautiful polished marble pattern weights in a variety of sizes! So many community sports leagues award trophies for so many categories. So many of those trophies end up on tables and in display cases at my workplace … so many of them are eventually done away with by the Trophy Police, mwa ha ha.

        The Trophy Police squad allows three years of each sport’s trophies to be on display. After that, the Trophy Police spirit the old ones away. We disassemble them into component parts, and responsibly discard the dreck in the appropriate trash can (or, in some cases, reassemble it into “special” trophies for our families and friends). The marble bases are distributed among us to use as pattern weights, door stops, and lamp bases.

        I often see old trophies at the thrift store, for very little money. Apparently, third place in a church league girl’s softball tournament in 1973 has very little sentimental value for the “girls” anymore.

  8. Kerry says:

    I need to get some of that good quality interfacing, thanks for the link. I did see the laundering information says ‘Dry Clean only’ which made me think it wouldn’t be much use, before I noticed it said ‘washable at 40 degrees right beside it’. Confusing! But I will have to invest in some

  9. Jon says:

    In asnwer to Sewmanju, you turn tiny rouleau with a needle!! Many years ago when I was a keen studio assistant and not long out of Fashion College I was in one of the Couture workrooms at Hardy Amies and they were making tiny rouleau straps for a dress, I said I would go and find a really tiny safety pin to turn it through….. By the time I got back the rouleau were all turned!! I was shown the trick, you double thread a needle, sew the threads into the end of the rouleau and then thread the needle, eye end first, back through the rouleau, easy. It works on all sizes even the smallest rouleau you can make. The girls in the room thought I was mad, Couture hands appear to solve most problems with a needle and thread!!

  10. I love this game … My Best Stuff! But where to start? The bias maker, the bit of folded metal that costs loads and looks as though it won’t work – is brilliant! Perfect bias binding every time. And specialist rulers – grader’s set square and the Pattern Master – it’s so lovely to use precision tools for measuring and drafting. Finally – two beech trestles from IKEA, dead cheap, £50 the pair, with an old table top across the two – and it’s a great cutting table. Even better – the trestles adjust to a height you can stand at comfortably. Totally agree about MacCulloch’s – end of an era.

  11. Mingbat says:

    Oooh a Bernina invisible zip foot, I am considering a Bernina for my next machine which model do you use???

  12. Lesley King says:

    Sadly for me my most used bit of kit is my unpicker. I was only using the one I got with my machine until I inherited my grandma’s sewing table which had 6 (!) unpickers in them. I haven’t worked out which is my favourite yet but I’m working through them all.

  13. My favourite tool costs less than a quid and is a little Pyrm plastic ruler with notches for the centimetres. I use it for pattern drafting, taking up hems, ironing straight lines (carefully) and ali sorts of things. I always buy mine from here and have gone though many.
    .http://www.venacavadesign.co.uk/shop/home/466-hand-sewing-gauge-prym.htmlhttp://www.venacavadesign.co.uk/shop/home/466-hand-sewing-gauge-prym.html

  14. i second the person above who said scissors. i have carpal tunnel and my spring loaded ginghers are amazing – they really help. i also really love my wide see through ruler which is marked in square inches. i think it’s a quilting thing but it makes pattern adjustments (especially lengthening) so easy. basically whatever your most hated sewing task is – spend on that as you will appreciate it the most!

  15. oisille says:

    Interesting! I also bought an invisible zipper foot but i never use it as I find the regular one gives me much better control and a spot on finish. I like to play ‘spot the zip’ when ive done a particularly good job.

    Couldn’t agree more on interfacing though, my first blouse is basically bullet proof.

  16. francescapia says:

    Nice post! Agree on all three. And all of the above, actually. Can’t say I ever hold back when it comes to good assistants. I have bought so many scissors over the years it’s untrue… Sine I got my Bernina 1008, I have spent way too much on a walking foot, invisible zip foot, and an amazing table thing which extends the working surface – I highly recommend it! Now I’m waiting for a straight stitch needle plate which apparently is very helpful when sewing fine silks etc…

    I can’t be without silk organza -i find it amazing as interfacing, interlining, and its the most incredible pressing cloth.

  17. Sherry says:

    Sometimes it is not until you can’t find something that you realise how much you need or use it. I couldn’t find my chalk pencil the other day and got in a bit of a tizz! They are inexpensive and come in packets of three, and I like them to mark dart apices and things.
    And yes to a quick-unpic too!

  18. Shelley says:

    My 2 metre long metal ruler has been brilliant for all the curtain making I’ve been doing. I have a quilter’s ruler which is fab for lengthening. Frixion pens, freezer paper and wonder tape are always welcome gifts too. My husband has just got a load of large heavy washers out of a skip for me to use as pattern weights instead on the bean tins/ scale weights combo I usually use ( not seen them yet, might be my Christmas present).

  19. I totally agree with the clapper, although I do not yet own a ‘real’ one, just a bit of 2 x 4 (hopefully santa can remedy this). My magnetic seam allowance gauge for my machine has fast tracked it’s way to best investment of 2015 and then my Ernest and Wright/MIY scissors are a very close second! I love seeing what everyone else holds dear though 🙂

  20. Jen (NY) says:

    Good list! I agree on all three, though I am currently using a piece of wood shelving in place of a clapper, a generic invisible zipper foot. One day I will buy a real clapper. Unfortunately, Bernina does not make an invisible zipper foot for my older machine. The “fake” one is not as good – the grooves are not angled enough – but it’s better than nothing! Also, good interface – definitely important. Silk organza is good to have on hand as well.

  21. Katie says:

    Couldn’t be without my button foot, thread snips, and an aqua glue stick! And ugh, I love M&W’s stock but their staff are so clueless and unhelpful.

  22. Walking foot. Being a Bernina user also (you are right? You must be if you paid 30 quid for a foot) we know that you pay for the pleasure and joy of such things and the gulp $300NZ plus I paid for my walking foot seems like 20 cents given the amount of joy, ease and fabulosity and other hyperbole it brings to my life!
    I LOVE MY LOOP TURNER. The trick is, don’t sew across the end of the tube. Thread the creature through it, hook the little tongue through the stitching or even the weave of the fabric, making sure it will be strong enough to cope with the pulling through, and off you go. ZZZZip done. By not sewing over the end you keep the bit pulling through nice and small.
    Also, silk thread for sewing silk. I recently discovered this and now there’s no going back.
    Magnet pin cushions, tracing wheel and carbon paper, pattern tracing cloth and good old fashioned triangle chalks make up the rest of my must have, can’t sew withouts. 🙂

  23. Paola says:

    Another vote for the walking foot – I got my dear family to buy me one for a birthday past, and it’s been the best present ever.
    A clapper is going on the Christmas list.

  24. Gabrielle says:

    I already have an invisible zipper foot (it came with my machine, lucky me!) and great interfacing, but not a clapper – maybe it should go on my birthday wish list! There are two other sewing machine feet that have made a huge difference to the quality of my sewing: the walking foot, which makes tricky fabrics so much easier to sew, and an edge foot for top stitching.

  25. Margo says:

    I agree wholeheartedly that these three purchases are a must in any sewing room!! The clapper should get a standing ovation! lol

  26. nuala says:

    I love my Bernina edgestitch foot. I use it all the time for clean, crisp stitching – without it my edges are a wobbly mess. I also couldn’t live without my walking foot. I bought a reconditioned Bernina that came with a selection of feet so I haven’t had to fork out the extra for them which is very nice indeed!

  27. Colesworth says:

    I am lucky that a generic metal invisible zipper foot and generic walking foot fit my brother, cost me next to nothing on ebay and they work fine. Same with my edgestitching foot which I now use as my standard foot! Tailors ham and sleeve roll are great to have. I turn loops with a straw and and a wooden skewer and use a crochet hook as my point turner. I have an adjustable hem gauge on my ironing board and next to my machine, the ruler type. The only marking tool I will use is the sewline fabric pencil – you can buy 3 different coloured refills for it green, pink and white. Okay time to stop waxing lyrical about sewing gadgets now…..

  28. ellegeemakes says:

    Great suggestions but my new favorite sewing helper right now is my new iron that doesn’t have an ‘auto’ off. It has a very nice point too and it doesn’t spit water…

  29. Debbie says:

    I Love my steam station iron. Wonderful for getting nice flat seams for quilting; a good pair of scissors and my 1/4″ foot are my absolute musts.

  30. Barbara says:

    I second the invisible zip foot. I love my thread snips and have now added a clapper to the wish list.

  31. Mim says:

    Thread Heaven! I’ve only just discovered it – much better and easier to use than beeswax for hand sewing.

  32. I love my invisable zip foot and sleeve arm for pressing. Funny how a change of store has changed M&W, it is easier to find things now and staff less rude – but lacks that wonderful old fashioned store front.

  33. Sylvan says:

    Good list…My extra large cutting mat is invaluable… as are decent scissors however my purchase of all the large headed pins on a vintage stall bought while out with with friends got the most raised eyebrows…

  34. Twilight says:

    I would absolutely love to buy a clapper and an invisible zip foot. But I’m actually too scared to ask what the foot might cost me…( An arm and a leg? Pun totally intended… 😉 ) On a whim I recently bought a curve ruler thingy and have been using it quite a lot as I’m getting more comfortable adapting and re-drafting patterns. It also has a buttonhole gauge on it – which is really useful as my sewing machine is older and its buttonholes are semi-automatic – leaving you to guess the size. (Okay, I know there are guidelines but I usually end up guessing and getting it wrong…)

  35. Fabrickated says:

    I agree with your list but would add great scissors. The one thing I am seriously considering is something that lets me get my hems right – measuring up from the floor. Currently rely on large set square ruler, plus husband. I don’t always get the best results. Any suggestions please?

    • LinB says:

      There used to be ubiquitous hem markers, that have a big base or three legs, a wooden ruler, and either a way to clap your fabric between two arms and pin the desired hem, or a little puffer that blows chalk powder or flour to mark the hem. Every sewist had one or two, and you could buy them even in the notions department at Woolworths (blessed be its name). I find them all the time in thrift stores for mere pennies, and I buy every one I see. You can order a pricey one from specialty sewing catalogs, but it’s all plastic and tricky to set up and use on yourself.

  36. swedish tracing paper, spring thread cutters and the big investment, my 3 sole Bernina walking foot. Does it make a difference to waistbands, long seams, slippy fabric. I wish I had swallowed the expense a lot earlier.

  37. I love my really sharp unpicker my mum bought for me. She taught me sewing – what does that say???? )on so many levels! Jo x

  38. Stina P says:

    You really make me want to get that Bernina walking foot… Perhaps for Christmas then. (I say new pins and needles. And scissors by Kai!)

  39. V Reed says:

    I actually researched feet on sewing machines when I went looking for a new machine. Invisible zip foot was top of my list. If I couldn’t have that foot, I wasn’t buying the lame machine that couldn’t use it. 🙂 Of course, I went to buy the machine and the one foot that’s out of stock…the invisible zip foot!

  40. Oh my goodness! My list of must-haves is growing and growing. I thought the scissors I bought were nice, but they are hard on my hand (arthritis)….and all the Bernina feet….and a clapper….and giant-headed pins….. and well, perhaps a new job first?

  41. Ann says:

    Great list! How about a post on using the clapper? I always try to press as I sew, and I have 2 different hams. I’ve known about a clapper but am unsure as to how they’re used.

  42. teri sews says:

    Good pinking shears. For regular scissors, I tend to buy inexpensive ones. When they are too dull for fabric, they are banished to other parts of the house…. so other people can use those instead of my sewing scissors. However, inexpensive pinking shears tend to just chew the fabric. I don’t use them often, so a good quality pair will last a long, long time.

  43. Nicola Crawford says:

    Walking foot definitely! Both my Pfaff sewing machines have IDT which is an in-built walking foot. It feeds every fabric through the machine with smooth German precision- I wouldn’t be without it. The sewing ham is always close by too.

  44. Pingback: Claim The Clapper | Did You Make That?

  45. Sarah says:

    I also shelled out for an invisible zipper foot … only to find it didn’t fit any of the invisible zippers in my stash. Yup, not all zippers are created equal!

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