top of page

Sewing Supplies - What you need when you're starting out (or starting over)

Updated: Sep 18, 2023

A vintage toy sewing machine that my mom used to use as a "travel" sewing machine when we were kids.
Let's pretend that you've recently inherited (been given/purchased/found on the street) a sewing machine. You want to learn how to use it, but you don't know where to start or what else you will need to make... anything.

Since I've been sewing from a young age, I've always had what I needed for my sewing projects so you may be thinking, what do you know about "starting out"? The truth is that there was an event in the early aughts that resulted in me losing nearly everything I owned. It's a long story that I won't get in to here, but we called it "the fire" because that made it really easy to explain why I had to replace so much.

Two of the few things that survived this incident were my Brother sewing machine and White serger. And since you've inherited (been given/purchased/found on the street) your own sewing machine, we're starting in the same place. The story will still apply even if you don't have a machine yet (more on that below).

So here I am, in an apartment that I had just moved into with my best friend, I have a couple of duffel bags full of clothes, my 2 sewing machines and a snowboard. My new bed was scheduled to be delivered, my best friend had lent me a dresser and I was slowly collecting hand me downs from friends and family members because replacing everything gets expensive really fast.

Since our apartment wasn't that big, the only space I had to set-up my sewing machines was in the corner of my bedroom. Because I had 2 machines, I bought a 4 foot folding table and added an old chair that I found at my parent's house. I purchased an inexpensive set of 3 plastic drawers to store my supplies. For the first time ever, I had no fabric stash. A trip to the fabric store quickly fixes that problem, but since I had limited space, any fabric that I purchased had to be stored in milk crates that sat on my closet shelf.

The following list of supplies/notions were necessary items that I replaced right away:

Not shown: Desk Lamp
Fabric Scissors - Necessary to cut your fabrics and threads. Reserve these scissors for cutting fabric only to keep them nice and sharp.
Thread Nippers (optional) - Optional, but highly recommended. These come in all different price ranges, I prefer to use these to cut threads over using scissors and they live on my sewing table.
Paper/Craft Scissors - for cutting patterns and anything else that is NOT fabric. I don't spend a lot of money on these scissors and have many pairs lying around. I like the multi-packs that you can find at places like Ross. Different sizes come in handy.
Bobbins for your sewing machine - Machines typically come with a few if you buy it brand new, but I suggest having a whole collection so that you can have them wound in whatever color(s) you're currently using. I only had the one that was in my machine. A bobbin storage container/box to keep them together and organized is recommended as well. Note: Bobbins are machine specific so make sure that you know what size you need.
Seam Ripper - My most hated notion, but a necessary tool.
Sewing Machine Needles - You should change out your needle often (think every sewing project) to ensure you're using the right size and needle type for your fabric. Bent or jagged needles can cause damage to your fabric and/or machine and result in uneven stitches. Schmetz brand is one of the most common and these do fit most modern machines, however, make sure you confirm the needle size (130/705H) before purchasing. I also like Organ needles. A combo pack of Universal needles should be good to get you started.
Desk Lamp - I purchased a cheap desk lamp at Walmart to provide extra light while working on my projects.
Thread - Buying a lot of thread at once can be expensive and collections take time to build. I always keep basic colors on hand (black, white, red, navy and tan) and then purchase the color needed for my project. Eventually, you'll have a whole wall of thread.

This is just a portion of my thread collection
Pins/Needles/Pin Cushion - I use straight pins for pinning my patterns to the fabric; pinning your fabric pieces together also makes it easier when you're sewing them together. I also keep needles on hand for any hand sewing and of course, a pin cushion to keep track of it all.

Small Ruler (6") - I almost didn't add this to the list, but I use my ruler all the time for hems, etc. I like this version, but you can use any ruler that you have. Like my craft scissors, I have a whole collection of rulers that I've amassed over the years.

The items listed above are all you will need to get started, you may not even need all of these items right away. On a side note; I predominately make clothing so this list will be different from that of say, a quilter. Quilters, I know for sure, use all kinds of rulers and squares that I have not mentioned. I know it's tempting, but resist the urge to go out and buy every single notion or tool that you see at the fabric or craft store. The cost adds up fast and you may end up with items that you never use, or multiple items that all have the same use, but just happen to be different versions. For example, I only recently purchased a bias tape maker. The current tools in my studio are items that I've purchased over time as the need for each specific tool became apparent.

Misc. notions /tools in my studio

Some thoughts about sewing machines if you don't already have one (These, of course, are my opinions, I'm sure that there are people out there who will disagree with me.) -

You don't need to go out and buy a brand new, top of the line machine if you're just learning to sew, or working on simple projects. If you have a specific plan, such as machine quilting or commercial embroidery then that is a different story, but I get so aggravated when I hear that someone has put off learning to sew because they were told that they needed to spend a minimum of $800 on a machine to get started. Yes, those expensive machines are really nice, but you don't need to spend that kind of money to learn to sew. All you need is a machine that is in good condition. Both of the machines I referenced above were hand-me-downs that I had for many years. I found one of my current sergers at ARC for $30.00. Check into refurbished machines online. I would also ask around, your friends or family may have a sewing machine that they are no longer using. From time to time I get "donated" machines from friends and family who don't know what else to do with them. The age of the machine does not have to be a deal breaker if its still in working order. I still have the sewing machine that my mom got for her highschool graduation in 1967 and it sews beautifully. Once you have your machine, take care of it. Use the correct size needles and bobbins. Learn how to clean and oil it and do so on a regular schedule. Find a reputable sewing machine repair shop and have your machine serviced, as needed.

Sergers - Because I'm making a lot of skating dresses these days, my sergers are my primary machines; I have 2 so that I can keep one threaded with nude thread and the other with whatever color the dress is. That said, you do not NEED to buy a serger. You can finish the edges of your fabric on your regular machine easily enough, there are different techniques that can be used. I don't know any quilters who use them because the raw edges of the fabric are contained inside of the finished quilts. I'm going to say that having a serger is a luxury, can I make skating dresses without a serger? Yes, of course I can, I love the stretch stitch on my regular machine and zig zagging works just as well. I would recommend waiting until you get some projects under your belt to know for sure if you really need that type of machine or not.

Is there a notion or tool that you have needed right away that I forgot to mention? Or, if you have more questions about what a quilter would need right away, let me know and I can help get you a list from my quilter friends.

Recent Posts

See All


Join our mailing list

Thanks for subscribing!

bottom of page