Five Sewing Tools that will take your Sewing to the Next Level

Five Sewing Tools that will take your Sewing to the Next Level

I love the feeling of getting sewing packages in the mail, don’t you? This particular box included a new tool that I’ve been excited to try. It is part of my top five sewing tools that will take your sewing to the next level, or at the very least, make your sewing more efficient and enjoyable.

I love the feeling of getting sewing packages in the mail, don’t you?

I love the feeling of getting sewing packages in the mail, don’t you?

1. A sewing mini iron

This is the Clover Mini-Iron. Isn’t it precious? I ordered it from SewingMachinesPlus.com and it is more than just an adorable accessory to your ironing board. A mini iron lets you iron hard-to-get-to seams or helps iron tiny seams on things like mini quilts.

It even comes with a little stand. Awwww.

It even comes with a little stand. Awwww.

It even comes with a little stand. Awwww.

While I know I’ll have many opportunities to use this, I specifically bought it for this current project. My girls and I are working on BFF (best friends forever) quilts and the squares alternate with minky fabric.

My girls & I are working on BFF quilts with alternating minky blocks.

My girls & I are working on BFF quilts with alternating minky blocks.

Using a regular iron to iron over the seams would be a challenge. Hot irons can melt or destroy minky fabric. (For more on how to sew with minky, check out my post here).

Here I folded the cotton fabric seam over the minky fabric and then placed a scrap of fabric over both. Then I ironed the seam down.

That’s what I’m talking about! This mini-iron is worth its weight in gold.

This mini-iron is worth its weight in gold.

This mini-iron is worth its weight in gold.

For fans of mini-quilts, or anyone who wants to iron their seams open, the mini-iron makes short work of it.

For fans of mini-quilts, or anyone who wants to iron their seams open, the mini-iron makes short work of it.

For fans of mini-quilts, or anyone who wants to iron their seams open, the mini-iron makes short work of it.

2. A rotating (rotary) cutting mat

Yep, you heard me correctly. This is a cutting board that rotates on its base. If you’ve ever had a pile of HSTs (half-square triangles) or any other type of project that involved a lot of trimming, you will never look back from making this purchase. SewingMachinesPlus.com sells several different sizes.

This is a cutting board that rotates on its base.

This is a cutting board that rotates on its base.

Here you can see I’ve cut one side of the fabric square. Prior to owning a rotary mat I would have had to move my body or the fabric and the ruler to make the subsequent cuts.

Here you can see I’ve cut one side of the fabric square.

Here you can see I’ve cut one side of the fabric square.

Not anymore. Look how it spins!! The base stays put while the cutting board goes for a walk.

The base stays put while the cutting board goes for a walk.

The base stays put while the cutting board goes for a walk.

Here is my square fully cut. It’s a thing of beauty, no?

Here is my square fully cut.

Here is my square fully cut.

3. Rulers and grids

This is my assortment of rulers and grids. There is nothing like having the right tools for the job. The two square grids were purchases for projects whose final size HSTs needed to be trimmed exactly to the size of the grid.

The large grid on the bottom is 24” long and my primary ruler for measuring and cutting out my fabric. The 2” ruler is my workhorse, everyday ruler.

Lastly, I had to include a classic measuring tape. I have about seven floating around the house and in my backpack and car. You never know when you might need to measure something!

The small, black and silver ruler below the measuring tape is a seam gauge. It helps you mark precise seams at a variety of lengths.

SewingMachinesPlus.com has a wide assortment of rulers and grids: https://www.sewingmachinesplus.com/searchresults.php?search_field=omnigrid

SewingMachinesPlus.com has a wide assortment of rulers & grids.

SewingMachinesPlus.com has a wide assortment of rulers & grids.

I also have this heavy, metal, 48” ruler that I use for canvas and large home interior projects, or when cutting very large lengths of fabric.

I also have this heavy, metal, 48” ruler.

I also have this heavy, metal, 48” ruler.

4. A walking foot

I mention my walking foot a lot in my posts here and that’s because I use it a lot. In fact as a rule, I have it installed as my go-to sewing foot and only switch out to other feet as needed. Your machine probably came with one and you tucked it away not knowing what the strange, Star Wars-like contraption was.

Get it out of the box and learn to use it! If you quilt or work with thicker fabric, your walking foot will be your best friend.

Get it out of the box & learn to use it!

Get it out of the box & learn to use it!

If your machine didn’t come with one, I guarantee the maker of your machine sells one as an accessory. Check out all the options available on SewingMachinesPlus.com here.

Image via The Seasoned Homemaker.

Image via The Seasoned Homemaker.

5. A bias tape maker

There will come a point in your sewing career when the pre-made bias tape available in stores and online just doesn’t meet your needs. When you get to that point, grab a bias tape maker, in fact, grab a few (they make different sizes of tape). With one of these humble tools you can make both single and double-fold bias tape and the sky is pretty much the limit as far as your creativity goes.

When you get to that point, grab a bias tape maker, in fact, grab a few (they make different sizes of tape).

When you get to that point, grab a bias tape maker, in fact, grab a few (they make different sizes of tape).

You can make coordinating, contrasting, or complimenting colors of bias tape to match your projects and the process is extremely quick. It won’t be as fast as using premade, but I promise it will be worth it.

Image via Made Everyday with Dana.

Image via Made Everyday with Dana.

Do you use any of these tools already in your sewing projects? What other tools would you add to a list like this? Let us know in comments!

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Charlotte Kaufman is a writer and sewist in Mammoth Lakes, California. She specializes in marine and home interiors and continues to fall more and more in love with quilting. You can follow her at charlottekaufman.com.
Five Household Items to Help with Sewing

Five Household Items to Help with Sewing

While it is true you often need to acquire specific tools to take your sewing to the next level, there are also items you will find around your house that easily make sewing and quilting a breeze. Each of the following items were truly an “ah-ha!” moment when I discovered them. I hope they help you too.

Shelf Lining

I used to have the infuriating problem of my machine slipping as I tried to quilt. Short of cutting a hole in my desktop to fit the machine level with the table, I wasn’t sure what to do to remedy the problem, until I saw shelf lining used under a sewing machine. Genius!!! Now I put a piece underneath where I work and my machine stays put every time.

Now I put a piece underneath where I work and my machine stays put every time.

Now I put a piece underneath where I work and my machine stays put every time.

Hairspray

I’m far-sighted, which means threading a needle can be difficult. It gets worse the longer I’ve been sewing, if I’m really tired, or the lighting is poor. Hairspray fixes that. Spray a little bit onto the end of the thread and it will glide through the smallest needle hole like magic.

Spray a little hairspray onto the end of the thread and it will glide through the smallest needle hole like magic.

Spray a little hairspray onto the end of the thread and it will glide through the smallest needle hole like magic.

A Laser Marker

This little tool is currently all the rage in quilting circles. I bought mine at Harbor Freight. It has multiple ways it can attach to your machine, including magnets, sticky back, and screws.

The laser marker is currently all the rage in quilting circles.

The laser marker is currently all the rage in quilting circles.

Just look how far it extends the straight line you need to sew. Plus it makes you feel like a high-tech ninja when you use it.

Just look how far it extends the straight line you need to sew.

Just look how far it extends the straight line you need to sew.

Don’t want to get a laser to extend that line? You can also use washi tape or painter’s tape to do the same.

You can also use washi tape or painter’s tape to do the same.

You can also use washi tape or painter’s tape to do the same.

Elmer’s Glue (the washable kind)

It’s time to raid your stash of school supplies and bring the Elmer’s Glue over to the big kids’ table. Like the Laser Marker, quilters are currently gaga for glue. The genius of washable Elmer’s is that you can apply a tiny amount, heat set it with an iron, and it holds beautifully. You can sew through the heat set glue without a problem and when your project is complete, it washes out without leaving any marks or stains. If you ever wonder how people achieve perfect corners, they are probably using Elmer’s Washable Glue.

If you ever wonder how people achieve perfect corners, they are probably using Elmer’s Washable Glue.

If you ever wonder how people achieve perfect corners, they are probably using Elmer’s Washable Glue.

A Square

My whole life I’ve called the carpenter’s tool called a Square, an L, because that is what it looks like. These giant L-shaped tools make squaring your quilts or larger projects very easy. Pictured is a smaller, triangle version, which I use for corners that need to be evenly squared.

A smaller, triangle version, which I use for corners that need to be evenly squared.

A smaller, triangle version, which I use for corners that need to be evenly squared.

What other common household items do you use as part of your sewing and quilting took kit? I’d love to hear in the comments!

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Charlotte Kaufman is a writer and sewist in Mammoth Lakes, California. She specializes in digital patterns, marine and home interiors, and continues to fall more and more in love with quilting. You can follow her at charlottekaufman.com.
Quitling is Not Baking

Quilting Is Not Baking

My mom was the type of cook who didn’t accurately measure ingredients, and to this day, if you ask her how much of an ingredient to put in food, she might say something like, “Until it looks like enough.”

Be exact. The “it’s good enough” mentality I might’ve had for baking doesn’t spill over so well into the world of sewing.I don’t always accurately measure things in the kitchen either. I might use a coffee cup when the recipe calls for a cup, but even then, I’ve been known to eye-ball the food and decide it needs more. I put baked goods in still pre-heating ovens, guesstimate about time, and haven’t owned a measuring cup or spoon in my adult life that I can recall.

This is how I bake, and I’ve come up with some tasty sweets.

This is, to some extent, how I’ve tried quilting, and the results are evidence of the title of this post.

Quilting is not baking…

I’m a bit of an amateur in the quilting/sewing department. I’m working on my second quilt (third if you count that one atrocity I never finished), and my overall products have been somewhat lacking.

Even with missing the mark on projects though, I still learned. As it turns out, a number of things I’ve learned for quilting are in opposition to habits that worked fine in my baking. See? It’s not baking!

My first quilt.

My first quilt.

1) Less can be more. I’m not saying smaller quilts are better than bigger quilts, but — let’s connect this food-thing again — “portions” can be too big, and ruin the effect. For baking, if I put in too many ingredients, I might just get more cookies. Who doesn’t love more cookies? For quilting, if the sizing is too big, the best I can do is something that looks amateurish. Like my first quilt:

I hesitate to definitively label this a quilt because it’s so simplistic. The design made sense here, since the animal print was from a fabric I cut up, but imagine how much better this quilt could’ve looked if the panels on that fabric had been smaller. It still might’ve been lacking — hey, it was my first finished one! — but that smaller size of each block could’ve made the overall appearance more refined.

My latest quilt.

My latest quilt.

2) Be exact. The “it’s good enough” mentality I might’ve had for baking doesn’t spill over so well into the world of sewing. Want to see an example? Here’s part of what I have so far with my latest quilt:

These shapes were not all cut in the same sizes. Instead, my system was more general—like “it’s good enough” with baking. Spotting places where this work has issues isn’t too hard. Blocks are different sizes, and I’m not entirely sure the middle rows aren’t smaller than the ends. A reason these problems could’ve happened is because I wasn’t exact with my measurements. Here’s another example of the same flaw:

Crooked corners, but a great learning experience!

Crooked corners, but a great learning experience!

See how the corners don’t line up? Oops! Not good! More accurate measuring could’ve kept this from happening.

3) Have the right tools. I might not have measuring cups and spoons. I might not even use an oven mitt. And my baking could still turn out okay. But what I’ve discovered is that tools might be a key in quilting, especially for an early quilter/sewer like me, and I should look into equipping myself with utensils for the job. Currently, I want a rotary cutter and ruler. With those, getting the right measurements could be easier, which could in turn make my final products look more refined.

4) Have a plan. Going into the kitchen and deciding I’m going to experiment with ingredients might be fine. I’ve done that. And I got some pretty tasty banana cake out of the deal. But if I go into a quilt project without a plan, things could go wrong. For my latest quilt, I changed my technique for sewing after I’d started, which caused some let-downs. My quilt is smaller than I intended, holes showed up in my fabric, and my final row of material might’ve been decided by the fact that I didn’t have enough pieces of certain materials to continue my pattern (which I slightly messed up anyway). Basically, with quilting, I should potentially map out my strategy from start to finish. Otherwise, tasty banana cake might not be the end result.

Hopefully, I’ll learn from my mistakes though, and maybe someone else can, too! Like with just about anything, practice can lead to improvement.