Saturday, January 7, 2012

{Sew} Get Started: Sewing Supplies and Resources

So, I hope that you are all excited about getting started sewing! Don't forget, you have till Monday to enter the giveaway for the 3 packs of scrap fabric to get you started - just pop over here and comment to enter. This post is part of the {Sew} Get Started Series.

FairyFace Designs

Today's post is all about getting ready, what supplies you will need and recommendations for resources you will definitely find useful! Those of you who sew already will probably have a good range of supplies, and will be familiar with the online resources etc that I am going to discuss. but if you have any recommendations to add, please do in the comments section as that would be brilliant.

There is no way I could possibly cover everything in this section - in particular, I just don't have time or space to, for example, advise on buying a sewing machine or recommend fabric stores online etc, as there are just so many variables. However, if you do have specific questions on sourcing supplies, e.g. if you're not familiar with buying fabric on Etsy and want some help, or need some assistance choosing a first sewing machine, please post up the questions by starting a thread in the Flickr discussion group and I will do my best to answer (and please, if you are an experienced sewer or quilter and you have an opinion, jump right in with your advice too!)


I did a guest post for Sara back in August of 2011where I went through the basic supplies necessary to start sewing. There was quite a bit of information in it so I'm going to send you over to that post to find out what you need to get started and I gave a little advice there about buying the various bits and pieces. In summary, you will need:
  1. Sewing Machine
  2. Iron
  3. Fabric Scissors - keep for fabric only and never use for cutting paper!
  4. Needles for your machine and some handsewing needles
  5. Seam ripper (usually come with your machine)
  6. Pins - good quality pins are essential!
  7. Safety pins
  8. Thread - buy good quality thread. Gutterman and Aurifil are both excellent.
  9. Tape measure
  10. Water soluble pen/tailors chalk for marking fabric
  11. Spare bobbins for your machine
  12. Old knitting needle/chopstick/point turner
and of course, fabric. Lovely, gorgeous, beautiful fabric that you can't take your eyes off! More about that in a moment though :-)

The list above should be enough, in general to get you started. You will, of course, need particular items for each project, but they will be listed in the tutorials. In the supplies post, I also talk about quilting supplies and additional extras so do go have a look.

You also should think about starting to build up a collection of buttons, embroidery skeins, ribbons and other trimmings - adding a few bits here and there will soon leave you with an impressive collection. And don't pass up the opportunity to build your collection of supplies by recyling and thrifting items. I cut the cute buttons off my kids clothes and keep them. I keep scraps of ribbon and other trimmings. I keep worn out clothing if I love the fabric and cut out the useable bits. You'll be surprised how quickly you acquire a stash!


I am a fabric addict. There is no getting away from it, I just love it. I have *quite* a nice collection at this stage, although I am trying to wean myself off buying fabric just because it is beautiful, rather than with a project in mind. But I'm not doing very well. See why?

My gorgeous Echo fabric

There are lots of different types of fabric out there and I will go through some more detail on fabrics in the Sewing Basics tutorials next week. However, for today I just want to talk a little about buying fabric (my favourite thing!) for peeps who don't know where to start and are not familiar with the joy of fabric purchasing :-)

There are lots of ways to buy fabric, whether in a specialist quilting store, a general fabric shop or online. I like to use a little of everything, but I buy most of my fabric online because the range and selection here in Cork is quite limited, and very expensive. There are hundreds of fab online stores out there and it's impossible for me to recommend any kind of definitive list here. But if you are looking for fabric online, you could do a lot worse than browse through some of the great sewing blogs out there as a lot of bloggers will say where they bought their fabric, and many fabric sellers advertise on blogs. You will also find lots of adverts for online fabric stores in sewing and quilting magazines. I buy a lot of fabric through sellers on Etsy (mostly based in the USA) and find my fabric is delivered usually within 4-7 working days to Ireland, which is pretty good, and I love how most of the sellers on Etsy have a lovely personal touch. If you need help buying fabric online, feel free to post up questions in the Flickr group and I will do my best to answer them.

What you do need to know when buying fabric is the following:

  • Fabric is sold by the metre or by the yard, depending on where in the world you are. American stores sell by the yard, UK and Irish by the metre (I'm not sure about other areas).. Most quilt patterns are written in inches. Some general sewing patterns are written in metric measurements. Be sure, when reading fabric requirements that you know whether you are working in Imperial or Metric measurements and adjust your quantities for buying accordingly.
  • Check that you are buying the type of fabric you want. I make most of my projects using quilting cotton, but you might want to buy home decor weight cotton, or fleece, or minky so always search in the right category. Never buy polycotton in place of cotton - its very slippy and hard to work with for a beginner, and cotton has a much nicer quality.
  • A lot of quilting cotton is sold pre-cut rather than cut from the bolt. The most common measurements are fat quarters and half yards/metres, and many shops sell bundles of coordinating cuts which is a great way of building your stash. Other precuts include layer cakes, charm squares and jelly rolls. These are bundles of all the fabrics from a particular line, precut to specific sizes. A layer cake is made up of 10" squares, a charm pack of 5" squares. A jelly roll is strips 2.5" long x width of fabric. These types of precuts are great and really easy to use, but can be a little bit limited in use due to the small size of the cuts. Fat quarters and half yards are really versatile cuts of fabric - I usually buy FQs where I can - enough fabric for lots of projects at a good price, although half yards give much more versatility. Elizabeth did a great post earlier this year about different cuts of fabric which is a great reference point if all this is new to you.
Terrain charm pack
  • Scale of print and colour can be hard to tell on screen. If in doubt, ask the seller. I often have a discussion with sellers about particular colours I want, particularly for solid fabrics, as its so hard to distinguish shade variations on the internet. Most are really great to help out!
  • Fabric lines are limited and are updated constantly through the year. Make sure you buy enough for your project because if you don't, it may not be there when you go looking for more. This is particularly true of really popular fabrics.
  • When you are buying solid fabrics (i.e. plain coloured cottons with no print pattern), make sure you buy enough for your project from the same bolt. All fabrics have dye lots and minor differences in colour on different bolts can become very obvious in a finished quilt.
  • Buy what you love. Seriously, buy what you really LOVE, what reaches out and grabs you and what you can't wait to get your hands on. Never, ever buy fabric that you feel ambivalent about - you will inevitably not want to work with it despite the fact it was great value or it should work in your project. If you don't use it, it will get consigned to the back of your stash and in 5 years time you will find it and wonder how you ever bought such ugly fabric!
  • Don't be afraid to experiment with colour and fabric.  Its all about pleasing yourself and discovering your own taste. You have no one looking over your shoulder judging - this is about having fun and enjoying what you're doing. If you love what you're doing, then be happy!
A fat quarter bundle


It is not strictly necessary to buy any sewing books but I am a book person, and I love having them to flick through for inspiration as well as making projects from books. I have found some great sewing books in the last few years. Some I own, some I have borrowed from the library so definitely check out your local library before buying anything.

 The above are a few of my favourites!

Top of my list as a reference book  would be Sew It Up by Ruth Singer. It is my go-to book for any technique I am not familiar with and has good processs photos.

For a general beginner sewing book with achieveable projects, I have recommended Sewing in No Time by Emma Hardy to a lot of my friends.It is one of the first books I bought and it has lovely, simple, pretty projects. Simple Sewing by the fabulous Lotta Jansdotter (see her Echo fabric in the picture above) and Sew by Cath Kidston are in the same vein with similar types of projects, but each with their own distinct aesthetic.  Making Childrens Clothes by Emma Hardy has some gorgeous little makes - they are quite simple in structure and shape and not hugely fitted which is fine by me for kids clothes - but is almost exclusively girls clothes.

For newbie quilters, The Practical Guide to Patchworkby Elizabeth Hartmann of Oh, Fransson! is a great book to learn the basics, but it has some fab projects for more experienced quilters too. Material Obsession by Sarah Fielke and Kathy Doughty is a constant source of inspiration to me (so much so, Santa brought me Material Obsession 2).

I could go on and on, but I won't! Please don't rush out and buy a heap of books. Don't even buy one till you see what you can find in your library, and what is available to you online. But if you love to use books as a reference point and want to pick up something, they are a good place to start.

Online Resources:

There is an absolute wealth of resources out there for people wanting to sew and quilt. Wonderful blogs, fantastic websites, great tutorials, hundreds of free pattern and lots and lots of patterns to buy from talented people.

I have been blogging for a year and a half and reading blogs for years before that, and am still discovering new blogs and sites every week. So I'm just going to point you in a few different directions to get you started on your journey of exploration.

First up - YouTube is an amazing resource for videos of various different sewing and quilting techniques. I first realised it looking for help with a crochet stitch, actually and soon realised the wealth of information on there. From threading your particular model of sewing machine, to sewing curved pieces, you can pretty much find videos to cover everything.

Next, some great great sewing sites -

Sew, Mama, Sew! - brilliant site for free tutorials and beginner basics, great blog and fabric shop
Moda Bake Shop - Free tutorials and patterns for using precut fabrics
Oh, Fransson! - One of my fave blogs, with great quiltmaking basics and lovely free tutorials
BurdaStyle - lots of resources for people interested in dressmaking in particular
!Sew We Quilt! - free tutorials themed by month - links to interesting blogs and tutorials and not just for sewing and quilting!
Fat Quarterly- EMagazine for modern sewist and quilters with blog, newsletter etc
Riley Blake - Cutting Corners College - online sewing and quilting classes
The Modern Quilt Guild - all about modern quilting and links to local guilds
U-Handbag - great site for people interested in making purses and bags.
The Sewing Directory - great UK based site with oodles of information!
One Pretty Thing - links to free tutorials with updates every day!

Amy's Creative Side - great quilting blog with quilting basics tutorials
Back to Sewing School Series - great series of tutorials on sewing and quilting techniques

I'm sure that I've left lots of great sites out, but there's enough there to get you started!

And of course, the hundreds of great blogs out there.The best way to find blogs is to check out what other people follow - most bloggers have a list of other blogs they like on their site. So, go check out the blogs of the fab ladies contributing tutorials (list here) and then see what they like to read. You'll soon be hooked! Add them to your Google Reader and you'll always be able to find them. And have fun searching them out!

Lastly, don't forget Flickr and Pinterest.

Flickr has lots of sewing groups, swap groups and quiltalong groups for you to browse for inspiration - some of my favourites are Fresh Modern Quilts, I Love Sewing, and Sew, Mama, Sew!  Pinterest is also a great source of inspiration - if you need an invitation to join, email me at fairyfacedesigns (at) gmail (dot) com and I will do  my best to oblige! Once you join up, find people to follow (I am here) and browse through the different categories. There's a good search facility too. I highly recommend you join both!

Phew, that was a bit of a long post - I hope you made it to the end. I promise the rest won't be as text heavy and hope you found it useful! Check back on Tuesday for Fiona's post on finding a sewing class.


Leanne said...

This is a great introduction to sewing post!

Erin @ Billy Button Design said...

I think you have it all wrapped up there Sarah, Thanks for another bunch of blogs to check out, just what I need, haven't even got to my sewing machine yet for the day.

Nicky said...

wow! great intro! Love your Echo!

Canadian Abroad said...

Sarah, you have put so much fantastic thought and work into this series. I am really impressed!

Sheila said...

I think you might need to write a book!!
Looks like you are getting a fabulous response to this great idea, well done.

sydthewyd said...

This is so great.. wish I had found something like it last year when I was starting sewing! This is such an amazing start - I can't wait to see what you have in store for the rest of the series! One thing that I didn't really understand about building fabric stashes is that one of the easiest ways (as a beginner with an extremely limited budget) is to have a definite project in mind and buy all the fabric for that project alone. You won't use it all and it will be great to start building a stash!

Annabella said...

Ditto Sheila - you need to write a book! Great info and I`ve just ordered Material Obsession - I`ve been looking at it for months and you just persuaded me!

Sarah said...

Great post Sarah! I'd add a Hera Marker to the supplies list, I use it every single project. Use it lightly to draw lines you're about to sew along instead of pens, or use it firmly to create a good straight neat crease, and use it on its side for finger pressing when you cant get to the iron every 2 minutes! Love it.

Mrs Flying Blind... said...

Great post my dear xxx

Cindy said...

This is a really nice overview of such a huge topic. Really well done, Sarah! xx

Anonymous said...

Great post...very thorough!

Jules said...

As a beginning quilter i've enjoyed the tutorials at the blogs "In color order" and "stitched in color" and the ones you have mentioned are good too.

needle and nest said...

This is such an awesome post! The only things I'd add to your supply list are primarily for the newbie quilters, but also applies to the newbie sewists:

• Rotary cutter
• Self-healing mat
• Large, clear ruler for rotary cutting

They're not essential, but they sure to make things easier! :)

Rhonda the Rambler said...

Great job Sarah. I am so pleased that now I will have some place to send people if need be.

Anonymous said...

I love this! The one thing I wish I had realized when I was buying my basic quilting/sewing supplies was the importance of EXTRA BOBBINS! Ugh, I can't tell you how many times I've wanted to change the bobbin color and had to unwind (and waste) a ton of thread to be able to do so.

felicity said...

This post is absolutely sensational, Sarah! What a great resource!!