I always receive lots of messages from my lovely Sewing Retreat community asking about the equipment I use. So...
Here's part 1: My recommendations for sewing equipment...
Part 2: My recommendations for pattern cutting equipment and part 3: My recommendations for course creation tools will be coming soon.
Sophie and I would recommend all of the equipment below and it's what we'd buy if we needed something new. We have tried and tested most of the equipment ourselves but not all. The equipment we haven't tried is better than the equipment we currently have and we'd buy it if we needed it.
*** Anything I am recommending is because I love it, I've not been asked to recommend these products but if you decide to purchase anything using an Amazon link I will receive a very small amount as an affiliate but this doesn't cost you more at all and it helps us, as a small business, to grow ***
Sewing Machine Recommendations
If you're new to sewing and eager to start bringing your ideas to life on a sewing machine, then here are 5 top tips to help you choose the perfect sewing machine.
1. COST - Cheaper doesn't mean it won't stand the test of time, it just generally means it's slightly louder and less smooth when sewing. Higher-priced domestic sewing machines are generally better built, have higher quality parts that will last longer, they're smoother to sew with and are quieter to use.
2. QUALITY - If you're wanting to invest in a machine for life, I would go for a good quality brand (I've had mine for nearly 20 years and it's no different to the day I got it out of my box).
3. CARE - Make sure to service them every year or so like you would a car. This will help them last longer and run smoothly.
4. THE EXTRAS - I would avoid getting sidetracked by all the fancy stitches on a machine unless this is a feature you want to use a lot. This was the mistake I made when I was 14 and buying my machine. I don't ever use the fancy stitches and I wish I'd gone for quality instead (this is partly why I don't recommend my machine).
5. THE BACK BUTTON - Make sure the back button is manual and not a touch-sensitive one. Mine is touch-sensitive and I sometimes have to stop using it as it doesn't always work properly. This may not seem an issue when you're starting out but once you've got into sewing, this is the most commonly used button and you don't want to have to stop every time you want to use it.
4 sewing machines that we recommend
1. Janome 7025
(this is the machine Sophie has and she loves it!)
Pros: Automatic buttonholes, electronic foot speed control and a range of stitches. Sophie says "I personally love my machine. I find it simple to thread and easy to use for dressmaking. I have also used it with a free motion foot before to do freehand embroidery too which worked great"
Cons: The needle threader is reported to be a little flimsy and some people's have broken. I never use mine so this hasn't been an issue for me personally.
TIP: An old singer from a charity shop or Facebook Market Place is good for beginners because you have more control over them. I learnt to sew on an old singer when I was younger making stuffed toys.
2. John Lewis JL110 sewing machine
If you're short of space then this is the machine for you as it's smaller than most.
Pros: It doesn't take up as much space as most sewing machines and when I had a go on one I really liked it and would invest in one if I wanted to move around with a sewing machine more
Cons: If you're making curtains or quilting you won't have enough space to get them under the arm so I wouldn't recommend this compact machine if that's the case
HIGHER-END MACHINES 3. Bernina B 325 sewing machine
(my mum has this version from 40 years ago and she loves it)
Pros: It's simple but effective. The quality is really good which means it really should stand the test of time. Cons: A little more expensive at around £800 but honestly I don't feel there is a con to this one. I would either go for this machine or a Pfaff if I was buying a new one now.
4. Pfaff Ambition 620 Sewing Machine
Pros: Again simple but effective and the quality of Pfaff machines are really good. I've tried many Pfaff machines and always loved how smooth they feel. Cons: A little more expensive.
We've only recommended domestic machines (aka machines you'd normally use at home) but you can also use industrial sewing machines (aka machines you'd normally find in a factory).
But what is the difference?
Well... Industrial machines are built to last with intense use! They're also a lot faster.
Of course, you could invest in an industrial machine, however, they are a lot faster than domestic machines and they normally only do a straight or zig-zag stitch. This is because they're made for use in factories where they would have a special machine for each function e.g. a buttonhole machine etc.
TIP: If you are able to, we recommend going into a shop that will let you try the machines or if you know a friend with one of these machines, ask if you can have a play to see how it feels. We all have different preferences so trying them out first can really help choose the right machine for you. You can also usually try them at sewing shows and they normally offer a discount or extra gifts as a show exclusive bonus.
Sewing Machine Needles
I know it's so tempting to just use the same sewing machine needle for everything, I've done it many times before too, but believe me when I say you will save so much time, tears, energy and money if you use the correct needle for your sewing project.
So what are the different needles and what are they for?
This is the most commonly used sewing machine needle on domestic sewing machines. The point is sharp enough and suitable for many woven fabrics. It's also round enough to stitch some knit fabrics too.
Perfect for sewing knitted fabrics. Think of it like a ball-point pen. The tip is more rounded than others. This is so it doesn't damage the fabric and make it ladder like tights.
A more rounded tip pushes between the yarn instead of splitting them open. So remember to change your needle to a ballpoint before starting to sew with your beautiful knit fabric to avoid breaking the fibres.
Stretch needles are also used for knitted fabrics however, they are specifically used for stretchy fabrics such as knit fabrics that contain spandex (lycra). If you don't have an overlocker then this needle would be great to use when sewing swimwear and stretchy knits.
These needles are perfect to use when sewing heavy and thick woven fabrics such as denim, upholstery fabrics, heavy linens and some workwear. The jeans needle has a sharp point and is super strong so it's able to easily penetrate the thicker fabric.
>> You can purchase the heavy jeans needles here << Here's a diagram to help break it down:
You may have also noticed on the needle packets that the needles come in different sizes too. This number refers to the size of the needle. The lower the number the smaller or finer the needle. The lower number/finer needles are for lighter weight fabrics and the higher number/thicker needles are for thicker fabrics.
You can also use this to inform what thread to use too. The finer needles have smaller eyes so a finer thread will need to be used and vice versa for the higher number/thicker needles.
A twin needle allows two parallel rows of stitching to be sewn at the same time.
They're often used on the hem of jersey and knit fabrics to create a professional finish. For example, you will probably have seen two parallel stitch lines on the hem of a T-shirt. A twin needle is also perfect to use as a decorative topstitch, to sew pintucks and to finish seams. It's important to know that there are different types of twin needles. Using what you have learnt above about ballpoint needles, stretch needles, denim needles and so on, apply this when choosing which twin needle you need.
Here are some of the different types of twin needles:
(Click on the images above to purchase your twin needle)
Tips for choosing the right twin needles:
Twin needles also have a needle gap size too. When choosing the needle spacing you need to consider the presser foot width on your machine. Which presser foot will you be using and how wide can you go? Also, consider the design of your garment. What do you want to use your twin needle for and how far apart do you want the parallel stitches to be if the stitching is going to be a feature. I know it may seem a little confusing now, but stick with me and you'll understand in no time.
Here's a diagram to help break it down:
Pinning, Marking and Measuring tools
Dressmaking pins are useful when pattern cutting, working with paper sewing patterns and when sewing your garment together.
I bought my pins from John Lewis and definitely recommend paying a little more to make sure they're nice and sharp. It's also worth investing in good quality pins so you don't damage your fabric.
Some cheaper pins can easily bend, snap and damage your beautiful fabric (I learnt this the hard way).
These are the pins I use:
TIP: Always test your pins on a scrap of the fabric you'll be using, especially if it's lighter weight and more delicate fabric
Tailors chalk and fabric markers:
If I'm being honest, I don't use chalk or a fabric pen much at all but if you like to draw around your pattern onto the fabric, create patterns by draping on the stand or mark the odd buttonhole location then they're very useful.
More ethical than the fabric marker but it can be a lot less accurate as they go blunt quickly so need sharpening a lot.
Water Erasable Fabric marker:
Good for accuracy and great if you make a mistake as you can get them off using water. However, if you iron over any lines you've drawn it seems to fix to the fabric so be careful.
Sewing tape measure:
To make sure you can easily measure around curves, a sewing tape measure is best rather than a metal DIY one.
I recommend getting good quality scissors that are sharp and will last.
The larger Merchant and Mills scissors are my favourite and are great for cutting through thicker fabrics too. The smaller thread scissors are perfect for snipping into those curves and cutting off excess threads to help you create a beautiful professional finish to your garment.
>> You can buy the Merchant and Mills thread scissors here << Fabric scissors:
** There are different sizes so be sure to check them out and see which pair is right for you **
The Prym Professional Tailors Shears are also great quality scissors. Sophie uses both the Prym fabric scissors and small thread scissors and loves how sharp and accurate they are. They're also nice and light too making them super easy to use.
You can select different sizes, so make sure you select the correct size you need. Sophie uses either size 21 or 23cm for cutting fabric and size 13 for cutting thread and snipping into corners.
If you love sewing with stretch fabrics or are ready to quickly and easily finish off those seems, then an overlocker is really worth investing in.
My overlocker -Brother 3034 Lock overlocker
I've had my overlocker for over 10 years now and I love it! I managed to find it as a bargain on eBay when I was a student.
It's a Brother machine which is a decent make and I've had no problems with it at all. However, be careful if you're buying second hand as it could cost you more in servicing it or getting it fixed which can sometimes cost more than the machine itself.
You can read more tips on buying an overlocker, along with tutorials on how to easily thread them and what to do when they're not working, by clicking here.
Irons, Ironing Mats and Steamers
When searching for an iron for sewing, you don't have to go for the most expensive one out there. In fact, mine and Sophie's irons are both affordable steam irons that we use for ironing our clothes as well as sewing too.
I have a John Lewis iron and I love it! It's easy to use, isn't too complicated and is light enough to pick up (some of them are so big and heavy so make sure you go and see them instore, if you are able to, beforehand)
Sophie has the Breville POWERsteam Advanced 3000w steam iron which she loves too. She says it's not too heavy or too light, heats up quickly and is still affordable.
I recommend choosing a steam iron rather than one without the steam function as it's better for your fabrics.
Pros: Don't have to get out a whole ironing board and requires a small amount of space. The thought of getting out the big ironing board and iron used to put me off until I bought this mat. Now I don't mind quickly getting it out to iron a seam as I'm going along. Cons: It's not very big but you can just use your normal ironing board when you need to iron something bigger than the odd seam.
Steaming vs ironing fabrics? This can be so confusing, so I've created a video here to help you out!
Click here to watch a video on when to steam and when to iron fabric. You can either use your steam iron to both steam and iron your fabric or use an iron to iron and a separate steamer to steam. I have recommended a separate steamer below which I use for steaming any silk clothing I have.
This steamer is great for travelling with. I literally took it around the world with me! It's also perfect for lighter weight fabrics. Putting an iron directly on finer fabrics can damage them.
TIP: Always test a scrap of your fabric first with the iron and steamer
Furniture for Sewing with Ease
Sit/stand adjustable desk + chair
Both my desk and chair are from Ikea and the table can be adjusted to different heights for when I want to stand when pattern cut and sit when sewing.
I got the 160cmx80cm desk which you can find here but there are smaller options available on the website as well as a more expensive electronic version. I personally didn't need the electronic desk and adjust the height by manually winding the handle. The electronic version has buttons that you press to automatically adjust the height of your desk which is amazing if you are unable to manually wind the handle.
Pros: The height of the desk is adjustable and big enough to spread my patterns out whilst pattern cutting. Cons: Manual handle to adjust height - I personally don't mind this at all but some prefer the electronic version.
>> Purchase my desk here << >> Purchase my chair here <<
Hanging Ladder from eBay:
This bamboo ladder is great for hanging my pattern blocks on and any toiles I'm in the process of working on. It's the perfect organiser that is also trendy, sustainable and cheap. I used to use it in the bathroom and didn't know where to put it but it's perfect in my studio!
Suitcases for storing fabric:
I have collected these suitcases from vintage/antique shops over the years and they tend to be around £20-£40 each but they're super handy to store fabric in. They also look great as a feature in my house so another fab reason to keep an eye out for them.