What equipment do I need?

If you’ve been inspired to try sewing your own clothes, then here’s what I think you’ll need to get started. I’ve tried to keep this to the bare minimum, but if it still looks like a lot of outlay, I’ve also put together some suggestions for cutting costs.

A copy of a McCalls sewing manual.
My current favourite sewing manual from the 1960s. I picked this up for £2 in the British Red Cross charity shop in Cheltenham.


  • sewing machine and bobbins
  • pins
  • tape measure (or some string and a ruler, at a push)
  • fabric scissors
  • ordinary scissors for paper and snipping threads
  • a few hand sewing needles – often called ‘sharps’
  • paper, pencils, masking tape, and a ruler for altering the pattern

You’ll also want to track down

  • a bright light or a sunny spot to sew in
  • a large flat surface for cutting out
  • a table or desk to sit at when you use your machine
  • an iron

For each project

  • a new sewing machine needle
  • the fabric and any notions you need for the garment
  • thread to match your fabric and a contrasting thread for tacking
  • a pattern – shop-bought, downloaded or homemade
  • any special sewing machine feet your project needs – e.g. a zipper foot

Optional extras

There are tons of clever gadgets that will make sewing easier, or quicker, but I think you can muddle through with the list above. If you’ve got money to burn however, (or a generous Auntie offering you lots of her spare kit) you might like to collect the following.

  • a seam ripper
  • a pincushion – you could easily make one
  • different types of pins – ballpoint for knits, longer pins for heavy fabrics and thinner ones for delicate fabrics
  • a tailor’s ham, press mitt and a sleeve board
  • a pattern master and a french curve
  • a book about dressmaking (I’d go for one that’s a similar vintage to your machine and has a big index)
  • extra feet and attachments for your machine
  • storage for all your notions and haberdashery bits
  • tailor’s chalk, dressmakers’ carbon paper and tracing wheel, washable fabric markers

Have I missed something essential? Let me know what you can’t live without.

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