Friday, July 15, 2011

Sewing Gadgets - Are You a Minimalist or Maximalist?

Are you a sewing gadget minimalist?  Do you have few tools and sew on the smell of an oily rag - with a secondhand machine, a pair of scissors, using the kitchen table and a household iron?

Or are you a maximalist - with a dedicated sewing space, a machine with all the bells-and-whistles, an extensive assortment of presser feet, and a different cutting and pressing tool for every possible occasion?

I guess most of us probably lie somewhere in between, but I've decided after a year of dwelling in sewing blogland, that I'm definitely at the minimalist end of the spectrum - some of you guys are better equipped than my workplace! In contrast, I actually have very few tools despite working in the industry for 20 years.  I put this down to a few things:
  • Entrepreneurial poverty - when I was in business there were always more important things to pay for than fun new tools - like suppliers, or funding the next collection
  • The Kiwi number 8 wire mentality - outside New Zealand this is something like 'make do and mend' - there is usually an alternative cheaper way of achieving the same result, even if it takes longer!
  • I am also a bit of a scrooge!
  • Ignorance - I never knew some of these things existed
  • I had access to industry contractors with specialised equipment - pressers, buttons/buttonholes, fusing, etc
That's not to say I haven't seen a lot of cool things I'd love to own!  I've always wanted a proper sleeve board, an industrial iron, and a dedicated sewing space at home.  And constantly seeing lots of your covetable gadgets online is really tempting my want buds!

Anyway, here's my sewing gadget arsenal.  Warning - it's pretty unglamourous and uses a lot of ordinary household items!

Sewing things:
  • second hand industrial plain sewer 
  • presser feet - plain foot, R zip foot, teflon foot, invisible zip foot (that I never use as I get better results with an ordinary zip foot - if you look closely it's a little rusty!)
  • bobbin box with broken lid
  • machine oil
  • quick-unpic - never far from my side!
  • machine needles, I have plenty of handsewing needles too
  • thimble - used to stop beading needles wearing holes in my fingers and getting blood on almost-finished wedding gowns - yes, it has happened!  I used this trick to save my life the dress
  • screwdriver - time for a new one, don't you think?!
  • Brother Homelock 3-thread overlocker - my Mum's actually - when I was a student I kept borrowing it, until eventually she went out and bought a new one for herself!
  • Mum's old Elna Supermatic.  When I get it fixed I'll use it to do buttonholes and zig-zag at home, otherwise I just get these done at work.
  • I almost forgot my new lamp - now I can sew at night!

Cutting/Marking things:
  • Shears - standard issue Mundial ones from school - reverted to after my expensive Wiss ones 'disappeared'
  • Snips - also standard issue, rarely used - why didn't anyone nick those?!
  • Weights - I got these from school too - the welding class made them especially for us!  The artwork on them is my son's...
  • New - a Seam Allowance Guide!
  • The kitchen table for cutting, or the floor for cutting big things
  • Chalk pencils
  • Tailor's Chalk - I love how the box is so neatly packed and organised inside, although it's getting a bit empty now:  

  • I do have some pinking shears somewhere too...
Pressing things:
  • Ironing board - this is wobbly after a failed light-bulb changing incident...(not me!)
  • A Sunbeam domestic steam iron
  • Scraps of cloth for pressing - old pillowcases, lightweight wool, silk organza, or the cloth I am working with
  • Water
Patternmaking/Fitting things:
  • Paper scissors
  • Metre rule (metal)
  • Grading square
  • Tracing wheel
  • Pattern notchers
  • Pens and pencils
  • Magic Tape
  • Pins
  • Tape measures - I have several lying all over the place so there is always one on hand - theoretically!
  • Button size/conversion card - this freebie from a button company is surprisingly handy
  • Two Mannequins - one for fitting, one that now decorates the hallway
  • Roll of pattern paper - 120gms kraft:

That's my list, I think I've included everything - let's just say if I've missed something out it is stashed away and never used!

Now why am I showing you everything I own?  Because I was browsing sewing books in the library the other day and noticed quite extensive lists of equipment being recommended.  I thought a lot of it was quite specialised - and although nice to have, not what I'd call necessary for the average home sewer. If I was a beginner I would think it so expensive to start sewing I'd take up knitting instead!

I suppose I'm a firm believer that you don't need all the latest gadgets to sew well - perfectly acceptable results can be obtained with a few basic tools - and a little bit of number 8 wire!

Would you agree?  What's in your sewing toolkit - are you a maximalist or minimalist?  Do you have a few basic essentials, or is collecting sewing gadgets another one of your hobbies?!  


  1. I think I am a sewing gadget junkie. I am pretty sure I have most of sewing gadgets available :) And I have an industrial iron, that made my life so much easier, I can't even comprehend my sewing without it!

  2. I'm definitely a minimalist! I have about half of what you have with the exception of a second hand sleeve board. I got really excited because I just got a new pin cushion (a non-tomato one!)hahahhahaha...buying sewing supplies just doesn't excite me. It's hard when there are so many pretty vintage patterns out there! :) Though we do have to buy a new iron as we are currently ironless!! eeek!

  3. I'd certainly find everything I need at your place!:)) when it comes to gadgets I take my time to think if I really need them but when it comes to supplies I take everything I see "just in case"... It comes in handy though- I almost always find the shades of thread I need!

  4. I'm a minimalist. I only became aware that there were so many sewing gadgets from reading blogs. I find it's quite hard to find gadgets here or they're really expensive, anyway. I love my Elna Supermatic (I really enjoyed the post about your Mum's one) but I have no idea what half the feet are for and I haven't used any of the discs yet.

  5. I'm definitely a minimalist; I have less than you do. (Only one machine, to start with. Now I'm writing that it isn't true, there's a sort of functional treadle in my hallway; I just never thought of sewing with it after inheriting my mom's electric machine.) There are three reasons for this: One, I easily feel overwhelmed by all the stuff that comes with modern life, so I really question whether I need something. Two, financial; while I don't sew to save money I don't see myself spending hundreds of Euros on equipment (now fabric, that's another story!). Three, my mom used to make all her wardrobe herself. While she didn't sew as much anymore when I was a child, I watched what she did. She copied patterns on newspaper with a tracing wheel, marked with chalk, cut out with old kitchen scissors and one pair of fabric shears and sewed with a treadle that had straight and zig zag stitch. I think she had a seam ripper, but I saw her using her shears for that, too. Later she got a used electric machine that's now mine. Oh, and she does have a sleeve board, but it's more for regular pressing than for sewing.

  6. I LOVE your setup! Your machines are so cool :-)

    I'm definitely a minimalist too. Which is funny because when it comes to my drawing, I want the best software and hardware....Sewing on the other hand - I like my 1964 Singer guest room that's now a sewing room, my guest bed as a cutting table (with cardboard mat picked up from a sale at Thread Den), and my severe lack of 'professional' things like overlockers, pinking shears, pressing tools (home iron does the trick) and I don't even have a dress form.

    Ok so I've only been sewing about seven months and I still want to buy a lot of things. But I don't really want an overlocker or a fancy modern machine. I'm not a vintage purist but I do love sewing 'the vintage way'. I figure if women were making spectacular garments 70 years ago with much the same equipment I use, I don't need it either.

    And who can resist the charm of a vintage machine? Mine's a beauty and she isn't even one of the 'serious' collector models.

  7. I'm definitely a minimalist! I have a lot less than you although I do have 3 machines,(a sewing machine with embroidery unit that doesn't get used anymore, a serger and my newest acquisition a coverstitch machine). I now own what my mother had so I do double up on some things and although I may own a few gadgets many are never used just the trusty old ones. I somehow prefer to spend my hard earned cash on fabric or lovely patterns. I can't imagine why! hehehe :)

  8. I considered myself a maximalist until I read your post! You and I use about the same number of tools regularly. I have duplicates of tools stored away, so I don't count those. You didn't mention a pressing ham and seam roll and I have those. Still, I always look in the notions and gadgets aisles even though I rarely buy anything.

  9. I think I am both. I have a bad habit of buying things and stocking up. However sometimes it takes years for me to use them up.... These days I am using up everything I have in my stash so that I can make space for more newer things. You have a very effective set up there!

  10. Hmm ... I think it all depends on who you compare yourself to! I probably have most of the things you have, plus a couple of random bits (like a bias binding maker) and minus the serger and extra sewing machines. Though I would really love to get one of those super-duper separate steam compartment iron and a serger. My machine is a mechanical early 80s New Home, so it does some nice things, but doesn't have all the bells and whistles you get with electronic machines these days ... maybe one day I'll get a fancy electronic machine to use alongside mine (one-step buttonholes would be handy). I'm in the process of setting up a sewing space/office (I'm literally in the middle of doing this - I'm taking a break from making Ikea furniture!).

    I thought I was a maximalist as there's not really much more that I can think of that I'd need ... I must be missing something!

  11. I am definitely a maximalist. Did I spell that right? One thing not in your toolbox that I couldn't live without is my edge stitching foot. I manage to use it on every garment I make. It gives me the straightest topstitching lines as well as other benefits. Highly recommend.

  12. I am a minimalist with respect to sewing gadets, but stash up on fabrics and notions! why coz i can afford them compared to highly priced sewing gadgets, my seam press is my darling daughter's support cylindrical pillow which she had used when she was an infant! now you can see how i use number 8 wire!

  13. I'm definitely a minimalist. I have a fancy new(er) machine that does multiple stitches and buttonholes and all that fun stuff, and I prefer my gr-grandmother's machine that just does a straight stitch and a zigzag stitch. I have a few 'gadgets' - pressing hams, one of those sewing gauges for buttonholes and such, numerous measuring implements, several kinds of marking tools, etc - and I pretty much never use any of it.

  14. I was a super-mega minimalist for a VERY long time (I didn't even buy fabric, just scrounged what I could). I have to admit one of my favourite things about "going serious" with my sewing hobby has been feeling like I'm allowed to buy the odd trinket. Although I think I'm still in the same ball-park as you for the paraphernalia. I did go a bit foot crazy the last couple of months when I realized that alternate feet for my Janome are mostly in the 5-10$ range. I do love the edge-stitching foot, though.

    I made my own pressing ham and sleeve roll, and I use those (especially the ham) a fair bit. And I am quite tickled with my vintage buttonholer (which my mom found at a thrift store for $2). My most recent trinket is one of those bias-tape folder thingies you use with an iron. We'll see how that works, but I make a lot of my own bias tape and I usually end up scorching fingers and swearing a lot. So I'm hoping this will minimize that.

    Oh, my clapper. I LURVE that thing.

    Also, I love your industrial machine, and your overlocker looks a lot like mine! (I hope yours works better, despite being serviced last Christmas mine has tension issues)

  15. Collecting tools for a hobby is very different that collecting tools/gadgets for work. You can tell the workspace of a professional in a split second. They buy tools to do the job and the focus is on the end product not the tools. A tool that will do a great job does not need to be pretty. It is what you do with the tools that counts.

    Prior to purchasing tools for my various endeavors, I stop and ask myself. "would a professional use this?" if the answer is "NO" chances are that it will be a waste of money.

    Sherry from reading your blog for a while I would say that your focus is on a beautiful end product and efficiency in getting there. I smiled when I looked at the pictures of your tools... A tool snob you are not!!!


  16. I come from a family of string-savers (some of you will know what I mean) so I am a minimalist - use the same basic things I have always used.
    I do buy sewing supplies and notions at estate sales, so I have small bins with silk threads, elastic, etc but as for tools, use the same ones over and over. and my vintage Singer slant needle, couldn't sew without it.
    I didn't see a seam guage, the 6" ruler, I do use that all the time.

  17. You have a pretty amazing collection, and I am definitely a minimalist...!

  18. Hmm, well before reading your post I would not have said I am a minimalist, but if you are, then I am too. My only other must-have tools are a loop turner (oh how I hate turning spaghetti straps!), some pressing tools (tailors hams, seam roll, sleeve board) and a chop stick for turning corners. I think I may get some pattern weights soon. My dirty little minimalist secret is that I only have about 4 bobbins.

  19. I'm probably somewhere in-between. I have a few more gadgets than you that I have collected over a long period of time. At one point I was buying up feet for my (at that time) new machine. I was working at a sewing machine shop, and ... what can I say. In reality, these feet rarely get used. One doesn't need too many gadgets to sew well, and the gadgets don't really make you a better sewer - practice does.

  20. I tend to collect things because I like to learn all the time, and get bored if there isn't some new pattern/tool/machine to fiddle with. When it comes to little tools, I usually avoid them... but I'm definitely a maximalist when it comes to bigger things. For example, for the longest time I had it in my head that an iron shouldn't cost as much or more than a sewing machine, but I really hated pressing and then both my ironing board and iron went kablooey. I invested in a steam generator iron and I will never look back--it's that great!

    With a hobby, I suppose it's all about pleasure, if using a certain tool or, conversely, not having to depend on it, gives one pleasure.

  21. I'm a little bit of both, I guess. I love gadgets, but I'm slowly learning that not all gadgets are useful & most are definitely dust collectors, so I've become much pickier about what kinds of tools I think I'll really use & try to pare out the ones I don't.

    On an unrelated note, I was one of the winners of your seam allowance guide giveaway & just received mine in the mail today. Thank you so, so much. It's definitely a gadget I will get lots of use from!

  22. I'm a bit of both really. I have some shears still going strong that my Grandma bought me in my early teens, but then again if I get it into my head that I say need an all-metal felling presser foot then I'll hunt the internet high 'n' low for the best possible price (thrill of the chase perhaps?) For instance today I spent my lunch hour at work hunting down the best price/metre for pattern drafting paper... and 20-odd sites later I got huge 150m roll of 91cm wide 50gsm weight (36" wide, 164 yards) for 22p per metre. I kinda of like knowing have certain gadgets ready for when I'm ready to approach a new technique (ie my new invisible zipper foot, my loop turner, and my clapper).

  23. I started out as a minimalist - partly of necessity and partly scroogey pride! I'm still sewing on the machine I got when I was about 14, and the overlocker I got when I was about 20. My supply of gadgets has increased slowly over the 27ish years since I got my machine. What I have, I use. Some get pulled out very infrequently but just make some particular task quicker or easier and so justify their presence in my collection. I did get a bunch of feet recently when Spotlight was clearing them out at $1.50, including a walking foot for my daughter.
    She's 11 and an enthusiastic beginner. I figure I'd rather blow a few dollars on things she may never use than have her shelling out big bucks in a few years if she keeps it up. I hope that if she has gadgets that make it easier for her she is less likely to get frustrated as she learns. It'll be interesting to see if her learning process (with an experienced and fully equipped dressmaker for a mother) will be very different from mine (completely self taught!)

  24. Oh I'm definitely a maximalist - now I have all the tools - whether I use them all well that's another point. I do have a few favourites so I guess it shows that you really can do without all those gadgets - a bit like my kitchen drawer.

  25. Minimalist. I didn't even buy one of those fun new magnetic seam guides you picture above. I made my own from half a wine cork, a small supermagnet, a dab of glue, and carefully drawn fine lines. I don't own a serger. I don't use my rotary cutters.

  26. Thanks for showing us your collection. I'm also often surprised by lists of "must-haves" people publish.

    I don't own many gadgets. My 40-yr-old machine only does straight and zig-zag, my overlocker is 3-thread. I do have an ironing press I scavenged from a roadside rubbish collection - it is great for block fusing.

    I must say your tracing wheel is lovely - I haven't seen one with such a nice handle.

  27. Well, I've stated on my blog ( that I'm a minimalist partly because I'm cheap and partly because we've moved so much & I keep leaving stuff behind. But I am aware that there are things I need to do a good job. I recently bought a tailor's ham and I'd like to get a sleeve ironing board. And I'm thinking of getting a mannequin. And I didn't have a sewing gauge (is that what it's called? Here's a pic: and really decided it makes hemming easier (so I bought 2). I also use pinking shears for cotton, and really think it makes a difference. I only have one machine and don't think I'd ever get another (unless it was a basic plain stitcher that could do heavy duty things like jeans & upholstery). Not an overlock; I'm not really sure what they are for & why I'd want one. And Tilly's 4-hour threading story scared me!

  28. Felicity from Down UnderJuly 16, 2011 at 2:03 PM

    Hm, some interesting comments. I'm like most, falling somewhere between the extremes. In part, I put that down to having inherited a few things I might not have gone and bought (but which, because I have them, I now use occasionally) and also in part to having seen how useful some of the gadgets can be.

    I also knit (more than I sew) and dabble in crochet, so what we call my sewing room is set up for whatever I happen to be doing at the time, with my (inherited) 1974 Singer and my (given to me) four-thread Janome overlocker (fantastic for t-shirts) always easily accessible should I need them.

    And that is indeed a lovely tracing wheel.

  29. Going by some of your responses, maybe I'm not as minimalist as I think! I agree with Uta that fabric is more fun to spend money on, but I might have to look into an edgestitching foot since a couple of you have suggested it! Uh oh, I'm on the verge...
    Samina - glad you received it!
    Judy - it's great your daughter is keen - watch out for your overlocker ;)

  30. Actually my proper tracing wheel is at work and this is another one, it's not that great as the spikes are blunt, but funnily enough I bought it from a Hobby Lobby in New Mexico! I just popped in to buy an embroidery needle...

  31. I didn't think I was a minimalist, but I have less than you do. Although I do have a cover stitch machine. And a narrow hemming foot that I use a lot.

    I would like a notcher. I recently got a tailor's awl and I am learning all sorts of uses for it besides just as a marking tool.

    Perhaps I have more pressing tools. I made myself a tailors' ham and filled it with scraps of fabric. Hubby made me a clapper out of scrap wood. I gathered an assortment of fabrics and pillowcases etc to use a pressing cloths, but I hardly use them as I like to see what I am pressing.

  32. Sherry! What the heck were you doing in NM? I grew up there & my parents have been there since 1967...I'm always amazed to find people who even KNOW where it is!

  33. It's really fun to see your tools! I like to imagine other sewists working in their spaces.

    I'm a minimalist, but tend to stock up on the things I DO use, particular raw materials (thread, elastic, fabric).

    Lately, I've been trying to decide whether I should buy proper tailor's chalk, since I use school chalk, which gives you nothing near a "sharp" line!

  34. I have more or less the same tools as you. I must admit I love gadgets but I try not to buy too much. I just bought some washers to use as patter weights. Last year I bought both a sewing machine and a serger. My previous machine was handed down from my mom (1965 Singer). I find that some tools really make your life easier like the invisible zipper foot and walking foot. As an amateur seamstress I feel you appreciate more when a tool helps you out. A pro like you is able to sew with any foot on any machine. But certainly gadgets don't make you a great seamstress!

  35. I like having nice little gadgets, so I imagine once I've been sewing for several years I'll have collected a fair number and have to call myself a maximalist. Thus far I am a minimalist according to your list - most of my gadgets were inherited from my Grandmother and from one shopping splurge on I'm definitely missing all of the fun sewing tools that you picked up at school. Thanks for taking the time to list all of your gadgets out. It was fun to read through them. Have a great weekend!

  36. I'm definitely a minimalist. I learned how to sew on a 1940s Singer upright that I still have, but two months into using it it developed electrical problems. I got the machine fixed a year or so later, but since then I've been using a green Hello Kitty sewing machine from Target. I usually have pins, the standard Dritz tomato pin cushion, some children's safety scissors that I've had since I was in high school, a tape measure, muslin, bodice blocks and an iron from Ikea.

  37. I would say minimalist to almost in between. Up until recently it was a cheap entry level brother machine and iron on the table with a towel, for scissors, chalks ect all whatever was around the house to use instead. Then i started dating someone that noticed and has used this lacking in equipment as present ideas! I now have his mums old machine (which is awesome) decent scissors, ironing board and overlocker! Plus i went to the US to visit family and gear is SO MUCH CHEAPER so i stocked up on a few time saving do dackies. The lack in it is because its really just a hobby - when i get time. Funnily enough with all the new gear i am sewing to save money!

  38. I think I'm a minimalist - I have a few specialist feet for my machine, a top brand overlocker, and a drawful of really good machine needles of different types. I used to be a fabric minimalist, but I'm sad to say I've grown a stash.

  39. I'm a maxamalist I think.

    I love gadgets, be it for sewing, cooking, whatever, gadgets are great.

    I have our sewing room set up almost like a shop, there are dozens of zippers hanging up to pick and choose from, close to a dozen snips and scissors, several quick unpicks, tailors chalk upstairs and down, pencils, tape measures, pins, almost a dozen machine feet, a sewing machine, overlocker, coverstitch, embroidery machine all set up at once, all with their own wee gadgets making it that wee bit easier! (like whoever invented the knee lifter for sewing machines - they deserve a medal!)

    But that seam allowance guide, I fell in love with that. Even blogged about it, and then someone suggested putting a rare earth magnet on the end of dowelling and marking out 1.5cm around the piece of dowel, and you've got a guide. Kinda makes sense, that whole No 8 Wire mentality again I guess.

    Go the kiwis!

  40. I guess I'm average, I always like to have more things and apparatus for sewing and pattern, but this also means that I need more space then sewing, which I can not afford .... until my children become independent, I think I can not buy anything else ....

  41. Am fairly minimal. I do insist on using silk pins (I think now they are called "satin pins") instead of the dull nails that well-wishing relatives gift me with on birthday and Christmas. And my pattern weights are scavenged from ancient athletic trophies that lurk in the closets of friends and neighbors (what 40-year-old really cares if I disassemble a second-place trophy from their fifth-grade church softball league? None have complained so far ... ). Interesting question today, Miz Sherry.

  42. What a great selection. Perfectly edited and I can't imagine what else one could really need. And I'm totally impressed by your tailor's chalk selection.

  43. I think the lids always break on those bobbin boxes, or at least mine did!

    I've come to realize that your amount of gear is inversely related to have much you partake of a hobby. Or so it seems to me.

  44. I have just come back to sewing after a decade or so doing other things. I have been so inspired by everyone else on blogs that I have just come away for 6 weeks in the UK with a me-made wardrobe. I love my new Janome sewing machine and then 6 months ago added an overlocker, which I couldn't imagine not having. Love, love, love it. Other than that, one pair of cutting out shears, one tiny little embroidery pair for snipping ends and one pinking shear set. I bought fancy things, such as hams and pressing cloths and teflon sheets so you don't stick up your iron and ironing board cover and I use all of them. Just invested in glass head pins and they are great too. I love having lots of bobbins, all wound with different colours and I have amassed a large number of different threads over the years. Hankering now for some silk thread I have seen on the internet from the US but the postage scares me. I also really like the cardboard cutting out boards, all marked out with squares that you can pin directly into when you lay out your fabric for cutting out. I find mine, which is about 35 years old, fits perfectly on top of the bench in my kitchen and is the perfect height for me to cut out on, or pin things. I wish I had discovered it earlier though. So on reflection I think I must be a maximist as I also have a pretty decent stash.


  45. Maxamalist and proud of it! ;-) Whatever I'm doing, I like to have the right tools for the job (not that I don't use some tools for other tasks!)-that can be in the kitchen,garden or sewing room.Having the right tools makes things much easier-once I've worked out where I've stored them......... :-\\

  46. It's so fun to see what you have in your sewing space. I'm definitely on the minimilist side, although I do have a nice little sewing nook in our office/guest room, I use our home iron, butcher paper for pattern, and often do my cutting on the kitchen table or on the (clean!) floor. I've got a really basic sewing Janome sewing machine, but have been thinking of buying a used industrial machine, there are quite a few listed on craigslist. I like the idea of having an old Singer....the more I sew, the more I might be falling into the maxamalist line...

  47. I think I'm a maximalist at heart but a minimalist in practice - mostly because I'm broke! I have really, really nice scissors and thread snips but everything else is the most basic version they make. I've been sewing for years and I just this week bought jersey needles and denim needles ($9 total). It's the first time my machine has met anything besides a universal needle; I can't believe the difference it makes!


Thanks for commenting!