8 Essential Tools of the Trade

by | Feb 17, 2016

Everyone has essential tools that they use everyday in their job that make the work better or easier or even make it possible. Here’s a list of my essentials. (In no particular order.)

  1. Measuring Tape
  2. Pins & Pincushion
  3. Unpicker / Seam ripper
  4. Metre Ruler / Metre Stick
  5. Patternmaster
  6. Fabric Shears / Fabric Scissors
  7. Little Scissors / Snips
  8. Iron & Ironing Board

Measuring Tape

essential tool - measuring tape

These little beauties I think were once upon a time prizes from a Christmas cracker. Regardless of whoever wins a measuring tape at Christmas dinner, it always ends up being gifted to me, ensuring that I have never had to purchase a tape measure in my life!

A favourite as just hanging it around my neck makes me feel like a seamstress extraordinaire!!

Used to measure the body I’m making clothes for or around curves on the pattern and for measuring seam allowances or hems. So versatile it not only looks good hanging around my neck it truly is a really usefull peice of kit.

Pins & Pincushion

I am a traditionalist when it comes to cutting my patterns in fabric, I prefer to pin the paper pattern to the fabric and cut with shears; Rather that using pattern weights and a cutting mat & rotary cutter.


Pinny the Pin Dog

I became a little obsessed with the big pin cushion dog one of the contestants had on the 2nd Series of the Great British Sewing Bee, and for my first Birthday after we met, my wonderful boyfriend Gary & I, trawled the shops of York looking for a suitable Pin Dog. And that’s where we found Pinny. She was a heavy tweed doorstop with a lot of weight in her bottom, which seems to hold the pins far better than any other pin cushion I have had. Her head is occasionally used for pins, but mainly only when I have small people helping me. I tend to use her bum. Her ears also come in useful for storing needles and I sometimes also use her as a weight to stop things flying away in a breeze. I would highly recommend that you find yourself a Pin Dog!

Having said all that I am rather particular on the type of pins I use and I bought myself a giant 500g box of them. I like my pins long & fine and these are perfect for me, they are nickle plated steel and are 34mm long. They hold the fabric in place and are fine enough not to leave a mark in the fabric. I often pin at right angles to the seam line and sew straight over the pins with my machine. It very rarely breaks or blunts the needle, or breaks the pin, and I find it by far the quickest and easiest way to sew a seam.


Unpicker / Seam Ripper

Nobody’s perfect and these handy little things are a lifesaver. Easily undo your mistakes, whether that be a couple of stitches in error or a whole seam.


One point to note, make sure yours is sharp. A blunt seam ripper does nobody any favours and will just snag and damage your fabric. For unpicking a whole seam place the end with the ball into your seam and then glide along your seam, this should be effortless, like a hot knife through butter, if it is not then invest in a new seam ripper. These essential tools are less than a couple of quid delivered from ebay.

Metre Ruler / Metre Stick

It is no coincidence that there are 3 different measuring devices on my essential tools list. As the old adage goes: Measure twice & cut once.


A metre stick is brilliant for ensuring long lines on your pattern are straight and makes it easier to measure lengths of fabric or to work out your fabric requirements. I sometimes use it as a weight too.

This is one of the newest additions to my tool kit, but I wouldn’t be without it now.


On the flip side, this was one of the items on my list when I first started Fashion college aged 16, but my Patternmaster has been in contant use since then particularly as I draft my own patterns. Available from Morplan for ยฃ21.95 (in either metric or imperial measurements, whichever you prefer) this fancy ruler is definitely an essential tools.


It makes adding seam allowance even on curved seams a piece of cake. It has all the features of a graders set square and has loads of clever additions that make drafting your own patterns easy. I can’t praise this fancy pants ruler highly enough!

Fabric Shears / Fabric Scissors

My boyfriend & family all know that it’s more than their life is worth that to touch my fabric scissors. My favourites have a little piece of fabric tied to the handle to make them easily indentifiable.


They are a pair of Fiskars Dressmaking Shears and the blades are lovely and long and sharp. And they have a good weight to them. I was recently given the other pair as a gift and although intially reluctant to try something other than my beloved Fiskars. They are actually very nice when cutting certain fabrics.

Stop anybody from using your fabric scissors with a simple padlock.

If you have invested in a lovely pair of fabric shears, even the most mild mannered of readers should be prepared to totally loose it with anyone who dares to use them for anything other than fabric. Eg. Paper, plastic, tape, getting into sealed boxes etc.

Little Scissors / Snips

They sit just beside my machine with in easy reach and are used for cutting ff those untidy threads and the beginning of end of seams. Cutting off loose and straggly threads as you go along makes it easy to produce a well finished garment that looks a good on the inside as it does on the outside.


I prefer my little scissor. But I know plenty of dressmakers who like their snips. I personally find them a little awkward to use. But I guess like anything it comes down to personal taste.

Iron & Ironing Board

In day to day life I am one of the laziest ironers you could ever meet. Gary irons all his own shirts and I (Gary!*) always try to fold my clean clothes in such a way as to minimise ironing requirements. However all this changes when I am dressmaking…

Essetial tools - iron

My (Gary’s!*) iron is crucial, every seam is pressed after sewing, ensuring a more professional finish. The iron can be used to smooth and manipulate fabrics in a way that can’t be done with a sewing machine alone. Steam can ease out bumps in your stitching and set hems and pleats in place.

Do you agree that these are the most essential tools for dressmaking? Is there anything I missed? What is your number 1 sewing tool?

Check out upcoming Courses & Workshops on Facebook or give me a call to discuss booking your one to one sewing lessons.

Alison Xx

*edited by Gary

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