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Getting asked “Did you make that?” by friends and family is a loaded question: Are they asking us because they know we sew and are making pleasant conversation, or because it looks—horrors—homemade? Michael Kors routinely cuts Project Runway contestants down to size by telling them their fashions look “Becky Home Ecky.” A popular fashion blog recently described a celebrity’s clothes as having “a tendency to look a little home sewn…you can see the darts at 20 paces.”

Fortunately there are a number of sewing tools that can help you create clothing that looks better than most ready-to-wear. Recently, a sewing blog asked readers to list the sewing tools they’d advise a beginner-sewer friend to buy if the goal was to create clothes that didn’t scream loving hands at home. Start with a workhorse sewing machine and invest in an iron that can press and steam all kinds of fabrics, the blog readers agreed, and add other sewing equipment as your budget permits. Here are the sewing tools they’d recommend to home sewers who want to sew like a pro:

• Good thread. Cheap thread equals frustration. —BConky

• A large [clear] quilter’s rule for laying [patterns] on the grain. —Anne LO

• I finally bought a really good pair of scissors after struggling with a bad pair. —Rebecca

• If the friend is truly going to become a lifelong sewing fanatic, then a rotary cutter and the largest cutting mat she can accommodate. Rotary cutting is so much faster. —Elaray

• Small scissors for safely clipping threads. —jenibrown

• A really good sewing reference book [or several]. I’ve been [sewing] for nearly fifty years and am constantly updating my library. —KnitMachineQueen

• Multiple packs of machine needles. I am continually flabbergasted by the amount of newbies who think they can use one needle indefinitely, and for every type of fabric. —Melissa

• A point turner—a cheap little gadget that keeps you from doing silly things like poking corners out with dangerous things like scissors. —Irene

• A full-length mirror [for] your sewing area. —Angela

• Pressing is the best way to make a garment look [professional], so everything pressing related: a good steam iron, pressing cloths, tailor’s ham and seam roll, sleeve board and clapper are musts for me. — Kennis

• I love my [wooden] combination clapper/point presser; mine must be 35 years old. —Nancy K

• A variety of pressing cloths. —Cenetta (author’s note: Make sure one of those pressing cloths is silk organza, which is sheer and allows you to see what you’re pressing.)

• A spool of silk thread for hand basting. White is good. —Angela (author’s note: Silk thread glides easily through most fabrics, making it perfect for basting and removing basting stitches.)

• A seam ripper, or multiple seam rippers, as I tend to misplace them quite frequently. —Becky

• A variety of rulers: clear, sewing gauge and tape measure. —Clio

• A selection of pins in various thicknesses and lengths. Early on, I poked some big holes in fine fabrics with pins that were more like nails. —Carol (author’s note: Glass-head pins, which don’t melt when accidentally ironed, are a must.)

• A [magnetic] seam guide. Makes it easier for me as a beginner to stitch nice accurate seam lines. —Claire

• An edgestitching foot and a ¼-inch foot for the sewing machine. I use these with every garment I make, whether it is to tame topstitching, ditch-stitch or sew French seams. —Bunny

• Some kind of chalk marker in different colors. —toferet

• A serger, especially one with a coverstitch, will make knit tops look RTW. —Lori

• A French curve for when you will most certainly have to alter your pattern. —Miss Coleen

• Good interfacing. —Dana

• I went up several notches [as a sewer] when I got a dressmaker’s model. It was cheap and adjustable but it allowed me to…just improve fit. I think that fit, or lack of it, is usually the thing that screams homemade to me. —mem

• Without price? A good [sewing] friend who knows more than you. —themateriallady

BurdaStyle readers, what sewing tool(s) do you rely on to help you avoid the dreaded homemade look? Leave us a comment here and let us know!

~Meg

Meg McDonald has been sewing ever since she made a peasant blouse at age 12. She writes about the wonderful fabrics, trims and notions NYC’s Garment District has to offer at Shop the Garment District, an online guide for sewists and crafters. Meg shares her personal adventures in fashion sewing on her blog, Lindsay T Sews, where she readily admits she still has “what was I thinking?” moments when it comes to some of the things she makes.

52 Comments

  • Missing

    Jan 31, 2013, 01.45 AMby Jodie Hawley

    Ditto the suggestions about using a seam guide for even seams, even stitches and pressing each seam. Also a neat and tidy interior. I like binding tape for heavier fabrics. Finally choice of fabric can make well constructed clothing look home made.

  • Missing

    Jan 3, 2013, 06.34 PMby leighann777

    All good suggestions. I’m a beginner, but I’m also a bit of a perfectionist, and I want the best looking results possible. I know a lot of that comes from experience, as well as good tools and good technique. But I wish we could lose the phrases “Becky Home Ecky” and “loving hands at home.” Although they express the problem, they seem kind of condescending to me.

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    Nov 12, 2012, 01.48 PMby Meldbombs

    I have a middle tier Brother that seemed very high tech in my naive days as a true beginner, but after six months it is not sewing as smoothly, I have universal (for all machines) Singer needles which are very good quality, but it still jams too often, and the stitch length is not uniform, one stitch will look huge and one tiny even if I am on 2-3. I also use cotton coated Coats and Clark thread. I have this problem especially when sewing zippers and buttonholes. Can someone tell me what the problem is? I cannot afford a new machine. Also is it worth it to buy a serger?

  • Image_large

    Nov 12, 2012, 01.48 PMby Meldbombs

    I have a middle tier Brother that seemed very high tech in my naive days as a true beginner, but after six months it is not sewing as smoothly, I have universal (for all machines) Singer needles which are very good quality, but it still jams too often, and the stitch length is not uniform, one stitch will look huge and one tiny even if I am on 2-3. I also use cotton coated Coats and Clark thread. I have this problem especially when sewing zippers and buttonholes. Can someone tell me what the problem is? I cannot afford a new machine. Also is it worth it to buy a serger?

  • Missing

    Jun 16, 2011, 02.58 PMby kelisk8s

    If you are looking for stuff to look non-homey… my best advice is be a perfectionist. If something doesn’t look right re-do because if you continue on to the next step it will just look worse to you. And the more steps you have, the worse it will look and then you’ll get frustrated. Also fit before cutting and fit before finishing is my motto. I’m lazy so I fit with the pattern pieces pinned together (instead of making a practice run), then I fit once before I sew major seams.. again pinned together. (I do however make a practice run for pant fittings cause those are MUCH more tricky) Usually I can pin point the major problems on the paper fitting and then the minor ones get adjusted on the actual garment. And remember if you question something you can always make something smaller… but it is almost impossible to make something bigger so errr on the larger side. If you are lazy like me you may find yourself loving knits. I sew knits all the time so a serger is a must for me. It also makes the seam allowances look RTW so if I know it look pro in and out I’m usually happier about the garment. Also, don’t be afraid to toss something that just doesn’t work. Chalk it up to a learning experience. I usually say… “well… I’ll never do that THAT way AGAIN!” as I’m tossing. :)

  • Missing

    Jun 16, 2011, 02.54 PMby kelisk8s

    If you are looking for stuff to look non-homey… my best advice is be a perfectionist. If something doesn’t look right re-do because if you continue on to the next step it will just look worse to you. And the more steps you have, the worse it will look and then you’ll get frustrated. Also fit before cutting and fit before finishing is my motto. I’m lazy so I fit with the pattern pieces pinned together (instead of making a practice run), then I fit once before I sew major seams.. again pinned together. (I do however make a practice run for pant fittings cause those are MUCH more tricky) Usually I can pin point the major problems on the paper fitting and then the minor ones get adjusted on the actual garment. And remember if you question something you can always make something smaller… but it is almost impossible to make something bigger so errr on the larger side. If you are lazy like me you may find yourself loving knits. I sew knits all the time so a serger is a must for me. It also makes the seam allowances look RTW so if I know it look pro in and out I’m usually happier about the garment. Also, don’t be afraid to toss something that just doesn’t work. Chalk it up to a learning experience. I usually say… “well… I’ll never do that THAT way AGAIN!” as I’m tossing. :)

  • Missing

    Jun 15, 2011, 10.19 AMby Lesley Jeffery

    Call me “old fashioned” but when I learnt to home sew myself from reading the info on dress patterns, I still use my rotary wheel and carbon paper to trace seams, darts, etc., my ever faithful scissors and pinking shears always on hand. My small portable Elna Lotus circa 1970 still in every day use, and gives me all the basic/zig zag stiches required.

  • Missing

    Jun 15, 2011, 04.23 AMby Idlebird

    My favorite tool now is a Mechanical Pencil Marker that I found in the quilting area of the fabric store. It works just like a pencil, I can mark darts, hems,etc. and the chalk isn’t permanant. I don’t want to sew without it now. Oh, It comes with refills- in white and assorted colors and a sharpener. I love it and I think you will too. P.S. Don’t forget that we are constantly learning and re-learning as we sew, so, continue to read articles like this one.

  • Me_on_4-01-13_at_3_47_pm_large

    Jun 15, 2011, 02.23 AMby cottonrose

    To trace my Burda patterns I can’t live without my two pencils held together at seam allowance width by two rubber holders. I bought this one in the habby section of a sewing store after thinking that I had invented the idea! Previously, I had two pencils, a bit of cork from a wine bottle (of course) and held the pencils together with sticky tape. This worked fine until I had to sharpen the pencils. Fortunately someone had already thought of the idea and I was able to buy a superior example. It marks both the seam lines and the cutting line at 1.5 cm or 5/8 inch depending on how you think. I now use colouring in pencils and can use different colours.

  • Missing

    Jun 15, 2011, 12.25 AMby kathnick

    The most important lesson I learned is patience! And, since I also do a lot of fiddly leather upholstery (which is difficult/impossible to pin, or hold together at times), I now stay-stitch a lot of the more difficult seams I need to do on my garments. I iron, pin the crap out of everything, stay stitch, and then finish stitch. It takes a lot more time, but there are no frustrating puckers, or wrinkles.

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    Jun 13, 2011, 11.49 AMby corinneski

    A good steam iron is my most valuable friend. The rule needs to be sew, press/steam the seam, open the seam, press/steam the open seam, turn it over and do the other side of the opened seam. My other golden rule is use a new needle in my machine whenever I start a new project. You also need to check the fit of the pattern – I find Nancy Zieman’s advice on fitting patterns very helpful.

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    Jun 13, 2011, 09.19 AMby sofgal

    you can also use old soap to draw on dark fabrik, easy, cheap and really usefull!! and it last longer than other pens, and disapear when you wash your clothes!!

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    Jun 13, 2011, 06.30 AMby bexi

    I love my invisible zipper foot!!! its made a huge difference to how my dresses and skirts look and so quick and easy to put in!

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    Jun 12, 2011, 02.20 PMby katexxxxxx

    Some of my more esoteric ‘sewing’ tools include:

    A set of 4" G clamps A digital caliper Tin snips.. Toenail clippers… Plumber’s PTFE tape A small vise Glue gun Modeler’s mini drill and diamond tipped drill bits… Large bulldog clips

    Slightly less unusual:

    Clover Mini Iron Kandicane hotfix tool A bench mounted grommet setter A roll of Magic Carpet cake-tin liner… The Simflex Gauge…

    I do have a whole room full of kit. And all the sewing machine feet on the planet!

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    Jun 12, 2011, 10.23 AMby fifilina

    great post! definitely agree with a good iron and ironing accessories. Also a variety of good quality machine needles, the cheap ones are so nasty to work with, don’t be tempted by the cheap ones.

  • Missing

    Jun 10, 2011, 04.47 PMby pipspatch

    I so agree about having a workhorse sewing machine. I really miss my old Bernina 1230 and have struggled on for years with a rogue machine, that I must replace to save my sanity!

    I want to purchase a trouble- free machine that will stitch a perfect lock stitch, do a one step automatic buttonhole, have a needle threader and a thread cutter, and have plenty of space to the right of the needle. Any other features would be a bonus. Price is not a problem. I would really appreciate any suggestions.

  • Me_4_large

    Jun 10, 2011, 04.11 PMby FashionSewingBlog

    An excellent post.

    It justs goes to show how much fashion sewers care about their craft and the scerets (if I can call them that) that go into making a homemade garment.

    I have a fair few gadgets myself and some I use more than others.

    I would have to agree with Katy-lady, Marioncosta, Chieflotsahair with the points they have raised. They are so on the button… (parden the pun!)

    The sewing tool that I rely mostly upon is the “IRON”. The first rule of sewing should always be sew, press, sew, press. Follow this routine and you can’t go far wrong.

    Colleen G Lea

  • Me_large

    Jun 10, 2011, 03.14 PMby NYAM Afia Cayee'

    The New Gadget I recently purchased is a ROTARY CUTTER SEAM ALLOWANCE GUIDE! I haven’t used it yet but you can attach it to the ROTARY cutter and it will cut the seam allowance after you trace the pattern from Burda Style patterns without tracing the pattern a second time to add the allowance. I can’t wait to use it!

  • Missing

    Jun 10, 2011, 02.37 PMby abcameo

    I love tools and gadgets and can’t resist buying them…but I wish someone would produce one huge encyclopedia on how to use every sewing gizmo and all the presser feet on the market so I could have descriptions and examples all in one place.

    I buy all the fancy rulers, presser feet, notions when they come out, but by the time I get around to using them, I forget what they’re supposed to do and wher,e, when and why I’d use them. Some arrive packaged with no printed instructions or descriptions. The different websites I buy them from made them sound so irresistible, I just had to have it, but now I’m staring at some intriguing notion and clueless about how to use it.

    All I ask is for one excellent, gigantic encyclopedia—exact instructions on how to best use the specialty rulers for altering patterns, how to make the most out of your rotary mat, how do you use the curvemaster presser foot, how to best manage a pleater—stuff like that.

    1 Reply
    • Photo_306_large

      Jun 10, 2011, 02.41 PMby marthahaskins

      In the back of “Fine Machine Sewing”, Carol Laflin Ahles includes almost every use for presser feet on all different sorts of sewing machines. (All with the machine settings.) I’m addicted to this new find thru one of my internships (I had to research fagoting for them – this book has it all – enjoy!

  • Missing

    Jun 9, 2011, 09.51 PMby glorialavonne

    I have two different rulers, one is a curve, and one have an open space for marking with pins. I have glass headed pins and curved pins. The iron is a must, and the hand presser is a plus

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    Jun 9, 2011, 04.47 PMby Karen Alexander

    I don’t think it goes without saying – a good quality sewing machine that makes a GOOD looking stitch – AND the free owners classes to learn how to use it. You don’t see nasty stitches on RTW or couture… nice, tight and straight. Buy from a dealer that makes you feel good about your decision – if you can, and so you’ll have ongoing support , and get a model that it backed up with a nice suite of accessory feet – those uber straight seams are all about the feet! Please, don’t buy your sewing machine where you buy your socks!

  • Pickle_large

    Jun 9, 2011, 03.48 PMby magmae

    My problem is fit. I can sew, then try on, then sew, then try on a million times and it never seems to fit exactly right. I probably just need more practice.

    3 Replies
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      Jun 9, 2011, 07.28 PMby abbeychrissie

      I had that problem as well until I tried to make a skirt without a pattern using the “drafting the perfect skirt” instructions by burdastyle member gredwoods. I rarely use pattens these days. Every skirt I’ve made since then fits like a glove.

    • Missing

      Jun 10, 2011, 01.56 PMby jecouds

      It’s probably not just a need for practice. It’s almost impossible to properly fit oneself, although having a dress form that is padded to duplicate your body helps.

      I would get help from a sewing teacher or a fitting buddy. A teacher is preferable because fitting is not easy.

    • Molly_5-30-09__2_large

      Jun 14, 2011, 07.14 PMby KristinaViolette

      Hello, I’m sorry to say that practice alone will probably not help, you must somehow “learn” the right way to fit. There are many ways to learn, there are a zillion free videos on the web, local classes, free web classes, etc. Fitting from a “Store-bought-pattern” is very difficult when your have to do all of the “fitting” by yourself.

      “Threads Fitting DVD Series” is a great place to start. It is a 4-part series, Torso, Arms, Bust, and Hips & Waist. They were on sale for around $70 (regularly $100) because they are discontinuing them. If you are interested, go to either Taunton Press or ThreadsMagazine.com.

      Save yourself a great deal of aggravation and get help learning.

    • This is a question
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