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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

    Jun 9, 2011, 03.29 PMby security16

    You don’t really need a serger to do a professional finish. Some sewing machines have a serger stitch which works really well on knits too! The right type of needle for your fabric is essential. Use the zipper foot for tiny seams ( I do small scale stuff!) Also i have a block of bees wax on my machine so that as i sew it coats the thread making it stronger and much easier to glide through the fabric and if you bugger it up it makes it easier to undo.

    2 Replies
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      Jun 9, 2011, 10.13 PMby asf

      The wax idea is excellent. Where do YOU obtain yours?

    • Missing

      Jun 24, 2011, 01.09 PMby security16

      I got my beeswax from an agricultural show but i’m sure alot of craft stores have it as well also candlemaking suppliers would have it

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    Jun 9, 2011, 02.24 PMby little-meep

    my adjustable dress form is the best sewing tool I ever got (thanks to my bubby), it really makes all the difference regarding fit and seeing how a project is coming together. If I could get one new piece of kit it would be an overlocker (serger) to make finished seams look more professional.

    I’d also add good quality machine needles that wont damage your fabric to the list.

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    Jun 9, 2011, 02.19 PMby FabricUiPhoneApp

    I’m with Lori about how a good serger makes for more RTW knits..I had suggested Sullivan’s Fabric Stabilizer…the manufacturer targets quilters but it’s a great tool for the garment sewer. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve used it on knits, wovens, etc. It’s wonderful stuff…while it wouldn’t take the place of a serger, it’s certainly a lot cheaper. It’s about $6 a can. Get the larger one…the smaller one tends to sputter all over the place even when it’s still pretty full.

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    Jun 9, 2011, 01.37 PMby gray

    I would have to add a dress manikin is the best thing I have. It is so good to have something where you can see how the garment hangs…. where it needs to be taken in…. if it looks good!!

  • Missing

    Jun 9, 2011, 12.36 PMby varenoea

    I have nothing to add to the list above… except: sew, sew, sew, because practice makes it perfect.

    And wear proudly whatever you’ve made – because people who criticize your “dreaded” home-made look are people who can’t sew themselves. People who sew don’t criticize you when your home-made clothes look home-made – they’re more likely to be happy to see another person who shares their hobby!

    1 Reply
    • Missing

      Jun 12, 2011, 08.33 PMby michbee

      I couldn’t agree more – especially as a beginner! Althought it must be said that noone has yet spotted a home made effort, rather they’ve asked because they knew I was making it, and have always been very impressed as they (wrongly) think they couldn’t do it themselves. (Although that said – I’m my own worst critic regarding how professional it looks!) I’m CERTAIN I’ll get better with practice.

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    Jun 9, 2011, 10.48 AMby bohemiannow

    I soon came to understand that you sew with the iron, thread just keeps things together!

  • Missing

    Jun 9, 2011, 10.38 AMby catherine450

    Press, press and press again, I do each seam as soon as I’ve stitched it, and most importantly don’t rush, spend time enjoying the process of creating your garment.

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    Jun 9, 2011, 10.12 AMby Sabrina Wharton-Brown

    Maybe one of the commonest mistakes is using the wrong type of interfacing. Another problem is puckering, which can usually be avoided by holding the fabric taut when you sew.

    I am glad of my one-step buttonhole. It’s much easier to get right than a four-step.

    I think the most important things are to press as you go and take the time and care to do it job right. While tools can be a tremendous help, nothing will make up for poor workmanship. You know what they say about a bad worker and his tools!

    Sabrina Wharton-Brown http://thesewingcorner.blogspot.com/2011/04/secrets-of-good-sewing.html

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    Jun 9, 2011, 09.25 AMby powpetje

    I got this fabulous rotary cutter and I wanted a big cutting mat. Solution: perspex! It is cheap, enormous and it is easy to buy (in a DIY shop where they also sell paint for your walls and wood and a lot of other things)

  • Vatten_large

    Jun 9, 2011, 09.24 AMby ichigogirl

    I think the no 1 thing to do to avoid the home-made look is not to buy anything but to PRESS ALL SEAMS! It’s vital, essential, über-important. Without pressing seams during sewing; tam-tam: home made look.

    The second thing needed is patience. A critical eye and an inventive mind help too (compare to bought clothes and copy the finish).

    But, of course, some gadgets are really helpful, and buying gadgets is fun!

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    Jun 9, 2011, 03.56 AMby marloncosta

    I can`t think of one specific thing. I love it buying sewing gadgets. I have many kinds of rulers, fabric markers, bias tape makers…but I believe that the main thing to get good results is knowing your fabric, making sure to cut the fabric on the right grain, cutting precisely and pressing well and cautiously. I have a couple of great books that I always go to when I need. I also agree with katy-lady…patience leads you to perfection.

  • Missing

    Jun 9, 2011, 02.09 AMby chieflotsahair

    I press everything, sometimes multiple times. I also top-stitch, edge stitch, and stitch in the ditch. Often in excess to what a pattern may suggest. You don’t want a facing flopping out and revealing this is a homemade garment.

    1 Reply
    • Vatten_large

      Jun 9, 2011, 09.27 AMby ichigogirl

      Great advice, I agree. One of the first things I ever made was a copy of a denim jacket. No one believed it was home-made, only because I had copied the top stitched seams… heh.
      Pressing + top-stitching = success

  • Logo4957b_large

    Jun 9, 2011, 01.20 AMby jen .ss1

    Appropriate top-stitching thread…Depending on the project this might be a heavier cotton thread, buttonhole twist, or maybe rayon.

    1 Reply
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      Jun 9, 2011, 06.54 AMby patchitup

      Should I be doing that for fell seams, as well? I use them a lot, but use the the same thread through out.

  • Missing

    Jun 8, 2011, 09.47 PMby Aurora Eva

    A serger is essential to avoid look too homemade

    1 Reply
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      Jun 9, 2011, 01.16 PMby rogue-cellist

      I absolutely agree. Serging gives a far more professional finish than zig zag stitch and it produces a much better product with knit fabrics. Still- if you want an even more polished finish binding your seams or french seams are a cut above.

  • Dodo_large

    Jun 8, 2011, 09.43 PMby lila-1

    Matching thread colour to fabric colour is a big one. And pressing AS YOU GO, not at the end. You wouldnt think so, but it makes a huge difference. Making and sewing on your own label also helps :) although its a bit time consuming.

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    Jun 8, 2011, 08.31 PMby loyl8

    i have an invisible sewing foot and a ruffling foot. I have bunch of fun tools: pleater board, 3rd hand, a really rad turning tool in different sizes, good scissors with cool printed handles, chalk pencil with different colors chalks and a sharpner, a cutting board, a french curve in different sizes, the perfect hand needles, silk and reg good thread, i have a bamboo point turner, also a little think that goes on my machine to the side to help line up the edges while sewing and it does curves too. I love all my little gadgets. it really helps me with not making things look “homey” homemade

  • Missing

    Jun 8, 2011, 08.04 PMby raroofus

    I would also add Stitch Witchery (or a similar roll of double sided iron on adhesive). I have always thought sitching was the best way to make something look finished but sometimes on difficult material this can work wonders (like on knits and chiffon). It takes a little more time but you avoid the tedious rolling of hems and the even more tediuos sewing of them, and you just iron your way to a clean, even, secure hem. It’s not too expensive too so it can be an alternative to buying a lot of needles or special machines and such to sew those hems.

    1 Reply
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      Jun 10, 2011, 03.57 PMby hanolalaith

      Do you ever have trouble with the iron on adhesives coming loose? I have been hesitant to try it because I’m afraid that if it did release its bond, it would be much more difficult to re-adhere than simply resewing.

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    Jun 8, 2011, 07.37 PMby katy-lady

    I’d add patience to the list, and a few sharp hand sewing needles for those jobs that need to be done by hand.

  • Feisty_girl_large

    Jun 8, 2011, 07.22 PMby ashleyraine

    When I wear something I made, my biggest nightmare is having it look homemade. Thanks for this list!

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