Knitting and needles, paper and scissors, sewing and notions. Whatever your craft, you need the right tools for the job. Because without them, you’re not going to go very far. What do you need to get started with your first sewing project — or your 50th? Let’s have a look.

Sewing and Notions: What You Need to Know

Notions is a broad term that incorporates a lot of different kinds of sewing supplies. For example, accessories and embellishments like buttons and snaps are notions. But so are small sewing tools like thread, pins, seam rippers, and tailor’s chalk. To make it even more confusing, a store for sewing and notions may carry almost everything you need for sewing, except fabric. Likewise, a sewing and notions store probably won’t sell sewing machines, either. And patterns? Maybe, maybe not. Confused yet? Don’t worry. We’ll sort it out.

Sewing and Notions: Sewing Tools

To get cracking on your projects, you’ll need to have a good set of tools. It’s not necessary to buy the most expensive sewing tools on the market, but it’s probably a good idea to avoid tools that are obviously cheaply made. Sewing tools fall under four categories: cutting, marking and measuring, holding, and pressing.


The two types of cutting implements you will find yourself using most are scissors and a rotary cutter. Their uses have some overlap, but they are actually two very different tools. Scissors are excellent for cutting curves and cutting out patterns. By contrast, the rotary cutter, which looks something like a pizza slicer, is a swift, sure way to cut straight lines through multiple layers of fabric.

Sewing and notions: a pair of pinking shears with zigzag blades

Image CC SA 2.0 Germany, by Pavel Krok, via Wikimedia Commons

Both scissors and rotary cutters have a few types of blades. The most common are straight blades and pinking blades. Straight blades are, as the name suggests, straight. Pinking blades have a zigzagged appearance and leave a “sawtooth” edge when you use them to cut. This sawtooth edge helps to stop fabrics from fraying. Specifically, it can be very useful when working with loose-weave fabrics that unravel easily. Both of these sewing tools also come in different sizes. In general, the larger the blade, the more material you can cut and the faster you can cut it.

Whether you’re using straight blades or pinking blades, your tools must be kept sharp. For scissors, this means having them sharpened regularly. You can try to sharpen rotary cutter blades, but many find it easier to simply change the blades out when they become dull.

Sewing and notions: a hand holding a rotary cutter

Image CC BY 2.0, by Mark Baylor, via Flickr

Marking and measuring

Sewing requires precision, whether it’s to get the fit of a garment exactly right or to make that stunning quilt. As a result, your measuring and marking tools are of vital importance.

A cutting mat is a padded, plastic, blade-resistant mat that can help you measure, mark, and cut. In addition, most cutting mats are marked with grids in either inches or centimeters. Some even have diagonal markings to help you to make precise angular cuts. Most importantly, a cutting mat will protect both your blades and your table.

You will also find a ruler to be useful, whether for measuring or for guiding your rotary cutter blade. What kind of ruler? Well, some people prefer a metal ruler, because a rotary cutter blade can damage rulers made from wood or plastic. However, some people prefer a thick, transparent plastic ruler, because it makes it easy to mark off precise measurements. Take a trip to your favorite sewing and notions store and see which one you think would work best for you.

Sewing and notions: a patchwork ruler and tailor's chalk

Image CC0, via Maxpixel

A measuring tape also comes in handy for measuring the body for garments.

As far as marking goes, you can’t go wrong with tailor’s chalk. It comes in a few different forms. For example, the above photo shows a cake of chalk. In addition, you can find it powdered, inside a lipstick-sized applicator. Also, it comes in pencil form. Chalk is easy to apply and brushes off when you’re finished with it.


In order to sew precisely, you will need some way of holding layers of fabric together. Straight pins and safety pins are two common ways of doing this. Use straight pins for when you want to remove your pins as you cut or sew. Safety pins are better for when you need to hold your layers together for an extended period of time, for example, while quilting a large quilt.

Sewing and notions: assorted straight pins with colored heads

Image CC0, via Maxpixel

The heads of straight pins keep them from slipping out of your fabric. Some pins have small, metal heads. Others have heads that are balls made from either plastic or glass. Plastic-headed pins are cheaper, but glass-headed pins won’t melt if they get too close to an iron.

Alternately, you might consider using fabric weights. Fabric weights weigh down your fabric while you cut it, allowing for a precise cut. You can also use them to hold your pattern to the cloth while you cut out the pieces of your projects.


Pressing your seams can make your projects more precise. And when it comes to sewing, precision is everything. A standard clothing iron is good for most of your pressing needs. However, if you’re working with very small corners, you might consider a mini-iron. The ironing surface of a mini-iron is about as large as your thumbnail. And it can come in very handy for ironing the tight angles you might encounter while quilting.

Sewing and Notions: Sewing Supplies

How are sewing supplies different from sewing tools? There is some overlap, of course. But for our purposes, let’s look at supplies as the objects that physically go into the making of the projects. And that includes patterns, needles, and thread.


Patterns are your roadmap. They tell you where you’re going, and how to get there. There are patterns for just about anything you might want to make. And, when you get some experience under your belt, you can make your own.

Sewing and notions: a clothing pattern laid out, with scissors and measuring tape on top of it

Image CC0, via Maxpixel

After deciding on your project, the first thing you want to look for in a pattern is complexity. Specifically, how many pieces does a pattern have and whether the project requires any techniques that are new to you. The number of pieces is important. Not only does a greater number of pieces mean a more complicated project, but you will also have to cut all of those pieces out of the paper, the fabric, and possibly the lining and interfacing. It can add up.

Another consideration is pattern size. Because garment sizes have drifted over time, especially in the United States, your clothing size will not be the same as your pattern size. For example, a woman who wears a U.S. size 10 dress may need a pattern size of 16 to 20. Patterns always have a table on the back of the package that shows you the size pattern you will need for your personal measurements. So, know your measurements and don’t be afraid of a much different pattern size.


Sewing and notions: closeup of a sewing machine needle in a presser foot

Image CC0, by wnk1029, via Pixabay

Whether you’re sewing by hand or by machine, you need the right needle for the right job.  Needle size corresponds to thickness and length. There are different needles for different kinds of fabric — universal, jersey, and stretch. In addition, the U.S. and Europe have different needle sizing conventions.

You can read more in this guide by Craftsy.


Sewing and Notions: different colored sewing machine thread spools

Image CC0 by tookapic, via Pixabay

Some common types of thread include silk, cotton, and polyester. In general, you should try to match the weight of your thread to the weight of the fabric you’re using. Heavy cotton threads would harm light silk fabric, for example. And a very thin thread wouldn’t be substantial enough to hold heavier fabrics. Your sewing pattern or plan should suggest appropriate kinds of thread for your project. In addition, you can check out this guide to choosing thread.

Bobbins are small spools of thread that you load into the lower part of the sewing machine. This will become the bottom thread in your project. You can use the same color as the top thread, or a different color. However, you must always use the same weight for top and bottom. You can buy bobbins pre-wound with different colored threads, or you can wind your own bobbins with the thread of your choice.


You might see the word “interfacing” on the back of a sewing pattern and wonder what it means. Interfacing helps to stabilize fabrics, and sometimes to give them shape. It comes in different thicknesses, depending on your needs. You can also choose between sew-in interfacing and facing that irons onto the back of your fabric.

Some Fun Projects to Try

Now that you know a bit more about sewing and notions, are you ready to try a new project? Take a look at these 50 beginning projects from Hobbycraft. Or perhaps these fun and useful things from Crazy Little Projects. Your imagination is the only limit.


Featured Image: CC0, by George Hodan, via Public Domain Pictures

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