Sewing accessories – what do you actually need?

I have a new best friend – my ironing board. Here she is:

photo (16)

Okay, she’s not much to look at, but getting this posh John Lewis ironing board has changed my life (the sewing part of it, anyway).

Before this I was using a £15 number from the pound shop. I had to hunch over to iron, it gave me static shocks, the cover was so thin that the mesh underneath marked everything, and there was a massive hole burnt in the centre. So this is a 10000% improvement and has made my dressmaking time much more pleasant. Although I still try and avoid non-sewing-related ironing whenever possible.

It got me thinking about other sewing essentials. It’s definitely an activity where you accumulate more and more strange items as you go along – and sometimes it’s hard to know what you actually need. Some accessories make life a million times easier while others just sit in a box and never get used.

Sewing accessories I own and never use:

  • A flexible curve rule. I just tend to wing it when drawing curves.
  • A bias binding maker. I know everyone was drooling over these when they appeared on the Great British Sewing Bee but I don’t see the point. I hardly ever need pre-folded bias binding.
  • A loop turner. Maybe it’s just my idiocy, but these seem absolutely useless. I could never get mine to work. Also, I’m a strong advocate of not turning long tubes of fabric if you can humanly avoid it.

Sewing accessories I own and couldn’t live without

  • A blind hem foot. This actually came with my Bernina, and it’s brilliant, especially if you are allergic to hand-sewing like me.
  • My wonder tape! I cannot sew an invisible zip, stitch in the ditch to secure a facing, or topstitch pockets without this stuff. Get the Collins stuff, not the kind that Prym make (it doesn’t wash away! Ask me how I know.)
  • A rotary cutter and mat. Makes cutting out slightly less tedious.
  • My overlocker – probably stretching the point a bit to call it a sewing accessory, but I love it a lot.
  • Posh interfacing from the English Couture Company. I finally broke down and ordered some of this and it makes a huge difference. The stuff I was using before feels like cardboard now.

Sewing accessories I don’t own but have a sneaking suspicion that they really would make my life easier:

  • A tailor’s ham. I really should get round to buying one of these.  I know you can make your own but it’s such a dull project.
  • A dressmaker’s dummy. So expensive, and they take up so much room.
  • A seam allowance adder for Burda patterns – maybe something like this?

What about you – are there sewing essentials you couldn’t live without? Have you ever bought a sewing accessory that turned out to be totally useless?


75 thoughts on “Sewing accessories – what do you actually need?

  1. Dorothy February 18, 2014 / 2:42 PM

    Your new ironing board looks nice, but I would suggest making a new wool pad/cotton twill cover for it. Those Teflon silver ones have a tendency to hold the steam, and can overheat and throw heat back on your project and risk scorching it. My favorite sewing accessory is my Teflon (ironically !) sewing machine foot that came with my Husqvarna – I keep it on almost all the time and it prevents the fabric from rippling during edge stitching. I also like my straight stitch seam plate as it prevents fine fabrics from getting pulled into the feed dogs – my machine has a straight stitch only setting, so you don’t forget and try to zig zig with it installed.

    • yesilikethat February 18, 2014 / 2:57 PM

      Hi Dorothy, I think you’re right about the cover, the Teflon one gets incredibly hot to the touch so it can’t be good for any delicate fabric. Might try and buy one though as I hate doing household-y sewing things like that.

      I’ve never heard of a Teflon sewing foot, it sounds great, will have to check that out.

  2. Cuckoo Chanel September 21, 2013 / 3:16 AM

    What a great post, and what wonderful feedback in the comments! Your ‘own but don’t use’ items are almost identical to mine. I never use all of those curved rulers I own, and I have yet to open my bias tape maker. The one time I wanted to make my own I just guessed and it worked out fine (beginners luck!). You will love a tailors ham and sleeve board when you get around to getting/using them, but you seem to be doing great without them so far. 🙂 And I agree–Wonder Tape is awesome.
    Happy Sewing and thanks again for the thought-provoking post.

  3. Land girl September 17, 2013 / 8:29 PM

    Yes, dress makers dummy. Expensive and probably only worth it if you do the whole padding thing – eg take your measurements and then use wadding (and an old bra) and fashion a cover to make it into a “second you” . I did it and it does work and it doesn’t take long. It makes it actually useful for fitting, rather than just something that makes hemming easier.
    That rotary cutter add on, I think it would be as easy if not easier to use a double headed tracing wheel – Clover make them. I don’t think you can adjust the width of your seam allowance, but it’s pretty practical solution as can trace at the same time.
    Also I have a lovely LARGE ham which is awesome for pressing curves and lapels and stuff you can’t do flat. GET ONE.

    • yesilikethat September 17, 2013 / 10:27 AM

      Ah wow, that’s brilliant!

  4. Layla September 16, 2013 / 9:31 PM

    Totally agree about bias thingy, I’ve got one but never ever use it. Don’t bother with the seam allowance tracer, i’ve got one I never use, clear rulers are best for Burda seam allowance I’ve found.
    Pelican fancy scissor thingys- the bollocks! Get some.

    • yesilikethat September 17, 2013 / 10:28 AM

      My Christmas list is getting longer by the second…

  5. Thea September 16, 2013 / 9:01 PM

    Ha, I totally get the ironing board thing – we used to have a wooden one (!!) which came with the flat, and now I have a proper one, it makes it a little less painless (but I too don’t tend to iron if it’s not for sewing). My French curve, I love – I think it’s because I don’t feel very competent yet about winging it. What makes my life a lot easier in everyday life is a small, but strong magnet (old bike computers have them) – when I sew, I just chuck pins in the general direction of it, and they’re not quite everywhere. I loved reading your list – I’ll ponder the other tools that I haven’t got yet…

    • yesilikethat September 17, 2013 / 10:27 AM

      I have seen those magnets in bike shops! They do look very handy.

  6. Angela September 16, 2013 / 7:25 PM

    I’ve found it to be quite easy to add seam allowances to burda patterns by just moving my see-through plastic ruler 1.5 cm or whatever over the patten edge and cutting with my rotary cutter. Sharp curves are a bit difficult but if you could always draw them by hand.

    • yesilikethat September 17, 2013 / 10:26 AM

      I need to get a see-through plastic ruler, that is clear. There are always more curves than you think though – sleeve heads, hems, the edges of skirts…. and doing it by hand is a pain 😦

  7. Claire (aka Seemane) September 16, 2013 / 12:49 PM

    Hi Kathryn,

    I hope that married life is treating you well? I read above about your needing to buy a Tailor’s Pressing Ham caught my eye! I’m in the middle of setting up a custom made-to-order Pressing Ham business on Etsy (launch date – mid October) – so if you end up in the market to buy one then please keep an eye out on my blog on October for details 🙂 Here’s some pics of some I’ve made in the past from my blog: and . The standard size (same as this style: (Preview) – shown next to other stuff for scale) will be approximately 24cm long x 14cm wide x 12.7cm tall (9½ x 5½ x 5 inches) – and they are rock solidly filled with sawdust 🙂

    Best wishes,

  8. Jane's sew & tell September 14, 2013 / 8:12 AM

    I love my magnetic pin cushion without it there would be pins everywhere! I also use one of those little sewing gauges, like a little metal ruler with a red plastic marker that slides up and down.

    • yesilikethat September 15, 2013 / 8:36 PM

      Yep the sewing gauge is a must-have. I’ve got a posh one from Merchant and Mills and it’s indispensable (still only cost about £4)

  9. Andrea B September 14, 2013 / 4:46 AM

    Luckily my dressmaking dummy was a gift, because she mostly stands around unclothed and serves as a prop to help focus the camera when I’m doing selfie blog shoots. She’s also modeled some of my looser-fitting clothing when I want to take photos of close-up details. She has bigger boobs than me (sad, I know), so I often can’t even zip up or button any fitted garments on her.
    I love my walking foot, rotary cutter and mat, magnetic pin cushion, and sleeve board. I guess I don’t really know how to use a tailor’s ham because mine just wobbles around and I don’t quite notice an improvement in pressing while using it. I’ve bought so many stupid marking pens and such that barely work. I love gadgets, though, and am always tempted to buy them. I’m waiting on an edge stitching foot to come in the mail…

    • yesilikethat September 15, 2013 / 8:35 PM

      Magnetic pin cushion! Genius! I would also love an edge stitching foot, was reading about it on Pattern Review and it seems useful for so many things, including topstitching which is the bane of my life.

  10. irene September 13, 2013 / 9:56 AM

    Tailor’s ham: check, check, check! I made my own earlier this summer and I am enthused!
    A very usuful ruler for adding seam allowances and general pattern drafting is this:
    My dress form has not lived up to my expectations because of some small but important differences in measurements, especially in the shoulder/upper back area. I would like a loop turner but opinions re its usefuleness seam to be divided. My rotary cutter always leaves timy threads uncut, so I end up spending more time on cutting fabric when I am using it. Maybe I just need to change the blade?

    • yesilikethat September 15, 2013 / 8:35 PM

      That does look useful. I used to have a PatternMaster thingy but lost it somewhere along the way.

      Hmm, maybe try changing the blade in your rotary cutter. Mine is great and doesn’t leave any stray threads…

    • yesilikethat September 15, 2013 / 8:34 PM

      Thanks Heather! Just have to say I LOVE the dress you made in this post!

    • Heather September 16, 2013 / 6:05 AM

      Thanks. You Know, it’s funny, I still can’t decide if I like this dress. I have worn it precisely one time. 😉 it was a great learning experience, though…..

  11. sewamysew September 13, 2013 / 1:10 AM

    You just described my current ironing board, it’s so bad! I totally believe you when you say this new one has changed your sewing life. Also, I’m so with you on the bias binding maker!!

    • yesilikethat September 15, 2013 / 8:33 PM

      Get a new one when you can! It will make you so happy when ironing 🙂

  12. Joanne September 12, 2013 / 7:14 PM

    A tailors ham and sleeve roll. Not entirely necessary but would make sleeves easier to press and look more professional. There are patterns and tutorials lurking the Internet on how to make your own. You stuff them with sawdust! Definitely an outdoor project.

    • senjiva September 13, 2013 / 12:08 AM

      I think the tailor’s ham is totally necessary. It is so incredibly helpful when trying to press out curves.

    • yesilikethat September 15, 2013 / 8:33 PM

      I think I really need a tailor’s ham…

  13. Donna September 12, 2013 / 6:57 PM

    Of that list, I only own the curved ruler and the loop turner. I hardly touch the curved ruler, but the loop turner is a recent purchase and it has changed my life (to echo you 😉 ). My sewing teacher taught me to use it and now I no longer dread/avoid making tiny little straps.

    • yesilikethat September 15, 2013 / 8:33 PM

      Ooh how do you use it? Would you do a blog post about it for those of us who are clueless?

  14. babygreens September 12, 2013 / 4:36 PM

    I love my tailor’s ham, sleeve board and cheapie Lidl overlocker. I was given a dressmakers dummy and do use it, even though the top half only has a slight resemblance to my shape and size.

    • yesilikethat September 15, 2013 / 8:32 PM

      Another mention for a sleeve board, sounds useful!

  15. nicoleneedles September 12, 2013 / 4:09 PM

    Pins! I use them for everything, probably even when I shouldn’t. And my little homemade wrist pincushion is indispensable. I also have a skinny little ironing board which I bought on a whim and use all of the time to iron seams open on sleeves, etc.

    • yesilikethat September 15, 2013 / 8:32 PM

      Homemade wrist pincushion sounds genius. I scatter pins around like confetti when sewing.

  16. Anne-Rose September 12, 2013 / 3:59 PM

    I couldn’t live without my flexible curve ruler. but I used to do quite a bit of pattern drafting, so that might explain.

    I bought a dressmaker’s dummy last year, when I moved and finally had the space for it. I don’t find it helpful for fitting as the dimensions are slightly different. I’m training my boyfriend to become a fitting buddy instead, which is working out quite well so far!

    • yesilikethat September 15, 2013 / 8:31 PM

      I bought mine when I did a pattern drafting course at LCF but I’ve never got around to drafting my own toile, so my pattern alterations are usually pretty minimal. Nice work on training your boyfriend, let me know if you have any great tips on how to do this… ha ha 🙂

  17. Emmie September 12, 2013 / 3:53 PM

    I have a Clover Double tracing wheel for seam allowances but I haven’t ever needed to use it yet!
    A tailor’s ham has really made a difference to my curved seams. I did make my own, but I drew the shape myself and I think it needs to be bigger and have rounder edges!
    My dressform’s only useful use is for handsewing bodice lining down! I would kill for a custom dressform, and have been considering doing the “make your own” method, and fitting it over the dressform. But really, its an absolute pain to get the garment over the frickin thing in any case.

    I love my seam ripper, and I just got a rotary cutter and its great! I got a A1 cutting mat, but I want to get another for extra big pattern pieces 🙂 I likes me a full skirt.
    I got some cast-iron iron’s for pattern weights and they’ve been really useful.
    A big corkboard has been great for pinning fabric to to cut, and for tracing patterns on my lap in front of the tv. Lazy!
    I also love tracing wheels and carbon paper for transferring marks. And my magnetic pin cushion. God this comment got well long!

    • yesilikethat September 15, 2013 / 8:31 PM

      But it’s a very useful comment! 🙂 That’s a brilliant tip about using a huge corkboard to trace patterns, you can normally get them cheaply in pound shops too. I could never make carbon paper work for me, I tend to transfer darts in a very slapdash way.

  18. Lizzie September 12, 2013 / 2:54 PM

    My dress form is definetly in the category of own but don’t use. I’m very attached to her (her names’ Mavis) but it’s really just a place to display what i’ve just finished. I’ve found it really useless for fitting as you can’t tell what it’s like to move in teh outfit so you have to try it on anyway, also its not squishy in the places I am so can be a right pain to get stuff on it without changing all the sizes.
    I do want a rotary cutter, but I don’t really have anywhere to keep the mat at the moment.

    • yesilikethat September 12, 2013 / 3:38 PM

      My mat lives behind my plastic chest of sewing patterns and is constantly falling out, they are a massive pain to store but I do use it a lot. Love that your dressform is called Mavis!

  19. sweary sewer September 12, 2013 / 1:16 PM

    oh, one more thing: what interfacing do you recommend from engligh couture? i’m going to splash out next time and buy some good stuff.

    • yesilikethat September 12, 2013 / 1:21 PM

      I got the Fine Sheer Fusible ECC21 which has proved the most useful stuff. I also got some Fine Cotton Fusible for when I get around to sewing my husband a shirt, it might be a while though…

    • sweary sewer September 12, 2013 / 1:59 PM

      thank you! 🙂

  20. Clipped Curves September 12, 2013 / 1:11 PM

    Are you kidding me? Making a Tailor’s Ham is a fun and quick project – when else can you make a mess with sawdust then just vacuum it up quicker than it appeared! Do it… no excuses!

    • yesilikethat September 12, 2013 / 1:14 PM

      Ha ha! You are underestimating the depths of my laziness… I’d have to go out and buy sawdust, print off a pattern, sew it up, and I hardly have any sewing time at the moment as it is. Then I’d have to find somewhere to store a half-used bag of sawdust in our flat. I think I will buy one though!

    • Clipped Curves September 12, 2013 / 1:16 PM

      What’s your address? I’m going to make and post you one… using the half-used bag of sawdust that I have hanging around my house!!!

    • yesilikethat September 12, 2013 / 1:19 PM

      Ah no that’s too nice of you! I’ll email you my address but please don’t feel obliged to make one, I’d hate to be the cause of obligatory sewing in someone else, I am the worst at making things for other people 🙂

    • Clipped Curves September 12, 2013 / 1:51 PM

      It’s no problem at all. I can’t guarantee when it’ll be ready but it’d be a pleasure and good to use up that sawdust too!

  21. Craft (Alchemy) September 12, 2013 / 12:56 PM

    My rotary cutter falls into the camp of “own but don’t use”. It’s just slightly too faffy, and also has a tendency to slip and chew up the edges of the ruler and/or pattern. Possibly what this tells me is that I need a better ruler …

    I have a bias binding maker (AKA Silent Kazoo, after the bemused best guess of a friend who couldn’t figure it out at all) and I do use it. Got it as my mum swears by them, but then she’s a quilter and uses hers all the time.

    I don’t own an overlocker but reeeally want one. Currently eyeing up a couple of cheap ones on Ebay though so fingers crossed …

    Seam allowance guides are … intriguing. I don’t use allowance-free patterns much, and hitherto have mostly free-handed the extra when needed. But I like clever little gadgets, so.

    Mainly why I wanted to chime in though was about dress forms. I have a home-made one, built using this tutorial:

    It’s made out of scrap paper, an old T-shirt and copious quantities of duct tape – it doesn’t have any fancy attachments and is still bulky as anything, but it is a) dirt cheap and b) *exactly* my shape, so is actually quite useful for fitting. I discussed it a bit more in a blogpost here:

    • yesilikethat September 12, 2013 / 1:15 PM

      Hey thanks, that’s really interesting! I’ve considered making one of these but it seems like such a faff, yours seems very helpful though.

      I love my rotary cutter! Cutting out is my least favourite part of sewing but it’s so much quicker without scissors.

    • rosa September 20, 2013 / 8:54 PM

      I made a duct tape dummy about 3 years ago and has been soooo useful. Once upon a time I had a proper dress form and after using it once and realising that it wasn’t the right shape for me ( it was adjustable and everything) I didn’t really use it again. it is great for fitting and pattern adjusting/making, pinning up those tricky bits at the back etc, and you can stick pins into it, which you can’t with a real person. I made mine with a butt too so can fit trousers. Only problem is sometimes is a bit tricky to get clothes off it. wore cut off leggings and a tight t-shirt and a useful friend who you trust to tape you up properly. My kids did mine. we have a family of them.

  22. sewmanju September 12, 2013 / 12:54 PM

    Hello the little old rouleau loop turner gets a lot of bashing but once you use it to make mega thin spaghetti straps for a dainty dress or lingerie I am telling you, you will love it 🙂 I love my seam gauge (the metal one with slidey thing), my fine pointy sharp scissors (but want some pelican ones for trimming seam allowances) and my long glass headed pins (so you can iron over them).

    • yesilikethat September 12, 2013 / 1:16 PM

      You’re right, I try to avoid making those kind of loops as much as I can, but I can see it would be invaluable if you were…

      Forgot to mention my seam gauge! I didn’t have one for ages and now I use it all the time. I’d love a pelican pair of scissors too.

  23. sweary sewer September 12, 2013 / 12:54 PM

    i’d also say tailor’s hams and seam rolls are essential pieces of kit. i use my french curve a lot too. i have a dressform, but to be honest, i don’t use it so much. it was a bit of a waste of money for me.

    • yesilikethat September 12, 2013 / 1:17 PM

      Interesting range of opinions with the dressform! I would like one but realistically I don’t think we have enough room.

  24. SabineC September 12, 2013 / 12:47 PM

    Hi, maybe this is helpful when it comes to adding seam allowances?
    (scroll down to the last picture of the post).

    Also, a tightly rolled towel works pretty well as an impromptu pressing ham or a sleeve roll 🙂

    • yesilikethat September 12, 2013 / 1:17 PM

      Amazing!! Thanks! I need to try that.

  25. Elena September 12, 2013 / 12:47 PM

    My tailor’s ham is the best sewing accessory I’ve ever bought – I love her so much! I’d definitely recommend one.

    I need to get around to buying a decent rotary cutter – I bought a cheapy one and it was a bit crap, so has put me off rotary cutting ever since! I also need a walking foot, but unfortunately will have to replace my machine first, as Brother don’t produce any that fit my current machine :/

    • yesilikethat September 12, 2013 / 1:18 PM

      Try rotary cutting again! I love it! Get one of the Olfa retractable ones, they make it a lot safer if you are prone to accidentally injuring yourself (as I am).

  26. busyellebee September 12, 2013 / 12:35 PM

    Hello, nice iron board 🙂

    You have to get a dressmakers dummy – I avoided buying one for ages, but when I finally took the plunge, it has become an essential part of my sewing kit. Setting in shoulders is now a dream, steaming clothes on it, and checking that patch pockets are in the right place – I can’t sew without it!

    Being able to ‘see’ your outfit on the dummy makes a world of difference, and has saved me from making huge and expensive fashion mistakes.

    Also useful to hang your next day’s outfit on, rather than wire hangers which just ruin your clothes. 🙂

    Totally agree with you about the bias binding maker – it only takes minutes to do it yourself. I say use the money towards a new overlocker instead. 🙂

    • yesilikethat September 12, 2013 / 1:18 PM

      I do waste many hours of my sewing time by trying on half-finished garments to see what they’re going to look like, so I can see a dummy would be useful there.

  27. ParisGrrl September 12, 2013 / 12:18 PM

    I bought a vintage pattern online and only when it arrived did I realize that it called for more than 6 Meters (!) of bias tape. My little 1 inch bias tape maker that I bought on a whim has just paid for itself. What I can’t understand (except for heavy-duty quilting people) is why anyone would need one of those electric machines to do this task–I mean, you still have to cut all the strips and attach them to each other, and once that’s done, pulling them through the hand-held gizmo seems the easy part to me. Oh well, to each her own.

    As for the loop turner, I’ve found it works best when I overlock the long side seam, leaving both small ends open, and leaving a fairly long thread tail at each end. Insert the turner and catch the thread tail instead of the fabric, and it usually works a treat. It’s little cousin, the snag mender, is also a super useful tool.

    • yesilikethat September 12, 2013 / 12:24 PM

      I agree about the bias binding, the hard part is cutting that stuff out! I can see it would be useful if you wanted the folds on it, I normally use it for finishing necklines etc and don’t need the fold in there.

      Good tip on the loop turner! Thanks!

  28. Suzie September 12, 2013 / 11:59 AM

    I’m totally with you about the ironing board – I got a new one last year and it made SOOOO much difference…I almost (almost!) don’t mind non-sewing related ironing now.

    I would definitely say that a tailors ham is an essential for me – I use it on every item I make these days…it honestly makes life so much easier when you try to press open curved seams! Get one get one get one!

    • yesilikethat September 12, 2013 / 12:24 PM

      Ha ha, okay! I have it on my shopping list 🙂

  29. katie September 12, 2013 / 11:26 AM

    I LOVE my walking foot, I use it on my machine 80% of the time, not just for knits. Good seam ripper is a billion times essential too, and I have some Clover wonder clips which I usually prefer to pins. I haven’t yet used my buttonhole foot and also gave up on bias tape maker – too fiddly.

    A better iron and board are on my wishlist. Wondering if a small tabletop one is a terrible idea, as I barely ever iron except for sewing either. Need to get hold of some of this Wonder Tape, it sounds excellent.

    • yesilikethat September 12, 2013 / 11:40 AM

      Oh man I really want a walking foot but the Burda ones are about £90… A good iron really makes a difference, a tabletop board is okay for sewing but can be a pain when it comes to ironing fabric yardage, it’s doable though.

  30. Jo September 12, 2013 / 11:22 AM

    I don’t think the dress form is that helpful. I got one thinking it would be useful, but it mostly serves as a sewing space accessory/WIP holder, I don’t actually use it for fitting at all. The one brilliant thing about it is the hem marker, which is a godsend when trying to get a straight hem on a circle skirt. Other than, I fully concur with your diagnosis of tool usefulness!

    • yesilikethat September 12, 2013 / 11:23 AM

      I know a few people who have said the same about their dress forms (or who end up using them as an expensive way to display scarves) which has put me off buying one so far…

  31. craftylittlebugger September 12, 2013 / 11:20 AM

    I desperately want to get one of these: for Burda patterns. It would make things so much quicker, but I’m so crap at buying useful, practical items when there are frivolous purchases to be made.

    And I’d totally recommend a ham. I also think I should get a sleeve roll (?) but we’ll see.

    • craftylittlebugger September 12, 2013 / 11:21 AM

      OH! I forgot, I recently bought one of those chalk puffer hem marker things because the boyfriend was getting stroppy about pinning. It’s a must for the solo seamstress.

    • yesilikethat September 12, 2013 / 11:22 AM

      Ha ha, my husband is the same! And it’s so hard to hem on your own. I feel like a dressmaker’s dummy would help me with this, Gertie had a good doorway method using one.

    • yesilikethat September 12, 2013 / 11:22 AM

      They do look great, although I use my rotary cutter 90% of the time so wouldn’t work that well for me. Although I suppose I could use them on paper scissors when cutting out the initial traced pattern…

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