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Homesteader’s Guide to Sewing: The Tools of the Trade

In the quest for a slower life full of quality time and things, the clothing we wear is naturally a topic for discussion. Sewing your own clothes, with quality fabrics, will not only save you money and the environment, you’ll know how to fix things when they rip.

Now I want to start this series by saying I am by no means a sewing pro. I didn’t grow up in a domestic household, I didn’t take home ec.

woman holding fabric used for sewing clothes

My desire to “make home” has always been within me, but didn’t have a chance at expression until my mid-20’s.

That being said, the best way to learn something is to teach others! So part of my desire in writing this series on sewing for the homestead is to teach while I learn!

I’ve sewn hems by hand, I’ve sewn curtains and made blankets on a machine, but it wasn’t until I read Merchant & Mill’s Sewing Book that I really began to appreciate sewing for the domestic art that it is.

If you haven’t seen Merchant & Mills books before, I highly recommend them. They break things down into simple instructions, and are not intimidating in their plans.

In fact, reading their books has encouraged me to begin making my own clothes and furnishings. I’m excited to share all of those projects with you.

To start this series, however, we must begin at the beginning. There are a number of tools you’ll need before you can get started sewing.

None of them have to be complex or expensive, but a pair of quality scissors will be easier to use and last longer than a set of cheap plastic ones. Go for quality in choosing your items over cost-savings.

hands sewing fabric

I’ll go over each tool in my sewing box, explain what they’re used for and make recommendations on where you can afford to buy a less expensive version or where quality is more important.

I’ll also make a note of the items that aren’t necessary to get started, but you might put on your wish list for the next birthday or Christmas so you can get started sewing as inexpensively as possible.

In case you aren’t sure what each item is or what it looks like I’ve added hyperlinks that will take you to a listing in Amazon.

Sewing Tools to Get Started

measuring tape wrapped around a hand

Tape Measure

When you begin any sewing project with a roll of canvas, you’ll need to measure out your cuts. Tape measures (or measurers) come in many different materials but rarely cost more than a few dollars, so splurge here. Inexpensive measures tend to stretch over time.

While you’re at it, by a few. Tape measures tend to disappear when you need them.

The Grader Square

Similar to the square you used in school to draw out right angles, the grader square is a clear plastic triangle with measurements drawn over top.

They’re excellent for measuring or changing seems and easily drawing right angles. While you might not need one at the beginning of your sewing journey, they’re inexpensive and worth having on hand.

If you’re budget constrained, wait on buying one of these until you need it.

Sewing or Hem Gauge

Another incredibly useful tool, the hem gauge lets you set a distance (for example to mark seam allowances or hem lengths), and mark out a line. While it’s not essential to get started, again, it is inexpensive and incredibly useful.

Tailor’s Chalk

Tailor’s chalk is used to make markings and lines on fabric to guide your cuts and sewing lines, but is easily erased by simply rubbing with your hand or washing.

A must-have.

Tailor’s chalk is specifically designed to be easy to rub off and easy to hold. Don’t skimp and try to use chalkboard chalk.


Depending on the projects in mind, you may want a long (3 ft) wooden yardstick, or a smaller (1 ft) metal one. Yardsticks are invaluable for measuring long straight lines on fabric.

Scissors for sewing

There are many different types of scissors out there for the home tailor, each with their own job and specialty.

As with most things, invest in a quality pair of scissors and it’ll last you a lifetime.

For the beginning tailor, I recommend side-bent tailor’s shears (for accurately cutting long swaths of fabric) and a pair of wide bow scissors (for more delicate work).

Tailor’s Shears

As I mentioned above, tailor’s shears are excellent for cutting large swaths of fabric. They are precise and accurate and the size allows to make great big cuts giving you a straighter line.

Ones that are bent to the side enable you to cut fabric on a table ergonomically.

Wide Bow Scissors

Wide bow scissors are small and delicate. They’re used for snipping threads, trimming and clipping seams and cuts that are difficult to get to.

They will give you a level of accuracy that will let you cut thread close to the fabric with precision.

Buy a quality pair as you’ll be using these a lot.

Buttonhole Scissors

Buttonhole scissors are smaller specialty scissors designed for making buttonholes but can really be used for any small, delicate snips in tight places.

A traditional pair of buttonhole scissors has a rectangular notch in one blade that lets you put the scissors over the button without cutting it. They also have a screw on the side that lets you control the size of the buttonhole.

Both of these are bonuses to me for use by someone doing a LOT of buttons.

sewing equipment

Pinking Shears

Pinking shears are scissors with triangular teeth. They are specialty shears designed for cutting tightly woven cloth. They will chew up and fray loose weave fabrics.

This is luxury item, in my opinion, reserved for someone who might make a side job out of sewing.

Thread Clips

These are small scissors with a single finger hole at the bottom (for your ring finger) and sprung blades. They’re designed for a professional seamstress to be able to cut loose threads with lightening speed. They’re definitely a luxury and not at all necessary, but wanted to point them out in case you find yourself too slow with the wide bow scissors.

Paper Scissors

A separate pair of scissors just for cutting out paper patterns. Any pair will work – go steal some from your kids craft box.

Sewing Machine

I won’t go into detail here. I wanted to keep this guide universal for anyone who would be hand sewing or using a machine. And honestly, I could write an entire book on machines alone…and I probably will!


There are a number of other useful items for your sewing kit whether you’re hand or machine sewing:

Bamboo Point Turner

This handy little device makes turning out corners a breeze. Don’t try to turn out your corners with a pair of scissors or pencil because you could ruin your hard-worked-for corner. A point turner is inexpensive and well worth buying.

thimble for sewing


Thimbles are supposed to protect your fingers while hand sewing. Thimbles and I have a love-hate relationship but every good sewing kit will have a few. Try them out and see if they agree with you.

Seam Ripper

Seam rippers are handy for undoing seams but not necessary.

Next week I’ll go into details about the needles and thread we’ll need. Stay tuned!

sewing on the homestead - what you need