As a child, one of the most exciting things about sewing to me (besides the finished product or the actual sewing on a machine) was playing with the tools. For (what I think was) my 7th birthday, I received a sewing kit, and I was beyond thrilled. Included were things like a large sewing scissors… not the children’s school scissors, but a grown-up pair, full-sized, a tape measure, needles, pins, and a few other tools that I was less familiar with. Thankfully, my mother is a sewist and could readily explain the functions of these tools to me. Well, today I’m going to break down a few handy, possibly overlooked tools that may be sitting in your sewing basket.
The first tool I want to point out is not really a mystery to any of you (and if it is, where have you been living?)… it’s the humble ruler. It’s most commonly used by me to mark seams for doing alterations, but it’s handy for checking to make sure your seams are the correct depth, and other, more obvious reasons. The traditional ruler that comes with a sewing kit will be a true-zero ruler, meaning the ruler starts at zero. A traditional school ruler will have a line on the ruler right by the end, maybe 1/8″ from the end of the ruler to mark zero. The blue ruler below is a traditional school ruler. You can see that it has a long line right before the “U.S.A” on it, and that indicates the actual zero mark.
The other ruler pictured above isn’t actually the ruler you’d typically find in a sewing kit. I had one, actually, I had several, but my kids bent them beyond help and they were no longer any good for giving accurate measurements. The downfall to those rulers is the fact that they are so flimsy. Even if your children didn’t bend them, it would be easy enough for you to bend it just by dropping it on the floor and accidentally setting your chair leg on it. The nice part about those rulers (besides the true zero) is that they have a little plastic adjuster in them to help you mark and measure more accurately. I don’t find that feature necessary, but you can use it. The silver ruler above has the drawback of not being marked by 1/16″ increments like the blue school ruler, though I think that the typical sewing kit ruler is marked in 1/16″ increments. Honestly, for most sewing work, 1/16″ isn’t going to drastically affect the outcome of your work, but 1/8″ could. A 6″ ruler will be much less cumbersome for your work, so any ruler you use, I’d recommend just a 6″ ruler.
Below, you can see I am marking a line for a seam at 5/8″. 5/8″ is the standard seam width for clothing seams. 1/4-1/2″ is standard for most other sewing work. By marking the seam in multiple places, I create a dotted line that will give me a more accurate seam depth and a straighter line.
In the pictures above, I used a marking pen (it’s more of a marker) to mark the line for the seam. The two-sided marking tool is one of my favorite marking tools, above a pencil or a chalk, which can be more difficult to see or wipe off too easily. Though you can buy the two types of marking pen separately, this one has both built into one. The disappearing ink side is the side I use most often for marking, especially for sewing (assembling) clothing from a pattern. The ink will fade pretty quickly, and if it’s humid out, the ink will potentially disappear before you get to use the mark, but for the most part, it remains fairly vivid until after you have sewn your pieces together. With this pen, I only mark when I am ready to sew. The opposite end is the invisible ink side. This side washes off after using, so you may need to spritz your work with some water if the mark is not going away. The down side to these pens (so I have heard) is that even though the ink is no longer visible on the fabric initially, sometimes they show up again as a stain on your work over a long period of time (from what I’ve heard, over a decade or more later). As a side note, try to avoid pressing over these markings if you want to remove them, as the heat from the iron will set the mark.
The marking chalk (pictured middle) is a nice marking tool, but for my personal use, I find that they wipe off too readily, sometimes before I get the chance to fold over a seam or place a piece of fabric. There are marking chalks that come in the form of a pencil or more of a roll-on blade. The bladed one is my favorite of the three, but again, chalk is a medium I rarely use because it wipes off too easily.
The marking wax (pictured last) is my favorite for marking hems on clothing. This particular piece has seen better days. What I love about the wax is that it’s easy to see on most fabrics, but melts away once you iron your piece. The problem with it is that the wax mark can be visible on some fabrics, so be careful when using one, or test in an inconspicuous place before using.
Marking wax and chalk like the ones pictured above can be sharpened with a blade that comes in the case you typically purchase them in. The blade is a simple “V” shape, and you sharpen by running the chalk or wax through the blade over and over until you create a point. Sometimes I will use the blade of my scissors or a knife to sharpen my wax so that I get an even more fine point, making it easier to create a nice crisp, thin line that will be less visible after ironing.
Different marking tools are meant to serve different purposes. It won’t hurt you to have multiple marking tools on hand and to test them out to see which ones you like best. Whichever tool you choose, just be cautious of how they react or where they are being used so that you do not end up with a mark on your finished object that will not go away! You could use a traditional pencil or pen, but I would steer you away from that if possible. The pencil will not wash away with time and will be difficult to erase. The pen will be more permanent and more visible than a pencil. It will also potentially bleed, leaving an unsightly stain. Do NOT use any kind of marker that is not meant for marking fabric. Even a “washable” marker (like a Crayola) can leave a large, permanent mark that may bleed. There are fabric markers that are designed to be permanent on fabric, and for the purposes of marking seams or measurements, that is not what you are wanting! This is not an extensive list of all of the marking tools out there. You can find colored chalks that will be more visible, and there are chalks in varying sizes and forms. There are other special pens and pencils available. You’ll have to find what you are most comfortable with. I could not find a link to the chalk and wax pictured above! But I assure you they exist.
Point Turner/Seam Creaser
I think the tool that got me most excited in my little sewing kit was the point turner or seam creaser. Sometimes these are two separate items, sometimes they are one and the same. The first one below that is pictured is both a seam creaser and a point turner. The middle one is just a point turner, and the third picture takes a look at the tips of the two point turners and a pair of my small sewing scissors, side by side. Sometimes I will just use the pointed end of my scissors to turn a corner, but they are so sharp, that they can easily poke a hole through my material, so if you opt to use your scissors for turning points, proceed with caution. What is a “point” you say? It’s for turning things like a pillow case inside out so you get a nice, sharp, clean corner. If you do not poke the corner out sufficiently, your pillow corner (or the corner on whatever it is you are turning) will likely bunch up and look rounded and lumpy. The turners have a slightly blunted tip so as not to poke through your fabric while turning. The advantage of the turner in the middle is that it is narrower, so it would be better suited for helping me turn something like a teddy bear arm right-side-out, getting a nice clean seam.
Both point turners pictured doubles as a seam creaser. This was especially fascinating to me as I was too young to use the iron without my mom’s guidance and supervision. I could press as many seams as I wanted without ever having to touch an iron! The nice part of using a seam creaser is that you do not have to turn on your iron to press a small seam. It also allows you a little more precision in pressing seams on tricky pieces such as a rounded piece of fabric for hand applique that needs its edges tucked under. Honestly, I’ve never used the button gauge feature on the first turner, so I’m not sure how it works! (In the banner below, I included links to some other types of turners that are sometimes handy for other sewing projects, but I’ll discuss those more another time. And please remember that while I may suggest these tools as being helpful to you throughout the process, there’s no obligation for you to purchase anything.)
With these tools, there’s not much you can’t accomplish in your sewing work with a little imagination. Let me know if you have any questions on any of this, or if you have any special tricks or tips you use that you’d like to share! Sharing is caring 🙂 Pin this post on Pinterest for later, or share on Facebook so that others can learn too! Have a great weekend!
P.S. Here is a list of all of our previous posts in the Sewing Saturday series if you missed them and want to catch up!
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