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Please note: this question is intended to give me some ideas so I can start formulating a surprise gift for my wife. The obvious answer here might be: "Just ask her!" but that defeats the purpose of what I'm trying to do.


My wife has started a small sewing business this year, even going so far as to launch a site on Etsy and having some pretty formidable success with it! To support her I'd like to try and get her a decent "professional tailor start kit" for lack of a better term, and I'm not sure what would be included in such a custom kit.

She has a decent Kenmore sewing machine, a fabric cutting tool (looks like a pizza cutter) and a "self-healing mat" that she uses for cutting a measuring.

Can any tailoring/sewing masters out there help clue me in as to what a decent tooling starter set would look like for someone with a small online/Etsy business (she does roughly 20 orders a week or small items)?

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It sounds like she already has a basic "starter kit" for sewing. So, instead of getting her a comprehensive kit, I would try to focus on one or two high-quality items that would save her time, or make her work easier in some way. Here are a few suggestions.

  • An adjustable-size dress form. Make sure you get an adjustable one, because presumably her clients are not all the same size. The link I provided is for Singer, which is generally a good brand of sewing supplies although I haven't used their their dress forms. Here's a blog where they reviewed different brands.
  • A serger or overlocker - this is a machine that looks like a sewing machine, but instead of sewing a seam it trims and wraps the raw edge of fabric. It's a huge time saver compared to putting in a hem.
  • A set of multiple rotary fabric cutters in different sizes. This is the tool that looks like a pizza cutter that your wife already has, but she might appreciate having more than one. Or a new blade for the one she already has; they do get dull over time, and you don't even notice how dull your current blade is until you use a sharp one.
  • A cordless iron.
  • A set of thread in all the colors, so she doesn't have to buy new matching thread every time she starts a new project. Make sure it's good quality thread that flows smoothly and doesn't stick and get caught and make a giant snarl every 5 minutes.
  • An abundant supply of sewing machine needles. So many that she can switch needles whenever the old one gets dull without feeling at all guilty.
  • A better table, chair, or lighting for her workspace. This works best if it solves a problem that your wife has mentioned to you. If you want to install something in a way that will make dust, that probably shouldn't be something you surprise her with, but if you do make sure the sewing machine is back inside its case and fully covered. Ditto for any fabric storage cabinets.
  • More storage space. There is not, and never has been, enough space in the home of any sewer for all their fabric. I'm not just talking about buying her a new cabinet; I'm talking about clearing some junk out of somewhere in your home and saying, this space is now yours. And maybe put in a new cabinet or some shelves. This is the least expensive suggestion, but the most work for you. As an added bonus, when your wife sees you working on this, tell her you're clearing out the space for one of your hobbies (preferably one she finds annoying). She'll be extra pleased when she finds out it's actually for her.
  • A gift certificate for a tune-up for her sewing machine. It looks like Sears will do repairs on a Kenmore, but I couldn't tell if they also offer adjustment and cleaning. They have DIY manuals on their site, so you could study up and do the tune-up yourself. Be sure to use the right kind of lubricant and not just whatever you have lying around (tip: 3-in-1 oil is not good for sewing machines).

Whatever you get, make sure it's high quality. Do some research and find a brand that has a good reputation for both quality and customer service. Make sure they have a good replacement policy in case the item breaks at some point in the future. If you buy from someplace like Amazon or Ebay, check whether the manufacturer will still honor the replacement policy (ask me about the broken set of knitting needles for which I can't get a free replacement because the gifter bought them on Amazon instead of directly from the supplier).

Make sure she actually has space to use the item and space to store it. That might mean you need to get into her workspace and take some measurements.

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  • Thanks @csk (+1) these are all great suggestions. Dummy question: are all sewing needles a "one size fits all" setup, or do I need to buy needles specific to her Kenmore? Thanks again! – hotmeatballsoup Dec 11 '20 at 14:33
  • @hotmeatballsoup "Universal" sewing machine needles are standard; they're designed to fit basically any domestic sewing machine. Make sure you get sewing machine needles, not hand sewing needles. This article has a good explanation of needle sizes. She'll probably want mostly mid-range sizes, and a few for heavy fabrics (usually labelled "denim" on the package), a few for very fine fabrics, and a few for knits (these have a less sharp point than needles for woven fabrics). – csk Dec 11 '20 at 15:54
  • @hotmeatballsoup One minor compatibility issue is that different brands use different color-coding schemes, so ideally you would get her more of the brand she already has. You could check what kind she currently uses. They usually come in a small white case slightly larger than a postage stamp, and most people keep them in the storage compartment in the front of the sewing machine. – csk Dec 11 '20 at 15:57
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The equipment you listed is exactly what I would have suggested as a genral starter pack.

Sewing machine is a no-brainer. The "pizza cutter" is called a "rotary cutter" and is favored by most people. The mat is a requirement to use the rotary cutter.

Anything that could be useful to her after that depends on what she makes, but a few ideas include:

Pincushion wristband

As the name implies, it's a pincushion you can strap around your wrist like a watch. That way you have both hands free to manipulate the fabric but always have your pins nearby.

Pattern weights

If your wife uses tailoring patterns for the objects she sews, she usually has to pin the pattern in place to cut the fabric. The pins damage the pattern and can warp delicate fabrics. Pattern weights are simply small, heavy objects that can hold the pattern in place without pins.

The number and size of the weights depends on the size of the pattern. On a pattern piece for clothing I would spread 4 weights, on something small like a plushy maybe 1 weight is enough. For small patterns the weight must be small enough to fit entirely inside the pattern and not overlap with the outlines.

Pattern weights come in all shapes and sizes and you can make your own from heavy objects like washers, stones, metal bolts or other junk you find lying around. You can google around for various ideas on how to craft your own pattern weights.

Thread clipper

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These small tools are basically "just small scissors" intended to cut individual threads. They are very comfortable to use and - in contrast to regular scissors - you can hold them in your hand while hand sewing or stitching without being afraid of accidently cutting something.

I personally love them and prefer them above regular small scissors for hand and machine sewing.

Thread rack

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This can be a lovely DIY project for you, but the result will only be useful if she needs lots of thread spools (mostly in different colors).

A thread rack allows you to order your thread spools and store them in a vertical manner, leaving more desk space for the important work. You can google around to find different models and instructions to build one yourself, and you can buy them, too. Make sure the size of the rack fits the size of thread spools your wife uses.

High quality pins

If she just started her business, she might not notice the difference yet, but cheap, low quality pins have the tendency to snag the fabric, either because they weren't manufactured cleanly or because the smoth outer coat corrodes over time.

Long, lean pins tend to be more practical than shorter or thicker ones. They should have a pinhead that's big enough to be easiy seen but not so big as to get into your way.

Hand sewing needles and thread conditioner

If she does some hand sewing, she needs hand sewing needles. I made the very unfortunate experience that those needle packs that are highly availyble in big super markets often have sharp points on their rear end, which hurts and can actually injure your fingers.

Good quality needles should be very smooth and shiny. They will corode somewhat over time and get dull (not only the tip, but also the body surface), which is when they need to be replaced because they don't glide through the fabric anymore. Find the dullest (dark and least shiny) needles in your wifes pin cushion and you'll know the size she needs most.

Another supply only needed for hand sewing is beeswax or thread conditioner. It's mostly used when sewing with natural fibres and I only know it from historical costuming (hand sewing with linen thread). One small block of beeswax or pack of conditioner lasts an eternity, but it can be very bothersome to get a replacement if you lost it or actually used it up.

Fabric clips

fabric clips

This is an alternative to pins. They look a little like miniature clothepins and can hold layers of fabric together without damaging the fabric.

Some people prefer clips, others prefer regular pins. In my experience there will always be some situations where you must use a pin because you simply cannot attach a clip there.

Sewing machine bobbins

This might not be obvious at first glance and might not be useful at all if she always sews with the same color of thread.

Every sewing machine needs 2 threads and the second thread must be wound up on a bobbin. If your wife has many different colors of thread and needs to change colors regularily, she also has to change the bobbin or (in the worst case) unwind a bobbin and fill it with a thread of a different color.

A stash of empty bobbins can help tremendously in that case. Unfortunately there is no one standardized size of bobbin, so you better take one of her existing bobbins and find a package of the same size and material.

A decent working table

Again, this depends on what she usually makes. I hate working on a surface that can't accomodate the entire pattern and still has some more room for excess fabric. If she makes small things, a regular desk can be more than enough, but if she tailors clothing, she needs something bigger.

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  • Alongside the hand-sewing needles, I'd suggest some thread conditioner as well. It helps prevent the thread from tangling as you sew. – Allison C Dec 11 '20 at 14:22
  • Thanks so much @Elmy (+1) this is a fantastic answer! – hotmeatballsoup Dec 11 '20 at 16:02

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