What Do I Need To Start To Sew?

Tools for sewing.
Tools for sewing.

“I bought a new sewing machine, but I am not sure what else I need to begin to sew?” say many.

Well, you will need some tools and supplies. Some are necessary, but others are optional, and you can add to the basics later on according to the job you are doing.


Needles for your machine: You need to think about the size of needle that you need and the type of needle to sew with so that it is correct for the fabric weight and that the needle eye will accommodate the thread you want to use. Using the right needle size and type for your sewing is a necessity for a successful project.

Needle sizes range from those for very fine stitching to those for hefty sewing. When you look at the number of the needle the smaller the number the finer the needle. The higher the number, the larger the needle. Needle sizes go from a size 8 to 19 (American) and 60 to 120 (European). Sometimes both sizings will be on the packaging. For example 70/10. The average size needle used is between 11 and 14. A 16 will be for denim and an 8 or 9 for a delicate fabric like a light lawn.

Needle types (this is a general guide)

Universal Sharp Point Needles- This is an all-purpose needle used for woven and knits.

Microtex Sharp Needles- These are for woven fibers like microfiber as well as silk. It’s also for synthetic leather.

Jersey Ball Point Needles- These are for sewing knits like jersey, double knit, sweater knit and t-shirt fabric. They have a rounded point, so they do not cut the fibres but go between them.

Stretch Needles- These are for very stretchy fabrics like spandex and lycra. The needle itself is less rounded than a jersey ball point.

Denim Needles- Denim or jean needles are used to sew heavier denim, upholstery, canvas or a similar weight woven fabric.

Quilting Needles– These are used to machine quilt the layers of a quilt sandwich – the top, the batting, and the backing layered together.

Top Stitch Needles-These are for the decorative, visible stitching that you see on top of the fabric. They have a large eye and groove to accommodate a heavier thread, but do not use too large a needle, or it will make holes in your fabric.

Leather Needles– These are used to sew natural leather or vinyl. They are a sharp wedge-shaped needle.

Embroidery Needles– These are for decorative embellishment like machine embroidery using a decorative thread.

Metallic Needles- These are for sewing with metallic threads.

Specialty Needles- Other more specialized needles would be spring, wing, twin, and triple needles.


Bobbins are specialty spools that hold the bottom thread for your machine. They are of plastic or metal. They come in distinct sizes to fit a particular machine.


Thread should be chosen to be compatible with the fiber content of the fabric as well as the weight. A general rule of thumb is to use a natural fiber thread with a natural fiber material. Use a synthetic thread because it has more stretch with a knit or with a synthetic fabric. It is also important to know that the higher the number on the thread, the finer the thread. When letters are used to size thread the higher the letter, the heavier the thread. Another rule of thumb when choosing the colour of thread, choose one shade darker for plain fabric and print or plaid use the predominant colour.

General All Purpose Thread– These threads come in cotton, silk, polyester, nylon, and cotton-wrapped polyester. These would be a good choice to begin.

Cotton-wrapped polyester- is an all-purpose weight for hand and machine sewing on wovens, knits, synthetics, and natural fibers, as well as blends. Polyester is strong and elastic, and the cotton wrapping makes for a good all round heat-resistant thread.

Cotton thread- is an excellent choice for quilters and cotton, rayon and linen.

Silk thread- is a perfect choice for silk, wool, and knits.

Nylon- is good for tricot and synthetics.

Polyester thread– can be used for most fabrics.

Needles to hand sew

General hand sewing related to machine sewing– There are as many types of hand sewing needles as there are for machine sewing. You will need to baste, make tailor tacks, sew on buttons and hem for a few examples. The needles to concern about for these purposes are sharps, betweens, ball points, and milliners.

Sharps- are the most common hand sewing needle as they are a medium length with a round eye and are suitable for most fabrics.

Betweens- quilting needles are shorter and can take stitches more easily in heavier fabrics.

Milliners– which are long are useful for basting.

Ball Points– resemble sharps, but they have a rounded point for knits.

There are many other types of specialty needles for hand sewing that you may choose for a particular purpose when you are sewing, but the above are more common. For example, there are beading, glovers, and darning needles as well as many others, but these are not necessary for starting out.


A good pair of dressmakers shears in an 8-inch size, some smaller sharp scissors, and perhaps some thread snips are the only essential ones you will require. I started off with one pair of good scissors. I would like to add a seam ripper to this section as almost everyone needs one. There are other specialty scissors to choose from but are not necessary. Examples of these are pinking shears, lingerie scissors and tailor points.

Straight pins and a pin cushion

Straight pins come in several lengths and weights. You will need one box of standard flat head pins to begin. There are fine pins, heavy pins and extra long and extra heavy pins but you will not need them all to start. So many choices. They come in brass, stainless steel, and steel. The heads vary as well. There are flat heads, balls or t-pins. Everyone has their preference for various purposes. And, of course, a pin cushion to store your pins.

Measurement tools

A tape measure at least 60 inches and a yard stick are essential. The tape measure is used to take body measurements because it is flexible. A yardstick is used for any straight measurements.

Other optional measuring devices could include a French curve, plastic transparent rulers, a T-square, an L-square, a hem marker, and a sewing gauge with an adjustable marker.

Marking tools

I would say a tailor’s chalk and a marking wheel with dressmakers tracing paper would be the essentials to transfer markings from the pattern to the fabric.

Iron and an Ironing board

Press, press, press. Press as you go for good success!

Author: Karen Monteith

Karen is a writer, needle artist, nature lover and gardener who loves to share such information and to encourage the needle arts.

4 thoughts on “What Do I Need To Start To Sew?”

  1. As a quilter I use much of the items listed above, I also use a few others, rotary cutter, resealing cutting board, embroidery machine, binding maker, mini corner iron just to name a few.

    I tried sewing clothes and found that quilts are way easier..lol…

    Good job on the article, it was cool to read you make sewing clothes more fun than I did.

  2. Thanks Bernadette. I love quilting as well. That will be a focus tomorrow. Quilting is so creative and can use so many of the needle arts.karen

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