Bonus column: Martha Stewart
You might be surprised to realize that your DIY sewing basket is hiding on your kitchen shelf! The same bamboo baskets you use to steam fish and vegetables can become chic color-blocked storage containers with a bright coat of paint.
Since they're stackable, they make perfect compartments for the contents of a sewing kit. Spools of thread go in one compartment; pins, tools and needles in another; and buttons in a third.
What to pack
First and foremost, you will need an array of hand needles.
Sewing needle: An all-purpose sewing needle of medium size with a small eye is invaluable for hand-sewing. Needle sizes are numbered: 1 is the largest, and 12 the smallest. Sharps are the most common hand-sewing needles; use blunt, or ball-point, needles for knit fabrics.
Quilting needle: Its short length and sharp point are ideal for making small stitches; the narrow eye ensures the needle passes smoothly though multiple layers. Quilting needles are sometimes called “betweens” and come in sizes 7 (largest) through 12 (smallest).
Applique needle: An applique needle should be thin in order to slide easily through the fabric and leave nearly invisible holes.
Crewel needle: Used for embroidering crewelwork on tightly woven fabric, these needles have sharp tips for piercing fabric, and long eyes to make threading yarn easier. They come in sizes 1 (largest) through 10 (smallest).
Chenille needle: These needles have sharp points for embroidering on tightly woven fabric. Their large eyes make them a good choice for ribbon embroidery.
Milliners needle: Also called straw needles, milliners needles are long and thin with small eyes. They are commonly used for applique and for making long basting stitches when sewing.
Tapestry needle: A tapestry needle’s blunt point allows it to push between the fibers of loosely woven fabrics, ensuring that the fibers won’t snag or break, and allowing for evenly spaced stitches. Use it for embroidery, especially cross-stitch. Needles range in size from 13 (largest) to 26 (smallest).
Upholstery needle: This large, sharp needle easily pierces heavy-duty fabrics such as canvas or other thick upholstery fabrics.
Sashiko needle: When embroidering in the Japanese style sashiko, gather a series of running stitches on this extra-long needle before passing it through the cloth.
A needle threader guides thread through a needle's tiny eye.
Machine needles come in different styles and shapes; use the size that corresponds to the weight of the fabric you are sewing. Unlike for hand-sewing needles, the smaller the number, the finer the needle; 12 is a common all-purpose size. A sharp-point needle is best for woven fabrics, and a blunt point for knit fabrics. Twin needles sew rows of parallel lines. Change needles frequently — after every eight hours of sewing, or when you begin a new project — since a dull needle can damage fabric.
Different lengths, thicknesses and head styles of pins are designed for various projects. Colorful ball-headed pins are easy to see; however, plastic ball-headed pins can melt when ironed (glass ball-headed pins will not melt). Long flower-headed pins lie flat with the fabric, and are even easier to see. Dressmaker's pins, which are roughly 1 1/16 inch to 1 1/2 inches long, are useful for almost any project. Choose short pins for detailed work such as applique, since you can place many of them close together; long pins are best for piecing together multiple layers of fabric, as when quilting. While most pins are sharp, blunt pins are available for pinning knit fabrics. Pins also vary in thickness: Choose fine pins for sheer, delicate fabrics, and thicker ones for heavier fabrics.
Wear a thimble on the index or middle finger of your sewing hand, and use it to push the needle through the fabric. Traditional thimbles are made of metal, but leather versions are considered more comfortable by some home sewers.
Available in a variety of sizes, shapes and materials, safety pins hold fabric in place. Use them to secure quilting layers and to thread ribbon or cord through a channel.
As you sew, if your thread tangles and knots easily, run it across a disk of beeswax to give it a tangle-resistant coating.
Use this tool, available at crafts and office-supply stores, to mark perfect circles on fabric for applique, embroidery or stenciling. It’s also handy for rounding off corners.
Flexible tape measure
This indispensable sewing tool can follow three-dimensional or curved lines to produce accurate measurements; use it to take body measurements.
Use a ruler to measure dimensions of fabric or to draft patterns on paper on a flat work surface. A transparent ruler allows you to see the fabric or paper and any markings underneath. It is also useful for quilting and is sometimes called a quilting ruler.
Chalk pens and wedges are the traditional tools for marking fabric, especially for tailoring and altering. A chalk pen is filled with chalk dust, which brushes off easily (and can be refilled); wedges or blocks of chalk have sharp edges for marking clean lines.
Have two pairs of scissors that are used solely for sewing — the larger for trimming fabric, the smaller for snipping threads. Other sewing scissors are for specific tasks.
As its name indicates, a seam ripper is used to safely remove unwanted stitches without damaging the surrounding fabric.