Notable Notions


~ Part One - Basic Sewing Basket Supplies
~ Part Two - Thread
~ Part Three - Presser Feet
~ Part Four - Walking Feet
~ Part Five - How to Tie a Knot

Notable Notions Part One - Basic Sewing Basket Supplies

Many of you just starting your sewing adventures have asked for a complete list of the basic notions every stitcher should have. If you've ever been in my classes, you know I'm a major gadget nerd. There are so many great little tools to make sewing easier, so why not explore the potential there? But, so as not to overwhelm, I'm making a short list of the absolute basics. Do wait for good sales and coupons before you buy all this stuff if you can, cuz it can add up.

Here's a picture of all the tools laid out in their glory. Click on over to our Flickr page where each item is individually labeled with the handy notes feature!

Sewing Tools

  1. Magnetic pin cushion (you can make your own with an Altoids tin and some bar magnets) with Flat flower head pins that lay nice and flat
  2. Glass head pins are super fine, sharp and won't melt with the heat of the iron
  3. Fiskars Soft Touch Multi-Purpose Shears 8"
  4. Chop stick for pushing out corners
  5. Loop turner for turning straps and tubes right side out
  6. 2" see thru ruler
  7. Point turner for sharp corners
  8. Seam ripper--a good sharp one
  9. Thread nippers trim close and easy
  10. Tracing wheels and dressmakers tracing paper to mark darts, pleats and other lines on fabric
  11. Marking pens/pencils/chalk. Water erasable marking pen for light fabrics, chalk pencil for darks
  12. Hem Gauge for measuring even hems
  13. Magnetic seam guide. Clips on throat plate of machine for easy even seam allowances
  14. Thread Heaven silicone or beeswax to run thread through for easier hand sewing
  15. Measuring tape
  16. Singer adjustable zipper/piping foot
  17. Hand sewing needles--assortment of sharps
  18. Sewing machine needles--both standard point and ball point in sizes 9, 11, 14, 16
  19. Bobbins--about a dozen should do. make sure they're the right size for your machine
    Others not pictured above:
  • Sewing machine oil to keep your machine in good working order
  • Press cloth. Just a piece of plain cotton fabric to protect your fabrics from scorching or getting shiny
  • Pressing ham and/or sleeve roll for pressing curves and tubular seams
  • Iron
  • Ironing board
  • Lint roller

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Notable Notions Part Two - Thread

Vintage Spools of Thread

There's so much to think about when buying your supplies for a sewing project that sometimes you might end up with the wrong kind of thread by accident. Allow me for a second to geek out about thread because there is a difference in the varieties even though standing in front of the thread display they can all look alike.

For most garment/home dec/accessory sewing I've always said that 100% polyester thread is the strongest (Metrosene and Gutterman brand) and general all purpose poly/cotton blend thread (Coats & Clark) was just fine. However, the all purpose thread can be problematic because the polyester core and cotton wrap can shred away from each other on finer weave fabrics and during hand sewing.

1. New Coats Brand Polyester Thread XP, 2. 100% Polyester Thread Gutterman, Metrosene 3. "Invisible Threads", 4. Rayon Machine Embroidery Threads, 5. Topstitching and Button/Craft Thread, 6. Cone Thread

Last time I was at JoAnn fabrics I noticed that they have gotten rid of ALL the all purpose poly/cotton thread and have replaced it with newly designed spools (just like the Metrosene/Gutterman spool ends) of 100% polyester Coats & Clark thread called general purpose Dual Duty XP. That stands for "X-tra Performance", but I think it also stands for a shift in the thinking about thread quality and conceding that the blend thread that has been around since the late 60's is simply not the best quality thread.

The new spool ends no longer have that bothersome little notch in the end with the thread tail tucked under the label. Instead, the thread end is wound into a spiral in a smooth groove around the spool's end and you can actually pull it out to take the strand, lay it on your fabric and check the match up close.

Know that there are many types of thread beyond the basic general purpose threads above. Coats & Clark lists these as "Special Purpose" threads which cracked me up because it makes me think of the movie "The Jerk"--hey, I've never claimed to have a particularly sophisticated sense of humor, and I digress...

  • There are rayon threads which are shiny-licous like the Sulky brand machine embroidery threads. Use these to make a pair of pants, however and you will be feeling a breeze when you sit down! These gossamer strands are meant to just sit on top of the fabric to embellish.
  • Use top-stitching thread to match the thicker thread used in most jeans when hemming them.
  • There's extra fine thread for sewing gauzy, sheer or delicate fabrics.
  • Clear monofilament thread will be invisible when you stitch trim or just simply don't want a colored thread to show on a print.
  • Quilters still prefer the 100% cotton thread for heirloom sewing, but it does decompose over time and polyester, much like cockroaches and Cher, will be on the planet long after we are all gone.
  • I like using the glazed hand quilting thread which is thicker, strong and smooth for making ribbon flowers.
  • The button and craft thread is great when you're needing a stronger thicker thread for heavy duty coat buttons or crafts.
  • Nylon upholstery thread should be used for heavy upholstery and outdoor cushions, but I personally think it's overkill for indoor throw pillows.
  • Silamide thread is a pre-waxed thread used for beadwork and is also a coveted fave of professional tailors for strong, smooth trouble free hand sewing.

Those are the basic "Special Purpose" threads--here are some more from the Coats & Clark site.

Whichever thread you're using, you'll be needing to match the needle to both your fabric and the thread type. Here's a chart from Coats & Clark:

To further geek out to the maximum degree, visit a much beloved site--the Fashion Incubator and check out these posts on thread and needle sizes.

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Notable Notions Part Three - Presser Feet

Presser Feet
1. Zig Zag Foot, 2. Straight Stitch Foot, 3. Satin Stitch Foot, 4. Edge Stitch Foot,
5. Zipper/Piping Foot, 6. Zipper/Piping Foot

This week's Notable Notions are all about presser feet. Most new machines come with an assortment of feet and these are the basics. Using the right foot for the job is really going to make your sewing much easier. I've heard many woeful tales of gals trying to stitch on a zipper with a zig zag foot. The right foot makes all the difference.

Presser Feet: The basics

Presser Feet Basics

From left to right back row: Zig Zag Foot, Straight Stitch Foot, Satin Stitch Foot, Edge-Stitch Foot, Piping/Zipper Foot

What style presser foot does your machine take?

Style of Presser Feet

From left to right: Slant Shank, High Shank, Low Shank and Low Shank Snap-On Design.

Slant Shank is a Singer only type of foot and the needle on this model machine is also slanted slightly forward.

High Shank models are being phased out it seems to me. I only see them on earlier models--pre-dating the late 1980's. High shank fits on the machine about an inch above the bottom of the foot.

Low shank is more common. This foot fits on the machine about 1/2 inch above the bottom of the foot. The shank and the foot are all one unit.

Low shank snap-on feet are the most common in all the newer models of machines. There is a standard holder with a red release button or a lever on the back so you can just snap on a different foot without removing the whole unit.

Many Bernina and Pfaff machines have their own specially designed feet which are not compatible with other machines.

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Meet the Presser Feet: Walking Foot AKA "Even Feed Foot"

Walking Foot

The walking foot looks like a pretty complicated contraption, but it's relatively simple to use and life-changing when working with difficult to sew fabrics such as velvets, velveteens, vinyl, leather, slippery silky fabrics and fur. It's also very helpful in matching plaids, stripes, piecing quilts and working on long lengths of fabric such as roman shades or long hems. Why?

Normal feet work with the feed dogs (those grippy teeth under the presser foot) by holding the fabric layers against the feed dogs which grip the under layer of the fabric and move it back in even increments based on how long your stitch length is set. The problem with this system for some fabrics is that the under layer is getting pulled back more by the feed dogs than the top layer which is getting pushed forward by the presser foot. This shifts the fabrics slightly away from each other. By the time you get to the end of a long curtain panel, you will notice that the ends no longer match up even if you've pinned them carefully together.

Walking Feet

What's cool about a walking foot is that there are feed dogs built into the underside of the foot itself. So now you have a set of feed dogs on TOP of the fabric in addition to the feed dogs from the machine underneath. There is a little arm that you attach to the needle bar on the walking foot as you're connecting the foot to the machine. As the needle goes up and down, the foot "walks" up and down along the top fabric in unison with the lower feed dogs. Now your two layers are being fed at the same rate and your seams end up finishing where you want them.

PfaffBecause of the extra grip power on top, the walking foot helps tame fabrics with nap from shifting and helps move more easily across sticky vinyls and leathers.

Walking feet are usually around $25 or so, but are well worth the price if you're having issues with shifting seams. You can pick one up locally at Sew Much More, Sears if you have a Kenmore, Northwest Sewing Center if you have a Singer, The Quilt Store and Austin Sew & Vac. Some sewing machines even come with a built in walking foot such as the Pfaff.

Wanna see the Walking Feet in action, and see how to attach them to your machine? Watch our handy videos below!

Attaching a Walking Foot Part 1

Attaching a Walking Foot Video Part 2

Watch the Walking Foot in Action

Notable Notions: How to Tie a Knot!

My grandmother showed me how to tie this simple knot in the end of my hand sewing thread when I was a kid. I teach it in my beginning I classes and I wanted to share it with all of you who might not know it. It makes a nice hefty knot that won't pull through your fabric when you're doing any hand sewing including embroidery. Practice it a few times and you'll have it down pat!

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