Sunday, March 22, 2020

Some of my favorite sewing tools

Who wants to talk about sewing tools? Staying home has meant doing some home organizing and closet cleanup as well as sewing. I was tidying up yesterday and thought I could share some of my favorite sewing tools that aren't the usual, such as measuring tapes or scissors which we all have.

I think I'll do a separate post about pressing tools as they are in a category of their own, and absolutely vital for a good sewing result. In fact I waver back and forth as to what is my personal sewing mantra (and what I say a lot in my classes). It's either 1) more interfacing or 2) press it before you go on. Two necessities for sewing success.

Let's dive in. The first item is something that I started using about 4 years ago? At first I used the regular Frixon pens with the fine point, which worked well but seemed to run out of ink and you had to press quite hard on some fabrics to get them to mark. Then I happened upon the Frixon highlighter pens and now I buy them by the dozen. They are like a typical marker in that you can use the wide or narrow side of the tip, they come in all the typical highlighter colors and they do seem to come out fine on most all fabrics. As with any marking on fabric I am selective in use.  They are great for marking stitching lines such as on corners or curves. I tend to use them a lot on insides of garments on the interfacing as they are visible when stitching. I am less inclined to use on the outside of garments but sometimes do. I've read that markings can reappear in cold weather but that's not a concern of mine 🌞.

Frixon highlighter pens


Next are my favorite chalk markers. Without question my most treasured sewing tool is the yellow Chakoner marker which I have had for maybe 30 years? Older than many of your sewing machines and older than some who might be reading right now!  I bought it when I first started taking classes at The Sewing Workshop which was in San Franciso, out in the avenues and owned by Marcy Tilton. I took so many great classes there and when I think of it now it's quite similar to Hello Stitch - same warm and welcoming atmosphere, storefront location, great natural light and a place to commune with fellow stitchers instead of sewing as a solitary pursuit.

Anyway - back to the markers. The Chakoner markers make the finest chalk line and unlike some other of this type of chalk marker the little wheel rolls smoothly. Not sure when I got the blue one but they are both used a lot. And you can refill (carefully) the little stopper at the top comes off and you make a paper funnel and gently tip the chalk into it. I think I had the yellow one for years before I refilled it. I see them on Amazon now, (note the spelling, no "L" in the name) and I've ordered the refill chalks. Only use the Chakoner chalk in them as it is super fine chalk. The Clover chalk markers in that pen shape are also good, and I use them for some items like denim or other fabrics where I don't want to waste my nice Chakoner :).  Any other wheeled chalk markers I have found to be crap but perhaps you've had better luck with them. The wheel on the Dritz ones seems to get bent or stuck almost immediately.

chalk markers

This is another item that I cannot sew without. I think magnetic pincushions are a bit controversial, but I love them. As evidenced by the one in the front, which is the oldest one. No idea why it is so ragged but it still works. And yes I do separate my pin types, the finer silk pins go on the pink and blue magnets and then the less fine pearlized pins go on the red ones. I love to be able to sweep across the floor and pick up any pins that drop. When sewing I keep one next to the machine and one on my work surface, then when the one by the machine gets full I swap them. Note I don't know if it matters but I'm kind of fanatical about keeping these away from my laptop, phone or iPad. Read one time that could could harm, don't know if it's true but why chance it. Note the tape on the red one - it hit the ground and a piece broke off - a bit of tape and it's fine. (that's my answer to a lot of fix it, a bit of tape - and who hasn't used tape in place of a band-aid when sewing. Only me?

Magnetic pincushions


Next up are the Fiskars snips. Are you sensing a theme here? Multiples? I'm a bit scatterbrained when sewing and instead of looking for the one item I just have several and then there is always one to hand. These Fiskars snips are very sharp and I like that spring action, as opposed to putting your fingers in the holes of small scissors. I keep a pair at the studio and people in my classes are always "ooo I need to get one of those". You can find at sewing stores but if searching online they may be listed as pruning snips. It's the same product.

fiskars snips


This is kind of an oddball item, the name molded into the plastic is "Button Elevator" which is exactly what it does. It's used to sew on buttons and give the space needed to create the thread shank. Jackets, coats, any fabric that is a bit bulky, you need to have some breathing room between the button and the fabric so that the button can rest in the buttonhole when closed and not pull and pucker. It does take a bit of practice to get the hang of it, and of course you could use a toothpick, pencil, or knitting needle. I'm sure I bought this at a garage sale or something like that, so if you see one for a few cents give it a try.

Button raiser


More marking tools, this is Wax Chalk. I think I first got some of these way back when at the old Sewing Workshop, which I mentioned above. I ordered a box a few years ago from Atlanta Thread and Supply - which I think was bought out by Wawak? So the box on the right is almost empty but I give them out when I do the jacket tailoring class. One box will last you a while so they are great to share with sewing friends. They are perfect for marking wool, it just melts away with a touch of the iron leaving no trace (but always test first!!!)  I use them on cotton too and so far have no problem. By the way, I really like Wawak - they have great prices and it's so much better to order a variety of zippers or thread from them and have on hand rather than dashing out to Joann's and paying $ 3.50 for an invisible zip.

Wax chalk


This one is kind of a fun treat, when I did a lot of articles for Craftsy (now Bluprint) I color coded pieces in the illustration photos, and one day I needed more colored pencils. I tried these and they are so nice! Since I trace a lot of Burda patterns now they come in very handy. I tend to trace with one color, add fit adjustments with another, and then seam allowances with a 3rd color. In my fitting classes I always recommend using soft colored pencils on any pattern paper, they mark well, are visible and don't tear like a sharp pencil or soak in like a marking pen. I've had this box about two years and it's nowhere near finished. Plus the box is cute and I'm sure it will get reused for storing something else one day.

Prisma pencils

Here's an example of my colored pencil artistry, haha. In this photo I've cut up the jacket front pattern piece to make the side front lining piece which will attach to the facing. More on that detail when I finish and blog about that jacket.

Burda boucle jacket facings

Which I will give you a sneak peek. The fabric is SO unravel-y, I did interface fully but it still wants to shred at the edges. So I just handle carefully. I know some people serge all pieces but for a lined jacket I never do.

Boucle jacket WIP

I have a few topics on my Random Threads notebook page - it's been a while since I did that, and then I do have a few finished items to share. After this jacket I will probably make a top that I can wear with the jacket.

Thanks for all the nice comments on my last post - the top where I decided to try a new shape. This jacket has some interesting sleeves as well. And also for all the love for my red coat - I appreciate it so much.

Stay well everyone and I look forward to seeing everyone's creations in person when we resume socializing in the usual way 🤗

Happy Sewing, Beth

the tulips are definitely making me smile this week.

yellow tulip


  1. Loved hearing about your favorite sewing tools. I simply must get a button elevator! Like you I never serge seams on lined garments as there's no need and why would one add extra bulk. Please keep blogging while we're in home isolation as it helps keep me sane. Karen

  2. Thanks for all the detailed info in your red coat posts! The beautiful final result shows the extra effort is worthwhile. I've been reading over all your previous coat posts as I've just finished a sketchy coat project, and the notes on more extensive interfacing are ones I'll be implementing. The inside photos are very helpful!

  3. I have a couple of magnetic pin holders that are actually near my sewing machine but I really like the magnetic pin bowls. And I separate my pins too - even at my sewing machine! Thanks for the tip on the Frixion Highlighters. I will get some from Amazon - which is like the energizer bunny - still delivering! Thanks for the post. It was a fun read!

  4. This is amazingly informative. I love seeing the tools you have used over a long time. Especially interested in the colored pencils for the reasons you mentioned. I am going to get more colors of the Chakoner--they really are great but I have only the white one.

  5. Thanks for sharing Beth! Since I have been self-trained with sewing, I have learned by practicing, but as you mention good sewing tools is everything! :)

  6. Great post Beth! I didn't know about the Frixon highlighter pens...I'll have to look out for those.

  7. Love the button elevator. I use the wax chalks quite a bit, and bought a box several years ago, in an assortment of red, white, black, yellow and blue. I have given many away, and they do last a long time.

    Fabrics that easily unravel are very trying on my patience. When the project is finished, I definitely breath a sigh of relief. But generally speaking, such beautiful fabrics they are!

    Fun post, thanks!

  8. I enjoyed this post. I have several types of magnetic pin holders. Though I must admit I don't do a great job of sorting them. I love the Chakoner but it was lost in the move two years ago and have not replaced it. I bought an imitation one but it does not work well or at all. You get what you pay for

  9. Thank you this is a great blog. I also use my pin trays as pattern weights.