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Hand Sewing Kits — What’s Needed and What Isn’t (and it totally depends on who owns it)

I almost decided not to make this topic into a blog.  All of this came about from one of my many online Sit and Sews when the topic of “What should go into a hand sewing kit” came up.  I was busy trying to determine why my Grandmother’s Flower Garden was giving me such grief (which I’m hand sewing – and I had used a full diamond joiner when I needed only a half-diamond) and was only just a tad tuned into the discussion at the time.  I was surprised to find out the opinions on this topic of hand sewing kits were varied – they went from the bare basics to “What are you sewing?  A wedding dress?” 

Instantly, I was intrigued.  So many opinions over a hand sewing kit? Who knew?

I’ve made at least three hand sewing kits in my life.  And let me add at this point, a hand sewing kit is different than a hand applique kit.  I have a hand sewing kit and at two different points in their “leaving home” years, I’ve made each of my kids one.  I think it goes without saying my children’s kits are different from mine:

I sew.

They mend.

I thought it might be helpful to go over the differences.  The following are the basics for any sewing kit.

  1.  Needles.  The sewing enthusiast needs more variety, but both kits need several different sizes.  And needles aren’t expensive.  Buy the good kind.
  2. Pin Cushion.  This doesn’t have to be fancy, but a place to park needles and pins is helpful.  If you’re making a sewing kit for a non-sewer, make sure it’s big enough they can see it and won’t lose it.
  3. Pins.  Some good straight pins are needed.  The enthusiast may want an assortment from applique pins to the flower head pins.  For everyone else, some nice silk pins or glass head pins are great.  Pins aren’t expensive.  Don’t get the super cheap ones which leave large holes behind or rust if they get damp.
  4. Scissors.  These should be small-ish.  Most quilters like nice scissors.  I keep a pair of Karen Kay Buckley’s in mine.  If the kit is for some else, get a decent pair of scissors and caution the person not to use them to cut paper.  And be sure to put their name on the handles.  Scissors have a way of walking off.
  5. Needle Threader.  Some folks’ eyes are still good enough they don’t need assistance pushing the thread through the eye of a needle, but if they’re in a hurry, a threader is one of the most helpful tools to have in your kit.  Threaders run the gamut.  They can be simple, like this:

Word of caution here…if this is the kind you go with, put two or three in the kit.  My experience with these is they break easily.

A little more complex:

The light is a nice thing to have.

Or this:

Which a lot of quilters tend of favor.

  •  Some kind of fabric marker.  It can be a Frixion, a blue water-soluble pen, or a number 2 pencil.  Non-sewing people will at least need to mark hems and where to place a button.  Quilters need fabric markers for all kinds of reasons.
  • Small Ruler.  This doesn’t have to extend the entire 12-inches or beyond, but something along the size of a sewing gauge is needed to measure hem length and draw straight lines.  Quilters may want something longer and wider, depending on the project currently under their needle.
  • Thread.  Remember a hand sewing kit is different than a hand applique kit, so you won’t need silk thread or a variety of colors.  Stick to the basics, especially for the non-quilter.  White, cream, black, gray, brown, and navy tend to work nicely for everyone.
  • Buttons and Fasteners.  This is definitely for the non-quilter.  I quilt.  Please don’t ask me to mend.  It’s a good idea to have a variety of buttons in different sizes and in some neutral colors.  A small card of hooks and eyes and one with snaps are also nice to have.

For me, these nine items are necessary in the basic sewing kit.  I know some of you are thinking, “Hey, I can find most of these items in those little sewing kits they sell at the dollar establishment.” 

Yes, you can.  I purchased one of these for my daughter before she left for college, and I think the scissors fell apart after one use and the thread was pretty bad quality.  Meg doesn’t sew, and even she knew the thread was awful.  Plus, it was so tiny it got lost.  By purchasing you own tools (for you or your kids…or whoever), you can control the quality and make sure the kit is big enough it doesn’t accidentally get tossed in the trash. 

These last items are for the hand sewing enthusiast – someone who’s will be spending serious time with needle, fabric, and thread.

  1.  Thread Conditioner or Beeswax.  Nothing is more aggravating than fighting knots in your thread.  Either one of these helps keep the knots at bay and makes your whole sewing experience much easier.
  2. Magnifier.  There will be times when you need to see your marked lines or stitches up close.  A magnifier or a pair of reading glasses are super handy.  And the reading glasses aren’t expensive.  I’ve found you can purchase a case of 12 pairs on Amazon which costs less per pair than those at the dollar stores or elsewhere.  And they come with cases.  You could feasibly have a pair in every sewing kit/project box in your studio.
  3. Basting Glue.  Sometimes you just need a dab or a dot.  A small bottle or a glue pen is a wonderful thing to have in your kit. An aside here…as far as I know basting glue wasn’t a “thing” when Meg trotted off to college.  I wish you could have seen her face when she saw me using some on vacation.  “My hems could have been fixed in two seconds,” she said, “instead of running you down to get you to hem my pants or spending my time doing it.”  Maybe it does belong in a “regular” sewing kit?
  4. A Thimble.  I know some of you would have put this little sewing tool with the first nine items.  However, I think the person who is only using a sewing kit for an occasional mend won’t go through the trouble of putting on a thimble – much less learn how to use it.  They want to mend whatever it is that needs mending as quickly as possible and move on with their day.  It will more than likely be the sewing enthusiast who spends hours hand sewing who will use the thimble. 
  5. Clips.  These little gadgets:

Are great to have in your kit.  You can keep block pieces or units together.  They can corral templates.  And you can get them in cute little containers like this:

Which will snuggle right in your sewing kit and keep the clips securely in one place.

  1.  Small Iron/Pressing Mat.  Even though you’re hand sewing, there will come a time when you need to press the units or the block.  If you’re away from home, having ready access to an iron and pressing mat is a great thing.  These may not need to stay in your kit all the time, but if you’re taking your hand sewing project on vacation or to a retreat, definitely make sure you’ve packed these in your kit.
  2. Small Rotary Cutter/Small Cutting Mat.  Like the small iron and pressing mat, these are tools you will want if you’re sewing away from home.  They’ll come in handy if you need to cut out additional pieces or true up a block. 

Sewing Kit Containers

This is kind of a personal decision.  If the sewing kit is for someone else, you may want to find a container which fits the person’s personality or likes.  The only cautionary statement I’d add is make sure the container is big enough it won’t get lost and make sure it fastens securely.  I’d also put their name on it – especially if the person is living in a group setting such as a dorm or shared apartment.  And I’d put their name on as many tools as I could. 

When I began hand sewing in earnest, I had dreams of finding the perfect container which could handle all my needs.  I had fond memories of my paternal grandmother’s kit, which was an old cigar box.  Grandma Moore hemmed and mended. She didn’t hand sew quilts, so the cigar box worked fine for her.  All she needed was a place for scissors, thread, needles, and a sewing gauge.  My hand sewing kit needed to be a little more extensive. I have several packets of different sized needles, scissors – all the tools listed above and probably a few more I didn’t think about to add to this blog.  I looked at bags and boxes on quilting websites.  I looked at containers at office supply places.  I finally found the perfect hand sewing kit here:

A small tackle box. 

It has moveable partitions and two “shelves”, plus a large bottom with enough height I can add an iron and mat with no problems.  Added bonus:  A tackle box was much less expensive than bags and boxes sold at quilt stores.  And if you think tackle boxes are all green and camouflage-y, think again.  Evidently there are as many women fishing as there are men. 

Christmas shopping season is upon us and if you have someone in your life heading off to college or living on their own, a sewing kit may be a welcome gift.  I can’t say any hand sewing skills taught will stick (I just finished sewing a button on my daughter’s shorts), but it’s certainly a great thing to have in a pinch.  I’ve gotten so I put mine in the car every time I head to a wedding or some such event.  And most of the time someone there is glad I did. 

Until Next Week, Quilt On!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam

2 replies on “Hand Sewing Kits — What’s Needed and What Isn’t (and it totally depends on who owns it)”

I can’t say I actually run through your brain…but I’m always glad you enjoy my blog! And I’m glad you found it helpful as you come up with your own kit. I think every sewing kit is unique to its owner and her/his needs.

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