‘BASIC SEWING KIT’ – WHAT’S THAT?

I had a Whitework class in my studio yesterday – good class, first of 3 sessions and they all made great progress! Keep practising the faggot stitch, ladies, don’t forget it (Don’t blame me, I didn’t christen it…)

One of the things that came up in discussion was ‘what is a basic sewing kit?’. As we all do, I asked them to bring a ‘basic sewing kit’ (and a pack-up), but what do we really mean by that? Good question!

So, what do I mean by it? Well, we all tend to assume needles, pins, scissors, yes? I usually specify the size of hoop to bring as well, especially if it is smaller or larger than 6 inches, or if they need to bring one that is hands-free, for example. But what else would be in there?

My magic box is pictured below. It goes everywhere with me, to embroidery groups, lectures and classes, York Minster Broderers, and often on holiday as well. The picture doesn’t show its contents well, but I hope it shows that one’s ‘magic box’ doesn’t need to be huge. 9.5x7.5x3 inches, to be precise. I used to have a handbag at University that one of my friends christened ‘The Tardis’, and I think perhaps some of the same principles apply here!

So, lets disinter it a bit – what is in there? More than I would expect from a ‘basic kit’ to bring to a workshop, certainly, but it includes things I have found useful. Looking at a basic kit first…

NEEDLES – mine live in 3 needlecases, one for embroidery needles, one for tapestry-type needles, and one little one with my collection of tiny Japanese hand-made ones. I have quite a lot of needles, and separating them out makes things a little easier. One needlecase with a number of leaves might also work, if you are careful when you put them back.

PINS – I prefer glass-headed ones, they don’t melt if you accidentally iron them. I have a box-full in my studio, but a smaller number goes with me. They live in a pincushion, which also gives me somewhere to park my needle that isn’t in my shirt. How many of you, dear readers, have gone around the supermarket with a needle pinned in your shirt? I certainly have….

SCISSORS – I have several! Definitely overkill in some ways: I would NOT expect the average basic kit to have six, honest. My best scissors usually stay in the studio, as they are from Ernest Wright and I don’t want to lose them. My second best go travelling. Also present are a pair of goldwork scissors with a serrated edge, a pair of unpicking scissors with a hooked blade, and a larger pair with 3” blades that I can use to cut fabric if necessary. The last ones are a pair with a clip and a wind-up cord I can use if I am on the train. They clip to my pocket or neckline so I can’t drop them.

Beyond those basics, what else is hiding? Other things I would consider ‘essential’ include a small screwdriver for tightening hoops, my twizzler for wing-nuts, an awl or stiletto (I have two), and a tape measure (also 2). Beeswax, and my magnetic pick-up tool (vital!), marking pencil and a seam-ripper. A Thimble is something I have never quite got into using automatically, but I use one sometimes, especially if I’m dressmaking, and it lives in the box.

Also present are some other things I find useful, but are not essential. As one of the ladies pointed out yesterday, things get put in the box because you need them as a one-off, and stay there until you remove them!

One object I definitely recommend is a ‘Sharps box’. Mine is a small bead-box which came when I bought some beads a while ago. I labelled it, and I use it as a repository for broken or bent needles and pins. It gradually fills up, and when it can take no more I put the whole box in the bin, and set up a new one. It saves you sticking yourself when emptying the bin. I also have an emery ball for cleaning pins and needles. Compared with the 18th century, when needles and pins were hand-made and precious, we are cavalier about these items, but a little care in storage and disposal is worth taking.

I keep all my threads on plastic bobbins, so a bobbin-winder is in there. A small pair of pliers made their way in while doing some stumpwork and are still present. A large-eyed needle I use for lacing fabric into a frame with soft string lives in the bottom, as does my mellor I use for goldwork. A bead scoop, a small metal ruler, sewing gauge and my roller cutter (labelled ‘fabric’ – I have another for paper). A cloth to clean my glasses, a small pencil, and several safety pins. A desiccant sachet to prevent damp.

All laid out, it’s amazing it fits in the box, but it does, honest! Are there any suggestions out there for things I have missed, dear reader?

I would not suggest that every embroiderer needs to carry all this junk with them all the time. To me, a ‘basic sewing kit’ would include needles, pins, embroidery scissors and a small pair of fabric scissors, screwdriver, tape measure and sharps box, marking pencil, and thimble if you use one. An awl and a magnetic pick-up are useful. But don’t worry if you are coming to one of my classes, and you haven’t got any of these with you. There will ALWAYS be one to borrow- I have LOTS!

Finally, my apologies for not posting anything for ages. Madly busy, but that's no excuse. I'm hoping to revamp this website soon, so things will improve, with a following wind.

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