Hand Sewing Essentials: What’s That Thing Called?

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retrochick.JPGMichele says:

Have you ever tried to Google something, only to quickly realize that you don’t know which words to enter in the search box?  Now, how many of you have taken it a step further and went ahead and searched for, say, “strawberry thing attached to a pincushion”?  No judgment.  I and many others, I’m sure, have been there at one point or another, especially when learning (or relearning) something new.  That doesn’t make it any less frustrating, especially when you’re unable to find an answer because your search includes the words “thingy”, “thing-a-ma-jig”, “doo-dad”, or “gizmo”.  (Fortunately, I’m only guilty of two of those affronts to the English language.)

While I can’t solve this problem for everyone, I can help prevent some of those search fails—assuming you’re searching for something along the lines of “that sewing thing that looks like a coin with a wire on it”.  (It’s called a needle threader.)  Since I’m a fan of multitasking, I’m also going to take this chance to show you what I consider to be the essential supplies for a hand sewer in handy list form. (I apologize in advance for the grainy pictures. Rain has been messing with my lighting!)

1.  The seam ripper‘s use is self explanatory once you know its name.  To rip a seam, insert the tip of the seam ripper and voila!  The threads have been cut just like the picture below.  (Note that the seam ripper is shown uncovered, but you should always store it with its cover on!  The innocuous looking tip is very, very sharp.)

2.  Needles!  Lots of them in lots of sizes. Here are lots of sewing needles to choose from, how convenient.

3.  The thimble, aside from being essential for those who wear denim, is one of those things that most people use improperly.  It is supposed to fit on your middle finger.  The thimble can be used to either poke a needle through thick fabric or to pull the needle through the fabric when it gets stuck.


4.  The needle threader is a nifty little tool that threads your needle like magic in three simple steps!

A) Poke the wire through the eye of the needle.

B) Insert your thread through the opening in the wire.

C) Pull the needle off the wire, taking the thread with it.  Pull the tip of the thread out of the eye of the needle so that a single thread is running through the eye of the needle.


5.  Thread, either denim and all-purpose, is naturally a must for any project.

6.  Spare buttons.  (I always store the buttons that come attached to new shirts in my sewing kit so that I know just where to find them when I need them most.)

7.  Pins.  Lots and lots of very fine, sharp pins.  Do yourself a favor and store them in a box rather than in your pin cushion.

8.  The seam gauge is like the shoe measurer (AKA Brannock Device) of the sewing world.  Slide the moving piece of the seam gauge into place to “store” your measurement in order to save time when hemming trousers, skirts, and most anything else.


9.  The tape measure is used for… measuring.  Beside sewing-related uses, it’s great for taking your body’s measurements which, as an added bonus, makes shopping online for clothes less scary.

10.  The white pencil (or piece of chalk) is used for marking fabric.  The white pencil washes out, so you can use it liberally without worry.

11.  The giant safety pin is helpful when fixing drawstrings that have gotten lost in the waistband.  Remove the drawstring from the waistband, attach the safety pin to the end, and insert the drawstring (safety pin and all) into one of the waistband’s holes.  For wider channels (the thing that encases the drawstring), the pin will act as a weight that will pull the drawstring through the waistband, but smaller channels will require you use the safety pin as a guide that helps you manually push the drawstring back into its’ place.

12.  The pin cushion is obviously used for pins.  The little strawberry on the end, however, is not so obvious and is a mystery to many folks.  It’s filled with emery sand, so when you poke your needle in there several times over (as you would do when filing your nails) you can remove any dirt or rust from your needles–and sharpen them in the process!  Some people say it ruins the newer, nickel plated needles, but I’m still a fan of my little strawberry on the side of my pin cushion.

Am I missing anything?  Do you have a favorite hand sewing tool or trick?  Let me know; I’m always looking to add to my repertoire!

Michele Newell is a housewife turned blogger turned Home Ec 101 contributor.  You can read her near daily ramblings at Dreams Unreal.

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6 thoughts on “Hand Sewing Essentials: What’s That Thing Called?”

  1. Great little sewing kit. I am way too acquainted with the seam ripper lately. I keep a little pair of fine point scissors in my kit too. They cut off the ends of thread closer than bigger scissors. I have a couple of the threaders like yours, but I don’t use them for threading needles anymore (poor eyesight), but they are the greatest for fixing pulled threads. For threading needles now I use a Dritz needle threader with a push button that finds the hole for me.

    Btw, I’ve really enjoyed browsing your blog.

    • I love my seam ripper because it makes me feel more confidant when I sew; it means that I don’t have to worry about permanently messing up (as often). Good point (hah!) mentioning the fine pointed scissors, by the way, as they can make the difference between an amateur- and a semi-professional repair.

      I’m glad that you’ve enjoyed!

  2. I have in my kit a straight steel 2-3” with a tiny scoop on one end and a hole on the other end. What is this?

  3. Single man who was trying to figure out what the little coin thing was. Learned something amazing that will save me loads of time when my next button flies off!

  4. Years ago I had a drawstring threader that was metal and it had a “safety pin” built into one end. I have lost it and can’t find one anywhere. Before you had to attach a safety pin to a pencil or knitting needle it was the handiest thing on Earth. Are these made anymore? The plastic ones break or the string slides out. Is there a way to suggest a 5” metal “stick” with a pin already built into the end to a company like Dritz? The metal one made it so much easier and was much more durable. I wish mine never went missing!!


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