29 January 2011

Outfitting a sewing basket

Dear Lissy,
Time for some fun!  We both have a love of kits:  well-stocked cleaning buckets, quiet time totes, hiking haversacks, nail spa baskets...there's just no end to that for us, is there?  You've enjoyed sewing projects since you were a tiny girl, so I expect you've accumulated quite a stash of supplies by now.  After many years of trial and error, I've chosen to keep several smaller sewing kits -- hand sewing, machine sewing, quilting, crochet -- rather than a single large one. This allows me to keep each container right where it will be used.   I keep extra supplies in a cabinet to restock my various totes and baskets.
In today's letter I want to give you a few reminders on outfitting a sewing basket.  Every homemaker needs a well-stocked plain sewing kit to mend, hem, replace buttons, and for the handwork portions of machine sewn projects. A well-stocked sewing basket can make a nice shower gift for a friend, too.

The container...
         ~Your goal is to be able to find and replace items quickly, so look for plenty of dividers and pockets.
         ~ Before sewing machines were popular, most ladies carried a workbag of their own making.  You might enjoy making one of these intricate projects in place of a box or basket.
         ~If you're retrofitting a favorite tin or hatbox, make or find containers that fit inside and keep everything in it's place.  Ziploc bags, or their sturdier cousins, project bags, sometimes work better than hard sided organizers.
         ~Using a drawer?  Spend a few dollars to get trays that are divided into small sections.  Most drawers can hold two deep as well.
         ~ If you have toddlers or kitty-cats in your home, consider a container that shuts tight.  Do you remember my horrid orange Tupperware sewing kit?  I was so excited to replace it with a classic, pretty basket once you were old enough!  Now it's probably considered "vintage" and a real find.
         ~A medium sized container, 9 or 10 inches to a side (or across a round) and 9-10 inches deep is plenty big.  The largest item in your box will be a pair of 6" long scissors.  When the container gets too large, it's very difficult to keep organized.

The Contents...
  • Pack of assorted needles:  I prefer English needles, either John James or Richard Hemming.  John James currently makes a professional collection that has a wide variety of needles.  The only other type of needle I had to purchase was a tri-point leather needle.  
  • Needle threader:  Clover, a Japanese company, makes sturdy 1" square threaders with a tiny blade for cutting thread.  Don't splurge on a fancy needle threader since the wire pulls out after several uses.  For most needles you can probably thread faster without a threader, but it's nice to have one when you're trying to get dental floss through the eye of a needle to repair your umbrella!
  • Needle safe:  A 2-1/2" x 4-1/2" box that is lined with magnetic tape and used as an etui.  The tape is white, so you can easily designate or trace certain places (keeping ball point needles for repairing knits separate from sharps, for example). You will use this to store needles, a needle threader, and bobbins loaded with common colors of thread for quick repairs.  Just this portion of the sewing basket makes a nice small gift for a friend.  Save the pretty needle books for your fancywork basket.  
  • Thimble:  I love thimbles!  I keep two types in my basket:  A clover leather ring thimble and a vintage silver Dorcas thimble.  I prefer to sew off the side of my middle finger, and usually use the lightweight (and cool!) ring thimble.  As a bonus, the ring thimble fits into a needle safe well, too.
  • Seam ripper:  Clover makes fat handled extremely sharp rippers that are easy to use.
  • Scissors:  Gingher 5" Knife Edge are my go-to workbox scissors...sharp and accurate enough to remove excess material when hemming, but small enough for trimming a thread.  Keep your dressmaking shears, pinking shears, and embroidery scissors in other baskets at the location where you actually use them.
  • Thread Heaven:  This is a tiny block of solid silicone stored in a blue acrylic box.  If you run the thread through it, it prevents static, and therefore those irritating little loop knots.  You'll probably be able to find it with beading supplies or on a notions wall.  Only use wax if you're working with linen thread.
  • Bobbins loaded with thread:  Full-sized spools are a waste in your everyday sewing basket.  Load several bobbins with common colors:  white, ecru, gray, taupe, tan, navy, black, and red.  If you hold the thread over the block of Thread Heaven while it winds, it will already be pre-treated when you get ready to sew.  When you make a garment that needs hand-finishing work, pop the bobbin out of your machine and into your workbox.  You may have a section in your sewing basket that will fit several bobbins on end, or look on the notions wall at your sewing store for a box or holder.  Some sweaters come with a hank of extra yarn for repairs which I usually store with my buttons.
  • Dental Floss:  A trial size case of waxed dental floss makes great "thread" for repairing anything that will get wet...umbrellas, shower curtains, lawn furniture cushions, and even snowsuits.
  • Retractable tape:  You'll use a measuring tape time and again.  The retractable style work best in a small workbasket.  They are available in round or square styles, and range from plain bright red to whimsical animal shapes.
  • Sewing Gauge:  Usually a six inch metal ruler with a sliding piece down the side or center.  They are indispensable for hemming and other small measuring jobs.  If you do a lot of garment sewing, the Clover Zieman is a nice luxury, but a small Dritz or Collins ruler works quite well.
  • Pins:  Ah, the bane of Daddy's existence!   You just don't need a thousand pins in a hand sewing kit.  25-30 pins are enough for any hand sewing project.   Clover patchwork pins with the yellow glass heads or the round blue tins of Swiss Iris Superfein are my favorites.  You may want to add a few ball point pins for knits and a few sturdy pins for working with denim or duck material as well.  Store them all in a tin with a secure lid.  A stripe of magnetic tape will hold the different sorts in the lid so you can choose them easily.  A few safety pins in various sizes are handy for quick (temporary) fixes.
  • Pincushion:  I prefer a finger pin cushion, you may like a wrist or magnetic style better.  I don't use a large pincushion in my workbasket since I only use a few pins on any project.  Some sewing baskets have built-in pincushions.
  • Bodkins:  These are specialty tools for pulling ribbons, elastic, and drawcords through casings.  My mother used a big safety pin.
  • Zipper rescue kit
  • Buttons:   The buttons I keep in my sewing basket are ones that come with garments or are standard shirt button sizes.  I also keep a couple of hooks and eyes and snaps.  All of these fit in a tin the size of a travel soapdish  My large button box is in the sewing cabinet.
  • Sweater repair hook:  These go by different names.  I have the Dritz Knit Picker, there's also a Snag Nab It or you can use a tiny crochet hook.  It's used to repair snags in knits.
  • Pencils:  I keep a mechanical pencil and tailor's chalk pencils in silver and yellow.  
  • Sampler or hand stitching guide:  It's easy to forget how to hem with a catch stitch or how to repair a rolled hem on organza.   This chart works well when you need a quick reminder.
  • A love letter or two tied with a silk ribbon.  A beautiful tradition that should be carried on.

We set up your first little sewing basket in a lunch tin when you were only five.  You've grown, and we added to it over the years.  If you're missing something, or looking to make a box for a friend, see if your local fabric store has a subscription program for sale flyers.  I was able to buy virtually everything for both of us with half off coupons from Jo-Ann fabric flyers.  The pretty and whimsical notions are typically available at Christmas and Mother's Day.
If you are like I was at your age, I had a humongous, overloaded sewing basket and had to streamline so that I only had what I needed for plain sewing tasks.  I learned that I didn't need 50 spools of thread, pinking shears, and the buttonhole attachment for my machine in my workbox.  Having a cabinet or tote that functions as a "sewing pantry" will keep your workbasket tidy and allow you to stock up when you see a bargain at a yard sale or store.
One last little thing.  Try to mend or repair as the problems arise.  It usually only takes a minute or two and saves having a basket of unwearable garments waiting for your attention.

Love you SEW much,

1 comment:

  1. I'm so excited to read this! One thing on my to-do list this month has been "create a sewing box for children"...and alas, I have wandered away from the list b/c I wasn't sure how to proceed. Thanks for getting me back on track!