Sewing Machine Accessories And How To Use Them
There are a ton of accessories you can buy for your sewing machine. In this article, we go over the basic items you should have as well as a lot of nice-to-have accessories that will make your sewing so much easier.
We will also help you figure out how to use each item to get the most out of your time in front of the sewing machine.
We will start by looking at the necessary (must-have) things you need in order to start sewing. You don’t really need a lot of items to get a good start but there are some items you would definitely want to have to avoid frustration. After that, we will look at things specifically for quilting and embroidery work.
Finally, we will look at some nice-to-have things.
Many bloggers will try to sell you a lot of things but these are the lists of things we think you should go for as a beginner.
Remember, we have a lot of different types of sewing machines that the accessories we need to help us do a good job are very alike. So we will distinguish between standard sewing machines, quilting machines, and embroidery machines in this article.
Basic must-have items and accessories
We will start by listing each item and then we will go on to explain what each item is used for and how to use it. Most of these items are smaller things that you can keep inside your accessory tray.
Most of these items will come with your machine. Here’s a complete list of the sewing machine accessories that come with your machine.
Here’s what you need:
- Seam Ripper
- Measuring Tape
- Ironing Board + Iron
- Spool Huggers
Now, let’s take a look at each item and go over everything you should know about each of them.
You need good scissors which you will only use for fabric and threads. It’s important to keep these away from the rest of the family in order to always have at least one good sharp scissor around your machine. If you use it for cutting paper and other materials it will dull the blades over time and it will not do well with the fabric.
It’s also a great option to have a small scissor for cutting the thread every time you need to rethread the machine or you stop sewing.
Electric cutters are really great as well and I always have one close by. But we wouldn’t consider this a must-have item so we will leave them for the next section.
The chalk is great for “painting” marks onto the fabric. The reason we want to use chalk is that we can easily remove it with another piece of fabric. Just grab another piece of fabric and brush it off gently.
If you haven’t got a piece of chalk you can also use other things like pencil crayons. Just make sure they are washable!
You can also use a soft pencil or special-made markers you get at a hobby store or at the sewing machine shop.
The next thing you should always have plenty off in your accessory tray is pins.
We need them all the time for sewing in order to keep everything in place. We also use pins for keeping the pattern on top of the fabric so we end up with a good result. There are different types of pins we use for sewing as we will go over here.
- Ball-point pins
The ball-point pins are for stretchy fabric like jersey. They are rounded at the point of the needle in order to make the tip slip in between the threads of the fabric – without penetrating each thread. Just as we would use a ball-point needle on the machine when we are working with stretchy fabric. Otherwise, we will penetrate and break the fine little threads inside our stretchy materials.
- Silk pins
These are extra thin needles which we will use for fine fabrics, such as silk and satin. The fibers in silk are very fine and do not bounce back as easily as other types of fabric. So we need to be extra careful and use the pins especially made for this task. You can get them with a rust-proof nickel coating or you can use thin standard metal pins. Either way is fine as long as they are thinner than ordinary needles.
- Quilting pins
When we are quilting we are typically working with several layers of fabric. This also means we might need longer needles that are more durable and strong. If you use the normal pins with quilting you might lose a pin inside the project which can cause problems later. Make sure to choose pins with strong color on the head in order to keep track of them.
We don’t want to spend extra time locating the pins when we need to remove them again.
A great tip for pins is to use different colors for each type of pins.
This way you can quickly locate the right type of pin whenever you need them. And always make sure to use strong colored pins, so you can easily find them.
When you are sewing at night and with dimmed lights, it can otherwise be hard to locate the tiny pins. It can be dangerous to lose a pin inside your project!
4) Seam Ripper
The seam ripper is another important part of the sewing machine accessory box.
We need it every time we want to remove a seam or stitch. It’s not easy to remove a seam with a scissor, we need something pointy and tiny to get into those little thread loops.
This is especially important if you’re working with the embroidery stitches.
These are more creative stitches which involve lots of little loops and they can be very hard to remove without a decent seam ripper. Make sure to get a good one so it will stay sharp for many years.
5) Measuring Tape
The measuring tape is also a must-have. Make sure to get one which will have metric measurement markings (cm and millimeters) as well as imperial markings (inches).
You should find a measuring tape with centimeters on one side and inches on the back. This makes it so much easier to work with different types of patterns from all over the world.
You will find a ton of sewing patterns and guides online and half of them will probably be with inches and the other half will be marked with centimeters. After all, half the world is using centimeters.
These two measuring systems can be confusing and you want to make sure you know exactly which one you are working with each time.
Try always to convert all numbers into either inches or centimeters. This way you won’t get the numbers confused in the process.
Remember that one inch equals 2,54 centimeters.
6) Iron + Ironing Board
You want an iron and ironing board close by. They should be a part of your standard sewing workplace setup. Here are a few tips on choosing a good iron for sewing.
You want an iron with good heat settings.
In order to work with thin types of fabric (like silk), we need to be able to set the iron at low temperatures. A good iron will go as low as 275 Fahrenheit (135 Celsius) and up to at least 445 Fahrenheit (230 Celsius). For silk, we need no more than 390 Fahrenheit (145 Celsius). For the best result (with silk), you should avoid moving the iron too much. Instead, you just press it down firmly and move it from one spot to the next.
You also want an ironing board with decent size and height. You can also choose to use a table for ironing out your fabric, but it’s a great option to have a good ironing board around your sewing area. It frees up your table for cutting and measuring.
7) Spoon Huggers
The spool huggers are little rubbery plastic/silicone parts you can mount on a thread spool to keep track of the thread.
They look like this:
They will prevent the spools from unwinding and keep the thread tails under control at all times. They are cheap and adorable and you can use them for a lifetime.
They will work with almost any type of spool, except jumbo spools.
It’s a good idea to find them in different colors so you can group them and quickly find the right type of thread.
Thimbles are mostly used when your sewing for by hand but they can also be helpful to have around your machine.
Once in a while, you will want to do a stitch by hand. Whenever you’re working with heavy fabric, such as denim and leather, you also might want to use a thimble. It can be tricky to insert needles in multiple layers of denim and canvas.
Otherwise, you might pin your finger as you pierce several layers of heavy/thick fabric together.
Special accessories for embroidery and quilting
These are additional items you would like to have around if you’re working specifically with embroidery or quitting. If you want to read about these types of sewing we have written a separate article here about the difference between the different types of sewing machines.
- Special Quilting Feet
- Spool Stands
- Lamp with Magnifying Glass
- Sewing Clips
- Extension Arms
- Electric Cutters
1) Special quilting feet
You can get special quilting feet for most newer machines.
These are designed to apply the correct amount of pressure to the fabric and they will also just make everything easier than your standard foot. For free-motion quilting, you will sometimes prefer a plastic foot.
You can also get special quilting guides to attach to the foot. They will help you sew at an even distance each time.
2) Spool stand/thread rack
When we are working with embroidery and quilting we often have a lot of different threads to choose from.
If you like to sew with many colors and types of threads this is a great option. In order to keep everything tidy around the sewing area, it’s a good option to have a Spool Thread Stand (also called thread rack):
It lets you mount up to 50 spools and have them ready for your machine in no time.
If you like to do creative stuff with your sewing machine you will need this anyway but especially when working with embroidery.
3) Lamp with magnifying glass
We have written a separate article entirely dedicated to choosing the right sewing machine lamp with magnifiers.
It’s extra helpful when working with embroidery stitches and if you don’t have an automatic threading system on your machine you will also need the magnifying glass for threading your machine.
4) Sewing Clips
When we are doing quilting and embroidery work we move the fabric around a lot all the time.
In order for everything to stay in place, it’s important to have a lot of sewing clips nearby. When we work with multiple layers of fabric it’s not always optimal to pin the pieces together.
Instead, we will use the clips to bind everything together neatly.
The sewing clips are also great for keeping the pattern on top of the fabric while we cut it to the right size.
5) Extension Arms
Many newer machines will let you exchange the standard accessory tray for a larger extension arm.
This is great whenever you are working with embroidery and quilting because we don’t want the fabric to fall over the edge to the left. Whenever that happens, we might find that the machine will start to pull left.
Especially when working with larger pieces of fabric.
It’s a lot easier to do embroidery and monogramming work on a large piece of fabric if you have a large extension arm on your machine.
6) Electric Cutters
You have a lot of cutting to do when you’re working with quilting. So electric cutters are great because they will help you relax your arm.
I think I’ve used up more than 10 these over the years and they are really great when working with longs pieces of fabric. I use them all the time instead of scissors but I will definitely want them around when I work with the quilting and embroidery.
It’s a good idea to have a couple of different electric cutters so you won’t be using the same blades for leather and thin materials. It’s almost impossible to sharpen the blades so you need to change them whenever they are done. Normally you will be able to get new blades for your cutter if you’re using a good brand.
The best thing about these small cutters is that they are battery driven. So you don’t need any cords and they are easy to get around with.
Nice-to-have things for your sewing area
Now that we have covered all the basic items you always want with your machine and it’s time to look at some things that will make sewing easier for you.
Even though these items are not mandatory or must-have items they will be great additions to your accessory tray and work area.
They can also be great things for your Christmas wish list if you haven’t gotten them already.
- Self-healing Sewing Matt
- Special Scissors
- Cabinets and shelving units.
- Table with Adjustable Height
- Large Mirror
- Sewing Box
Let’s go over each item in detail.
1) Self-healing sewing mats
It’s really great to have a non-slip and self-healing sewing mat. It will protect your table from cuts and it will last for many many years.
It’s especially great if you’re working with quilting because you will have a lot of little cuts to do all the time. You should really get one as big as possible (depending on your space) and with multiple measure markings on top.
It makes it a lot faster to measure right every time without having to reach for your measuring tape:
You can find these ones here at Amazon.
If you have the space for it, and if you can afford it, you can get a huge self-healing mat to place on top of your table. This way you can cut everywhere and it will save you time. Place it beside your machine so you have a good large working area.
2) Special scissors
It’s really great to have special scissors for different tasks.
There are many different types of scissors and here we go over which ones we like to use around the sewing machine.
- Dressmaker shears
This is your standard scissor for sewing. So if you’re only going to use one type of scissors, this is the one you should get. This is not a place to try and save a few bucks. You really need to have a good high-quality scissor, otherwise, you will get frustrated with it.
- Small scissors
It’s important as well to have a small scissor to be able to trim the threads easily and cut sharp edges.
- Paper scissors
These are not very different from your other scissors other than you will only be using them for the paper. You should never use the same scissors for fabric and (paper) sewing patterns. As soon as you use your scissors to cut paper, it won’t be as good with the fabrics.
- Shears with a spring mechanism
Scissors with a spring mechanism are great if you are getting sore hands from cutting the fabric.
It can happen to all of us after a long day of sewing.
This types of scissors will be open by default and they are easier to operate. It’s also a great option if you’re working with heavier fabrics or multiple layers of fabric (for quilting).
3) Cabinets and Shelving Units
You will need cabinets for storing all your fabric.
It’s really nice to have a dedicated shelving unit for everything you use for sewing. It’s easier to get started if you have it all in one place.
If you’re able to dedicate a special table or area for sewing you can hang shelving units on the wall. It will make it easier for you to find different things and get a good overview of all the types of threads and needles.
Even though you might not consider yourself to be the organized type, you should spend a few hours organizing everything so you know exactly where it is.
It’s no fun having to run all over the house every time you want to start sewing.
4) Tables with Adjustable Height
Depending on how many hours you sew per week, you should consider getting a table with adjustable height.
Many seamstresses struggle with back pain and shoulder pain and one way to avoid all that is to change your working position often. It’s recommended to stand up at least one minute per hour but the best way to go about this is to stand up for half of the time you spend sewing.
You can also accomplish this by having a separate cutting table which is higher. Here’s a good example of how you can arrange your work area:
By having a different table for cutting and ironing you force yourself to get up from the chair once in a while.
It’s a good idea to have the cutting and ironing table positioned at the height that enables you to stand up and work. Make sure to stretch your back and avoid bending over too much.
The adjustable table is not only great for sewing. If you know you have a weak back or if you have trouble with your lower back you should absolutely have a table with adjustable height. Use it whenever you do anything that requires a table for more than an hour at the time.
5) Large Mirror
Hang a large mirror on the wall see you can try on your projects and see how everything fits. This way you don’t have to walk between the bathroom and the sewing room all the time and you will be able to make more adjustments on the fly.
You will also be happy to have an adjustable mannequin doll in your sewing room.
These are great because you can adjust them to the correct body size, and you will be able to see how each detail and item looks on “somebody else”.
We personally use an adjustable mannequin with several dials to adjust everything from breast size to the waistline. Much like this one we found at Amazon (link below image).
They are actually quite cheap and you can get great mannequins here at Amazon.
You should stay away from the cheapest models and make sure they have enough dials to let you adjust it here;
- The bust,
- and the neck/back (The neck is adjusted with a dial on top of it. If you are making collars you will need that feature. Trust me.)
With a foam-backed model like the one above, you will be able to insert needles but you should never press them deep into the surface. That’s a great option and a must-have feature if you ask me.
Most dolls will let you adjust the bust from 33” to around 40” (76- 102 cm) and the hips from around 33” to 38” (76- 97 cm).
Make sure to check these dimensions as they can vary from model to model. Our model looks like to one above and it’s pretty easy to adjust. You can do it single-handedly which is great when you work alone.
7) Sewing Boxes
Items like scissors won’t fit inside your accessory tray so you should have a special sewing box (or bag) for your sewing accessories.
It’s a great project for a Saturday afternoon if you haven’t got one already.
You can use any type of box made from cardboard or plastic.
You can find these in hobby stores or you can get one made for tools. Just make sure it’s big enough to fit all your items. Lay out everything on the table before you decide on which size is right for your sewing box.
Now it’s time to divide it into rooms.
You can do so with cardboard walls or you can place smaller boxes inside your box. The great thing about making your own sewing box is that it can be made to fit your items exactly. This way you won’t have to compromise or have lots of unused space.
Finish off by painting it and making it your own. You can add a few buttons and lace on top to make it look really nice.
If you’re more into getting a ready-made box you can find great boxes over at Amazon. We found this neat box which will do the job for most seamstresses:
Check out the many designs here at Amazon.
I hope you have found a lot of inspiration above.
However, I don’t want you to feel like you need all of these items in order to be a good seamstress. As I mentioned above, most of the things on this page are nice-to-have items, which means you can easily do without them.
They are primarily things we ourselves enjoy having around our sewing area.
If you’re just getting into sewing you should start by getting the list of things we have collected in the first section which is marked “nice-to-have”. These are the things you probably cannot do without.
So try it out and see what works best for you.
As you get more experienced you will know what you need and you have time to go look for the items you need. It’s always great to have a few items on your wishlist so you have something to tell people when they ask you for a wish list for Christmas and birthdays.