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Tools & Supplies

Common Household Objects with Unexpected Sewing Uses

Try these eight common objects as unorthodox sewing tools.

Before you run out to buy that sewing notion you thought you couldn’t live without, take a look at these household items that can stand in as sewing tools.

You’ll find them in your kitchen, bathroom, or basement when you need them, but they won’t take up precious storage space in your sewing basket or closet. Here are eight of my favorite unorthodox utensils and objects and how I use them. Some can be substituted for gadgets you don’t possess. A few are so inexpensive that they trump traditional notions sold in fabric stores. Others fill a need where no sewing tool exists, but all can play a role in creating successful sewing projects.

1. Forceps

Forceps aren’t just for doctors, though they are available in many sizes and types suited to specific medical purposes. I’ve found hemostatic forceps, with curved and serrated tips and a locking, scissor-like handle, are an ideal turning tool. They were designed to grip and close blood vessels, but it’s easy to grab fabric with them and pull it through a small opening. Forceps are helpful in turning a large, bulky item, such as a coat, and they’re indispensable for turning a small item such as a stuffed animal. Though you might imagine otherwise, they are not expensive and gold-plated forceps can be purchased on Amazon.com.

 

forceps

2. Painter’s tape

Used to protect trim during painting, low-tack painter’s masking tape provides a temporary hold without residue. Always test it first, but in most cases, you can use it directly on fabric to guide stitches. It also works on a sewing machine bed to make a temporary seam-width or topstitching guide. I’ve used it to tape slippery fabrics to the table while cutting, too.

painter's tape

3. Wooden spoon

Stop stirring and try this utensil as a pressing tool. You can use it as a tiny wooden seam roll: Slide the handle beneath a seam to press it open precisely and without affecting the fabric around it. The bowl of the spoon can also be used like a clapper, to “set” a steam-pressed area.

wooden spoon

4. Tweezers

Small threads are difficult to grasp with your fingertips, but tweezers make it easy. Use them to clean up thread bits on your sewing projects. Tweezers also aid in sewing machine maintenance. Most sergers come equipped with a pair to help with threading, but tweezers are useful on any sewing machine to grab threads that tangle near the bobbin case or under the feed dogs.

tweezers

5. Silicone mats

Undeniably handy in the kitchen, silicone items don’t transfer heat. That heat-resistant property, along with flexibility and firmness, make them versatile as pressing tools. Silicone mats can be used under a garment while pressing, rolled up to make a seam roll, or folded over your fingers to guard them from steam. Cut up mats to make templates for pressing hem depths, curves, or invisible zippers.

silicone mats

6. Interdental brushes

I’ve found that GUM brand minibrushes called Go-Betweens are a great little tool for removing fibers and dust from inside sewing machines or sergers. You’ll be amazed by the lint they find. Find them where toothpaste is sold.

interdental brushes

7. Razor blade, X-Acto knife, or scalpel

A single-edge razor blade is ideal for buttonhole cutting. X-Acto knives cut templates or separate paper patterns. Scalpels are a favorite seam ripper for many, with blades and handles sold on Amazon.com. Always use and store these sharp tools carefully.

 

razor blade

8. Chopsticks


chopsticks
Chopsticks aren’t just for dining. These utensils can help you turn fabric tubes right side out. They slide through as easily as a pencil, and you don’t have to worry about breaking the point or leaving marks on the fabric. Choose a smooth, finished pair with tapered points. If the narrow end is too blunt, simply sharpen it in an ordinary pencil sharpener. Check to ensure that the chopstick fits through the tube with room to spare for turning fabric.

Excerpted from “Unconventional Sewing Tools,” by Patricia Keay, Threads #152 (Dec. 2010/Jan. 2011). Photos by Sloan Howard.

 

Have you used any of the items listed above as sewing tools? What other ordinary household objects have come in handy? Please share your thoughts in the comments section.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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  1. Morthan | | #1

    Other uses for masking tape / decorators' tape-
    To indicate the wrong side of fabric when pattern pieces have been cut
    To write on to indicate top, bottom, L, R etc. on pattern pieces.

    Safety pin - The loop makes a fabulouse auxilliary thread guide, especially for when using a cone of thread that cannot fit on the machine. Place the safety pin over the spool pin (secure it with a spool cap if necessary)and pass the thread through the loop end of the safety pin before threading as usual.

    A block of post-it notes makes a great cloth guide, just peel off the bottom cover and stick the pad to the bed of the machine.

    Pressing Roll - rolling pin, left over piece of wooden banister/hand rail, rolled up towel

    Thin wipe down vynil placemats are great for making templates and formers and patterns, eg. collar stand former, pocket former and templates, bag/purse pattern pieces etc. Draw the shape with a fine CD marker pen or similar and cut it out with kitchen scissors. Punch a hole in the pieces and keep any pattern pieces together with a hair elastic looped through the holes.

  2. user-4903474 | | #2

    Pattern weights- I have an assortment of chunky glass candleholders about 3inches across and 2inches high from charity shops. The central holes also hold a tiny pin cushion, a tiny fridge magnet, and any pins I am removing from the fabric. Also from the kitchen- small tins of tuna from the pantry, chunky small drinking glasses and clear glass casserole lids with knob handles. Small seed-filled toy animals are lighter weights to carry to sewing days and are cheery ornaments between times.

  3. user-4165505 | | #3

    Cleaning tools - also use cleaned mascara brushes. Much better than the brushes provided by the manufacturer.

  4. User avater
    TextyleMaven | | #4

    I use traditional pipe cleaners to get lint out of the machine - the real ones, not the craft store ones. You can bend them to reach around corners. And I throw them out when they get dirty !! No sense cleaning a machine with a dirty tool :-)

  5. Deborah77 | | #5

    I use a motor vehicle repairer's stainless steel magnetized parts dish for pins. Its nice and big and will hold lots of pins.

  6. Mamato8 | | #6

    I use chopsticks and crochet hooks for turning! I use shelf liner that is like a rug liner to keep my sewing machine from scooting around on the table when I'm doing straight seams. I'm not opposed to using whatever is around me to help me with my sewing!

  7. mavthedog | | #7

    You forgot throw away suture scissors and eyeglass repair kits. can't live without them

  8. user-1149541 | | #8

    I am an oral surgeon and love sewing. I have to confess that although these are not household objects, a few of my old tools find their way to my sewing area. These include the interdental brushes (already photo'd in your article), very fine forceps and tweezers for plastic surgery type work, dental tweezers. Dental floss also makes a very good emergency thread and is very strong!

  9. MiriamMichelle | | #9

    Dental floss! It's the only way I will gather a velvet skirt to make the voluminous "Navajo" style skirts. Zig zag over the dental floss. It is also easier if you work in 1/4 of each skirt tier at a time. So the gathering in each tier will have 4 stops and starts. The floss holds up to the weight of the velvet and is easier to gather than bobbin thread.

  10. user-222836 | | #10

    I use compressed air in a Can, when I clean my sewingmachine. I dont need anything else- the machine is absolutly clean!

  11. mycreation | | #11

    Interesting uses, I have only used chop sticks for stuffing a project with batting into the corners, or turning material.

  12. user-6779137 | | #12

    I use small bamboo skewers (found with picnic supplies in the grocery store) both as turners and as pokers to gather small pleats under the presser foot or iron. Anything that keeps me from stabbing or burning my fingers is helpful!

  13. ChrisHaynes | | #13

    Things I have bought at the hardware store for sewing:

    long metal rulers that are good when dealing large pieces of heavy fabric, for both measuring and holding them down

    the telescoping wand with a magnet at the end for picking things that fall to the floor

    and something that Threads published years ago in the hints section: a small vice for putting on grommets, eyelets and snaps, much better than a hammer

  14. user-6903147 | | #14

    I already use the chop sticks, painters tape, hemostats, dental brushes(originally stolen from the kids when they had braces) tweezers, rug stoppers for my machines and foot pedals, I also use several magnates for keeping seam rippers and nippers handy. I have a magnate that telescopes to pick up pins and other things off of the floor. I bought it in a auto supply house. Friction pens are a must for temporary marking. Empty window cleaner bottle with distilled water for pressing. I love the idea of a safety pin to help with cones. The post it notes work fantastically on the covestitch machine.

  15. SharonSCH | | #15

    For at least 40 years, I have used the smaller size Xacto knife as a seam ripper. The point slips easily under a stitch and a twist of my hand cuts it. It can also be used by pulling the two fabric pieces apart, like we used to use razor blades, but it's easier to hold. Of course, it's sharp, and you have to be careful with it, but any seam ripper tool is the same. I've never found a conventional seam ripper that really worked; the points are too big and they're not sharp enough.

    I live by beaches where there are many rocks smoothed by water, and I've found fist-sized ones are wonderful pattern weights, or I use them to make sure the fabric doesn't fall off the cutting table. The side benefit is that you get to walk the beaches to find them.

  16. PattyPP44 | | #16

    Thanks for the great tips! I was surprised to see some I didn't alerady use. I also use painter's tape to temporarily hold plastic sheeting over a PICC line in my arm for intravenous antibiotics while I wash. It sticks well when stuck to itself, like run all the way around my arm, and does not stretch. Comes off without leaving residue.

  17. user-6819683 | | #17

    Well, that just about covers it ... except, remember good old cotton swabs in addition to the interdental brushes for cleaning out debris and fuzz balls under and around the bobbin case. They are more disposable if they get oily. In addition, there is an even gentler version of the blue painters tape if that one is too sticky, but I like to use the first aid paper tape or plain clear tape for securing buttons to the fabric under the feed dog while stitching them by machine, and lots of other things.

  18. user-6819683 | | #18

    Almost forgot, empty mechanical pencil lead cases and the empty cases the dental brushes come in are great for disposal of broken and dull needles and pins.

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