I have and always will be a person who lives by the credo–use what you have. With that in mind, I wanted to share this list of cheap sewing tools you may already have hanging around your house.
The truth is that sometimes the fanciest gadgets and specialty notions don’t necessarily mean better sewing. The good thing is that there are a lot of common household items that can be used as a regular part of your sewing that’ll give you great results.
These cheap sewing tools will help you with everything from sewing room cleanup, pressing, measuring, construction, and more. And while none were originally intended for sewing, I hope you find some real heroes here!
On with the unconventional!
Velcro rollers for stray threads
There was a time after my boys were born where I lost my curls. It was a combo of hormones and bad haircuts. As a result, I have a cache of velcro rollers that I don’t need anymore (thanks Devacuts!).
Thankfully velcro rollers are pretty darn handy for picking up thread trash on your sewing table or floor.
Just roll one over your thread trash. You can mount one on a small brush roller handle to make it even better.
Glue sticks: the multipurpose no pinner winner
Glue sticks I’m convinced are one of the most underrated sewing notions. Use them any place you need to secure fabric down but you don’t want to use pins.
They’re washable, don’t damage fabric, and they’re non-toxic. Even better: I’ve never had a problem of them gumming up my sewing machine needles.
Do be picky about what kind of glue stick you use. Some glue sticks don’t have a lot of sticking power. I find the jumbo purple glue sticks by Elmer’s do a good job of sticking to most fabrics long enough to stitch things in place. Be generous when you apply it!
You don’t even have to wait for things to dry. When the fabric feels securely held down, you’re good to go.
4 awesome uses for glue sticks in the sewing room:
- Applique: dab glue on the wrong side of your applique. Next press it down in place and stitch away.
- Collars: add glue stick to the inside pressed edge of a collar stand. Press it over your collar seam and topstitch the collar in place.
- Waistbands: Use the glue stick here just like for a collar.
- Leather: hold layers together before you seam them together.
Use binder clips for tricky fabrics
You know those little Wonder clips that quilter’s love? They’re awesome.
But if you don’t have them, small binder clips work just as well!
You can use binder clips any time you have two thick edges you need to hold together. Simply clip on a binder clip on the edges and remove them as you sew.
They’re a lifesaver for working with bags, faux fur, and leather especially.
Simple tips for sewing with leather
Leather is a tricky beast, but sewing with it doesn’t have to be stressful
How to make a detachable fur collar
Add a seasonal collar to your favorite jacket with this easy DIY.
Dental floss for gathering
Dental floss is one of my favorite tools for gathering fabric.
The wax on the floss strengthens the floss, so that when you go to gather it, it won’t break. You can’t always say that about pulling gathering threads!
Learn more about how to gather fabric with dental floss and 4 other ways below.
5 Fail Proof ways to gather fabric
From elastic to dental floss, here’s 5 simple ways to gather fabric without a hassle
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Straws for turning tubes
Turning tubes can be a bit of a pain, but if you have some straws laying around, you’re in good shape.
These boba straws are great for turning small tubes. Just put the straw inside the sewn tube. Next, use a small dowel or thin metal stick to poke the fabric through the tube. It’s quite literally magic!
The only thing I’ve noticed about using plastic straws for turning tubes is that they tend to last for just a couple uses. After that the edges of the straws tend to get crushed and they don’t work as well.
Then I found these reusable metal boba straws. This set comes with two sizes of diameter straws! I think these might work just as well as my favorite turning tool of all time–the Turn-it-All tubes.
Here’s a better look at how to use straws to turn tubes:
Toothpicks for buttony things
Toothpicks are handy little things when it comes to buttons.
Use them to hold in place if you want to paint your own buttons.
Or you can place a toothpick over the top of large buttons when you’re sewing them. That little space they add gives a little bit of give in the thread so that the button sits pretty when you wear it.
Wooden spoons for pressing tight spots
Old broken wooden spoons or spatulas are a weird one, but they’re awesome for pressing. If you’ve got a small tight space like a shoulder seam you need to press open, reach for one of these.
The wood will hold the steam nicely and you’ll be able to press your seam easily. I can’t imagine sewing kids clothing without one.
File folders for hemming
File folders are one of my favorite pressing tools. The heck you say?!
Cut them into strips, and you’ve got a dead cheap hemming tool. The cardboard absorbs steam well and they’re easy to work with for just about any fabric type. And because they’re flexible, they’re easy to work with. To use them, fold up your fabric around the strip so that the edge is even with the top long edge of the strip. Press in place with steam, and you’ll be rewarded with a pretty hem that’s ready to sew.
To do this, first grab a ruler. Measure out how wide you want your strip to be, then mark it with a pencil. Use paper scissors or an *OLD* rotary blade to cut the strip. Write somewhere on your strip in pen/sharpie how wide it is so you don’t get confused later.
Use the file folder strips for hemming as long as they’re keeping their shape.
Forks for pleats
Who knew, but forks make nice beautiful even pleats. You can use them to make pleated trim or make a whole pleated skirt with pleats using them!
Bonus: you’ll have a great conversation when someone eyes that fork hanging up with your scissors!
Coffee cups + oversized thread spools
I love ordering thread in bulk when I can. It ends up being less money than the best sale prices, but it does mean that you end up having larger spools that don’t necessarily fit on your machine.
Yes there’s universal thread stands that’ll hold your honking thread spool, but why bother? A coffee cup works just as well!
Simply pop your thread into the cup and place it at the back of your machine. Thread your machine normally from there. Plus when you’re done you can use your cup for caffeine. That extra space hogging thread stand can’t do that!
When in doubt, use tape
Of all the cheap sewing tools, tape might be one of the best. Removable painter’s tape and washi tape in particular are endlessly useful.
Both washi tape and painter’s tape are great for marking seam allowances on the bed of your sewing machine. Just line up the edge of the tape evenly from the foot, and you have a nice straight line to follow that’s easy to see.
Use painter’s tape to:
- Pick up stray sequins (tape is one of my biggest weapons in the war to sew sequins without going bananas!)
- Hold embroidery designs in place (see how I do this in How to Embroider a T-shirt)
Use washi tape to:
- Mask off areas to paint on custom handpainted buttons.
- Mark the right side of the fabric (super helpful for fabric that’s nearly identical on both sides like the silk taffeta below).
- Create a tape resist for dyeing with bleach.
- Use with graph paper to make button loops.
Graph paper for even stitching
Graph paper is another tool you wouldn’t necessarily think could be useful in the sewing room.
You can use it any time you need to evenly space things for stitching.
It’s also a handy thing for keeping your hand stitches even. Simply cut off a piece and tape it near where you’re stitching. Put a stitch every square for nice beautifully spaced stitches.
Chopsticks for turning
Ah, chopsticks. They’re so perfect for so many things in the sewing room!
Use them any time you need to poke out a corner or turn a tube. Shoot, you can use them along with your straws for just that purpose.
You can also use them as an alternative to something like That Purple Thang. It’ll help you feed your fabric through your machine evenly without getting too close to the needle. That’s really helpful if you’re doing a lot of free motion quilting or dealing with a fabric that needs a little more control with a light touch.
And if you have a teeny tiny seam to press (think doll clothes), why not press right over that chopstick?
Half-round moulding for pressing long seams
These last two cheap sewing tools you probably *don’t* have at home unless you’re me, but I’ll make a case for them right now!
I once went to a sewing expo and paid way way too much for a piece of essentially half-round moulding I could have bought at a hardware store.
Don’t be like me! Pick up a length of half-round wood moulding for a couple bucks and cut it down to about 1 foot long. Home Depot sells 8′ sections for just over $2, enough to make a dozen of this handy tool! Sand the edges and you’re good to go.
The curved surface is amazing for pressing long seams like you’d find in pants. The wood holds the iron’s steam and you won’t get press marks on the right side.
Soil separator cloth for tracing patterns
This might be my favorite of all these cheap sewing tools!
Soil separator cloth from the garden area of Home Depot is seriously the best thing for tracing patterns.
Why do I love soil separator cloth?:
- Sheer: it’s very easy to see the lines when you use it for tracing.
- Wide: At 36″ wide, there are very few pattern pieces that won’t fit on it.
- Price: It’s $15 for 50 yards ($0.30/yard) vs. 5x that price with less width for the ever popular Swedish tracing paper. One roll lasts a long time!
- Strength: this stuff is sturdy enough to actually sew through. If you want to use it to tissue fit a pattern, you can literally just baste it together.
So those are some of the best cheap sewing tools that are wonderful additions to your sewing life. What other household items do you find helpful when you sew?
More sewing tools goodness:
Must have sewing tools
These are the tools you might want in a deserted island scenario!
Tools for marking fabric
Comparing the best, and finding great options for all types of fabric
The best sewing measuring tools
Reviewing measuring tools for every sewing task.
Elizabeth Farr is the writer behind the Elizabeth Made This blog where she shares helpful sewing tips, step by step sewing tutorials and videos to help you explore your creativity through sewing. She has written sewing Eguides and patterns, been a featured teacher at Rebecca Page’s Sewing Summit and Jennifer Maker’s Holiday Maker Fest and her work has appeared in Seamwork and Altered Couture magazines. She also created a line of refashioned garments for SEWN Denver. When her sewing machine isn’t humming, she’s playing and teaching violin, and hanging around a good strategic board game with her husband and 4 kids.