New Complete Guide to Sewing

When a struggling new fashion-designer needs to hone their sewing skills, Project Runway guru Tim Gunn steers them to this Reader’s Digest Guide to Sewing. It’s got the best, clearest, and most complete introduction to 95% of the sewing skills you’ll ever need. It’s practical and methodical in its instructions. Not as good as grandma, but anyone will be able to pick up stitches, cutting and machine use from it.

-- KK  

The New Complete Guide to Sewing
Reader’s Digest
2010, 384 pages

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

Hemming stitches, blind
These stitches are taken inside, between the hem and garment. In the finished hem, no stitches are visible. The edge of the hem does not press into the garment.

Blind-hemming stitch is a quick and easy stitch that can be used on any blind hem.


Blind-hemming stitch: Work from right to left with needle pointing left. Fold back the hem edge; fasten thread inside it. Take a very small stitch approximately 1/4 in. (6 mm) to the left in the garment; take the next stitch 1/4 in. (6mm) to the left in the hem. Continue to alternate stitches from garment to hem, spacing them approximately 1/4 in. (6mm) apart. Take care to keep stitches small, especially those taken on garment.



Spiral Eye Needles


These ingenious sewing needles can be threaded blindfolded. You pull the thread into a spiral from the side, and for the most part the thread will remain in the eye as you sew. That is not true for calyx eye needles (invented a hundred years ago) as a solution to the vexing problem of threading the eye. It’s as easy for the thread to slip out of the open slot at the end of the calyx needle as it is to slip in, and this wavering can fray the thread. The spiral eye needle doesn’t snag, but in my experience it will occasionally let the thread slip out. Expert sewers might find that annoying. It is dead simple to slip back on, and the thread is not frayed, so I can put up with that small inconvenience.

Spiral Eye needles are expensive: $5 each. However they should last a lifetime if you don’t lose track of them (they look very similar to regular sewing needles). What I really want is a side-threading sewing-machine needle. Schmetz makes some in limited sizes, but of a less ingenious design.

-- KK  

Sprial Eye Needle
3 for $25

Available from Spiral Eye Needles

Sewing and Quilting Sources


The best resource for sewing and quilting needs is It’s been around for ages and offers a complete selection of templates, needles, scissors, rotary cutters, patterns, fabrics and on and on. They have the largest array of seam rippers I’ve seen anywhere: lobster-clawed, flat-handled, round-handled, two-sided with an awl, lighted, retractable. They sell many unusual and specialized”feet” for sewing machines with adapters to ensure fit on your particular model.


The best online source for quilting fabric is It’s a very personal, small company out of Boulder, Colorado with the largest online selection of fabrics in all genres: batiks, Asian, novelty prints, solids, tonals, etc. They have great prices and sales, rapid shipping, and excellent customer service. I usually try to patronize my local small quilting shop, but this is my go-to source for things I can’t find locally.


The best resource for quilting kits is Keepsake Why kits? It’s easy to overbuy fabric for quilting projects and the fabric is expensive. Also, Keepsake puts together breathtaking combinations of colors and designs. My most recent purchase was #2990 which I had been lusting over for some time and it would have easily cost more buying the fabrics individually. If you want to use your own quilt pattern, try their medleys of fabrics like Nara Gardens #1646 or the Aquatica Medley #7582 or the Intergalactic Medley #7564.

-- Madame Tut  

Sewing and Quilting Source

Quilting Fabric Source

Quilting Kit Source
Keepsake Quilting



I am an architect and have been working with programs like Photoshop for years, but Spoonflower really opened up a new world for me: fabric design. It’s a service that let’s you upload an image to a web site and the company prints the design as a pattern on 100% cotton fabric. Their customer service is great, and I think the fabric is reasonably-priced: it costs $18/yard, not counting shipping, and an individual 8×8-inch swatch is $5. The site is still in beta, so I had to request an invite to use Spoonflower, but a week after contacting them I was experimenting with patterns and ordering fabric.

So far, I’ve placed three orders with three different designs (3×3 yards worth) at $ 66 per order, shipping included. The trickiest part was preparing the image file so the pattern matches up. I used the “define pattern” command in Photoshop to test my image files before I uploaded them. I defined the image size (150 dpi), set colors to LAB color space and saved the files in TIF format. After I uploaded them to the Spoonflower site, they were automatically tiled to fill the desired fabric size. Then I specified the shipping address, paid using my credit card and that’s it! The turnaround was reasonably quick: my fabric arrived in a month (I live in Switzerland). I made a skirt with the fabric from my first order — a present for my Mom (pic below).

A couple caveats: I have noticed some distortion after washing the fabric and there was a little color shifting from my original designs. Still, the color shifting and fabric distortion really are minor. Overall, I’m happy with the color accuracy and I’ve been very satisfied with my orders. I have been having a lot of fun with Spoonflower and will likely place my fourth order very soon. I am even considering setting up an Etsy shop to sell some of my fabrics.

Related items previously reviewed on Cool Tools:


World Textiles


Books on Demand


Brother Sewing Machine

-- Isabella Kuntz  

[Check out this blogger's side-by-side close-ups of fabric printed from her artwork. One of her conclusions: "strong graphic lines turn out better than images with subtle shading." -- SL]

Spoonflower on flickr

Sample Excerpts:





Brother Sewing Machine

I own, use and occasionally drag around my LS-2125i sewing machine. Like the previous version of this machine reviewed and recommended in Cool Tools, it’s light, small, cheap and reliable. I use it for occasional household work and mostly to make repairs to uniforms and sew on patches. It can do ten stitches and that’s more than enough for me. Especially handy is the buttonholer. This little box, in combination with a beginner’s sewing book, can help you do everything that you can imagine short of embroidery. It has held up most admirably considering how much I use it. I’m an old Red Cross disaster guy currently flying with the Civil Air Patrol. For some missions, CAP is the USAF Auxiliary and as a result, we have two uniform types: AF and corporate. If you’re active and train moderately, you can be promoted and you also get all these dratted qualification badges. Tailors or cleaners charge around ten bucks a patch, and a uniform can have LOTS. My BDUs: ten patches each. My flight suits: only five. But it gets nuts. The unit has paid for itself by simply allowing me to avoid patch sew-on charges. All else is gravy.

-- Angus mac Lir  

[These super cheap machines will work for a while on light duty jobs. I repair machines professionally, and find that these lightweight machines do not hold their timing well. Another option would be to get an old cast-iron New Home, Morris, or Singer Touch-A-Matic at a garage sale or on Craigslist. Any sewing machine repair shop can tune it up to work like new, and parts are common. The old cast iron machines will sew much heavier fabrics (and leather) and will not flex or go out of time. --OH]

Brother LS-2125i

Available from Amazon

Kevlar Thread

I tend to be rough on buttons (or maybe I’m just gaining weight). I started using Kevlar thread to sew fire toys and found it is very strong. I now use Kevlar thread for all my sewing. On buttons, I don’t need to use as much thread to secure them and the thread is tougher than the fabric I sew into. By weight, Kevlar is five times stronger than steel wire and is used in bulletproof vests. Do NOT try to break it by hand — you’ll just hurt yourself. The very thin thread works well with beads — it’s very abrasion resistant — and there are thicker varieties that I use for sewing leather.

-- Sean Rutledge  

Kevlar Thread
(brown, orange, yellow, olive, black)

Available from Amazon

Also $24+ for larger thread diameter/quantities available from McMaster-Carr

This tool has been UNRECOMMENDED and is now in the DEAD TOOLS category. See the FAQ for more info.

Brother Sewing Machine

In my search for a dependable household sewing machine I considered used classic models, and new fancy computer-guided gadgets, but in the end bought this no-frills boring machine from Brother. It’s a great buy. This model is very compact (almost tiny), lightweight, and reliable. It doesn’t take up much room so we can leave it out, always “on.” It performs basic sewing chores plus other fancy stitches we’ve never used. Its handy removable lower “free arm” makes hemming cuffs a breeze. Best of all, at $70 new from discounters, it was cheaper than well-used heavy-duty models for sale on eBay. (I avoid garage sale machines because of a string of lemons we had that always needed tweaking, and because they are usually bulky.) This one just goes and goes, and weighs only 15 pounds. If there is a thriftier bargain for basic sewing machine, I’d like to know about it.

-- KK  

[For a cheaper, newer model, see the more recently-reviewed LS-2125i.]

Brother LS-2125
$108 (previously $70)
Manufactured by Brother

Available from Amazon

Sewing Awl

One of the world’s oldest tools, but one that is often overlooked. This is a heavy-duty needle with its eye at the working end, mounted in a handle. For mending leather, shoes, bags, sewing canvas, or stitching heavy materials, there’s no better tool. I don’t use mine often, but it has a place in the essential toolbox. Your local Ace Hardware sells a kit with tool, extra needles, and waxed thread.

-- KK  

The Speedy Stitcher Sewing Awl Kit
Stewart Mfg. Co.
PO Box 643
Northboro, MA 01532

Available from Amazon

Or $23 from Defender

Sewing Gauge

I wouldn’t want to run a home without this small sewing and knitting gauge (approx. 6 inches long, metal with a movable plastic marking guide) Helpful for all household projects which require consistent simple measuring and marking. Used for craft projects, or just to help children learn how to measure equal distances when they want to do some kind of art project requiring parallel lines. The small size makes the gauge convenient to cart along for measuring/adjusting/adding lines of sequins, or decorations to costumes. Most families need to hem things (blue jeans, curtains, skirts, costumes) and the gauge is PERFECT for this use. This is as basic a tool in my home as scissors or a ruler. Can be purchased in any sewing store or the sewing department of a discount store.

-- Jane Seitz  

Sew and Knit Gauge
Item #DT01716H
Nasco Online Products

Community Quilts

Modern quilting bees. How (splendid detail in color here) and why (because you make more community than quilt).

-- KK  


Community Quilts
How to Organize, Design & Make a Group Quilt
Karol Kavaya and Vicki Skemp
2001, 136 pages
Lark Books
Asheville, NC

Available from Amazon


Sample Excerpts:

One advantage of group quiltmaking is that one person doesn’t carry the entire load. The desire to create and the willingness to work with others are all that is needed.


Some of these quilts took hundreds of hours to complete, many of those hours spent in the convivial company of old and new friends. The subjects that we covered in conversation while quilting allowed us to get to know each other, and sometimes ourselves, better.

Every year we have a party in the spring. We gather the quilts together and hang them up for all to see. It is our time to remember, to reminisce, and to celebrate where we come from and who we are. These quilts are a record of our lives as a community.


In general, we think it is a good rule to allow participants no less than two weeks for completing and returning an easy pieced block, and not more than six weeks for a difficult block involving fine embroidery. When you give participants more time than that, blocks seem to get forgotten, lost, or eaten by the dog.


We often hang the quilt rather than gift wrap it. This provides for a
wonderful shock effect. Furthermore, people are able to enjoy and admire the quilt all through the party.