Garment Creation: Supplies

Sewing Needle Assortment

by Catherine Haug, March 31, 2012

(photo, right, from

This is a supplemental article to my series on garment creation. See also:

Throughout my articles I make reference to various supplies needed for pattern drafting, fitting and sewing. The intent of this article is to gather them all in one place for your reference. I discuss:

  • Pins and needles
  • Scissors
  • Thread
  • Fabric for fitting
  • Rulers and curves
  • Drafting Paper
  • Designing and cutting surface
  • Manniquin or dress form


Below are recommended supplies for drafting patterns and fitting garments, including your sloper and blocks. See also Don McCunn video: Patternmaking Tools and Supplies.

Pins and needles:

  • Sewing needles: I use hand-sewing while fitting and for basting, and for this I recommend ‘betweens’ or ‘sharps’ needles in various sizes. For machine sewing, I use sharps or universals for woven fabrics, and ball point for knits. Whether hand or machine sewing, choose needles based on the size of the thread and the type/weight of fabric. offers handy charts: Sewing Machine Needle Charts and Hand Sewing Needle Guide
  • Sewing pins; I like extra fine for pinning into fabric, such as pinning on the pattern before cutting, or basting a seam with pins. You can get them with regular metal heads, or plastic bead heads.
  • Safety pins are useful when fitting, as the points won’t poke your skin.
  • Push pins: these are handy to secure pattern paper from a roll onto your surface (so it won’t curl). Also handy for pinning design sketches to your bulletin board.
  • Fabric weights – an alternative to pins, for securing your pattern to your fabric before cutting. I use these for slippery fabrics that can otherwise shift while inserting pins, leading to cutting errors.


I recommend at least 3 pair of scissors:

  • one for cutting paper
  • one for cutting fabric (never use these for cutting paper as it will dull them quickly)
  • smaller scissors for trimming threads

Other scissors that come in handy:

  • pinking shears for cutting a jagged, or pinked, edge that resists raveling


Thread comes in sizes (thickness & weight); the higher the number, the finer the thread. The most common sizes are:

  • 60 (fine)
  • 50 (medium)
  • 40 (medium)
  • 20 (heavy)

See Unraveling the Mystery of Thread Size.

In general, I use size 50 cotton thread, which is standard for dressmaking. You can also use polyester or cotton-wrapped poly thread, but polyester is less sustainable. Silk and rayon threads are also available; I use silk thread when sewing silk fabric. I’ve never used rayon thread, but it’s most common use is for machine embroidery.

I use button & carpet thread for attaching buttons, hooks & eyes, and snap closures. This is a heavier-weight thread coated with wax or other finish to prevent tangling and abrasion.

I sometimes use a thicker thread such as embroidery floss or pearl cotton for marking reference lines by hand (these threads are not meant for machine use). This makes these lines easier to see when I view myself in a mirror.

  • Embroidery floss is 6 strands twisted together; you can use as is, or separate them to use singly, or in groups of 2 to 5.
  • Pearl cotton is another type of embroidery floss, but is not meant to be separated into individual strands.

I recommend using a contrasting color thread when fitting – it’s easier to see if you need to rip it out and also for marking reference lines on the fabric.

Fabric for fitting

There are so many different fabrics, so I will address only those I use for fitting:

  • Cotton muslin comes in a bleached version and an unbleached version. I generally use unbleached for fitting. If you wash it first, it will shrink and get a dimpled texture that cannot be ironed smooth, so I don’t prewash it, as I prefer the smoother texture. I advise ironing with a steam iron prior to cutting, to remove wrinkles and folds.
  • Cotton gingham is a woven grid fabric in 1/8″, 1/4″, 1/2″ and 1″ grids. This is handy when fitting a sloper to ensure the fabric hangs perfectly plumb and level. However, I find the grid to be distracting, so I prefer to use muslin and mark it with my own reference lines. You can prewash this if you wish, then iron it smooth.
  • Cotton quilting fabric is a great choice for making a preliminary wearable garment prior to cutting out of more expensive fabric. Do prewash it in hot water, then iron out any wrinkles.

Rulers and Curves: 

French Curve


  • See-through 18″ ruler marked in 1/8″ grid (alternately you can use a similar metric ruler), for drawing straight lines and especially useful for adding seam allowances.
  • French curve: these come in plastic-see-through (see photo, right, from Amazon), or more sturdy metal. This tool is used to draw curves such as skirt sideseams from waist to hip; armhole and sleeve curves, and neckline curves.
  • T- or L-Square ruler for marking parallel and perpendicular lines
  • Cloth or vinyl 60″ tape measure, marked in 1/8″ increments (alternately you can use a similar metric tape), for taking body measurements and many other uses.

Drafting Paper:

There are so many choices out there, and each person has their own preferences. Paper that has a dotted grid for each square inch is handy; for example, see a photo of the grid on Don McCunn’s website: dotted marking paper.

I prefer cellulose-content paper, but paper made from polyester fibers is more common (such as at JoAnns). Cellulose is a more sustainable source than petroleum-derived polyesters.

I like to be able to see through the paper for tracing, but some see-through paper is not very durable. I use white tissue paper (as for wrapping gifts) for initial drafting and fitting, then I transfer my pattern to more sturdy paper.

Another good see-through paper that is also more durable than tissue paper, is what doctors use on their examination tables. See Amazon: Medical pattern paper.

For sturdy paper, I use plain brown paper (similar to that used for paper bags) for some projects, and  Swedish Tracing Paper (see Birch Street Clothing: Swedish Tracing Paper (see also Amazon)) for others. You can get both of these on a roll.

For the final sloper and block, you will want tag board, which is quite durable. It is available in flat sheets or on rolls.

Designing & cutting surface

I use a cardboard cutting board marked with a 1″ grid, laid on a table or other flat surface (bed, floor, etc.) See Amazon for an example of such a board. However, this doesn’t stand up to having a lot of pins poked into it, so I have to replace it every year or so. I’d love to have something more durable. SewTrue has a portable Sew E-Z Board made of “heavy duty denim padded with water resistant lining, and marked with a 1″ grid.” Hancock Fabrics offers another option: Sew Perfect Pattern Cutting Board that claims to be durable and secure for pinning into the board.

However, my plan is to cover a sheet of plywood with cotton padding, then cover that with a heavy cotton fabric such as duck or denim, carefully marked with a 1″ grid – if I ever get around to it.

I also use self-healing mats that are handy when using a rotary cutter. See for more.

Manniquin or dress form

Female dress form

(photo, left from

These are very handy for fitting if you don’t have a helper – you become the helper and your manniquin wears the garment. However, the less expensive commercial dress forms are sized for a young, standard body and are not very useful for a mature body, or one with skeletal issues.

You can also make your own dress form using an old T-shirt and duct tape, or papier mache – but you need a helper. See Threads website for details: Clone Yourself A Fitting Assistant.

Or you can pay to have one created to match your body, but these are quite expensive.




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