Oh, the things I wish I had known when I first started out in my handmade business. After making well over 10,000 aprons, I would have saved myself so much time, money and frustration had someone told me the MUST HAVE tools essential for running my sewing business.
Sewist friends, I’m here to give you just that bit of advice! And in the process, I hope I save you time and money making smart purchases in equipment and tools needed to make your business thrive.
(Disclaimer: This post does contain affiliate links for products I personally use and recommend. They have helped me run my business more efficiently so that I can spend my time doing other things like growing my business.)
First off, you can’t have a hand-sewn apron without a good sewing machine. That holds true of any other sewn garment or product you intend to resell. If your product has thick fabric (denim), multiple layers, dense materials (cork) or bias tape, then you need a sewing machine that won’t break needles while handling heavy duty work.
I went cheap on my first sewing machine. Like most start-up businesses I was pinching pennies to save money. There is nothing wrong with this, but had I known an industrial sewing machine would do 90 percent of what I needed in easily half the time of my starter machine, I would have bought one the first month and never looked back!
While I am a Brother sewing machine shop (I literally have 4 of them) with my industrial Brother S7000-DD being my absolute favorite, there are plenty of commercial “straight stitch” sewing machines from other companies like Juki, Janome, Consew and Reliable that get excellent reviews. Brother is not the only option! It’s just what I own and have used with success.
I worked with a local dealer to test out several brands of industrial machines before selecting the Brother. The big deciding factor for me was the auto thread cutter, although most of the newer industrial machines now have this option too. I only wish it had an auto-threader to go with it. My old eyes would be so thankful for this feature!
At a price point of $1500 (including table, lamp, and in-home setup), the Brother S7000-DD was WAY cheaper than my Innovis NX-2000 that I purchased through a quilt shop for $2500! Live and learn I guess. Straight stitch industrial machines come with their own solid built, heavy duty tables. The machine sits flush in the table and provides adequate workspace for fabric.
My industrial machine requires very little maintenance all of which I can do myself, which is a huge plus! Having my old sewing machine at the shop for yearly maintenance meant I would go 1-2 weeks without my most needed business tool. For the industrial machines, clean them as needed to remove lint and dust, oil them as needed and change the needles frequently and you are good to go for a LONG time, my friend!
My Brother S7000-DD can sew through 4 layers of bias tape and 4 layers of fabric like it is cutting butter, all at 5000 stitches per minute! I won’t tell you how much time, frustration, and aching shoulders and back I would have saved myself had I known this from the start.
Which brings me to my next point. Quilt shops focus on selling home user sewing machines that have all the fancy stitches and options on them. While I need that for a very small portion of my work, the vast majority of my sewn work is a straight stitch.
Find an industrial sewing machine dealer in your town and go visit them in person. Mine is family owned and they are incredibly helpful, including moving my machine 3 times to new homes since I’ve owned it. I tested out several manufacturer’s models on the showroom floor before purchasing the Brother. Having that hands-on test is priceless, especially while someone is right there with you to answer all your questions.
Sadly, I bought the Innovis NX-2000 before my industrial machine and while it works fine, I don’t use 90% of the functionality on it for the product I create. Others may need all those extra options like buttonholes and zig-zag stitches on what they create.
Industrial sewing machines come in a range of options for different sewing needs such as upholstery, denim or leather. Visit a dealer and they can walk you through options based on your individual sewing needs. If you live in the Kansas City area, I highly recommend Missouri Sewing Machine Company. https://mosew.com/
Once you know what type of machine you are searching for, consider looking on 2nd source sights for used machines (eBay, Craig’s List, local swap & shops) for a less expensive option. If you purchase from a 2nd source, be sure to test out the machine before making the final purchase and ask when was the last time it received maintenance. Most sewing machine dealers also sell used sewing machines they have maintenance and they typically back their work with a one-year warranty.
Your sewing machine is the tool you will use the most! Don’t scrimp. Buy something that makes your work easier, faster and more professional. You won’t regret the investment!
Gravity Fed Steam Iron
The first 3 years of my business, I went through at least one Rowenta iron a year. I used it non-stop and daily. Within a year it would start sputtering and ruining fabric if I wasn’t careful and didn’t replace it right away. Folks, this happened even though I cleaned it regularly and only used distilled water as I live in an area with extremely hard water.
What I wish I would have known then is I could own a professional iron that holds 1 gallon of water that works like a dream every single day with no problems and at the same price I was spending on replacing Rowenta irons every year.
Now I do understand when you are first starting out in your business, using a cheaper iron may be more within your start-up budget. I get it! But if you are truly in business to make money, then having the right tools that make you more productive in less time is the right investment for your business. Time is something you can’t buy more of or get back.
There may be other brands that are as good or better, but I highly recommend the SGB 900 Hot Steam Iron because I have used it for 5 years without any issues at all and the price is hard to beat! It uses regular tap water and with a 1-gallon reservoir, I don’t have to refill it every day.
You have to get used to the heavier weight of the iron doing your work for you (no pressing down hard to get a tight press needed), but once you do, you will see how easily it professionally presses your garments.
If your business has anything to do with making handmade garments or goods, I strongly encourage you to set up a business account with Wawak to take advantage of the wholesale pricing on the many sewing products and notions they sell.
Ironing Board & Cover
I use a wide top (49×18) ironing board because of the products I make. Perhaps you can get by with a slimmer model, but I am very happy having the extra workspace on my ironing board.
Key things to look for when purchasing are sturdy legs and adjustable height. Having an adjustable ironing board will get the ironing board at the right level for your height so you don’t have neck, shoulder and back strain when pressing.
I purchased mine at Bed, Bath and Beyond using a 20% off coupon YEARS ago when I replaced my small top ironing board. I have no regrets with that decision! Having more work surface makes the job of ironing so much easier. It’s really quite laughable, I have ironed more in the last 10 years than all the years before combined!
The Brabantia ironing board with linen rack is sturdy with wide legs you don’t have to worry about stability and it comes with choices of really cute ironing board covers which always makes me happy when I sew. I have found the least expensive, high-quality replacement covers at Wal-Mart for about $15, but they are also available on Amazon for less than $20.
I go through about 3-4 cutting boards a year, but I also make about 1200 aprons a year. That’s a lot of cutting friends! One of the most important features I look for is double-sided. It means I get twice the life out of a cutting mat and therefore the need to replace them less frequently.
I have used several brands and honestly cannot tell that big of a difference between them all when it comes to longevity in use, with one exception. Fiskars brand has a “hole punch” at the top middle for hanging on the display racks in sewing stores. I have ruined more cutting blades than I care to count hitting that darn hole! If you have ever purchased cutting blades, you know they are an expensive replacement item!
Quality Cutting Mats are not cheap and I always feel so guilty when I have to throw one away. Once they have deep grooves in the cutting grid from repeated cutting, it is time to replace them for accurate and smooth cutting, not to mention your blades will last longer.
When a cutting mat is ready to be replaced, consider repurposing it by using the old mat under your sewing machine to keep it from sliding around while also having measurements handy when sewing.
I use the largest mat available at 24×36 because of the size of the product I’m cutting. If your items are small, you can certainly get by with a smaller size mat. With a 24×36 mat size, I recommend a see-through 6×24 cutting ruler as well.
- Double Pack Mat 24×36 with 45mm Cutting Roller
- Double Pack Mat 18×24 Size
- Fiskars Cutting Ruler 6×24
Cutting Rollers & Blades
There are two things to look for in rotary cutters: ergonomic handle and blade size. The ergonomic handle is a no brainer for me given the number of hours I spend cutting fabric. It saves wear and fatigue on the wrist and the older you get, the more you appreciate the need to take care of your body.
The more detailed cutting you need to do, the smaller the blade you use. For my aprons, I use a Fiskars 60mm blade size as it decreases the amount of time it takes to cut out patterns. The Olfa 60mm rotary cutter with ergonomic handle also works great and I have one as a backup in my tool stash.
Fiskars and Olfa hold the market for rotary cutters and replacement blades for the 45mm or 60mm are easy to find and purchase, which is why I recommend either one. I have them both and can’t tell you I have a real preference between the brands. Just be sure to get ones with ergonomic handles.
And there you have it! These basic sewing tools will be quite an investment in your business or hobby, but one that will ultimately make you more enjoyable and productive while saving you time. And your time IS MONEY!
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Wishing you a Creative Life!