Top 10 Essential Tools for Dressmaking | The Great British Sewing Bee

The Great British Sewing Bee is underway and making your own clothes has never been hotter! Check out our top 10 essential tools for dressmaking – and let us know in the comments below what’s in your dressmaking sewing kit that you couldn’t live without!

1. Sewing machine

An absolutely essential tool for dressmaking, a sturdy sewing machine will be the backbone of your efforts in making your own clothes. At Stitch Craft Create we adore Janome sewing machines for their ease of use, great functions and pocket friendly prices! At just £125, the 2200XT is a great entry-level model that comes with a great selection of accessories including various different presser feet for different dressmaking techniques.

janome sewing machine
Janome Sewing Machine Model 2200XT – great for beginner sewers and dressmakers

For those looking for great functionality and more tools for dressmaking , the Janome model CXL301 is a fantastic buy at £299. This offers a huge range of functions and options, including an automatic needle threader which is a massive time-saving device! This machine has superb power and makes sewing with heavier weight fabrics like denim a total breeze – the ultimate dressmaker’s sewing machine!

janome sewing machine
Janome Sewing Machine Model CXL301 – our best buy for making your own clothes


2. Rotary cutter

Despite Michelle leaving the Sewing Bee in Week 1 due to her shabby stitching, her use of a rotary cutter to cut multiple layers of fabric accurately and quickly couldn’t be faulted! A rotary cutter really is a great tool that can save you hours – rather than cutting out your exterior and lining fabrics separately, layer the pieces together and use the cutter to slice through them all in one go – genius. We love this mid-range cutter from Olfa with a safety blade and comfortable handle, but other sizes are available too. When cutting, you also need a large cutting mat cut against – otherwise you’ll ruin your work surface!

rotary cutter
Olfa Rotary Cutter Deluxe Retracting 45mm

3. Pins

Essential for holding your fabrics together prior to stitching, dressmaking pins need to be be ultra sharp and easy to use, and be good quality so they don’t melt and bend when ironed over and don’t rust over time leaving marks on your fabrics. But with the craft of dressmaking being so enjoyable, why would you want boring pins?! Jolly up your sewing kit with a set rainbow-coloured glass headed pins or we adore these flower head pins which are ideal for quilting and dressmaking projects – the flatness of the heads makes them really easy to iron over, and they’re so pretty too!

Quilter’s flat flower pins 54mm

4. Seam ripper

Of course, we all hope our stitching will be perfect first time, but as we saw on The Great British Sewing Bee, even accomplished sewers get it wrong sometimes and need to unpick! A seam ripper is therefore our next essential tool – I know my own has seen plenty of action! After a while, even the best seam ripper’s blade will dull and unpicking will become more laborious, so replace yours regularly for swift and pain-free unpicking!

5. Fabric stash

Not so much a tool as a source of constant delight and inspiration (what wouldn’t you give to be let loose in the sewing room of The Great British Sewing Bee with all those yummy fabrics and trimmings?!), maintaining a good fabric stash is not only important in dressmaking, we also believe it is good for the soul! Try to keep up a good stockpile of basics like cottons in a range of solid colours, dots and spots and then treat yourself to splashes of print from the latest designer ranges. And for anyone looking for the fabric Stuart used to make his day-dress in episode 1, look no further – it is by Amy Butler, and is available from our shop!

Amy Butler Lark Chinese Lanterns Grass
Amy Butler Lark Chinese Lanterns Grass as seen in The Great British Sewing Bee

6. Pattern library

If you want to make your own clothes, you are going to need patterns. While it would be nice to think you could go freestyle and make things up as you go along, the results will almost certainly be disastrous! While vintage patterns are all the rage and can be picked up at charity shops and car boot fairs, we love some of the contemporary pattern ranges from the likes of Anna Maria Horner and Amy Butler (there she is again, clever lady!).

Anna Maria Horner Study Hall Skirt Pattern and Amy Butler Anna Tunic Sewing Pattern
Anna Maria Horner Study Hall Skirt Pattern and Amy Butler Anna Tunic Sewing Pattern


7. Technique reference books

Even the most accomplished dressmaker sometimes needs a little help and for beginner’s it is crucial that you understand the theory of the techniques before you start experimenting on your machine, especially if it’s precious fabric you are using. We have loads of great sewing books in our bookstore, but we particularly love this – The Dressmaker’s Techniques Bible – a must-have for anyone looking to make their own clothes.

dressmaking techniques
The Dressmaker’s Techniques Bible – great value at just £8.12 in our bookstore!

8. Ribbons and trimmings

As we saw from the Alteration Challenge in Week 1 of The Great British Sewing Bee, a bit of lace trim or a dash of pretty ribbon can transform a standard garment into something really rather lovely (or not in the case of Mark’s efforts!). We loved what Anne did with the broderie Anglaise threaded with thin ribbon. If you wanted to create a similar technique you could try this Enchanted Cotton Lace ribbon and or any number of ribbons, trims and ric rac in our haberdashery store!

Enchanted Cotton Lace – sew pretty!
Enchanted Cotton Lace – sew pretty!

9. Zips

Of all the fastenings and closures for dressmaking, the zip is by far the most frequently used. In our haberdashery store we have zips in two different styles, drop painted zip and fulda zip, each with various lengths and in 24 gorgeous colours!

Just some of our colourful zips!
Just some of our colourful zips!

10. Storage

Sorting out storage is essential from day 1 to stop your sewing kit taking over the house and so that things are always to hand when you need them and also to keep things like sharp pins and rotary blades safely shut away from any curious little fingers you may have in your house! This cool storage solution offers a two part system so you can keep accessories in the top and fabric and patterns in the bottom – but best of all it comes with a host of sewing accessories from a tape measure to hemming web to tailor’s chalk everything you can see here apart from the fabric – a complete starter kit for under £25!

 Sewing Storage Case with Accessories

Sewing Storage Case with Accessories – a complete dressmaking starter kit for under £25!



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About Ame

Ame Verso is the daughter of legendary cross stitch designer Jo Verso and has been cross stitching since the age of 10. She also sews and crochets and is the face of the SewandSo YouTube channel.

8 thoughts on “Top 10 Essential Tools for Dressmaking | The Great British Sewing Bee

  1. As well as the sewing machine a variety of feet makes the jobs so much easier. An invisible zip foot makes adding these zips much easier and would have helped Mark with his skirt problems…Plus a teflon foot may have helped Michelle with sewing fabrics like silk and polyester together. As soon as she mentioned her fabric choices I knew she would have problems…

  2. I would add that a good iron and possibly a pressing cloth are in the top three. I always iron as I go along for a more professional finish. And dressmaking scissors – which I only use for cutting fabric. Hooks and eyes, press studs, iron on interfacing … I could make an alternative top ten!!