Arms Survey of Notions and Equipment


As a sewing term, the word notions has two meanings. In one sense notions are items that become part of the garment, such as thread, interfacing, and buttons. The other type of notions are small tools used in the sewing process, but which don't become part of the garment. Needles, pins, and seam rippers are examples of this type. There are also other tools or pieces of sewing equipment large enough in size they aren't usually considered notions.

Following are two glossaries. One is of the first type of notions, while the other is of the second type of notions and additional tools and equipment. While I've attempted to list as many different terms as possible, I'm sure you'll encounter some that aren't included. When this occurs, please feel free to email me. I'll do my best to define the term for you, and I would appreciate the opportunity to include the term in future versions of the glossaries.

When building your own notions collection, obviously you won't rush out and buy everything at once. Start with those items you absolutely need, and add others as you encounter a situation in which you could use them. A good starting point is the Dritz "Start to Sew" kit, which includes the very basics at a bargain price.

Notions That Become Part of the Garment

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Decorative, often embroidered, motifs intended to be applied to a garment as embellishment.
A semi-rigid stiffener used when making fabric-covered belts.
Bias Binding
A strip of fabric cut on the bias, used to encase raw edges. Single fold bias binding has the raw edges folded towards the center of the strip. Double fold bias binding is single fold that has then been folded in half.
Bias Tape
see Bias Binding
Used with loops or buttonholes. Flat buttons have holes through their surface through which they're sewn to the fabric. Shank buttons have a projection off the back of the button that is sewn to the fabric.
A spring tensioned slide used to cinch drawstrings tight.
Covered Buttons
Buttons that have been covered with fabric to match a garment. Covered buttons can be made from standard buttons, or by using specially designed button blanks.
Available in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, textures, and degrees of elasticity. Used for waistbands, cuffs, necklines, and any other part of a garment that needs to be able to stretch to accommodate the wearer.
Small flanged metal tubes that are inserted into holes in fabric and then crimped so as to bind the edge of the hole. See also Grommets.
Fray Check
A brand of liquid plastic that's applied to fabric in areas where you don't want it to fray. The plastic dries invisible and is washable.
A style of garment closure formed from loops of braid or cord.
Fusible Webbing
A thin sheet of paper-backed heat activated glue. The webbing is applied to fabric or other surfaces with the heat of an iron. The paper backing is then peeled off and the glue-backed fabric or other item is fused to another surface by again using an iron.
Pairs of flanged metal tubes that are inserted into holes in fabric and then crimped together so as to bind the edge of the hole. See also Eyelets.
Hooks and Eyes
Fasteners composed of wire loops (or sometimes bars) and hooks that catch them.
Hook and Eye Tape
Formed by attaching hooks at regular intervals along the edge of a length of tape, and eyes at the same intervals along the edge of a second length of tape. The Two lengths of tape can be sewn into a garment opening, quickly and easily attaching multiple sets of hooks and eyes, ensuring they're evenly and properly spaced.
Hook and Loop Tape
The generic term for what is commonly referred to as Velcro. A Type of fastener composed of two strips of tape, one with tiny fiber loops along its length, and the other with tiny plastic hooks. When pressed together the hooks grab hold of the loops, but the two tapes separate easily when pulled apart.
A stiffener inserted between the main fabric and the facing or lining at certain parts of the garment. The interfacing gives these parts of the garment extra firmness or helps to keep their shape. Common locations for interfacing are button plackets, collars, lapels, cuffs, and waistbands.
A type of trim in which a strip of fabric is wrapped around a cord, with the edges of the fabric strip forming a flange. Piping is inserted into seams, commonly at the edges of garments, so the rounded portion of the covered cord is exposed, and the flange of fabric is contained within the seam, holding the piping in place.
A thin, satin cord, available in a variety of colors
A decorative braid formed in a zig-zag line.
Shoulder Pads
Used to alter how a garment lies across the shoulders. Available in a wide variety of shapes and thicknesses, they can be prominent or nearly unnoticeable.
Fasteners composed of two halves, one side with an indentation (female) and the other with a projection (male). When the two sides are pressed together, the projection snaps into the indentation, holding the two sides together. When pulled apart, they separate.
Snap Tape
Formed by attaching male sides of snaps at regular intervals along a length of tape, and female sides of snaps at the same intervals along a second length of tape. The Two lengths of tape can be sewn into a garment opening, quickly and easily attaching multiple snaps, ensuring they're evenly and properly spaced.
A narrow, flat braid formed by wrapping two lengths of cord with a covering fiber in a figure-8 pattern, binding them together side-by-side.
A substance used to add thickness and stability to an area of fabric to be embellished. Products are available that attach to and remove from the fabric in a variety of ways, including iron-on, wash-away, and tear-away.
Any of a variety of styles of narrow strips of cloth.
Available in a wide variety of weights, colors, and fiber contents.
A general classification of any tape, braid, lace, etc. used to decorate.
Twill Tape
A tape woven in a twill weave, often used for stabilization or other structural purposes within a garment.
A common brand of Hook and Loop Tape. Often used colloquially to refer to Hook and Loop Tape.
A strong narrow woven band of fabric, often of cotton or jute, used for belts, handles, or any situation in which the webbing will bear weight or strain.
see Piping.
Available in several styles, such as invisible or separating, appropriate for use in different styles of garment.


Notions, Tools, and Equipment

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Used to pierce holes in fabric, such as for eyelets.
Blind Hemmer
A specialty sewing machine that only sews blind hems.
Small metal or plastic spools on which thread is wound for use as the bottom thread in a sewing machine. While sewing machines come with several bobbins, most people find they prefer to keep extras on hand. It can also be useful to keep bobbins always wound with black, white, or other frequently used colors. Bobbins are also handy for storing thread in a sewing kit, since they take up much less room than a regular spool.
This is a tool used for threading cording or elastic through a casing. One style looks essentially like a large blunted needle with a large eye. Another style looks more like a pair of tweezers.
Buttonhole Knife
see Seam Ripper
see Tailor's Chalk
Cutting Mat
A rubberized plastic mat used to protect your table when working with a rotary cutter.
Dress Form
Sometimes also called a dressmaker's dummy. Once a form is adjusted to exactly mimic your measurements, it can be very helpful in checking fit, draping, and hemming. In addition to store-bought forms, there are several methods commonly used for making your own.
Embroidery Hoop
Useful for stabilizing a small area of fabric for darning or embroidery.
Embroidery Machine
A specialty sewing machine that embroiders pre-programmed designs. Some models are combined with a regular sewing machine, and some have companion scanners with which you can input your own designs.
Embroidery Scissors
These are small (about 3-5" long) scissors frequently used for embroidery. They can also be useful for snipping threads at the sewing machine or in any other tight space. Some people find these scissors more portable than regular size scissors when packing up hand sewing to take someplace.
Folding Scissors
These are useful to keep in an emergency sewing kit.
French Curve
Useful for pattern alteration and drafting.
Hand Sewing Needles
Please see my handout on pins and needles.
A necessity both for fabric preparation and for garment construction. A Steam Iron is preferable.
Ironing Board
What more can I say.
Knitting Machine
A machine that produces knit fabrics.
Lint Brush
A small, stiff-bristled brush used for cleaning your sewing machine.
Loop Turner
A tool used for turning narrow tubes of fabric inside out.
Very useful for picking up dropped pins and needles.
Marking Pens and Pencils
Used for transferring pattern marks to the fabric. A variety of marking pens and pencils are available. Some are chalk based and brush off, some have water-soluble ink, and some have chemically soluble ink and come with a built in eraser. Some kinds are meant for making iron-on transfers and are permanent.
Needle Board
A pressing aid used with pile or napped fabrics such as velvet. It consists of thousand of tiny needles sticking up out of a backing. The fabric is placed pile down and then pressed from the back.
Please see my handout on pins and needles.
Needle Gripper
A small rubber disk used to give a better grip on a needle when sewing through thick or stubborn fabric.
Needle Threaders
These are available in different styles for different types of needles.
Overlock Machine
see Serger.
Pattern Weights
Small weights used in place of pins to hold a pattern to the fabric for cutting. Various weights can be purchased which are made specifically for this purpose, but you can also use washers, coasters, or any other convenient heavy objects.
Pin Cushion
A must for keeping pins and needles. The popular tomato style often has an emery cushion attached. The emery cushion is used for cleaning pins or needles that have become rusty or sticky.
Pinking Shears
A special type of scissors that cut a zig-zag edge. They're used to prevent fraying or eliminate bulk.
Please see my handout on pins and needles.
Point Turner
A specialized tool used for turning points such as on collars.
Poking Tool
Poking tools of some sort are useful for turning points and stuffing. An orange stick, a crochet hook, a knitting needle, a pen cap... all of these and many other items can be used as a poking tool.
Pressing Cloth
A cloth you place between the iron and fabric when pressing. It protects certain fragile fabrics and prevents shine and water spots. A press cloth can be store bought, or you can use a scrap of fabric you already have.
Pressing Ham
A padded shape used for pressing curved seams.
Pressing Mitt
Similar to an oven mitt. It's used to protect your hand from the heat and steam of an iron when pressing shapes that have to be supported by hand.
Rotary Cutter
An alternative to scissors, a rotary cutter has a circular razor-sharp blade mounted in a handle. It's especially useful for cutting straight lines.
Several different lengths are useful in pattern alteration and drafting.
Safety Pins
Always useful.
While there are some very nice brands of special dressmaker's scissors that can sell for $50 or more, even the $5 store brand scissors will serve you well. Just be sure to use your sewing scissors only for cutting fabric (and pattern tissue when necessary) as cutting paper will dull the blades.
A variety of different sized screwdrivers are useful when performing maintenance on your sewing machine.
Seam Gauge
A small ruler with a sliding marker, useful for marking hems and seam allowances.
Seam Ripper
Used for cutting threads or picking out seams. Also used to cut the fabric inside a worked buttonhole.
Seam Roll
A padded cylindrical roll used for pressing seams.
Seam Roller
A small wooden roller used for pressing seams open in place of an iron.
A specialty sewing machine that sews an overlock stitch in which the seam is sewn, the excess seam allowance is trimmed, and the raw edges are overcast
all in one pass.
Sewing Basket
A basket or other container in which various sewing tools and sometimes supplies are stored. While they can be useful for those who only sew occasionally, dedicated sewers will quickly outgrow them.
Sewing Machine Needles
Please see my handout on pins and needles.
Sewing Table
As large a table as you can get, for arranging pattern pieces and cutting out patterns. A banquet table works well, and you can also purchase a style with leaves that fold down for storage.
Sleeve Board
A sleeve sized miniature ironing board. It's inserted into a sleeve for pressing and ironing.
Spool Rack
A tabletop or wall mounted rack with many pegs used for storing spools of thread.
Spray Bottle
Useful if you don't have access to a steam iron.
Used to steam out wrinkles in fabric and finished garments. While similar in appearance and function to an iron, a steamer only generates steam, while an iron has a heated soleplate.
see Awl.
Tailors Chalk
Used for transferring pattern marks to the fabric. It can be found in the form of a solid piece of chalk, a chalk pencil, or a dispenser that applies a line of chalk dust.
Tailors Ham
see Pressing Ham.
Tape Measure
Used for taking measurements. I prefer the kind that is spring loaded in a plastic case, as it's less likely to cause clutter or become tangled.
Used to protect the fingers when hand sewing, especially when working with heavy fabrics. It's worn on the middle finger of the sewing hand. The needle is guided with the thumb and forefinger, but pushed with the thimble. Thimbles can also help in gripping the needle for pulling. Some styles have a raised ridge around the end to help prevent the needle from slipping.
Tracing Paper
Similar to carbon paper, and transferred using a tracing wheel. It's available in a variety of colors.
Tracing Wheel
Available in smooth or serrated styles, it's used to transfer markings to fabric with dressmaker's tracing paper.
Useful for picking out stitches, starting spools of thread, and all sorts of little jobs.

© 1999–2009 Jessica I. Clark
Permission to print a copy for your own use freely given. Please contact me for permission to reprint or distribute.

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