Basics: these are the basic tools that I use with practically every project and likely wouldn’t start a project unless I had these on hand.
Quilting rulers, rotary cutter and cutting mat.
With this combination, you can quickly and accurately cut large pieces of fabric and interfacing.
My advice is to buy yourself the largest cutting mat you can afford and have space for. You can often find them on sale or use those 50% off one item coupons for a cutting mat, making it really reasonable.
For the rotary cutter, it really depends on what type of fabric you’re using and the size of your pieces you’re cutting. I use a lot of thicker stabilizers and only use my rotary cutter to cut straight lines, so a larger cutter (60mm blade) works well for me. If you want to be cutting smaller pieces or going around curves more, a smaller blade (18-27mm) would work for that. If you’re just starting out and just want to purchase one, you can try the 45mm blade for the best of both worlds.
The acrylic quilting rulers are the straight edge you cut along, and also a way to measure your cuts accurately. When I started out, I only had one ruler: 6” x 24” and it worked quite well. When I was able to invest a bit more, I purchased a 6.5” square and a 12.5” square and they both made it a bit easier for smaller and larger cuts. In hindsight, I wish I had purchased a ruler package for better value.
I use the rotary cutter for all my straight cuts, but for curved pattern pieces, I like to use fabric scissors. When I first started out, I bought myself a decent pair of Fiskars fabric shears, but recently I bought some gorgeous 8” Tula Pink Fabric Shears and I noticed a difference right away in quality, I love them! I also have cheap scissors I use for non-woven interfacing/stabilizers and cutting out paper patterns. I’ve used several small snips for threads and I’m really happy with my small gingher embroidery scissors. So in case you’ve lost count, that’s three pairs of scissors I recommend: good quality fabric shears, cheap shears for paper and interfacing, and small scissors for threads.
I bought a set of Wonder Clips when I first started bag-making and I never looked back. I find they work so well with layers and you don’t have to worry about pin holes on vinyl/leather. I do have pins but I rarely use them, because I prefer not to jab myself with pointy objects if I can avoid it. I’ve heard that some people have bought cheaper clips and they end up breaking, so I recommend saving yourself the headache and just going with the better quality clips.
I know, I know, we don’t want to have to rip out those seams, but sometimes, we just have to face the music, and we may as well have the right tool for the job. I really like the Dritz Seam-Fix Seam Ripper because it has a rubber head that helps remove all the little threads and then close up the teeny holes from the erroneous stitching. My seam ripper also does double duty for making holes to insert magnetic snaps and bag locks.
There are so many different marking tools out there and I think at the end of the day it really just comes down to personal preference. I rotate between a few, depending on the type of fabric I’m marking and what process of the bag I’m at. For basic outlining of pattern pieces, I just grab whatever I have in a colour that’s going to show up, since my outline won’t be seen on my finished product. For marking placement, of an overlay or pocket for example, I use either Fons and Porter Mechanical Fabric Pencil, or Chaco Liners.
I almost counted this one as essential, because I use it for every single zipper. I buy the ¼” and it fits perfectly for zipper installs. I also use it when doing some finicky applique or reverse applique. This tape is double-sided and repositionable, so you can set your project up perfectly before you sew it. Unlike some tapes, this one can be sewn through and won’t gum up the needle.
I use Beacon’s Fabri-tac from time to time. I use it to position handle connectors before I sew them in place, and I also use it as additional security when installing hardware. There are other brands, like E6000, which some people swear by. Fabri-tac was easy for me to find locally and I was happy with it, so I haven’t tried many others.
This product can be a life saver if you accidentally nick your nearly finished product. Just dab it on and let it dry and it will prevent your woven fabrics from fraying. It’s a good idea to seal up the slots that get cut during some hardware installation as well.
Point turner/Turning tool
Something like this Point 2 Point Turner from Clover is really handy to have. I use the larger edge to help flatten down vinyl handles, and roll out curved seams. The pointy end helps when turning and making nice sharp corners. You can find many similar tools, such as a bamboo turner or some hera markers. If you’re really in a bind, a wooden chopstick helps too.
Probably not what you expected to see here, right? Well, I use mine all the time. I find after snipping threads or tiny scraps sticking to my bags, a good roll of the lint roller takes care of all that. I also find it to be the best way to clean up the aftermath of a large seam ripping.
The vast majority of the projects I sew are from PDF patterns. I only print out the pattern pieces and follow the instructions on my iPad. I love being able to save paper and it helps me avoid clutter from too many patterns (I have lots!). I also like being able to zoom in on diagrams or images if I’m stuck on a particular step.
Extras: these aren’t essential, but I find they make the process much more enjoyable, they’re even fun to use!
I first found out about this tool watching a Craftsy class. It’s used to help get really close to the needle and help guide fabric without getting your fingers sewn. I mean, that’s not the official description, but that’s what they really want to say. I found this 4-in-1 tool and I really love the flat end and now often use it in when I’m finger pressing.
I tried this ring when it first came out and I really enjoy using it. My machine doesn’t have a thread cutter, so this ring keeps me from fumbling around for my small snips while I’m at the machine. You can read my post about it here.
I’d love a steam press. For now I just use a basic iron, and it does the trick, but when I’m doing large amounts of fusing, I daydream of having a steam press to cut down on the time spent.
I also learned about these in a Craftsy class, and that they’re helpful for trimming away only specific fabrics in a seam allowance, for example, trimming the foam, but leaving the fabric.