When you call for a plumber it's granted that the plumber shows up with his tools. Likewise, when you call a gardener you know they will show up with a lawn mower and other gardening tools. So why would a tailor call for an assistant and have some graduate from fashion school show up with no tools? This is almost as gross as some musician showing up to a gig without a guitar or an amplifier.
So, for the benefit of those aspiring tailor's assistants who want to advance into the fashion industry, here is a crash course on bringing the proper tools to work, also known as bring your shit to work or stay home.
For those who remain unequipped for tailoring jobs I’m going to give you a peek at what I bring to a tailoring job. There are a few things I didn’t include in this shoot, but I’ll mention some of them so you can have a better idea of what’s important to get the job done.
I normally carry my “tools” in a small leather travel bag, but any small bag with lots of small compartments will work. To summarize what’s in the bag, let’s go clockwise on the photograph:
We have a pair of snippers, a pair of fabric scissors (not to be confused with paper scissors, more on that later), sewing pins for basting (hand sewing), tailor’s chalk or waxes (I like waxes, myself), two seam rippers, a metal tape measure (in the fake cassette container), a Sharpee marker, China markers of varying colors (important), a rotary cutter, and a tailor’s measuring tape.
Let’s start from the beginning: Before you draft a customized pattern you’re going to have to measure your client, and that’s where that pretty yellow measuring tape comes in. My tape goes up to 120 inches, which also means it goes up to 10 feet.
Although that seems awfully tall for normal people, you may be called upon to measure furniture for upholstery or measure for curtains. If you’re doing mascot outfits everything is super-sized, so that 10 foot tape will come in handy. You can thank me later.
Once you have your measurements and your patterns are finally drafted, you’re going to need something to trace the pattern with on your fabric. I use China markers or tailor’s chalk or wax. Always trace opposite tones against the fabric, i.e. dark colors on light-colored fabric and light colors against dark-colored fabric.
After you’ve traced everything as close to the pattern line as possible, and stay away from the selvedge aka the gutter line of the material, it’s time to cut, right? This is where the rotary cutter comes in. Some people like to use standard tailor’s scissors and some use the rotary cutter. It doesn’t make a big difference; it’s simply a matter of taste. They’ll both work very well, but bear in mind that rotary cutter blades need to be replaced regularly, so be sure to buy refills when the blade starts getting dull.
In the next picture you’ll see that nice orange snippers, aka snips. This is good for both altering and finishing. When I use this for altering I will snip every fourth stitch from top to bottom. Once I reach the end of the flawed stitch line I pull the whole thread and the whole stitch comes right off in one pull!
Snips are also good for finishing when it’s time to clean all the threads hanging from your piece, and there’ll always be a load of those. Snips can be also be helpful in loosening stuck bobbin thread and other stubborn threads jamming your sewing machine. Yeah, that’ll happen no matter how careful you are.
Your case should have two pair of scissors: Paper scissors for cutting pattern paper and fabric scissors (shown here) for cutting fabric. Cutting too much paper with fabric scissors will dull it, so use the right tool for the right job.
Next we see sewing needles used for basting aka hand sewing. This container has needles of varying sizes with different sized eyes, as well. There’s a tiny hole in the dial-shaped container so move the dial towards the needle you want and let it fall out. I have big hands so I prefer to use a long needle with a big eye, but there’s sizes for everyone.
Then there’s tailor’s wax which comes in different colors. They perform the same function as China markers. Sometimes you can get a much finer line with tailor’s wax so don’t be afraid to try it.
In the bottom photo shown there’s two seam rippers. Always get two because as sturdy as they look I’ve broken quite a few in my time, believe it or not. Seam rippers are essential because when you sew something lame on your machine you’re going to have to rip out the bad stitches before you sew it all over again. A seam ripper is absolutely crucial to ripping out those bad stitches. Most tailors use a razor blade but you have to be really experienced to use it wisely.
A couple of other pieces of equipment that you need (not pictured) are: safety pins for connecting, ball-head pins for pinning down the pattern to your fabric and keeping fabric from dancing around your sewing machine when it’s being sewed.
And speaking of sewing machines, it wouldn’t hurt to get some looping needle threaders. These are small metal loops you stick the sewing machine thread through and then stick into the eye of the sewing machine needle. It makes threading the needle easier.
It’s also nice to have a tomato to stick your basting needles in. They come with a tiny sand-filled strawberry attached that you can stick your needles in when you want to sharpen them. In addition, always carry a small writing pad with a tiny pen for taking notes when going on location and jotting down measurements while the boss is doing all the measuring.
And finally, no matter what, always pack a small bottle of aspirin. You're gonna need it. Happy sewing!