Custom Style

Sewing that's Retro, Geek, and Chic

Notions About Notions

I love notions – there’s just something mesmerizing about all the small sewing tools you can find on pegs at the fabric store.  I also love the British word for notions: haberdashery.  It’s just fun to say… haberdashery.  (Go on, I dare you to say it without grinning afterwards!)

Just in case you want to add a few little items to your Christmas list or need some ideas for stocking stuffers for the sewists and crafters in your life, here is a list of some of my favorite notions:

Grabbit Magnetic Pincushion

Regular tomato pincushions slow me down and pin bowls (whether they are magnetic or not) usually result in stabbed fingertips.  I love the Grabbit Magnetic Pincushion (I love it so much I have two of them) because I can reach for a pin without looking and not stab myself.  And when I remove a pin from fabric, I can just toss it back on the Grabbit next to my machine.  It’s also strong enough to pick up pins when you hold it over a surface of loose strays (other magnetic brands can’t always do that) – another time-saver!  This is something you can use a coupon for at the fabric store, but if you don’t care what color they send, here’s a link.

Red Grid Drafting Ruler

One of the sewing tools I can’t live without is my blue 2×18-inch quilter’s grid ruler.  I use it for everything, including home improvement projects!  But I also discovered the same gridded style ruler in red in the art/drafting section of my local craft stores.  Now I have three sizes in red.  The red 2×18-inch is great because it is half a yard (very useful in sewing) and I use the small red 1×6-inch for checking small measurements all the time.  When I found the 2×12-inch in red, I was elated because it’s short enough to fit in my portable sewing kit and I always found myself missing my 2×18 rulers when I was on a job.

Clover Chaco Liner

This chalk marking tool is probably the newest notion I’ve added to my collection.  My friend and co-worker Traci first introduced me to it when she came to help on the Nike commercial.  It is now one of my favorite things!  It requires almost no pressure to dispense chalk powder with its little wheel, which means the fabric doesn’t shift as you mark (something that is especially wonderful when dealing with sports jersey fabric!).  I found mine in the quilting section at JoAnn Fabrics and used a coupon.  The Clover Chaco Liner comes in white, yellow, blue, & pink and chalk refills are available.  There is also a narrower pen-style version.


My mother-in-law is a retired nurse, and years ago, she sent me one of the most wonderful medical tools to add to my sewing kit – a pair of hemostats. They are essentially a locking pair of pliers with scissor handles that can be used to grasp a hand-sewing needle and pull it through when it is difficult to grip (make sure it is a pair without serrated jaws so you don’t rough up your needle!)  I need a second pair to keep in my portable sewing kit – these look like the pair I have and I also found this smaller version I might add to my collection.


The Jean-a-ma-jig is a tool I sometimes forget about but it is handy to keep near your sewing machine.  You put it under the machine’s presser foot to level out the foot as you sew over a really thick seam (especially when sewing denim).  It keeps you from breaking needles and distributes the pressure of the presser foot more evenly over bulky fabric.  It’s made by Dritz so you might be able to find it at a fabric store among the other notions (I got mine from a costume shop sale at the end of a show so I’ve never looked).  Here it is on

Flexible Ruler

I usually use my flexible ruler when I need to measure or draft a pattern, especially for curves like armseyes and sleeves.  It’s most useful when you need to copy a curve because it is just stiff enough to hold the curve you bend it to match.  Here’s a link to one on

Size #7 Embroidery Needles

I prefer hand-sewing with embroidery needles over sharps because the eye is narrow and slides through fabric more smoothly than the slightly rounded eyes on other needles.  The size #7 is the length I like best – not too long and not too short.

Thread Heaven

Thread Heaven is a non-waxy thread conditioner.  I started using it to prevent knots every time I hand-sew with the horrible new 100% polyester Dual Duty thread since it tangles so easily.  (I miss the cotton-covered poly Dual Duty used to be – I know they still make some of the cotton-covered stuff, but not in as many colors.)  This tiny cube will last for eons!


Snips are little spring-action scissors that you push closed to snip threads (but they don’t really cut fabric well).  Not all snips are created equal, but if you find a good pair & get past the slight learning curve, you will love having them next to your sewing machine.  For years I hated snips, but I got used to using the good kind when I was working as a cheer uniform sample-maker and there was a pair at every machine.  Because they aren’t regular scissors, they usually don’t wander away from a machine and you always have them when you need them.  I like the plastic handle snips because they are lighter and easier to handle than the all-metal kind.

Small seam ripper

You can never have too many seam rippers since they always seem to disappear when you need them most!  (I hate using the bigger seam rippers – they are too fat to get under small stitching!)  They are cheap and can be found almost everywhere (including grocery stores), but here’s the link on

Metal knitting needle

I don’t know how to knit, but I have a couple of metal knitting needles for turning points.  The smooth rounded end of a knitting needle is especially useful when I make a collar.

Pattern notcher

I mentioned it before, but it’s worth mentioning this again – I use a rectangular scrapbooking hole-punch as a pattern notcher  It’s a lot more budget friendly than a real pattern notcher and the scrapbooking tool has rubber handles and a chamber to catch the paper punches!

Magic Sizing

Another item I’ve previously talked about is sizing.  It comes in a spray can (usually next to the starch at the store) and you iron it in to give fabric a little body.  It’s not crunchy and stiff like starch, but it helps control slippery and drapey fabrics, making them more manageable while sewing.  If you can’t find it at your grocery store, you can order it.


Did I forget to mention anyone else’s favorite notions?  Please share your favorites in the comments – I’m always interested in new little tools or remembering ones I’ve forgotten about!

(And Happy Thanksgiving to all of you in the U.S.!)

17 responses to “Notions About Notions

  1. Athene November 23, 2012 at 12:15 am

    Your magnetic pincushion…..that is almost exactly the same design as my paper clip holder at the bank! I “inherited” the paper clip holder when I started there and now I won’t let go of it! I had never seen a magnetic holder like that before. It’s really cool. It holds a ton of paper clips before they start slipping off, and you can “vacuum” with it like you do with yours for the stray items. I never thought about the possibility of that being a sewing item before. hm. I guess at least now I know that I can replace it if I ever need to!

    • Brooke November 23, 2012 at 8:44 am

      lol – yep, it’s probably a Grabbit and I’ve known people to use them for paperclips. (It’s printed on the bottom if it is.) Lots of sewing tools come from the hardware store too. The magnetic bowls that some people like (which I HATE) were something a co-worker introduced after a hardware store trip. I’ve noticed they now make the same thing and package it for the fabric store.

      Glad I may have solved the mystery of your paperclip holder!

      • Athene November 29, 2012 at 8:42 pm

        I finally remembered to check! It’s called a Clipwell. It’s pretty ancient. I wonder which came first?

      • Brooke November 29, 2012 at 8:48 pm

        Interesting. I just googled it, and there is still such a thing as a “Clipwell” paperclip holder but the designs are different & there seem to be many styles. I wonder if Grabbit copyrighted the design and Clipwell had to start using a different look.

  2. Cation Designs November 24, 2012 at 12:28 am

    Hmm, I wonder if I can find some way to sneaking this page onto my husband’s laptop…I’ve already got a Grabbit, and knowing how it’s revolutionalized my pinning, I can only imagine what my life would be like with the rest of these tools in my arsenal!

    • Brooke November 24, 2012 at 9:23 am

      I think the Grabbit & the blue grid ruler (notice how old it is because it’s turning yellow!) were the first two things on this list that I learned about when I started my career. I almost can’t handle being without them!

      Just do what I do and email your husband the link with a note about “I found some cool little tools…” hint, hint! Then he can “surprise” you. =)

  3. Theresa in Mérida November 24, 2012 at 3:33 pm

    Don’t forget the humble hem gauge and the little roller thing (looks like a ravioli cutter)for tracing lines. I bought one that has two rollers so it automatically does a seam allowance.

    Collecting specialty sewing machine feet is my little addiction. I love them, but get lazy and don’t use them. When I use them, it makes things go so much better. I bought a small box full of attachments (and the booklet!) at a resale shop for $2.00 usd once, super score.


    • Brooke November 24, 2012 at 4:31 pm

      I actually have a couple hem gauges, but I find that I rarely use them because I like the grid ruler better for marking hems.

      And yes, I forgot the serrated tracing wheel! I think I have 4 or 5 of them. I use them for tracing darts from a pattern onto the fabric with tracing paper. They are also really useful for copying a piece of ready-made clothing because they punch little dots into the paper through the garment without damaging it.

      Thanks for the reminder! =)

    • Brooke November 24, 2012 at 4:39 pm

      Oh, and I love sewing machine feet too! That topic would be a whole post in and of itself though! =)

  4. Karen November 25, 2012 at 8:39 pm

    I don’t think one can ever have too many rulers! in addition to those see-through quilting ones, I have two narrow metal drafting rulers (one 12″ and one 15″) that I can’t live without. I also love those 6″ hem rulers with the sliding marker in them – I have three or four of them, just so I can always find one easily!
    BTW – I never knew the term “haberdashery” is another word for notions!

    • Brooke November 25, 2012 at 10:22 pm

      Yes, I have a pile of rulers, and it was amazing how they would hide before I put the ruler tray on my cutting table! I still manage to bury my favorites under my projects but it’s not as bad as it used to be.

      I think there should be a version of haberdashery that’s a verb too! For example “I love to go haberdashing!” meaning “I love to go hunting for notions!” I think I’ll start using it as a verb just for fun, hehe.

  5. tracihutton November 26, 2012 at 11:12 am

    What a fun post! I have a few of my favorites to add to your already great list, partly due to my crafty-artsy side. I can’t live without my Prismacolor white pencil. I use my until they are about 1.5″ long. There are times that corsage pins are great for pinning bulky fabrics together with their extra long length. Scotch brand Craft Stick is my favorite glue stick for quick spot sticking when crafting.
    I love, love, love my Gingher Tailor points which have recently been changed, boo hoo! They work for me instead of a seam ripper and are the best small all-around-scissors that never leave my side.
    Lastly I will add something, that in my circle of friends and workers, I am noted for, my Magic Dust.
    This is created from Stitch Witchery, usually the 5/8″ wide rolls. Snip it into tiny, tiny bits, and put into small shaker bottle and magic!

    I need to go and buy Sizing instead of Starch. I love the idea of a ruler basket. I am sad that they don’t make the clear rulers that had the tiny holes at one end when you needed to create circles.
    Hemostats are the only thing missing that I will need to try. Another great post and your pictures rock.

    • Brooke November 26, 2012 at 11:29 am

      Thanks so much for your additions! I think I have & use everything you listed including your “Magic Dust”! (You really need to do a blog entry about that because it is such a cool thing you invented!)

      I bet you could carefully drill holes in the drafting grid rulers if you used a dremel with a drill press attachment mount. I’ve thought about it but never tried it.

      I’m sad they have changed the tailor points! I hadn’t realize they did – what’s different? Cheaper quality? Glad my old pair is still in great condition and still really sharp!

      Hemostats are so much easier than pliers and my hand doesn’t get as sore using them – I know you would love them with all the weird plier sewing we end up doing on jobs! Glad you like the post and photos (pics were kind of a rush job this time)!

      • tracihutton November 27, 2012 at 5:39 pm

        What I call “tailor points” from Gingher, they call 4″ craft scissors. I recently bought yet another pair, two pair are off being sharpened, needed a working pair and I had a 50% off coupon from the local troll fabric store. Once I got home and actually opened them, I noticed no more cool metal bin they use to come in. Then I noticed the tip is no longer pointed, like a sharp point. The tip of the scissors have been slightly rounded making them difficult to use as my seam ripper which was one of the great thing about them for me. The quality is still fine. This new pair reminds me of what happened after I had them sharpened by someone who didn’t know what they were doing and they were never the same, even after I sent them to Gingher to see if there was anything they could do. I ALWAYS send my Gingher scissors to them and have them sharpen their brand scissors.

        I never gave thought about drilling my own hole in the ruler, I still have at least one ruler that still has the holes.

        I have been on the internet all day and hemostats were on my list. My nurse sister didn’t have any extra ones for me. She did give me an idea of locally were to find them. I even think Elliots hardware store carries them. I never got to look for the hemostats, yet.

        I can’t say that I invented magic dust. It is just my version of a product that I found at the quilt show and it seemed to be close enough for me to be happy. Plus I enjoyed the time involved with creating magic dust. When you have plenty of time or want to have a mindless project,
        magic dust is it. My tailor points worked great at creating this, also.

      • Brooke November 27, 2012 at 6:03 pm

        Weird about the Ginghers. Why would anyone want rounded points?

        If you find hemostats in the store, just check for smooth jaws – I think I found them locally once, but they were serrated.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: