Sewing Tools and Their Uses

Getting the best use out of your sewing and quilting tools involves a mix of organization, maintenance, and technique. To facilitate all of this, I’m here to introduce some common but lesser known sewing and quilting instruments. This blog has several links to Madam Sew blogs that explore one specific tool or technique and help you to choose the best tools to get a sewing or quilting job done efficiently and professionally.

When you are serious about sewing and quilting, you will need to invest in high quality tools. It will save you time, money, and a lot of frustration in the long run. Besides keeping your tools organized and accessible when you need them, good maintenance is key. When everything is in good working condition, it will affect the efficiency of your work and it will extend the lifespan of the tool itself.

This article is about learning how to use different sewing tools properly. We have a wealth of information on the Madam Sew website about quilting and sewing instruments. Knowing how to use each tool that you own correctly will help you complete tasks quickly and with greater accuracy, reducing the time spent on troubleshooting mistakes or redoing the work. Proper use of tools will also improve the quality of your work and for some tools you will minimize the risk of accidents or injuries when you have more information on how to use them. Maybe you are not using some tools to their full extent? You use them for one thing but maybe they have features you never explored?

In this article:

  1. Cutting tools: Rotary Cutters, scissors, seam rippers, quilt rulers and templates
  2. Sewing machines and presser feet: walking foot, hemming feet, presser feet for quilting, sewing straight, presser feet for sewing
  3. Marking Tools
  4. Needles & Pins
  5. HTV and Permanent Fabric Markers
  6. Other Sewing Tools & Notions

1. Cutting Tools

Cutting tools for quilting and sewing involve sharp blades and moving parts so knowing how to use them safely is essential. Proper technique, tips, and tricks minimizes the risk of accidents and injuries, keeping you safe while you work. Click on the links below to go to in-depth articles about rotary cutting tools, spring scissors, and electric fabric scissors.

Rotary Cutters

Find out what is important when choosing a rotary cutter for the fabric that needs to be cut. What size, handle and safety features are important when buying a rotary cutter? Read about safety precautions when cutting with a rotary cutter and discover the best accessories to make sure you don’t harm yourself in the process. If you need some extra tips for accurate fabric cutting, preparing your work area, holding the cutter, changing the blades, etc. when quilting, we’ve got you covered!

Rotary cutters from Madam Sew in 3 sizes
Cutting striped fabric with a Madam Sew rotary cutter
Cutting fabric with little apples with a rotary cutter and ruler with grip


Why would you consider buying spring assisted scissors or purchasing electric fabric scissors instead of regular fabric shears? These specialty scissors are not only for people with arthritis, they can be useful for someone who doesn’t have problems with her or his hands but needs to cut through a lot of fabric or very thick fabrics on a regular basis. Find out what features to look for to get the right tool for the cutting you want to do.

Spring loaded scissors with an ergonomic handle cutting a fabric strip
Cutting up a blue jeans with electric fabric scissors

Seam Rippers

With a seam ripper you can remove stitches carefully without damaging the fabric. Mistakes happen (more than we want) going from misaligned seams, to incorrect stitch lengths, sewing machine issues, or downright sewing the wrong pieces together. With a seam ripper you can slide under the stitches you want to remove with the pointed tip and the hooked blade without damaging the fabric. Because we often try to use a thread color that matches the fabric, it is not always easy to see the stitches. Make sure your seam ripper is sharp and you are working in a well-lit area. You can also use a lighted seam ripper and shine some extra light on the stitches. There are different ways to make the process of seam ripping more efficient. Some techniques are more risky than others and there are different techniques for different stitch types. Read all about it in the blog ‘Use your Seam Ripper Like a Pro’. Improper use of a seam ripper can lead to accidental cuts in the fabric and the process can become unnecessarily long.

See the stitches to rip with a lighted seam ripper

Quilt Rulers and Templates

Quilt rulers are essential for accurate measuring, cutting and piecing together quilt blocks and shapes. You have the regular square rulers and rectangular rulers in various sizes to cut pieces, strips, borders, and square up quilt blocks. There are also specialty rulers for cutting or marking specific angles, cutting strips, curves, marking ¼ inch line sewing lines, and accurate seam allowances.

Quilt templates make cutting various shapes such as triangles, hexagons, and diamonds easier and you’ll be able to cut them accurately and fast using a template. Just align the shape on your fabric and cut.

Always read the instructions that come with your tools carefully: All of the Madam Sew rulers and templates come with instructions and online tutorials on how to use them effectively. Take the time to read and understand these instructions before starting your project. Safety and stability is important when working with rotary cutters and rulers. Non-slip rulers or adhesive grips that you can add to any ruler or template are interesting accessories to prevent them from slipping or shifting when cutting.

Make a window wall hanging using the fussy cut template and learn all about the templates. Or try the QIPS, our quarter inch ruler set to make a combination unit or hourglass units.

fussy cut square quilt template on a piece of fabric with a bird on it
a combination unit of a quilt block in yellow, blue and printed fabrics
quarter inch ruler to cut fabric pieces accurately and make hourglass units
a hourglass unit for a quilt block in pink and green fabrics

2. Sewing Machines and Presser Feet

The most complex tool in sewing and quilting is the sewing machine (and other machines that have automated stitching like sergers, coverlock-machines or longarm machines). Learning how to use and maintain your sewing machine is key if you want to progress fast in your craft skills. Over the years many different sewing machine attachments have been invented to make certain techniques easier or work with certain fabrics more comfortable.

six different sewing machine attachments

Sewing Machines

First advice: Know how your sewing machine works. And this means more than just knowing how to thread it and how to stitch a straight stitch. Do you know all the different parts of your sewing machine? Do you know how a stitch is made on a sewing machine?

If you want to buy extra presser feet for your sewing machine you also need to know what type of sewing machine you have in order to know if certain tools will fit your sewing machine. Understanding sewing machine types and shank styles, helps you to choose the correct sewing machine presser feet.

The interior of a sewing machine
top view of a hobby sewing machine

Second advice: Maintain your sewing machine. Clean out the dust and lint from in between the main moving parts on the inside of the machine, oil when necessary and have it serviced regularly. Sewing machines are expensive, so take care of them properly.

When you are struggling with a sewing machine, it is usually thread bunching up or stitches that are not nice and tight. Thread tension could be the issue and it is not easy to get the thread tension right. But know that not every problem on a sewing machine is due to thread tension. With a little understanding of how to deal with thread tension, you might figure out more easily what problem you are facing. And when that thread is all bunched up, the bird nest toolkit can be your best friend. But, of course, all we want is to learn how to avoid those bird nests.

Thread loops on a piece of fabric because of bad thread tension on a sewing machine
A thread nest on a sewing machine and a knife to untangle the nest

If you are starting off, you might want some information on how to choose a sewing machine. We have that covered too in a blog that talks about the main features you should be looking out for and lists some affordable sewing machines you can’t go wrong with.

four sewing machines for beginners

Walking Feet

A walking foot, also known as an even feed foot or dual feed foot, is designed to help feed multiple layers of fabric evenly through a regular sewing machine. This presser foot is very useful when quilting multiple layers of fabric and batting together. Quilters use it for straight-line quilting, stitch-in-the-ditch quilting, and to attach bindings. Sewists use it to sew bag straps. Also slippery or stretchy fabrics like satin, silk, knits, and velvet can benefit from this sewing machine attachment as these fabrics can be very challenging to sew. The grip of the walking foot ensures an even feed. When sewing fabrics with a plaid or stripe pattern, a walking foot helps to keep the layers of fabric aligned, ensuring that the pattern matches seamlessly. A walking foot is interesting for quilters and sewists alike. Read more about the walking foot in the following four blog posts. Some blogs have a youtube video that shows all the steps.

a walking foot on a sewing machine for quilting
a walking foot on a sewing machine top stitching a bag strap

Hemming Tools

Hemming clothing involves some manual folding and pressing which can be time consuming and for some fabrics or narrow hems also difficult to get good results. A hemmer presser foot can simplify the process for some sewing projects by guiding the fabric as you sew, making it quicker to finish. It guides the fabric smoothly, ensuring that the hem is even and straight. Of course you can hem without a specialty attachment, like when hemming plain trousers with a sewing machine. Regular hemming involves different steps like measuring, marking and ironing before you can start sewing. Tools that accommodate these steps are a hot hem ruler, a seam gauge, and temporary fabric markers.

Whether you are sewing blind hems, rolled hems, narrow hems or wider hems, there are different hemming presser feet on the market to make each of these tasks easier.

a rolled hem foot on a sewing machine making a narrow hem
a wide hem foot on a sewing machine sewing a wide hem
a blind hem foot sewing a blind hem on a sewing machine

Tools to Sew Straight

Knowing how to sew straight is essential when making something. It involves a lot of practice but there are several tools that can improve your ability to sew straight. Aligning the edge of your fabric with the markings on the needle plate of your sewing machine might sound easy but it isn’t the case for everyone or every type of fabric.Tools will not fix all lack of experience or talent, but some will definitely help you get better results.

A magnetic seam guide makes sure the fabric is fed consistently under the sewing machine. Or a little strip of washi tape on your sewing machine bed can be helpful. Sewing on a temporary fabric mark is easier than sewing in the void. A walking foot (see above) makes sure multiple layers of fabric are fed evenly. And last but not least, there are different specialty presser feet with guides that help you maintain straight stitching lines.

a piece of washi tape on a sewing machine as a guide to sew straight
a magnetic seam guide on a sewing machine to help sewing a straight seam

Presser Feet for Quilting

detail of a walking foot on a white background
sewing a seam with the quarter inch foot on a sewing machine
free motion foot on a sewing machine
stitch in the ditch with the edge joining foot on a sewing machine

The most commonly used presser feet for quilting are the walking foot, the free motion quilting foot, the quarter inch quilting foot, a binding foot and an open toe foot.

We talked about the walking foot above as it takes a special place as an essential presser foot for quilting and it is also used frequently in sewing.

The free-motion quilting foot is also referred to as the darning foot or hopping foot. It allows you to quilt intricate designs by manually guiding the fabric under the needle. You can quilt on a french press cozy for example or quilt shapes on any project you like. The presser foot’s spring loaded mechanism makes it jump up and down so you can move the fabric more freely than with a regular foot. It is best known among quilters but you can also try drawing or thread sketching with a regular sewing machine.

quilted french press cozy with bias tape
free motion quilt shapes on flowered fabric
a free motion quilt foot on a sewing machine used to draw a white flower on blue fabric

The quarter inch quilting foot, with or without an extra guide, helps you to maintain a consistent ¼” seam allowance, the seam allowance that is most commonly used in quilting for piecing blocks and joining quilt pieces together. Ana is using the quarter inch quilting foot with guide to join blocks for her quilt in this blog post.

quarter inch foot with guide used to join two blocks together

The binding foot is also called bias binder foot and is designed to attach quilt bindings accurately and fast and can also be used to attach bias tape. It has a channel or slot to guide and hold the binding in place while it is being stitched onto the quilt edge. You can adjust the needle position to make sure the stitching is on the edge of the binding, catching both the binding and the quilt edge. Read more in Ana’s binding tutorial.

attaching flowered binding with the bias binding presser foot on a sewing machine

You can also sew on binding with another sewing machine attachment. Ana wrote a tutorial on how to use the edge joining foot to attach quilt binding. Sewists use this foot to sew ⅛ inch seam allowances or for narrow edge stitching. The edge joining foot is very versatile. When you position your needle behind the guide, it is great for stitch-in-the-ditch sewing and quilting.

attaching flowered binding with the bias binding presser foot on a sewing machine

Presser Feet for Sewing

There are many presser feet available to execute different sewing techniques better or make it easier. Check out the many different presser feet in our store or scroll through the online manual of the ultimate presser foot set to learn about the different feet. I already covered hemming and sewing straight above.

Buying a serger is not for everyone because of the budget or the space to store an extra machine. With an overcast presser foot on a regular sewing machine, you can finish raw edges with a stitching that resembles the finishing of a serger. It is easy to do and you can choose the color thread that matches your fabrics. The overcast foot doesn’t take up much space, costs a fraction of what you pay for a serger and keeps your edges from unraveling. So, yes, you can use your home sewing machine as a serger.

an overcast foot on a sewing machine finishing the edges of colorful fabric
the edge of a fabric sewn with a regular sewing machine and an overcast foot

Most sewing machines come with a buttonhole foot. There are different reasons to use a buttonhole foot. Accurate sizing is important for a buttonhole. It should fit the button you are using. Buttonhole feet guide you to make sure the buttonhole is uniform in size. They also hold the fabric securely in place when stitching. Many machines have automatic settings for buttonholes. The buttonhole foot is designed to work seamlessly with machine settings and save time and effort compared to sewing buttons manually. Find out how to use a buttonhole foot in this blog post.

Not all sewing machines can handle thick seams easily. When sewing denim, a double or triple layer of fabric can stop you entirely. There are different ways to handle this, you change the presser foot to a walking foot (see above) that pulls the different layers forward, or you try to level your foot when you sew over a seam. This is where the bulky seam jumper really stands out. It is a very simple and straightforward leveling tool. Find out everything you need to know about the bulky seam jumper is this blog.

3. Temporary Marking Tools

Temporary marking tools are commonly used in sewing and quilting when you need to transfer markings onto fabric in the process of making something. You can mark cutting lines, notches, darts or placement lines while transferring a pattern without leaving permanent traces. Quilters often use temporary marking tools to outline quilting designs or patterns on the quilt top before stitching them.

Temporary marking tools for fabrics can be easily removed using water, heat or simply rubbing. Common temporary marking tools include heat erasable ink pens, water-soluble fabric markers, chalk markers, and tailor’s chalk. One piece of advice: always test a marking tool on a scrap piece of every project fabric to ensure it will disappear or wash out as intended. Different fabric types can react very differently to the same ink or chalk.

erasing the lines of a gel fabric marker with a hot iron
drawing with a yellow chalk marker on dark fabric

We’ve published this blog about different types of temporary marking tools for sewing and quilting where you can learn about the advantages and disadvantages of the different sewing marking tools on the market. If you want to know more about heat erasable gel markers and see how they can be used in a free motion quilting project, read our blog about how temporary fabric markers can make free motion quilting more accessible.

seven different marking tools put to the test
free motion quilting markings with heat erasable fabric marker

4. Needles & Pins

You can’t sew without a needle, whether it is for hand sewing or machine sewing. Sewing machine needles are a sewing essential and there is still a lot of confusion and ignorance about the use and choice of a needle. The choice of a needle depends on the fabric you are sewing with. Learn more about the sizes and types of needles and get recommendations for various fabrics in our blog post about sewing machine needle basics. You’ll get answers to the questions like: When to change your needle? How do you know when a needle is worn out?

When you are sewing you need a way to keep fabric layers together to ensure accurate stitching. Delicate fabrics require finer pins to minimize damage, longer pins are useful for holding multiple layers of fabric together. Some pins are designed with a larger head for easy gripping. Is there a right or wrong way to insert pins? The main feature of a pin is that it holds fabric layers together to ensure accurate sewing. The pinheads also need to be easily accessible for removal when you are sewing. There is some controversy about sewing over pins, some people do it all the time but others emphasize the safety issue and possible damage to your machine. Read all about sewing pins in our ‘Put a Pin In It’ blog post.

bias tape pinned to a blouse

In certain situations sewing clips are a great alternative to pins when sewing or quilting. Inserting pins in thick fabrics can be challenging. If you are afraid of damaging a delicate fabric with a pin, clips are a gentle way to hold fabrics together without leaving permanent holes. Clips are faster to attach and remove, are easy to grab and won’t hurt your fingers. If you are still wondering why to use sewing clips, read this blog post.

5. HTV & Permanent Fabric Markers

HTV or heat transfer vinyl is a versatile material used to create custom designs on fabrics. You can cut and fuse different shapes to any fabric and customize and personalize your finished clothing or home decor items. You don’t need a fancy cutting machine to start using HTV. A hot iron and scissors can take you a long way. In the following blog posts I added a cute HTV design to a t-shirt, personalized a fleece blanket and used HTV for machine embroidery.

You can also add details or embellishments to fabric with permanent fabric markers and change the overall look of your project. It is so easy to add some color to a project with a set of markers in different colors. However, there are a few things to take into consideration when using fabric markers to get a professional looking result. Things can easily become messy so read our fabric marker recommendations before starting to draw on your fabric.

6. Other Sewing Tools & Notions

Here are two blog posts that feature a bundle of tools we have in the Madam Sew Sewing and Quilting Store. The first blog goes over some essential sewing tools, the second blog is more about nifty tools that you might not have seen before, and that are great to give as a gift to a sewing friend.

Did you know that some elastics can be cut both horizontally and vertically? Just have a big roll at hand and cut the elastic to the width you need for your project. Find out about the different things you can do with it in this blog about the black fantastic elastic.

white elastic being cut horizontally

Do you struggle to keep your thread spools and bobbins organized? These bobbin and spool organizers are a great solution to keep thread bobbins and spools from unwinding and thread getting tangled in your storage bag. You can also keep spools and bobbins together with these notions. Read more in our blog about the spool and bobbin organizers or get the full bobbin holder, spool hugger and bobbin clamp set at our store.

Yes, you can make bias tape and binding by yourself in the fabric that you want with a bias tape maker. This tool makes turning long strips of fabric into bias tape easy. Just slide them through the bias tape makers, press with a hot iron and you have your homemade bias tape. Read more about bias tape making in our make your won quilt binding blog or look at the deluxe bias tape maker set we have in our store.

What is an awl for sewing and quilting and why do you need it in sewing? Discover this and more in our blog “What is it AWL about”

the tip of an awl used to guide fabric under a sewing machine

I sew, I don’t need fusible hem tape.. Is this correct? Maybe not, read this blog and find out why many experienced sewists do use fusible hem tape.

Attaching various types of closures like hook & eyes and plastic snaps is pretty straightforward but doing it the right way really makes a difference. Read the following two blog posts to get step-by-step instructions on how to attach plastic snaps on a foldable grocery bag and hook and eye closures on different projects.

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In summary, learning how to use your sewing and quilting tools and instruments properly is essential for efficiency, quality, safety, longevity, versatility, and professionalism. It's an investment that pays off in improved outcomes and a more enjoyable sewing and quilting experience.

We sincerely hope you can enjoy a smoother and more productive creative process after reading a few of our tooling blog posts. Let us know in the comments what you think and what article might be of interest to you in the near future!


Happy Sewing! Happy Quilting!


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