The Best Sewing Kit

Even if you’re all thumbs, it’s nice to know how to sew on a button or fix a ripped hemline as a general life skill. For this, you need a basic (but good!) sewing kit, and we highly recommend the Merchant & Mills Rapid Repair Kit ($25).

Last Updated: August 7, 2014
Our main pick from Merchant & Mills is out of stock until the end of August, but if you need a new kit now we recommend the Dritz Start-to-Sew Kit. Our previous travel-sized budget alternative from REI has been discontinued (boo) and we are told by the company they are not replacing it at this time.
Expand Previous Updates
July 28, 2014: Our travel-sized budget alternative, the REI Travel Sewing Kit, is currently unavailable.

After 15 hours of research, interviews with sewing teachers and avid home sewers, and tests of six travel and full-size kits, we found the Merchant & Mills kit had by far the best tools and was the easiest to keep organized. This is also the only kit with notions (sewing jargon for “tools”) that we’d honestly recommend to both novice and expert sewers. It’s handsome too, as if straight out of British haberdashery. We think it would make a great gift for both men and women.

And for those looking to tackle bigger sewing projects, we’d go with the Dritz Start-To-Sew Kit ($11). The notions are nothing fancy, but they’re good enough to get you started making clothing or home decor projects. If you really get into sewing, we think it’s worth upgrading to a nicer set of fabric shears and a bigger pincushion, but as a starting point this kit should work for most novice sewers.

Why buy a sewing kit?

…a sewing kit allows you to be a bit more self sufficient and extends the life of your clothes.
Similar to a basic tool kit, a sewing kit allows you to be a bit more self-sufficient and extends the life of your clothes. When a button falls off a jacket or the seam comes loose in a shirt, you won’t have to run to your local tailor or, worse, stop wearing your clothes. Instead, a kit gives you the tools to make simple repairs on your own. If you’re interested in actually sewing your own clothes or home decor, a full-size kit will help you get started.

You could, of course, buy separate sewing notions and keep them in your own bag or tin, as many DIYers do. A quick look through sewing blogs and Pinterest brings up hundreds of DIY projects for making your own sewing kit. The advantage to this is you can stock your kit with the specifics you want and higher-quality thread than most kits come with. That said, we think our top pick, the Merchant & Mills Rapid Repair Kit, will rival anything you could compile separately.

What if I know nothing about sewing?

You should still get one of these. You should also read the “What makes a good sewing kit?” section first. In it, I explain what all these tools are, what they do, and what to look for. If you’re new to sewing or clothes repair, the rest of the guide will make a lot more sense.

Why trust me?

I sew—a lot. My mom taught me when I was a kid, and I’ve been making my own clothing on and off for the past 20 years. Currently, I sew clothes for myself and my daughter and I chronicle my makes on my sewing blog. I’ve written tutorials for the popular home sewing and pattern website BurdaStyle, and I also host a sewing and textile podcast called Thread Cult.

Additionally, I worked as an editor on Martha Stewart’s Encyclopedia of Sewing and Fabric Crafts, for which I did quite a bit of research on sewing notions.

How we picked

Despite a glut of sewing kits on the market, I was surprised that I didn’t find any comparative editorial reviews. In researching, I combed general consumer sites such as Consumer Reports and sewing-specific sites like Threads and BurdaStyle, as well as many sewing blogs, yet the most I found were reviews of a single kit.

This might have something to do with the fact that hardcore sewers, by and large, would never get a kit. Like chefs who buy specific kitchen knives, most avid home sewers usually invest in the specific tools they want in order to build their own kits.

Due to the lack of reviews, I turned to my network of sewing bloggers whom I’ve become friends with over the years…
Due to the lack of reviews, I turned to my network of sewing bloggers whom I’ve become friends with over the years—Oonaballoona, Ginger Makes, Sown Brooklyn, Madalynne, Clio & Phineous, Cloth Habit, Sew Well, and Puu’s Door of Time. I also contacted Rachel Epperson, owner of the Chicago-based indie fabric store The Needle Shop. Epperson has taught sewing for more than 10 years and has also developed sewing patterns and fabric lines. Finally, I looked closely at Amazon user reviews to see what was popular among the consumer crowd.

Because of the lack of reviews, we decided we needed to do our own testing. From experience, we also knew that the notions in kits–the scissors, thread, and other tools–are usually not great. We thought about recommending an a la carte kit. However, we realized that most people don’t want to overthink this purchase and a kit makes things simple. As it turns out, our winning kit, The Merchant & Mills Rapid Repair Kit, has great tools, so we don’t feel it’s a compromise at all.

We settled on six kits—three travel and three full-size—that were highly recommended by our sewing experts or Amazon reviewers or that looked to be better-than-average quality.

For testing, we first inspected the case that each kit came in. A messy sewing kit can be more work than it’s worth. If you’ve got a rat’s nest of tangled thread and loose pins and needles, the kit will be annoying to use. We wanted to find kits that held all the notions neatly and could be tossed into a drawer or dropped on the floor without all the tools coming out. We took all the notions out of each case and put them back in, noting whether everything could be replaced without fuss.

We inspected how the pins and needles were organized (was there a good pincushion or some other organizing method?) and noted how easy it was to thread the needles (was the eye too small to pass the thread?). We used the scissors to cut through medium-weight muslin and heavier-weight denim, and had both men and women use the scissors to see how they fit in different hands. We also used a needle and thread from each kit to sew running stitches in muslin and then used the seam ripper (if the kit came with one) to pick out the stitches. Additionally, we tested marking tools.

As we expected, most of the kits felt cheap—except for our pick, the Merchant & Mills Rapid Repair Kit. We think this kit is truly the best available for multiple reasons.

Our pick

The Merchant & Mills kit had by far the best contents and an easy organization system. It’s also good-looking, which is a nice bonus.
The Merchant & Mills Rapid Repair Kit ($25) has everything needed to make small sewing repairs with no added junk. This was the simplest kit to keep organized, the thread was of higher quality than in the others, the needles were easy to thread, it had the best pin and needle organization, and everything about this kit is very good-looking.

The Merchant & Mills kit comes with a packet of pins, two small spools of thread (in black and white), a vial of four needles, a paper measuring tape, small scissors, three buttons, and three safety pins.

The Merchant & Mills kit comes with a packet of pins, two small spools of thread (in black and white), a vial of four needles, a paper measuring tape, small scissors, three buttons, and three safety pins.

The tools in the Merchant & Mills kit were exactly what we needed to make small repairs. Most of the other kits came with more items—such as various colors of thread, more needles, and low-quality needle threaders—that we didn’t think we’d actually use and that took up extra space in the cases. We think every item in the Merchant & Mills kit will get used in the course of regular sewing repairs.

The Merchant & Mills kit was the easiest to keep organized. We could literally toss all the notions in the small tin case and they still easily fit with no fuss. The other travel kits have funky elastic straps that are supposed to keep everything organized but we could see them breaking down the road (then you’d end up with a mess). We could also see the zippered cases potentially falling apart over time. Two of the full-size kits had awkward and flimsy plastic cases that we didn’t love, while the last came with a zippered pouch that seemed both flimsy and garishly pink. We liked how neatly everything fit in the Merchant & Mills kit and it seemed that everything would stay organized for a long time, even if you’re not the neatest person.

We like that there are just two high-quality spools of thread, rather than a bunch of colors.
The Merchant & Mills kit comes with two small spools of Coats Astra thread, a high-quality polyester thread that’s colorfast and won’t fade in sunlight. (The other kits came with no information about the thread included.) We like that there are just two high-quality spools of thread, rather than a bunch of colors. The variety of colors in the other kits could come in handy, but since these threads aren’t very nice to begin with, we think you’re better off buying good-quality thread to match your clothing.

The Coats Astra thread, third from the left, was noticeably thinner than the threads in the other kits, but just as strong.

The Coats Astra thread, third from the left, was noticeably thinner than the threads in the other kits, but just as strong.

We could easily thread the needles in the Merchant & Mills kit without using a needle threader. If you’re not familiar, a needle threader is a thin wire loop connected to a piece of tin used to more easily thread a very narrow needle. Generally, we’ve found that needle threaders break easily, and for most repairs you don’t need a needle with such a thin eye. We actually broke one of the needle threaders while testing another kit (see picture below) and generally liked that we didn’t need to use one with any of the Merchant & Mills needles. The four needles (in two sizes) in the Merchant & Mills kit are good, all-purpose sizes that will work on a variety of fabrics. Although that isn’t many needles, it’s enough to last a while. You can also always refill the vial if you run out.

Delicate wire needle threaders can be a pain to use, since they easily break.

Delicate wire needle threaders can be a pain to use since they break easily.

The Merchant & Mills kit also had the best pin and needle organization of the kits we tried. The dress pins in this kit are actually pinned through a piece of paper and securely tucked into a small envelope. There’s very little risk of the pins getting loose. We also appreciate that the needles fit into a glass vial. The large kits come with low-quality pincushions that we didn’t love, and the travel kits have soft cloth interiors that could double as cushions. We think the Merchant & Mills set offers a more elegant alternative.

The Merchant & Mills kit had the best organizing system for sewing pins.

The Merchant & Mills kit had the best organizing system for sewing pins.

Lastly, we like how the Merchant & Mills Rapid Repair Kit looks. Its simple black tin case—about the size of a deck of cards—the stylish black and white labels, and the overall simplicity of the kit would make it appealing to both men and women alike.

As with the other kits, we found no editorial reviews of the Merchant & Mills Rapid Repair Kit. It’s also not available on Amazon, so we weren’t able to find user reviews. However, this was the kit recommended to us by several sewing bloggers and it’s also sold at many indie fabric stores, which incidentally tend to be very picky about what notions they carry.

Flaws but not dealbreakers

The only downside to this kit is the small size of the scissors.
The only downside to this kit is the small size of the scissors. The three-inch scissors will snip thread and small pieces of fabric just fine, but you definitely won’t be able to cut through most fabric.

The Merchant & Mills scissors, top, compared with the full-size fabric shears from the Dritz kit.

The Merchant & Mills scissors, top, compared with the full-size fabric shears from the Dritz kit.

The handles on the scissors are also pretty small and may feel awkward for bigger hands. Despite their size, though, the scissors feel solid; they’re made of seamless pieces of metal, rather than blades glued into plastic handles like the flimsier versions we found in the other travel kits. The scissors in the kit we tested also had some sort of black gunk (perhaps paint residue?) that rubbed off on our hands. When we contacted Merchant & Mills about this, they told us they had recalled the kit because of this issue and that all the new kits should now have a “clean-as-a-whistle pair enclosed.” Merchant & Mills is sending us another kit to test, and we’ll update this guide to confirm whether the scissors are clean.

Black residue rubbed off the set of Merchant & Mills scissors we tested. The company says they’ve recalled these scissors and all new kits should have clean versions.

Black residue rubbed off the set of Merchant & Mills scissors we tested. The company says they’ve recalled these scissors and all new kits should have clean versions.

Also great: full-size kit

Also Great
*At the time of publishing, the price was $11.
If you want to get more into home sewing and need full-size scissors and marking tools without spending much, look no further.
Even though it’s travel-size, we think the Merchant & Mills Rapid Repair Kit has the highest-quality notions and will suit the needs of most people needing to make sewn repairs to clothing and small home projects. That said, if you want to get into more home sewing and need a basic, inexpensive set with full-size scissors and marking tools, we like the Dritz Start-To-Sew Kit ($11). We also think this is the best kit if you also plan on using a sewing machine. In general, a kit like this will give you all the tools you need to cut out patterns, mark fabric, and make simple adjustments to hemlines. We like that it comes with tracing paper and a tracing wheel for marking fabric and does away with the somewhat-useless small spools of thread that come in the other full-size kits.

The Dritz kit includes a pin cushion, a packet of 10 needles, tracing wheel, 7-inch scissors, a seam gauge, white marking pencil, pins, two thimbles, a needle threader, tracing paper, measuring tape, and a seam ripper.

The Dritz kit includes a pincushion, a packet of 10 needles, tracing wheel, seven-inch scissors, a seam gauge, white marking pencil, pins, two thimbles, a needle threader, tracing paper, measuring tape, and a seam ripper.

The seam ripper was sharper and the pincushion bigger than in the two Singer sets we tested (the pins actually poked through the bottom of the Singer cushions, which is terribly annoying).

The Dritz pincushion, left, is slightly bigger than the Singer cushion, right. We could push pins entirely into the Dritz version without them poking through the bottom.

The Dritz pincushion, left, is slightly bigger than the Singer cushion, right. We could push pins entirely into the Dritz version without them poking through the bottom.

The Dritz kit doesn’t come with thread, but that doesn’t bother us because the thread in these kits is usually so mediocre. More importantly, this kit comes with tracing paper and a tracing wheel to transfer pattern markings onto fabric. If you sew clothing, these tools will prove more useful than the small spools of thread included in the other kits.

If we were purchasing this kit, we’d probably opt to store the tools in a different case or bag rather than use the plastic case they come with. The case is flimsy, and you have to perfectly place all of the notions in their particular spots for everything to fit properly.

Like our other kits, the Dritz Start-To-Sew Kit was not editorially reviewed. It’s the ninth top-rated kit on Amazon and received an average of 4.5 stars of 22 reviews.

 Competition

Singer Beginner’s Sewing Kit ($9) is the set that Rachel Epperson sells at The Needle Shop and the one we recommend in the Wirecutter’s The Best School Supplies guide. We found the notions mostly on par with the Dritz Start-To-Sew Kit, however the pincushion is slightly smaller and pins actually stuck through the bottom of the cushion.

The Singer pincushions were a tad too small. We found that regular pins stuck through the bottom.

The Singer pincushions were a tad too small. We found that regular pins stuck through the bottom.

We didn’t think we’d use the small spools of thread included in either of the Singer kits. The thread doesn’t seem like it’s very high quality for hand sewing and the spools are too small to use on a sewing machine. This kit comes with a zippered pouch that’s handy for keeping everything organized, but it felt cheap and the inside of the bag of the kit we tested was actually stained. The bag’s princess pink color was also a little off-putting (although maybe not for the tween who likes sewing clothes for American Girl Dolls).

The notions in both of the Singer kits were identical. We felt the seam ripper was very cheap in both of these kits and  thought the pincushion in each was too small.

The notions in both of the Singer kits were identical. We felt the seam ripper was very cheap in both of these kits and thought the pincushion in each was too small.

The Singer 1512 Beginners Sewing Kit ($10) is essentially the same as the other Singer kit, except it doesn’t come with the pink bag and does come with an extra blue marking pencil. We found that the seam ripper in this kit was very poorly glued together. This is the second best-selling kit on Amazon and has four stars of 242 user reviews.

Best Sewing Kit for Home, Travel and Emergency Use ($13) has more tools than the other travel kits—a seam ripper and a circular needle dispenser—but the scissors are super cheap feeling and we could see them breaking very quickly. We also feel that all the elastic straps inside the case would eventually break and we didn’t like how we had to fasten every tool into the case. This is the top-selling sewing kit on Amazon, where it has 4.4 stars with 95 user reviews.

We didn’t love all the elastic straps in the case for The Best Sewing Kit for Travel and Home Use. The scissors were also very cheap feeling.

We didn’t love all the elastic straps in the case for Best Sewing Kit for Home, Travel and Emergency Use. The scissors were also very cheap-feeling.

We also looked at the following kits, but for various reasons opted not to test them:

Merchant & Mills Sewing Kit - This is Merchant & Mill’s full-size kit. The notions in it look great, and it comes in an awesome oilskin tailor’s roll. However, at more than $75 (plus shipping), this is more than most beginning sewers need. Besides, if you’re spending that much money, you may as well build your own kit.

Alabama Chanin Essential Sewing Kit – This boutique clothing and sewing pattern company is popular within the home sewing community. Their full-size kit includes top-quality notions from various brands. We think this would be a great kit for a seasoned sewer looking for a beautiful sewing kit. But at $75, we also think this kit is too expensive for most people.

Sewing Kit – Home Essentials Sewing Kit With 18 Different Accessories – Filled with bobbins and full-size spools of thread, this kit is really meant to go along with a sewing machine. It also didn’t receive higher user reviews than the kits we tested.

LoveSewing Basic Sewing Kit – Again, this set is geared toward machine sewing. It also didn’t have better user reviews than the full-size kits we did test.

Singer Professional Series Sew Kit in Designer Bag – Another machine sewing kit. It was also not more highly reviewed than the kits we tested.

Michley Lil’ Sew and Sew 100-Piece Sewing Kit – This machine sewing kit received poor Amazon user reviews.

Singer QuiltPro Sewing Basket Kit – Received poor reviews on Amazon and Walmart.com.

Patagonia Expedition Sewing Kit – We liked the look of this kit, and actually recommend it in The Wirecutter’s The Gifts We Want to Give in 2013 guide. Yet with an awl and an adhesive patch, we think this kit is better suited for outdoor expeditions than everyday sewing projects.

Singer Sewing Kit – The notions in this travel kit don’t look great, and it received mediocre Amazon user reviews.

Restoration Hardware Roll-Up Sewing Kit – We loved the look of this kit, but it’s no longer available.

Lewis N. Clark Travel Sewing Kit – This has many Amazon complaints about the bag breaking and the kit feeling cheap.

Singer Mini Travel Sew Kit in Storage Case – The tools in this kit look very cheap and it only received one star (over one review) on Amazon.

Singer Sewing Kit in Egg Shaped Storage Case – The quality of the notions in this kit did not look better than those in the kits we tested.

BDS Mini Sewing Kit – Multiple Amazon complaints about this kit being cheaply made. The scissors also look very small and flimsy.

What makes a good sewing kit?

Whether buying a travel or full-size kit, the included scissors should be sharp and open and close smoothly. Good scissors can make cutting through fabric super easy, while dull shears make cutting drudgery. The scissors in most kits tend to be middle of the road—not terrible, but not life-changing. Rachel Epperson from The Needle Shop told me, “a lot of times the scissors in a kit will end up becoming the pair [people] use for crappier tasks and [they] get higher end ones for fabrics.” If you really get into sewing, you’ll probably want to upgrade your scissors and invest in a rotary cutter and cutting mat.

Ideally a kit will include several sizes of needles. You’ll want a very thin needle for silk, rayon, or other delicate fabrics, otherwise the needle will leave a mark where it’s gone through. On the other hand, you’ll need a sturdier and perhaps longer needle for sewing denim or canvas (it’s a bummer sewing thick fabrics with a delicate needle). It’s nice to have a variety on hand to suit whatever fabric you’re sewing. Of course, all of the needles should be sharp. Our top pick, the Merchant & Mills Rapid Repair Kit, actually only includes two needle sizes, but we found they are good for general use.

Some home kits come with upwards of a dozen colors of thread, but this really isn’t necessary.
Some home kits come with upwards of a dozen colors of thread, but this really isn’t necessary. At minimum, you need black and whit, and maybe navy and red, according to Epperson. If you need a special color to match a garment or object, it’s better to buy thread to match individually. The spools that come with home kits tend not to have a lot of thread on them anyway.

Sewing pins are used to temporarily hold fabric together. Most kits seem to come with standard metal dressmaker pins, which are all metal. Other kits contain pins with colorful plastic heads; these can be easier to see and work with, but shouldn’t be ironed over or the plastic will melt. Really nice kits (such as the Alabama Chanin one) come with glass-head pins, which won’t melt when ironed. Regardless of the type, pins should move through fabric easily; dull ones tend stick in the fabric and in some cases even snag fibers.

A good kit will also include a few safety pins, which are perfect for MacGyvering all manner of clothing. Like regular pins, safety pins should be sharp.

Many full-size kits, and even some travel ones, come with a seam ripper—a handle fitted with a sharp metal pointed end. Contrary to its name, you really shouldn’t use a ripper to rip. Instead, use this tool to pick out stitches. (Many dressmakers actually call the process “picking” stitches.) The ripper should be sharp enough that you barely need to pull at the stitches to cut through them.

A measuring tape comes in handy for taking various body measurements, evenly hemming pants and curtains, and many other sewing tasks. It looks similar to a carpenter’s tape measure except it’s made of ribbon printed with inch and centimeter markings. Better dressmaker tapes are made of sturdy vinyl ribbon, while lesser-quality ones are made of paper.

Most cushions come with a tiny strawberry-shaped sack filled with emery to sharpen the points of pins and needles.
A pincushion helps keep all of your pins organized in one place. Many home kits come with the standard tomato-shaped cushion, usually filled with cotton or polyester. Most cushions come with a tiny strawberry-shaped sack filled with emery to sharpen the points of pins and needles. It’s best if the cushion is big enough that pins and needles don’t poke through the bottom. Many travel kits advertise that they come with a pincushion; however, the “cushion” is usually just a thin piece of foam.

A marking pencil or tailor’s chalk (a thin square of chalk) allows you to temporarily mark fabric. Nice chalk easily marks fabric. When it gets dry, or if the marking pencil is sort of waxy, you’ll find it difficult to mark with. Home sewers often upgrade to a disappearing ink fabric marker or a tailor’s chalk wheel.

A seam gauge is a handy tool for measuring seam allowance and for hemming things like pants or curtains. This is simply a small metal ruler with a sliding right-angle marker. A good seam gauge will be sturdy enough that the plastic right-angle marker won’t break when you move it up and down the ruler.

A metal or silicone thimble protects the end of your finger from a needle or pin puncture. Most home kits come with a metal version.

Home kits vs. travel kits

Home kits have full-size tools and notions, appropriate for bigger projects, while travel kits are compact and better for on-the-go repairs.

We tested three full-size and three travel size kits.

We tested three full-size and three travel-size kits.

Travel kits tend to be small, meant to fit in a purse, backpack, luggage, or office drawer. These small kits usually only contain the bare essentials for making quick sewing repairs. Most travel kits come with a set of miniature scissors, a few pins and needles, a needle threader, a safety pin, a couple buttons and snaps, and a miniature card wrapped with multiple colors of thread. Some travel kits are even more minimalist, fitting into a matchbook.

Home kits, on the other hand, have full-size scissors, more pins and needles, usually spools of thread in multiple colors, and a variety of other tools that will make sewing easier (such as a seam ripper, marking tool, and measuring tape). A home kit can serve either as your emergency repair kit at home or as the beginnings of a larger sewing tool collection.

If you’re experimenting with getting into sewing, buying a kit is an easy and relatively inexpensive way to get everything you need. If you really get into sewing, you’ll probably eventually upgrade your tools. But if you get the right kit, you may not even need to upgrade.

Care, maintenance, and tips

Stray needles, pins, and safety pins can be a bare foot’s worst nightmare, not to mention a serious hazard for children and pets.
Stray needles, pins, and safety pins can be a bare foot’s worst nightmare, not to mention a serious hazard for children and pets. Keep these sharp objects securely stuck in a pincushion or in the case they came in.

Only use fabric shears on fabric or thread—never on paper or other items that can dull the blades.

As with most systems, if you keep your sewing kit organized you’re more likely to use it. Store all of your notions in a case so they’re easily accessible. If you find you’re accumulating many spools of thread, it may be worth investing in a thread rack.

If you actually need some pointers on the basics of sewing, there are some fantastic resources online. We like these Creativebug tutorials for sewing on a button and machine-sewing seams, both by Liesl Gibson of the pattern company Oliver + S. If you end up falling for sewing and want to learn more, there are also some amazing online courses. A few other places to look are at Craftsy, and, for the more advanced, the University of Fashion.

Wrapping it up

For basic sewing tasks, we love the Merchant & Mills Rapid Repair Kit. With beautiful, well-made notions that far outshine those you find in average kits, we think spending a little more on this set will ultimately save you frustration down the line.

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Sources

  1. Rachel Epperson, Owner of The Needle Shop, Interview
  2. Marcy Harriell, Oonaballoona, Interview
  3. Sonja Beck Gingerich, Ginger Makes, Interview
  4. Wanett Clyde, Sown Brooklyn, Interview
  5. Maddie Flanigan, Madalynne, Interview
  6. Clio & Phineous, Interview
  7. Cloth Habit, Interview
  8. Amy Eastwood, Sew Well, Interview
  9. Devra Goldberg, Puu’s Door of Time, Interview

Originally published: March 14, 2014

  • SnortJr

    The REI kit appears to have disappeared from their web site.

    • http://thewirecutter.com/ tony kaye

      Thanks for the heads up!