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Basic Tools, Equipment & Support Materials used in Textiles Craft

Updated: Aug 9, 2023

The objects used for facilitating the conversion of textile materials into end products can be collectively called tools and equipment used in Textile Crafts. Let us understand in detail the basic distinction, types & applications of these.

What is the difference between tools & equipment in textiles? Are tools and equipment one and the same? Is marking chalk a textile tool or material? Is fusible lining / paper a tool or material in textiles?

A tool in textile crafts could be any object that helps in performing a certain task or achieving a certain outcome, without itself getting consumed or applied in the process; these could be mechanical as well as non-mechanical.

A seam ripper is a non-mechanical tool of textile craft as, 1. It has no moving part, 2. Performs the function of ripping seams singularly, i.e. without the help of any other attachments. Similarly, a scissor is a mechanical tool that can assist in textile crafts. However, a sewing machine would be classified as ‘Equipment’ as it is a set of multiple tools that collectively equip the user to perform the function of sewing fabrics. Similarly, a sleeve ironing board or a Tailor’s Ham is a tool that supports the iron that performs the function of ironing.

It is interesting to note here that objects like marking chalk or fusible paper also support the process of manufacturing textile crafts. However, they get consumed in the process, thus they will be referred to as support material and not tools!

Why do we need Tools & Equipment in Textile craft workshops?

Tools and equipment are needed in textiles for various end-purposes. Some of these have been listed below:

· Estimating/measuring yarns, threads, fabrics & other materials

· Pressing/ironing

· Cutting threads & fabrics

· Stitching layers of fabric

· Deconstruction / Unpicking stitches

What are the Tools for estimating/measuring yarns, threads, fabrics & other materials in a Textile craft / design workshop?

The process of developing textile crafts needs meticulous estimation of materials. You could be measuring the fabric/ thread length, or weighing the required amount of dye in your dye bath. Various tools & equipment assist you in the process.

Measurement estimation tools could be:

1. Inch tape/measuring tape: Traditionally known as inch tape, it is a flexible long tape that is marked in inches on one side and in centimetres on the other side. While these measuring tools could be available in varying lengths, the most common length is 60 inches (152 cm). Also, most measuring tapes are 5/8 inches wide as traditionally this has been the standard width of seam allowances in most patterns. Most of these tapes are made of polyester. One can also find retractable tapes and adhesive tapes in the market.

These tapes are largely used to take body measurements as their flexible material allows the tape to go around body contours and take perfect measurements. These tapes are also used for measuring the length of threads and fabrics.

2. Meter Scale / Rod: These are stiff measuring tools that were traditionally made of wood or metal. These are mostly found in fabric stores as they are used for measuring fabric and other textile supplies. The standard length of these is 1 meter although varying length rulers/scales are not uncommon.

3. French Curve /Pattern shaper: Pattern shapers are largely used for apparel making where their curved edges can be effectively used for shaping armholes, necklines, sleeves, curved seams etc. These marking tools are available in the market in various shapes and sizes. Mostly made of transparent plastics, they are light in weight and slide easily over the fabric. The shapers come with multiple markings on their surface to help the pattern maker mark seams as fine as 0.5cms to perfection for curved edges in patterns.

4. Tailoring Ruler / L-scale: This marking/measuring tool helps in obtaining perfect right angles as and when required in apparel and non-apparel textile crafts. These rulers are also sometimes designed to perform the function of shapers, meter-scale, and L-shape all in one piece. It is common to find tools that are L shaped at one edge and curved at the other to be able to perform both functions. They are usually made of materials similar to that of the shapers.

5. Weighing balance: The fabric in textile crafts is measured linearly and not estimated by weight. However, some ingredients required in the processing of design patterns like dye powders, auxiliaries, printing paste ingredients need to be weighed for specific results. Therefore, a kitchen scales styled weighing balance is an integral piece of equipment in a textile design workshop.

6. Measuring jars: While solid auxiliaries can be estimated by weight, some fluid auxiliaries used for pattern design like vinegar, dye liquor etc. could be estimated using measuring jars.

7. Self-healing marking/cutting mats: Self-healing mats are thick self-adhesive sheets that can be used as a platform for cutting and marking. If you are more accustomed to using a rotary cutter instead of shears for cutting the pattern pieces, then this is your best friend. These mats not only save the work tables from nasty cuts from rotary cutters, but they also prevent fabric slipping as they have a slight self-adhesive property that holds the fabric in place. Additionally, they have a measuring grid marked all over the surface. This grid helps you sometimes cut the fabric without having to mark cutting lines over it and otherwise also, keeps a check on the length and positioning of cuts. These mats are also widely used as bases for cutting/customising stencils for stencil painting. The mats are made of reinforced material that self-heals any cut marks made by the rotary cutters. This ensures that these mats can be reused multiple times.

What are the Pressing / Ironing Tools and Equipment in a Textile craft workshop?

Ironing/pressing is an integral part of the pre-preparation and post-process finishing of textile crafts. Textiles, organic in nature, get creased easily during the process of folding, sewing, and otherwise. A creased fabric is not ideal for any textile design/construction technique as creases would interfere in the process of estimation and design application. Since textile crafts convert 2D textile materials into 3D objects. The post-process finishing often requires specific tools that can ensure the removal of creases without destroying the shape of the object.

1. Iron: A basic hand-operated iron is one of the most important equipment in a textile craft development studio. Fabrics and accessories need to be ironed at different stages of craft development to ensure accurate measurement & markings, precise cutting, and neat sewing. It is important to identify the nature of the fabric before using iron as different fabrics would need different temperatures for safe use. Using inappropriate temperatures could lead to burning, melting, and scalding of fabrics while ironing. Most irons are also equipped with a steam function where localized steaming can ease the process of ironing by providing instant moisture along with heat.

Additionally, the movement of iron also differs with different textiles. The iron should be moved horizontally over the surface of flat textiles like cotton, silk etc. This ensures the smooth removal of creases. However, the technique is not suitable for stretch fabrics like Lycra or pile fabrics like velvet, corduroy etc. as the horizontal movement of hot & heavy iron might lead to spatial distortion of the fabric or its pile. Such fabrics are either finished with steamers or are gently pressed - where the iron is pressed on one surface and then quickly lifted and placed on the adjoining surface of the fabric.

2. Apparel Steamer: This equipment is largely used for the finishing of made-ups. The equipment helps in finishing made-ups like heavily accessorized apparel that cannot be easily laid down flat once their construction has been completed. The steamers can also be operated on problematic design details like fur, ruffles etc. where flat ironing or pressing are not a practical option.

3. Ironing board: Ironing boards provide a safe and ergonomic base to the material that can be laid out flat and can be accessed from various angles when placed on the ironing board. The availability of an adjoining metal plate provides for safe placement of hot iron when not in use. Since it has multiple functions and does not perform the task of ironing itself, it is categorised as an equipment.

4. Sleeve-ironing board: A Sleeve ironing board is a tool that allows rounded ironing of circular parts of apparel like a sleeve. It is padded and raised handle that can ride inside the sleeve to provide it a base for ironing. The tool is especially useful for ironing sleeves of coats and jackets that are not expected to show a crease.

5. Tailor’s Ham: A tailor’s ham is similar to sleeve ironing board except that it is not mounted on a wooden frame. Instead, this is a soft piece of fabric roll that can slide inside sleeves, collars and other raised, 3D parts of made-ups to provide base for ironing.

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What are the Tools and Equipment used for cutting in a Textile Craft workshop?

1. Scissors: A set of sharp shears or scissors in different sizes is the most important mechanical tool of a textile crafts workshop. While the bigger shears are required for cutting the fabrics, there are also a set of smaller scissors for cutting threads and other small snips like corners and slashes. Apart from these, there are some decorative shears like pinking shears (zig-zag cutting scissors) which help in finishing the raw edges of seams. As most of us know, the thumb rule for textile workshop shears is, ‘Do not use it for cutting anything else, like paper!’. Shears used on other surfaces like paper, lose their ability to make sharp cuts on fabrics. It is a common practice to label all scissors in a textile craft workshop as to which are the ones for cutting fabrics and the ones for cutting paper and other accessories.

Scissors / Shears & Rotary cutters in textile Craft workshop
Scissors / Shears & Rotary cutters in textile Craft workshop

2. Rotary cutters: Rotary cutters are the fancier and more professional version of shears that can boast of more precise cutting results. This is primarily for the reason that rotary cutters can work on the cutting lines while the fabric is lying flat, while the fabric has to be lifted up for snipping with shears. This removes any possibility of mis endeavour. Also, rotary cutters can be helpful for cutting layers of fabric together, depending on the size of the cutter. A rotary cutter should only be used when the fabric is laying on a self-healing mat as the blade can scratch/damage the fabric base. Rotary cutters are also safer as cutting equipment as compared to shears as the blade can be retracted inside and exposed only while cutting. While shears have sharp pointed edges protruding all the time.

What are the Tools & Equipment used for Stitching layers of fabrics?

1. Sewing machine: Sewing machine is one of the most complex but mandatory equipment in a textile craft workshop. While it quickens the process of sewing layers of fabric together, the stitches laid by the sewing machine are also much stronger and even as compared to hand-sewing.

When was Sewing Machine first invented? History of Sewing Machines: While the concept of a sewing machine dates back to 1790 when a London cabinetmaker Thomas Saint first conceptualised a sewing machine and designed some early sketches. However, his concept was never converted into a machine. The earliest functional sewing machine was patented by French tailor Barthélemy Thimonnier whose sewing machine could mechanically lay down chain stitches. The first professionally successful sewing machine was invented by Isaac Singer in 1850 and this machine could lay up to 900 stitches per minute. The next development in the field was a zig-zag stitch sewing machine that was patented by Helen Blanchard in 1873. However, it was in 1936 that zig-zag stitch machines were marketed by singer.

Sewing machines have come a long way since then. While we have seen hand-operated and foot-operated mechanical machines till couple of generations back, sewing machines today are mostly operated by electricity and can boast of hundreds of decorative and functional stitches in one piece of equipment. Safe use of sewing machines is a primary concern that should be implemented in every sewing classroom and workshop.

2. Machine needles: An integral part of sewing workshop, machine needles come in varied sizes and shapes. It is important to use the right needle for the right kind of fabric as this would impact the strength and finish of the final stitch and smoothness of the sewing process. While most fabrics are good with universal needles number 10 / 12 needles, the needles for tough fabrics like denim, upholstery could be 14/16 with stronger shank and sharper point so that the needle does not bend or break down easily. There are also needle variations like ball point needles for knitted fabrics, scarf needles for stretch fabrics and chisel point needles that do not damage the leather and PVC fabrics. While it is a common practice to use universal needles for most sewing work, using appropriate needles for specific tasks can reduce the incidences of needle bending/breakage and irregular stitches.

4. Hand-sewing needles / embroidery needles: Like machine sewing needles, hand-sewing needles also come in variety of shapes and sizes. These different needles could vary in length, thickness, sharpness of the tip and also needle-eye size. There is a marked distinction in the characteristics of needles used fo hand-sewing and the ones used for embroidery.

For beginners, it is a common practice to use tapestry needles that have a blunt tip, long length, good width and bigger eye. This helps beginners work with thicker threads and safely maintain the grip of the needle. However, finer functions like hemming, detailed embroideries, hand-quilting etc. can find one using much finer and sharper needles as required by the end-results. The choice of fabric is also a factor to be considered while selecting the right needle. Open weave fabrics can be easily worked upon with thicker needles while close weave and delicate fabrics need to be worked with finer needles so that the fabric yarns are not damaged in the process.

5. Thimble: A thimble is a thin metal finger cap usually worn over the thumb while performing hand stitches. The thimble keeps the fingers safe from pin-pricks while manoeuvring the needle direction to make complex stitches on the fabric.

6. Pin-cushion: A pin-cushion is a crafty person’s best friend and caretaker. It is a must in a textile workshop and often the first object made or acquired by beginners. A pin-cushion is technically a soft 3D object which can be used as a repository for all the pins and needles that are being used in the process. This is where the needles and pins can be quickly deposited or retrieved without having to worry about them lying dangerously around the sewing area. Effectively, a pin-cushion keeps the worker and visitor to the sewing areas safe while hastening the process of sewing as the worker does not need to take long pauses placing or retrieving the pins and needles from packaging.

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What are the Textile Craft tools for hand-knitting /interloping fabrics?

1. Knitting needles: Hand-knitting needles have been used extensively for home-knitting since ancient times. While these needles are usually made of smooth steel or other alloys these days to ensure the least abrasion while sliding the yarn stitches, traditionally these have also been made of wood or bamboo. The knitting needles come in varied thickness that is often characterized by a number. Interestingly, this numbering system runs opposite in British and American Haberdashery! For example in the American system number 0 is the thinnest needle (2mm dia) being the thinnest and can go up to 50 (25mm dia). While in British system 2mm needle is number 14 and 10mm needle would be a 000! To save the hyper-connected world from confusion, most reference material these days uses a metric system of numbering the needles, where the needle number is its exact width in mm. Therefore, in the metric system, the number 4.5 needle would actually be 4.5mm in diameter.

It is customary to use the same number of knitting needles in a pair although contemporary & abstract design trends could challenge this norm any day.

Hand-knitting needles
Hand-knitting needles

The selection of the knitting needle numbers depends on various factors as the thickness of the knitting needles decide the size of the stitch. Thus using thinner needles for thicker yarns or vice-versa could be counter-productive and result in a knitted fabric that is too open to provide enough cover or too thick and time-consuming. Therefore, traditional wisdom suggests thinner needles for thinner yarns and likewise. However, it is not uncommon to use thicker needles used for average-width yarns for producing lace-like open knits.

2. Crochet Needle: Crochet as an alternate fabric interloping technique uses only a single needle that has a blunt hook at one end.

Hooked Needle for Crochet
Hooked Needle for Crochet

These hooked needles could again be made of steel, plastic, wood etc. for easy movement of yarns over the surface of the needles. Crochet needles also come in varying lengths and thicknesses. While the length of the needles is measured and marked in cms, the thickness is marked in numbers where smaller numbers suggest thinner needles and likewise.

3. Lace-maker's shuttle / Tatting Shuttle:

Shuttle for Tatting
Shuttle for Tatting

Tatting shuttles are boat-shaped frames with a bobbin fixed inside for winding the yarn. This tool is usually used for fine-lace making where the boat shape of the shuttle helps it slide easily inside and outside of the previous loops. The process is labour -intensive where the required amount of yarn is to be first estimated and hand-wound over the central bobbin.

What are the Unpicking / unravelling tools in a Textile Craft workshop?

1. Seam rippers: a tailor’s best friend, seam rippers could be used more often than a sewing machine in certain projects. It’s a simple tool where a metal hook is attached to a plastic pencil handle. The pointed tips of the hook help in pulling and ripping off unwanted temporary or permanent seams form the fabric. The seam rippers should be used carefully as a pull in the wrong direction could tear the fabric or hurt the worker themselves.

What are the different Support Materials in Textile Crafts?

1. Tailor’s Chalk: A tailor’s chalk is a thin-edged piece of coloured chalk or soap-stone. This is available in multiple colours like white, yellow, red, blue etc. As a convention, a colour contrasting to the colour of the fabric is picked for markings to make them easily visible. These chalks help in pattern marking where cutting and seam lines can be temporarily marked with them. The lines marked by the tailor’s chalk do not get easily removed by abrasion caused by folding, stitching, or slipping of fabrics. However, these are easily removed in the first wash itself, leaving no colour behind. These qualities make them ideal for the purpose of marking textile materials.

2. Fabric marking pencil: These pencils perform the same function as tailor’s chalk. However, these have the added benefit of a long stem that can be held easily with a firm grip. The lines could be thinner and fainter than the tailor’s chalk, making them ideal for projects that are not to be washed before the first use. These pencils are also available in a range of colours.

3. Fusible lining: This is thick interfacing that is heat adhesive from one side. These are thick woven/knitted blended fibre materials that are used to provide a thick lining in cuffs and collars. Earlier, the stiffening fabrics were not fusible, this meant that after some washes, they would start rolling from edges and impact the look and feel of the finished product. With the addition of a heat-adhesive layer on this lining, it sticks firmly with the base fabric once it has been ironed together and provides a neat finished look for the entire lifespan of the product.

4. Self-adhesive bonded paper / bonded web/thermos web: These are thin fibrous sheets that could be adhesive on both sides or just one. The adhesive paper can be used for multiple purposes in textile craftsmanship. These papers are extensively used as backing layers for machine embroidery and scrap patchwork. These could also be used for stabilizing complicated pattern pieces together before stitching. Another interesting use of these papers is in repairing torn denim by machine weaving or embroidery. In all the above scenarios, the fabric pieces are first ironed over the bonded web which them stabilizes them together while they are then joined together by machine embroidery or zig-zag stitches.

5. Fabric Glue: Fabric glue is wash resistant adhesive that can be used for sticking design embellishments on fabric like stones and beads. Fabric glues save the worker from having to stitch embellishment on the fabric with needle and thread thus saving time and effort. The material is most suitable for textile-based artefacts which are not to be machine-washed.

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Aug 13, 2023
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