Thread Theory

Welcome to the new era of menswear sewing. Go ahead and create something exceptional!


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Mend, don’t toss! Visible mending, up-cycling and fitting.

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After posting about recycled plastic fabric a couple of weeks ago, I was interested to read your many thoughtful comments on the subject of sewing and sustainability.  One of you pointed out that I had not included second hand fabrics within my list of personal preferences when choosing sustainable materials for my sewing projects.  Another person explained that choosing North American cottons (grown and manufactured) over internationally produced natural fibres (such as hemp and linen) is actually a more sustainable option since the environmental impact of transportation is huge.

Thank you for engaging and for encouraging us all to think critically about our fabric choices!

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I think I will continue this line of thought today by talking about mending, upcycling and fitting the second-hand and home-made garments that Matt and I have in our closet.  By mending and altering the garments that are already in our closet, my sewing list and my consumption of new fabrics decreases hugely.  There is a bit of a problem with this approach though…I love planning creative new sewing projects and detest a large mending pile!

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In encourage myself to mend rather than start fresh I have found it necessary to add a creative element to each mending project.  Visible mending is a perfect example of this!  These jeans were bought for Matt from a thrift shop a few years ago and have slowly worked their way through Matt’s hierarchy of denim from “best pair” to “Morgan will complain if I wear these out of the house”.  Their knees and pockets were, until recently, more hole than fabric.  I decided to try my hand at visible mending using sashiko embroidery thread, a scrap of denim from a past hemming project (to fill in the holes), and a Netflix movie.  Once I got the hang of working within the confines of the narrow jean leg it went very quickly.  At first I tried to use an embroidery hoop but actually found it easiest to ditch the hoop and just use my hands to put tension on the fabric while I stitched.
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The finished patch isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, I am sure, but Matt really likes how it looks!  There are many styles of visible mending that would suit the aesthetic you want to achieve (tidy, scrappy, minimalist, or artistic).  I’ve included a couple of links at the bottom of this post so you can view the work of two of my favourite visible mending artists and see their skill instead of just rolling your eyes at my first messy attempt!

When I purchased the sashiko supplies for myself I decided to add a few extra skeins and thimbles to my order in case you wanted to try it out too!  I’ve added them to the shop today and you can have a look at what I used below.  Just click on each picture to be sent directly to it in our shop:

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I love the look of white sashiko thread on faded denim but if you have dark indigo denim in need of repair, this navy thread could produce a sophisticated understated mend:

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When sourcing the thread I came across these neat leather Sashiko thimbles.  The thimble sits at the base of the finger and allows you to push the needle through many layers of fabric while creating a running stitch:

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I never quite got the hang of the proper method while repairing Matt’s jeans but I look forward to experimenting further to increase my efficiency!

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I actually mended Matt’s jeans in the late winter and then, after greatly enjoying the process, moved straight on to a pair of second-hand work jeans that I had bought for myself in anticipation of gardening and fence building this summer!  I was drawn to them because they are a very soft and lightweight denim making them comfortable for crawling around in the garden on hot days without dirtying my knees.  Unfortunately though, they were a very impractical style for work pants – their legs were palazzo style (extremely wide)!  So to make these jeans work for me I decided to employ three creative approaches to mending…upcycling, fitting and visible mending.

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I doubt many people would have chosen palazzo jeans over more conservative styles in the thrift store but my ability to sew and my lack of interest in sewing a fresh pair of jeans from scratch led me to buy them second hand and adjust them to my style preference (upcycling).  It took only some chalk marking, pinning and a couple of minutes of sewing to change them into tapered legs.

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I then hemmed them to suit my short legs (fitting) and decided to have some more fun with embroidery thread by adding feathers and sashiko stitching over the intentionally distressed thighs so that they would be less likely to fall apart after hard wear (visible mending).  Having a bit of fun embroidery to look forward to after upcycling and fitting made the earlier steps more enjoyable.

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I love how they turned out!

Here are a few of the tools that I used while upcycling these jeans:

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The Clover Chaco marker has been an essential tool in my sewing kit for many years but I did not add it to the shop until just now because they are so readily available at local fabric stores…it feels strange to add something to the shop that may not be in high demand but I am dead set on my dream that the Thread Theory shop will one day include everything you need for your menswear projects – hard to source tools or otherwise – so I thought it is time to fill this gaping hole in our inventory!

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If you happen to live in an area where no fabric stores are within easy reach or if your fabric shop, for some mysterious reason, does not stock this essential tool, now you can add it to your next Thread Theory order.

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This Jean-a-ma-jig, on the other hand, is a very new addition to my sewing toolbox and has already proven useful for all sorts of menswear and bag making projects!  It is a spacer that you put under your machine foot when you are about to stitch over a thick ridge – it acts like a smooth ramp for your foot to travel up so that your needle does not get caught on the ridge.  It is intended for hemming jeans (it helps you travel over the bulky flat fell inseam) but works great for many other menswear situations involving thick layers.  For example, the Jean-a-ma-jig is useful for stitching over thick wool darts while attaching a welt pocket as you would when sewing the welt pockets on the Belvedere Waistcoat.  It is a very simple tool and yet it is incredibly effective in reducing messy snarls and skipped stitches!

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Lastly, I have added two more thimble types (in addition to the sashiko thimble) to our increasingly vast selection of thimbles.  As I’ve been told by many of you each time I add a new thimble to our shop, the perfect thimble is a very subjective thing!  We already have quite a diverse selection in our inventory but it isn’t yet comprehensive.  This time, I’ve added what is, in my opinion, the perfect embroidery thimble and, in my sewing friend’s opinion, the perfect hand-stitching thimble:

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My ideal thimble while embroidering and visible mending is this leather one – I use the size medium.  My hands manipulate the fabric and re-thread needle so often when embroidering that I find metal thimbles are always slipping off.  The leather thimble stays put and allows for very good grip.  It can be placed on whichever finger needs protection and will mold perfectly to that finger’s shape over time.

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My friend, who likes to hand tie quilts occasionally, prefers to use adhesive thimbles.  She uses a flexible plastic type that offers a moderate level of protection but I was excited to recently find this type which offers more thorough protection – a stainless steel plate with an adhesive back!  The beauty of this sort of thimble is that you can adhere it exactly where you need it and leave the rest of your finger unencumbered.  Depending on your stitching style you may need protection near the tip of your finger or off to the side, this stick-on thimble can be placed accordingly.


 

In case these tools or my visible mending projects have you inspired to delve further into your examination of sustainable sewing practices, here are two of my favourite websites to get you started!

SashikoMendingSamples by Katrina

Katrina Rodabaugh: Fiber Art. Sustainability. Slow Fashion.

Shoe repair by Tom of Holland

Tom of Holland & The Visible Mending Programme: making and re-making

Do you hate mending?  Love mending? Only mend certain items and rag bin the rest?  I’m so glad I have added a bit of creativity to my mending approach so that I actually enjoy the process now…maybe you will find the same!


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3 new tools to try on your next sewing project (and a discount code!)

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Strangely enough, my first time trying pinking shears was only a few months ago when I ordered these Italian made beauties.  I grew up with a serger in my house (thanks to my Mom’s nicely appointed sewing and craft room) and, even as a complete novice, used it to finish my seams.  Not everyone is that lucky!  Or perhaps not everyone wants a second machine gathering dust and leading to hours of frustrated attempts to change the thread color!  I guess that depends on perspective…

Anyhow, you might like to consider pinking shears: An excellent and traditional way to minimise the fraying of woven fabrics.

Pinking shears were invented by Samuel Briskman in 1931.  He was inspired by the serration on a bread knife that he had bought for his wife.  His invention was patented and used enthusiastically by textile manufacturers and home sewers alike until the development of serging.  You can read Mr. Briskman’s obituary for more details on his invention here.

The simplicity and effectiveness of pinking shears for finishing woven seam allowance is really appealing to me, even as the owner of a brand new serger.  I like how pinking shears can be used to both finish and notch curved seams simultaneously.  I think a pinked seam allowance looks quite charming!  And I love pinking fabric samples when I create mood boards or scrap books (or send fabric samples to you guys when you are wishing to feel the fabrics that we have in our shop!).

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The Gingher pair that I have just added to our shop (and my own sewing kit!) are exceptionally nice.  They have blunt tips that will not snag delicate fabrics, very sharp blades, and a hard wearing double-plated chrome-over-nickel finish.  Plus…they have a lifetime warranty!

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Another classic tool that I have added to our shop and have used far more frequently throughout my sewing career is a set of french curve rulers.  This clear plastic set by Bohin features the three most common shapes and sizes of french curve.  I find it really handy to have this set in my toolbox to pair with my large dressmakers curve (which is a metal ruler with one gradual curve…it looks a little bit like a very subtle lower case “r”).  The smaller curves found on these french curve rulers allow you to draft or adjust a greater variety of details – for example, when a side seam is moved forward or backwards on a garment (such as the Goldstream Peacoat), the bottom of the armhole features a pretty sharp curve.  My dressmaker’s curve does not match something like this, so, without my french curves I would be left to imprecisely draw the curve by hand!  French curves are also useful for drawing pocket shapes, collars, armholes, necklines and hem curves.

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Moving away from traditional tools, the last item I want to show you today is my favourite – a flexible curved ruler!

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It is amazing for fitting and adjusting existing patterns.  You can bend it around your body to get an accurate representation of your crotch curve, hip curve or any other curve.  Then, simply lay that curve on the relevant pattern piece to see if the pattern matches the shape of your body!  If it doesn’t, your curved ruler is all ready to go…it is firm enough that you can use it just like you would a metal or wood straight ruler.  Push your pencil against it and draw your new curve.

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Aside from visually representing curves, you can also use this ruler to measure existing curves.  For example, if you would like to check that the armhole and sleeve seams are the same length just bend the ruler along the seams and measure in either metric or imperial.

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Here is a great post (filled with photos) during which Becca demonstrates how to use a flexible ruler to perfectly fit a trouser pattern to her body.


 

Well, there you go – I hope you’ve been introduced to a new tool or perhaps reminded of an old one today!

Head to our shop to peruse our growing collection of sewing tools.  They are 10% off this weekend if you use the discount code USEFULTOOLS


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Thimbles of many sizes

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A well fitted thimble can make hand sewing much more comfortable.  Do you like to push the needle through your fabric with the tip of your finger as is done by most quilters or with the side of your finger as is commonly done by tailors?  There is no right or wrong way, just be sure to choose the thimble that matches your technique!

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We’ve added a selection of thimbles to our shop so that you can choose the style that suits you best.  We’ve also included multiple sizes to ensure that even male sewists with large fingers can find a thimble that fits.

These John James closed top thimbles, for example, come in size large, medium and small. I’ve measured the diameter at the base of each thimble and listed this on our website so that you can measure across the joint on your finger to compare.

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These thimbles feature an indented top and divots that make it easy to hold your needle in place as you push through thick fabric.

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We’ve also added to our open top thimble selection!  I personally prefer open top thimbles because they allow my finger to breath (I hate when the thimble slips around on a sweaty finger :P) and I can pull the thimble down on to my finger’s joint so it rests very securely.  I have pretty bony hands so there isn’t very much flesh on my finger tip to hold a thimble in place, thus, finding a snug fit on my joint is essential.  I also like that an open top allows me to use the tip of my finger to manipulate fabric.

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I only added two sizes of open thimble because we already have the beautiful brass Merchant & Mills thimble in our shop.  The Merchant & Mills thimble is actually a size small thimble (when comparing it to the two nickel plated thimbles that are size medium and large).

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These thimbles also feature nice divots to hold your needle in place when you push with the side of your finger.

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While I was sourcing thimbles I decided to find a few other tools hand sewing tools to assist in sewing thick or unusual fabrics often used for menswear.  First off, we have these small rubber discs that you can use to grip your needle when pulling it through leather or thick layers of denim or canvas.

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Each package comes with two discs to store in your hand sewing kit.

I’ve also added my favourite unusual John James sewing needles to our shop.  There are a selection of three extra sharp and strong leather needles that you can use to sew on leather buckles or elbow patches:

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And the most handy household repair kit.  You probably don’t have these needles in your sewing box!  They include curved mattress needles, a darning needle and two sharp leather needles.

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The mattress needles are especially handy for repairing upholstered furniture but I would also be interested to use them when hand stitching hard to reach areas (perhaps if you would like to repair a thick backpack or add a leather patch to a finished garment.  Use these curved needles whenever the fabric you are stitching can not be easily manipulated with a straight needle.

The last secret weapon to add to your sewing kit are these serious little thread clippers.

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They feature light and strong handles made from fibreglass reinforced resin and steel blades.

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Their handle-less design makes them very quick to grab and comfortable to use.  If you have never used this style of clipper before, you might find it takes a little bit to figure out the pinching technique since the way that you pinch the clippers closed effects the alignment of the blades.  Once you master the technique (you will have it figured out after a few snips!) you will choose these clippers over any other thread snips.

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Do you have any menswear hand sewing projects on the go right now?  I frequently sew patches and medals on to the uniforms of Matt’s firefighter co-workers so I really like to have a good quality and convenient hand sewing kit ready to go in my sewing room.


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Spruce up your sewing machine (and the 2nd contest winner!)

January always finds me in a frenzy of cleaning, revamping and generally refreshing.  This year Matt and I are taking that concept a step further by installing new floors in our house…it’s been fun but it also makes me very pleased to walk in to my tidy studio and close the door on all the dust, piles of wood, and tools spread everywhere throughout the rest of the house.

I’m keeping the new year frenzy to a minimum in my studio by simply giving my machines a good clean and the attention they deserve (yet rarely receive).  I thought you guys might like to do the same so I’ve added a few interesting tools and accessories to the shop to help you refresh and renew!

First off, here is something extremely simple but beautiful: A lint brush.sewing-tools-thread-theory-45As you can see below, the only lint brush I had in my studio before acquiring this one was NOT doing a good job of removing lint.  It was poor quality to start with and was completely worn out.sewing-tools-thread-theory-44The fine and soft bristles on this brush do a much nicer job of getting in to tiny crevices and I think they are flexible enough to stand up to quite a lot of wear.  The beautiful twisted wire handle will allow the brush to hang nicely in a visible spot so that we are all more likely to give our machines a clean!sewing-tools-thread-theory-42

Once your machine is clean, it’s time to add a few useful accessories.  I feel very lucky to have a handy measuring tape printed right on the work table on my industrial sewing machine.  It is useful to take quick measurements while I’m in the middle of sewing.  I’m excited that I’ve found a similar tape to add to your sewing table!

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It is adhesive so you just need to peel off the backing and stick it on to your table.  It is 60″ long features both metric and imperial.

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Even if you have seam markings engraved on to your machine’s throat plate, your sewing will likely benefit from the use of a magnetic seam guide.  Just place it on top of the metal throat plate so that the fence is positioned at your desired seam allowance.  That way you can’t accidentally swerve if your attention lapses momentarily or if you lose your grip on the fabric.

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Keep in mind that this little upgrade for your machine features a magnet so you might want to do some research before using it on a computerised machine.  The back of the package warns against use with computerised machines but I have read several articles which explain that you would need a VERY strong magnet to wipe a hard drive in a sewing machine (this is a great article which leads me to believe that any household magnet is safe to use) but I want you to be aware that some people worry about placing magnets near or on their machines.

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The last upgrade you might want to make to your sewing table is a tool tray straight out of a mechanic shop!  If you live in fear of your toddler (or you) stepping on a stray pin, this is the pin dish for you:

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If features a huge magnetic base and a large metal tray.  I have turned it upside down and given it a vigorous shake with good results…not a single pin shifted position or fell to the floor!

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This tray is big enough that you could use it to store all sorts of metal items – use it to contain your thread snips and sewing needles while you are working on a hand sewing project or fill it with bobbins!

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Ready to give your machine a spa day?  It deserves it!  Head to our tool shop >


Now, to finish up today’s post, it’s time to announce the second winner of our Lazo Hack contest.  This week’s prize is your choice of three PDF Thread Theory patterns!

And the winner is…@nique_et and her fabric inspiration post!  Yesss…that print would be awesome!  I can imagine those trousers worn rolled up casually with a beaded white gauze blouse and leather gladiator sandals.

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Thank you for posting a photo using #lazotrousers!

Next week’s prize will be a $25 (CAD) gift card to Blackbird Fabrics so you can pick up some of the gorgeous tencel twill or sweater knit that Caroline has in stock.


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How It’s Made – Sewing Supplies

Matt’s a big fan of Reddit (an online ‘bullitin board’/ the front page of the internet) and usually checks out what’s new every morning.  He saves all the best posts and videos for me to see.  While they predominantly feature cute animals (he knows how to make me smile!), the GIF he shared with me today was less cuddly and a bit more informative:

 

Tip: If you are viewing this blog post in your email program you will likely need to click through to our blog in order to see the videos!

 

How glass head pins are made

In our shop: Merchant & Mills Glass Head Pins

That GIF sent me down a rabbit hole of “How It’s Made” style videos.  I searched for videos relevant to the tools and supplies that we carry in the Thread Theory shop.  I hope you find these as interesting as I did!

 

How needles & pins are made

In our shop: Merchant & Mills Easy Thread Sewing Needles

 

How Sheffield scissors are made

In our shop: Merchant & Mills Tailor’s Shears

 

How custom shoulder pads are made

In our shop: Tailor’s Wool Shoulder Pads

 

How fabric is made

In our shop: Canadian-made knit fabrics

How our sewing pattern envelopes and instruction booklets are made

In our shop: All of our patterns envelopes and instructions are printed by Hemlock, a carbon neutral printer in Burnaby, British Columbia.

How our tote bags are made

In our shop: The Tote Bag for Makers

The Prescott Group (in Halifax, Nova Scotia) runs the Atlantic Bag Company.  One of the skilled sewing machine operators who sews our bags talks about her work about halfway through this video:


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Rivets (and more!) sold individually and in bulk

ZippersRivets-001Ever since we added our Jeans & Pants Essential Notions kits to our shop, I’ve received requests from many of you who would like to purchase rivets in bulk or individually.  Until recently I’ve been making up Paypal invoices each time I received a request and this has worked okay…but it isn’t the most efficient or professional solution!  We made a new order of some of our notions so that we can finally offer the materials from our kits as separate products in our shop!NewNotions-008

Now you can find rivets, no sew jeans buttons, jeans zippers and waistband elastic in the supplies section of our shop!

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While we are on the topic of new products: Some of you may have noticed that last Friday I accidentally sent our newsletter out with the title “Fall Sewing – Flat Rate Shipping Sale and New Tools.”  Upon opening and reading the newsletter you were probably disappointed to see that no new tools were mentioned!  We had planned to release some beautiful and very useful new sewing tools (including more wood ones from local artisan Wray Parsons!) but have been faced with some technical difficulties at our new studio.  Matt has been trying very hard to recreate the lighting that we had at our old studio so that our product photos match the rest that are currently on our website.  So far he has had no luck (and I’m a very critical client :S).  I’ve put up the photos that Matt took of the rivets, zippers and waistband elastic but we just couldn’t bring ourselves to share the less than ideal photos of our new sewing tools.  Matt will be working on a new photography set up next week and I hope we will be able to launch the tools soon!  Sorry for the false newsletter title!

Happy sewing!


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New in our store! More dreamy sewing tools

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We have a huge selection of new Merchant & Mills tools in our shop!  I went on a shopping spree for this order and not only re-stocked any sold out tools but also purchased a whole bunch of new ones that have been on my wishlist for the last couple of years.  Let me introduce you to the newest tools in our supply shop:

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First off, meet these beautiful polished steel buttonhole scissors hailing from Sheffield, England (home of quality scissors and traditional scissor makers).  I’ve been coveting these for quite some time due to their short blades which make for really precise snipping capabilities.  I have a pair in my studio now that I have been using for everything from snipping exact notches, to grading and clipping seams, to actual buttonhole slicing.NewMMProducts-37

They operate incredibly smoothly (they are the smoothest out of all the Merchant & Mills scissors that we carry) and are a nice practical size that makes them convenient to grab – not too heavy but not too small.  Above you can see them in Matt’s hand and below you can see the wide bow scissors that we carry for size comparison.NewMMProducts-11

I decided to increase our stock of pins and needles as well.  Personally, I love my glass head pins (a best seller in our shop) as an all purpose pinning solution but, since every sewer has their preferred pin type, and since menswear fabrics can really fluctuate in weights, having a variety of pins on hand can be useful.
NewMMProducts-15This box of dressmaking pins is absolutely crammed full of classic metal-headed pins that are excellent for medium weight fabrics.  You won’t have to worry about running out of these pins while pinning multiple projects since you will have a whole ounce at your disposal (that doesn’t sound like that many, but believe me it is!).
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I’m very excited about this next pin option which I think is particularly suited for menswear projects:

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Toilet pins are especially large and strong pins that were traditionally used as closures on garments long before the invention of zippers.  Women (and their maids) would pin themselves into their clothing for the day!  Don’t worry, I’m not suggesting you skip zipper installation on your Jedediah Pants!  Instead, use these pins when you are working with heavy, rugged menswear materials.  They would do particularly well pinning cargo pockets on heavy canvas Jutland Pants and would easily pin thick denim waistbands and belt loops in place.  You won’t ever need to worry about bending these pins!NewMMProducts-26

Here is a photo for size comparison (the dressmaking pin is on the left, my favorite glass head pin is in the middle and the toilet pin is on the right):NewMMProducts-28

I’ve been researching visible mending lately using Sashiko stitch so this next addition to our shop is with this sort of sewing in mind – darning needles!

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Each wooden case comes with 10 needles of assorted sizes.  All include long heads that would work nicely with Sashiko or pearl cotton thread.

I also added the best thing since sliced bread to our shop:

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Easy-thread needles!  These will save you loads of frustration if you are short of sight (or patience).  All you needed to do is press the thread down into the groove at the top of the needle head and it will lock into place with a tiny spring action!
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To store all of your hand sewing and machine needles, we are now carrying Merchant & Mills beautiful hand crafted leather needle wallet sets.  Each needle wallet comes in a rustic embossed cardboard box and is made from “happy English cows.”  The wallet comes full of essential hand sewing tools:

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How cute are these baby bow scissors?!  They measure only 3″ in length!  You will find the scissors tucked into the left pocket and a complete set of hand sewing needles and threader perfectly slotted into the right pocket.  The needle wallet includes two felt pages to store all of your needles.  I think I will pack the first page with hand sewing needles and the second with partially used machine needles (such as my ball point and twin needles).

While I was happily shopping away, I also added a few little essential notions to our Merchant & Mills order.
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This tiny seam ripper is perfect for travelling to sewing meet-ups or for packing in your sewing machine’s tool cupboard.  It would also make the perfect insert for hand carved or lathe turned seam ripper handles!  At one point a couple of summers ago, Matt started carving me a seam ripper handle while we were camping.  He was on the lookout for a seam ripper like this to complete it but never got around to it – maybe I can convince him to finish it now!

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Do you know what a bodkin is?  I didn’t either.  But now I do!  It is a handy little tool that helps to thread elastic, cord, yarn (or even shoelaces!) through narrow channels.

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The one on the left includes a tapered hole that can lock your cord in place while the one on the right has an especially wide head for heavy elastics and a handy capped tip.  I’ve already used the one on the right to save me immense frustration while trying to re-lace my hiking boots!  The laces don’t have plastic coated tips and I was just about to cave and buy new laces when I remembered my bodkin.  It worked a charm.

Now, last, but certainly not least, meet my absolute favorite purchase from this Merchant & Mills order – the thimble.

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This stunning thimble is solid brass that has been lacquer coated so it won’t tarnish over time.  It features the Merchant & Mills logo engraved along its base and handy divets that keep the needle head in place as you push through layers of fabric.  The best feature of all is that the top of the thimble is completely open which allows it to slip down on to the finger for a custom snug fit.  It also keeps the finger tip free to manipulate fabric.
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I’ve never found a thimble that I’ve wanted to wear until this one!  It feels secure on my finger (it is pictured above on Matt’s finger; on my smaller finger it sits slightly lower) and I feel so uninhibited by it that I can even wear it while pinning a hem and even while typing (I didn’t want to take off my pretty thimble once I first tried it on lol!).

Head to our shop to check out many more photos and thorough descriptions for all of these tools!  If you have any questions, please feel free to comment or email so I can add the answers to our product descriptions.  I hope some of these tools will fill a hole in your sewing tool box!