Tools & Supplies for Spandex Costuming
One of the most common line of questions I get about spandex costuming, tends to be around the tools and supplies I use, sewing machines, etc.
So, I figure I should gather all that advice in one place. Here, conveniently enough!
I’ve got a lot to address, so let me get right to it!
Equipment for Spandex Costuming
First off - and arguably the most important thing - sewing machines!
I am sort of picky about my sewing machines, in a bit of a roundabout way: They have to be made before 1980, and I prefer Kenmore, Singer, and White machines. No particular models, just those brands at that minimum age.
All I use my non-serger machines for is straight stitching and zig zagging (for spandex applique and elastic top stitching, so none of the fancier stitches matter to me.
I’m not a fan of computerized machines, as they’re more difficult/expensive to fix when something goes out on them.
I’ve got a big enough collection now (I like having backups!), but when I was still acquiring them, I’d do so via garage sales and Craigslist... or through a used dealer.
There are two main ways to find a GREAT machine:
1. Spend $50ish on a garage sale or Craigslist/Kijiji machine, then put a couple hundred into having it fully serviced by a professional
2. Find a company that specialized in servicing older machines. They’ll usually have “Sewing and Vacuum” in the business name, or some variation of it. Spend a few hundred dollars buying an already serviced machine from them, directly.
Old machines like this are not only workhorses - having been made before everything went to being plastic inside - but they’re repairable. I find that most modern machines (post 1980 anyway) are pretty much disposable.
Controversial take, I’m sure... but old, serviced machines have served me well over the years!
As I mentioned in my How to Sew Spandex post... I started the first decade or so of my sewing career convinced that sergers were THE WORST.
I especially hated the entire ordeal of threading them. I'd long before figured out how to do durable, stretchy seams with just a normal machine, so successfully managed to avoid sergers altogether.
That all changed when I was introduced to my current serger - Babylock Imagines - back in 2003 or 2004.
The lower loopers thread via a port. You feed the thread in, push a level, and AIR SHOOTS THE THREAD ALL THE WAY THROUGH THE SYSTEM AND RIGHT OUT OF THE LOOPER.
They're not cheap, but the aggravation saved just from threading is 100% worth it. Also - while these are home machines, not industrial - I've been sewing hardcore on them for more than 15 years, and they've only needed minor repairs - infrequently - in that time.
I use 6' folding banquet tables for my worktables. They're light but sturdy, and a good height for working on when seated. Easy to clean, etc.
I use one for my sewing area, and one for my gluing area - more on that in a bit. In busier seasons, I'll use a 3rd table for patterning and/or staging, so I can leave the sewing one set up for actual sewing.
After years of trying every kind of office chair out there, I tried a gaming chair.
100% recommend, will not go back to using anything else. These things are built specifically to be comfortable for long hours gaming, and have features like lumbar support, more room, etc. LOVE.
I use these both at my sewing table, and at my office desk. Highly recommend - so much better on my hips and back, than any other kind of chair I've ever used for sewing.
Tools for Spandex Costuming
Long hours of cutting fabric can be hard on the hands, the spring really takes a lot of stress off the hand!
I also like to keep a couple pairs of the 5" little spring loaded snips on hand, with one near each machine for trimming threads.
Finally, I keep a few of the Fiskars rotary cutters on hand. I don't use them as often as the scissors, but they definitely come in hand for freehanding applique at times.
The cutter with the smaller diameter is great for freestyling hotrod flames, as an example.
If you're like me, you end up with pins underfoot ALL THE TIME. I invested in a Magnetic Sweeper a few years back, and it's been a game changer for getting pins up off the floor... and out of my feet!
Rulers & Related Tools
I like to have several - MANY, really - Plastic Measuring Tapes in my sewing room, car, and purse. They're easy to lose, and easy to accidentally cut. I find plastic to be better than fabric versions, as they're less prone to losing their shape, stretching out, etc.
I like to keep a ton of bobbins on hand, as well as a case to hold them in.
I pre-thread several each in black, white, and beige, as I use them the most often.
Different sewing machines use different types of bobbins - be sure to use the right type for your machine!
In addition to the cord threader, I also like to have a few Safety Pins on hand. Same purpose, but for when dealing with items with a small diameter, where feeding the cord threader through would be difficult.
If you are using the metallic / foil spandex, you might want a Teflon foot on your machine. See my post on How to Applique Spandex for more details on that.
If you are buying one, be sure to buy a Teflon Foot that is compatible with your model of sewing machine.
I use grommets in drawstring waist bands, so these are a few items I use for that:
Rivet Puncher - This is just a hand punch that can be used to punch different sizes of hole in one or more layers of fabric. I use this for both grommets, and for applying snaps to the bottoms of mens and boys pants.
A Block of Wood - nothing fancy, just a small piece of pine 2x4. I use this under the garment when hammering the grommets into place.
A Rubber Mallet - Again, nothing fancy. This is what I use to pound the grommets in place. Very therapeutic at times!
Supplies for Sewing Spandex
For sewing spandex, I highly recommend using a polyester thread, rather than a cotton one.
If you’re using a serger, you don’t need any special thread, just normal cones of polyester serger thread work fine.
There are some hems that work a little better with wooly nylon thread (more on that in a future post), but it’s definitely not a requirement across the board.
Use what is handy, and a decent colour for what you’re sewing!
Needles & Pins
Make sure that the needle in your sewing machine - or serger - is a stretch sewing needle, suited to either light, medium, or heavy weight knits, depending on what you are using - and have extras on hand.
For reference, regular spandex is a medium, illusion is a light, and stretch velvet is either a medium or heavy weight.
I tend to use the Schmetz Stretch Sewing Needles, as they're the easiest to find. That's important, as I go through a LOT of needles!
Be sure to change your needles out regularly - as they dull, they won't work as well. Also, they will bend over time, which will screw with your stitching.
Finally, you'll want some extra fine pins, ideally with a pearl/ball/crystal head on them.
When it comes to elastic, there are a few different types I keep on hand:
⅜" Braided White Elastic - This is my go to elastic for leg holes, necklines, arm holes, etc. Getting it in white gives it the most versatility, as it won’t be visible under lighter colour fabrics.
1" Braided White Elastic - This is what I use for the vast majority of my waist bands. Again, I buy it in white so that it won’t show through lighter colours of lycra.
¾" Black Knit Elastic - This one specifically needs to be without the texture of the type of elastic I use for waistbands. In my workshop, this is a single use elastic - I use it for the straps on the bottoms of mens and boys skating pants.
Clear Swimwear Elastic - This is what I use for gathering spandex or other fabrics. I cut it to the length I need the fabric gathered down to, stretch it evenly along the length of fabric to be gathered, and ... boom. Easy gathering.
There are two main types of paper I have on hand:
Exam Table Paper
I use exam table paper for patterning - structural and applique. You can buy rolls of exam table paper on Amazon and at medical supply stores, for between $2-5 per roll. Super cheap - which is good, because you’ll go through it like crazy once you get going!
Sometimes, you’ll be given a choice of 2 papers. One is cheaper and uncoated, and the other is slightly more expensive, and is coated. Go for the cheaper roll, as wide as you can. 21" is great, 18" will usually do. If you do this as a business, you’d be best off to buy it by the case - usually 12 or 24 rolls.
Rosin Paper or Brown Craft Paper
I use this for two main purposes:
- Making longer-term use patterns out of well-loved patterns I've done on exam paper, and
- Setting up a backdrop for spraying glue and adhesives. It keeps my work area a lot cleaner:
This one isn't anything fancy, just any masking tape will do. I like it to be at least 1" wide, but that's about it.
This is used for labelling bags (more on that in a minute!), and for pattern making in general.
I keep a bunch of plastic bags on hand, for team orders. Each bag gets a strip of masking tape on it, marked with the name of the person the suit will belong to.
I assembly-line it from start to finish, and at every point, the pieces for each suit go into their respective bags.
Once the suits are done and labelled with the recipient's name, the tape on the bags is covered with a clean strip of tape, waiting for the next name.
If you're going to be doing appliques, Odif's 505 Temporary Fabric Adhesive will fast become your best friend. If you do a lot of applique, you’ll want to buy it by the case!
Basically, this spray will turn your applique - or pattern - into a post it note. (See my "How to Sew Spandex Applique" post for more details!) One important quality it has is that it does NOT soak though.
It’s also easily repositioned, without leaving residue. As I write this, I get portions of the “How do I love thee” sonnet stuck in my head. It *IS* that good!
Additionally, while glue sticks (I always liked the UHU brand best) are too cumbersome to use on complicated appliques, they are VERY handy for sticking a spandex applique to mesh - something that the spray adhesive isn’t the best at.
You’re looking for a washable glue stick. If you can find one of the kinds that go on in colour and turn white/clear when dry, even better!
Finally, I go through a TON of E-6000 Fabri-Fuse, which is my glue of choice for crystalling on spandex.
The bottle makes it SUPER easy to use, it holds as well as normal E-6000, dries clear, and is just great all around.
Handy thing to keep around!
A few years back, I came across a Crystal Katana ... and it forever changed the crystalling game for me.
One end is a wax cone for picking up crystals, and the other is a thin metal rod for positioning crystals in glue. It keeps your fingers clean, speeds up the work for applying crystals, and generally makes life easier.
While that's the brand I started with, these kind of wax tools - Rhinestone Pickers - are made by a few companies. Crystal Katana can be hard to come by, locally, so I do have one from another brand, as well.
Whew! I think that's about it!
What tools and supplies do you rely on most in your sewing area?
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