The 13 Must-Have Tools for Embellishing DIYs


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Adding embellishments to pieces (crystals, studs, trim, iron-ons etc.) is one of the easiest ways to breathe life into your clothing and accessories and give them a whole new makeover. I’ve done a number of DIYs in the past that involve different materials and techniques (like my DIY Vinyl Eyelash Applique T-Shirt, DIY Sequin Trompe L’oeil Peter Pan Collar T-Shirt, and DIY Jennifer Behr Spiked Turban for example). I’ve found a number of tools are extremely useful in adding all those bits ‘n’ bobs (they save a ton of time!) – and here are my faves:

1. Hardwood Handle Awl

For poking holes for studs and screw-spikes, you need an awl. Period. This will make tiny precise holes (NOT slits like scissors) and the spike screw-thread will do the enlargening itself. Much better to cause as minimal damage to the fabric as possible. The hardwood handle allows for long usage without fatigue in your hands (and if you’re embarking on a large-scale studding or spiking project, you know exactly what I’m talking about!).

2. Chain Nose Pliers

For bending the studs teeth at the back, I always use pliers – though there are also stud prong press tools available for this specific purpose.

3. Creative Crystal BeJeweler Pro Embellishment Tool

For adding hotfix crystals or nailheads to your projects one-by-one: completely necessary for precision and beautiful designs.

4. Dual Duty Plus Button Thread

TOTALLY different from regular cotton mercerized or polyester thread. Did you know? I didn’t for a long time – and I’d been sewing on buttons using completely the wrong thread for like FOREVER. It’s thicker, stronger, and more durable than the regular threads, so get this if you are sewing on any buttons or button-like embellishments.

5. Dritz Fray Check

You’ll need this as a double-security for the ends of trims that could fray when washed. If they can’t be heat-sealed with an open flame (like they have beads, sequins, or are mostly cotton) then add a daub of this on the ends to prevent fraying.

6. Chalk Pencil

Marking chalk set – I use this SOOOO much! I can mark with a different color than for the sewing lines or matching lines when making a piece, and it stays fairly sharp and accurate. I really love this little tool.

7. Dritz Curved Needles

For sewing rhinestones in settings (with sewing holes in the back) onto fabric surfaces easily.

8. Aleene’s Jewel-It Embellishing Glue

For gluing crystals or other embellishments that don’t have sewing holes. Not ideal, but sometimes you have to cut corners.

9. Leathercraft Pyramid Rivet Studs Setter

If you’re doing large-scale studding on leather this will save your hands from massive pain.

10. Martha Stewart Multi-Purpose Cutting Heat Tool

I use this mostly for the mini-iron capabilities. Not completely necessary (in a pinch I’ll just grab my regular size iron and be really, really careful) – but this works great for larger iron-on embellishments that don’t fit the Hotfix iron tip, and for small appliques. I don’t particularly like the hotfix tip (not enough options), but the cutting tip is useful for cutting stencil vinyl.

11. June Tailor Non-Stick Pressing Sheet (18″x18″ size)

For appliques and fusibles. You could also use a regular 100% cotton pressing cloth, but the non-stick one is better for fusibles.

12. Beadaholique Perfect Positioner/Jewel Setter Tool

Needed for rhinestone placement and setting. And when you’re going through a lot of stones in an intricate design, this will really cut your workflow time in half.

13. Variety of Machine Feet

Multi-foot set – if you’re doing embellishments that require a sewing machine (like adding ruffles, or leather pieces, or pearl piping) — you will need a ruffler foot, piping foot, or Teflon foot to deal with these different materials and make the whole process faster. (the pack pictured is for low-shank machines)

And of course a screwdriver for tightening screw-spikes, a lighter for heat-sealing trims, and a pair of scissors for cutting.

Need more Must-Have Tool Sets? Check out my Must-Have Tools for Sewing DIY’s and my Must-Have Tools for Jewelry DIY’ing!



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The 12 Must-Have Tools for Sewing DIY’s

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Earlier I shared my must-have list for jewelry DIY projects. And now I’m following up with this list for sewing DIY projects! (These Must-Have Tools for DIY lists are on my DIY Resources page if you’re looking for them.)

My mother taught me to sew back when I was 8 or 9 or so. My first project was a lopsided white stuffed bear with a face that looked both happy and sad at the same time. Since then, I’ve graduated to using and eventually purchasing a serger, learning how to use an industrial sewing machine, and even sewing my prototypes for my short-lived clothing line back in 2007. I love using patterns and making patterns, stitching things together from scratch and upcycling pieces, and basically letting my imagination run wild. Some of my favorite projects that I’ve shared on this blog have been my Cute Summer ShirtDress (the very project that launched my focus on DIY here on Chic Steals!), my Men’s XLSweatshirts to Blouson Top project, and more recently my Ballroom Skirt from a Shower Curtain. Here is my recommended list of really great tools for DIY Sewing Projects:

1. Seam Ripper

You.Must.Have.A.Seam.Ripper. You need it to rip back or to take apart pieces to be cannibalized, to fix stitches…this is vital to creating a perfectly-sewn piece (even if it didn’t work out the first time around).

2. Rotary Cutter

Perfect for cutting uber-straight lines, this is my favorite tool to get things cut out in a flash. (Don’t forget the cutting mat to go with it!) I like the OLFA but Fiskars makes a good version too.

3. Chalk Pencil

This marking pencil is my absolute favorite since it makes super-precise lines and works just like a mechanical pencil. LOVE.

4. Extra Bobbins + Bobbin Case

Who ever has enough bobbins when they’re sewing?? (I’ve been known to wind a new color thread on top of a half-filled bobbin when I’ve run it…which is definitely not a best practice.) Though you of course have to get the correct type for your machine, these ones are my favorite for my Singer. Plus a little case to keep them in will keep them neat and tidy instead of a tangled mess!

5. Sharp, Sharp Sewing Scissors

El-cheapo scissors won’t cut it (literally) if you do a lot of cutting and sewing. Prepare to spend around $30+ for an excellent pair of Gingher or Singer scissors, and they will last you a lifetime. (Just never, ever, EVER cut anything else besides fabric with them [especially paper]…this will dull them like nobody’s business.

6. Sharp, Sharp Pins + Emery-filled Pincushion

I’ve found that certain “decorative”-style pins aren’t all that sharp, and the round-headed ones tend to cause bumps when pinning a pattern to fabric in order to cut. I prefer the extra-sharp flower-headed pins so the pattern isn’t puckering and lifting, and they don’t get in the way of the machine foot so much. Plus an emery-filled pincushion to keep them all corralled is a must. You can also DIY your emery pincushion by following a tutorial here.

7. Hem Tape

Though I prefer to sew whenever possible, some stitchery DIY’s can be accomplished quite easily with permanent Hem Tape instead. (See my DIY J. Crew Sporty Pants and my DIY Windowpane Sweatshirt for example.) This hem tape is just great.

8. Curved Nail Scissors

I love love love these scissors! (They also appear on my Must-Have Tools for Jewelry DIY’ing list.) That’s how much I love them! They work great as thread snips if you don’t feel like investing in those, and help you poke holes and cut perfect buttonholes (just be careful of the curved edges).

9. Pattern Notcher

I fell in love with this tool when creating my clothing line, and again at the clothing factory I interned at in Portland. Normally you’d notch your patterns and fabric at center front and center back, and when matching sleeves. I don’t like using the scissors to notch, because often the cut is not easily visible in the fabric, and sometimes I notch too deeply, straight through the line of stitching. NOT GOOD. With a pattern notcher, it goes through the fabric in a lovely V- or rectangle shape and won’t go deeper than 1/4″, so no chance of ruining your stitching. It’s easy to see and looks professional, plus it can be used to notch the seam allowance of curved stitching. I LOVE IT and highly recommend it.

10. Pattern Weights

Usually I’d use any old thing laying around (my water glass, the sleeping dog, my glasses, the very scissors I actually need to cut with)…but having a group of dedicated pattern weights is extremely useful. You could of course DIY them and make them utterly cute, too.

11. Variety of Machine Feet

Though the project will often dictate what feet you need, I find myself reaching for the same ones over and over again. My Zipper Foot, Ruffler, Narrow Hem Foot, Butttonholer, and Teflon Foot (for leather/suede) help me stitch up a variety of projects with professional results. (the pack pictured is for low-shank machines)

12. Turn-It-All

I absolutely adore this kit I bought awhile ago. It’s for turning thin tubes of fabric (like for spaghetti straps, waist-ties, decorative tubing, and more). I often use the long thin metal rod in place of an awl for holding fabric under my machine foot, and for poking corners out and turning pieces right-side-out in general. I highly recommend this!

Any extra sewing tools that you can’t live without? Let me know in the comments!


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The 12 Must-Have Tools for Jewelry DIY’ing

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Gradually I’m going to be adding these Must-Have Tools for DIY lists for my DIY Resources page, and the first one I’d like to share is this one. I’ve been making a number of jewelry projects lately, both for my WeHeartThis guest posts and for my own blog (like the Free People Wrapped Quartz Bangles, Anthropologie Beaded Tassel Necklace, and the 80’s-Style Acrylic Triangle Rhinestone Earrings). For these and all the other projects I’ve been making since I started crafting jewelry many, many years ago, I find myself reaching for the same tools repeatedly. Here is my recommended list of really great tools for DIY Jewelry Projects:

1. Chain Nose Pliers with Side Cutter

A MUST when working with wire, chain, or even soft metal sheet (to be used in a pinch!), wire-cutters are an essential tool to jewelry-making. Mine do double-duty with their half-round (also called “chain nose”) ends, for when I need to use them to grip, and not cut, things.

2. Round Nose Pliers

For making loops in headpins and eyepins you need a perfectly-round pair of pliers. I put off buying these for a long time, reasoning that I already had a pair of half-round pliers: wouldn’t they do? (And I always wondered why the loops in my jewelry were so lopsided and squashed-looking.) If you need to string anything on a headpin or eyepin, and connect it to anything – get these pliers, you’ll thank yourself for them!

3. Jump Ring Tool

Where would I be without my jump ring tool? This saves me so much time and fiddling with two sets of pliers (though low-gauge jump rings or steel cable chain will require the double set for torque).

4. Beacon Dazzle-Tac Jewelry Glue

I prefer this over any other jewelry adhesive out there – and was so thrilled to have discovered this a few years ago. Technically it’s a flexible adhesive, but is far stronger than the ubiquitous E6000, and much more spreadable and viscous, with a slightly longer drying time. I haven’t had a tube’s contents dry out after opening and using it once (unlike E6000, which, no matter how tightly I close the cap, dries out completely within a couple uses). Even in projects where it’s recommended to use G-S Hypo Cement, I use DazzleTac instead, since I find cryanoacrylates (like Hypo Cement or Crazy Glue), tend to dry very brittle, chalky, and eventually crack. My hands-down MUST-HAVE adhesive for any metal-metal, metal-plastic, plastic-plastic project!

5. Loctite Vinyl, Fabric and Plastic Repair Adhesive

For mixed-media jewelry projects, or projects involving leather, suede, or vinyl, LocTite cannot be beat. It’s fast, it’s easy, and it holds super-well on all projects requiring a flexible adhesive. I also use this on foam and fabric pieces, though if trying to adhere metal or plastic items to foam or fabric, I will use DazzleTac.

6. Sunshine Polishing Cloths

An excellent tarnish remover for a variety of materials, these can make anything I’ve worked on look brand-new again! They work on all precious metals, brass, copper, chrome, wood, ceramic, hard plastic and glass.

7. Mod Podge Gloss Finish

When sealing my mixed-media or painted projects, I tend to use this formulation of Mod Podge over any other: it imparts a glossy, finished look to every piece. I also have recently discovered Mod Podge Dimensional Magic, which is even thicker and glossier, and does not require multiple coats. My new love!

8. Curved Nail Scissors

Though scissors are a tool that of course is necessary to many projects, I find myself using these tiny, sharp, curved nail scissors the most. They get into small areas easily, are razor-sharp, and the pointed ends are great for piercing materials. (Make sure you find the kind where the center screw is a real screw and not just a rivet so you can re-tighten them over time!)

9. Dritz Fray Check

Necessary for daubing on the ends of silk thread, cord, rope, or other stringing materials to prevent fraying. If you’re working with synthetic stringing materials, you can also heat-seal raw ends by holding near an open flame.

10. Multisizer Ring Tool

This is a lifesaver when it comes to creating rings and sizing them properly. If you make a lot of rings (in different sizes), I’d also recommend a mandrel to help size your finished creations accurately.

11. Gauge Chart for Jump Rings

This is very helpful when determining the design of a piece, or labeling jump rings I have floating around. Click here to download and print the chart actual size.

12. Small Plastic Sealable Bags

I use these for sorting and keeping beads and findings separate from one another. So much better and more affordable than Ziplock!


*This post contains affiliate links. For my full Disclosure Policy, click here.



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