Chapt 2 - Tools and Equipment
Home Academics Vita Philosophy Portfolio Resources         

Table of Contents ] Chapt 1 - Fabric ] [ Chapt 2 - Tools and Equipment ] Chapt 3 - The Sewing Machine ] Chapt 4 - Patterns ] Chapt 5 - Pressing ] Chapt 6 - Marking The Fabric ] Chapt 7 - Preparing to Begin ] Chapt 8 - Seams ] Chapt 9 - Seam Finishes ] Chapt 10 - Stabilization ] Chapt 11 - Control of Fullness ] Chapt 12 - Finishing Edges ] Chapt 13 - Hand Sewing ] Chapt 14 - Closures ] Chapt 15 - Body Measurements ] Chapt 16 - Ease In Clothing ] Chapt 17 - Pattern Alterations ] Chapt 18 - Finished Dimensions ] Chapt 19 - Common Terms ] Chapt 20 - Common Costume Fabrics ] Index of Sewing Exercises ]

The costume technician is constantly asked to quickly and efficiently produce a high quality product. The right tools aid with this task. At first the number of these gadgets can be overwhelming but they quickly become familiar friends. Following is a list of the most common tools found in the theatrical costume shops.


bullet TAPE MEASURES: This plastic tape is 60" long with small metal tips on either end. Most tape measures have imperial measurements on one side with the metric equivalent on the other.
bullet RULERS: These come in a variety of sizes the most common being the 18" and a yard/meter stick. The 18" ruler is generally made of clear plastic with a 1/8" grid, which allows the technician to see the fabric while he is working.
bullet SEAM or SEWING GAUGE: These small 6" metal rulers have a sliding distance indicator. The seam gauge is used for quick, accurate measurements of small areas such as hems, buttonholes, pleats and trim.
bullet L or FRAMING SQUARE: These 90 metal squares are used for finding and aligning the grain of fabric or to establish the true bias. They are also used in pattern drafting and alteration.
bullet FRENCH, HIP and MISCELLANEOUS CURVES: These tools, plastic or metal, are also used in pattern drafting and alteration. They are also useful for trim or detail application where a curved line is necessary.


bullet DRESSMAKER SHEARS: These are bent-handled scissors, commonly with a 7" or 8" blade. The bent handle allows the fabric to lie flat while it is being cut, thus yielding better control of the cutting edge. These scissors are available in left or right handed styles. NEVER cut anything except fabric and thread with dressmaker shears, since it would dull the blades.
bullet PAPER SCISSORS: These are simply an inexpensive variety of scissors, which are used for paper and other items that would dull dressmaker shears.
bullet EMBROIDERY SCISSORS or THREAD SNIPS: Embroidery scissors are small, usually 4" to 5" in length with very sharp blades. Thread snips are a scissor variation that have short blades. Either tool is useful in trimming small areas of fabric or to clip threads during the construction process. Many costume shops permanently attach a pair of these scissors to each sewing machine, while other costume technicians prefer to wear them around their neck.
bullet PINKING or SCALLOPING SHEARS: These scissors cut fabric in either a zig-zag or scalloped pattern. They are useful in finishing raw edges of fabric or to produce a decorative edge. NEVER cut a garment out using these scissors since the cutting edge is not accurate. Pinking and Scalloping shears must be used sparingly since they are very expensive and hard to sharpen.
bullet CUTTING TABLES: These are large, flat tables used to spread fabric and patterns out while marking, pinning, and cutting. They are often covered in cork and paper, which allows the pins to be placed into the surface.
bullet SEAM RIPPERS: This simple pen like device allows for the removal of machine or hand stitching in a relatively accurate and safe manner. The point of the seam ripper is used to remove two or three stitches at one time, NEVER pull the fabric while trying to remove stitches, as it stretches and can easily tear the fabric. NEVER use a razor blade in place of a seam ripper.


bullet TRACING WHEELS: These come in two styles*one with a serrated edge for use on most fabrics and a smooth edge for delicate fabrics. Tracing wheels are used with dressmaker's tracing paper to transfer construction markings from the pattern to the garment pieces.
bullet DRESSMAKER'S TRACING PAPER: This is a form of carbon paper for use exclusively on fabric. Care must be taken when choosing one of the wide range of available colors since most varieties produce a mark that remain in the fabric until it has been laundered.
bullet EMBROIDERY FLOSS: Tailor's tacks are used to mark very delicate or sheer fabrics. Embroidery floss is used instead of regular sewing thread because it is heavier and stays in the garment pieces -longer.
bullet TAILOR'S CHALK: Chalk is used to temporarily mark fabric during the cutting and construction process. Chalk brushes out of the surface of the fabric so it can be used on the right side of a garment. Tailor's chalk is usually found in either a pencil form or a small square with beveled edges.
bullet TAILOR'S WAX: Tailor's wax has a consistency much like that of a crayon. The marks it produces can only be removed from the fabric with heat or laundering, therefore it is advisable to test tailor's wax on a small scrap of fabric before using it on the right side of a garment. Tailor's wax comes in small squares in various colors.
bullet PINS: Most pins are stainless steel or brass and are sized from 10 to 32. Size 17 is the general purpose dressmaker's pin, but there are several special varieties that can be useful.
bullet Silk pins have very thin shafts which makes them ideal for lightweight or sheer fabrics.
bullet Ballpoint pins have a rounded, floating ball at the point which allows them to pass between the threads and yarns of fabric. These are used on knit and delicate fabrics.
bullet Colored headed pins are simply dressmaker's pins with a plastic or glass head that makes them easier to see.
bullet Corsage pins have a very long shaft and so are useful in pattern making and when working on heavy or coarse fabrics.
bullet T-pins have a thick shaft and take their name from the shape of their heads. T-pins are used in costume crafts work such as wigs, millinery, and accessories.
bullet Safety pins are used in fitting and marking costumes because of the protection they provide to the actor. Because they close they are more accurate to use in a fitting than a regular dressmaker's pin. Safety pins come in a variety of sizes.
bullet Push pins and thumbtacks are used to adhere patterns to paper or fabric during pattern making. They are also widely used in costume crafts work.


bullet HAND SEWING NEEDLES: All needles are sized #l through #10, the smaller the number the finer the shaft of the needle. A variety of different styles are used for different fabrics and tasks.
bullet Sharps are the most common needle used, #8 being the general purpose size.
bullet Betweens are shorter and have a rounded eye. These needles are used for find hand sewing.
bullet Milliner's or Straw needles have very long, thin shafts. Their extra length makes them easier to manipulate and so are useful for quick basting, working with heavy fabrics and craft work.
bullet Tapestry or Crewel needles have a thick shaft and an oversize eye. They can be used with several strands of thread . decorative stitching with yarn and other fibers.
bullet Curved, Upholstery, or Craft needles have thick shafts and a dull point. They are used in the creation and repair of costume accessory items such as shoes, hats, bags, etc.
bullet MAGNETS: These can be used to store pins while sewing or are useful in retrieving that dropped box of pins. Many costume shops have a magnet mounted be each machine
bullet THIMBLES: These can be plastic, metal or leather. They are to be worn on the index or second finger. The thimble is used to help push the needle through the fabric when sewing by hand. GET IN THE HABIT OF WEARING A THIMBLE, YOUR FINGERS WILL THANK YOU.
bullet PIN CUSHIONS: Any small, firmly stuffed item will work as a pin cushion. There are several sizes available as well as models that are worn on your wrist. Most costume shops also have a pin cushion reserved for hand sewing needles exclusively.
bullet BEESWAX: This is used to wax regular sewing thread with before hand sewing. The wax prevents the thread from knotting.
bullet BODKIN: This is used to thread elastic, string, or cording through casings and openings. The bodkin can also be used to turn small tubes of fabric right side out. In a pinch a safety pin will work.
bullet NEEDLE THREADER: This helps pass the thread through the eye of a hand or machine needle.
bullet TWEEZERS: These can be used to remove tailor's tacks or small bits of thread in a garment as it is constructed. They are also used to clean out the shuttle area of sewing machines and to thread sergers.
bullet POINT TURNERS: These small wooden items have a point on one end and a curve on the other. They are used to get sharp corners and flat curves when sewing enclosed seams.


bullet INDUSTRIAL IRON: These are heavy-duty professional steam irons. They deliver more heat and steam than a household iron. Industrial irons have an outside water source that uses distilled water or a filtering system.
To properly operate an industrial steam iron depress the steam release only long enough to saturate the fabric with steam, then release the valve so that the heat from the iron will set the fabric in the new configuration. This process is the same as for setting hair; moisture followed by drying time sets the curl.
bullet HOUSEHOLD IRON: These are identical to those found in your home. Most of them are equipped with a steam and a dry setting. Household irons are used in costume shops for maintenance and to press small, hard to reach areas. When a household iron is on the steam setting, the steam is pushed through the vents only when the iron is placed flat against the fabric. Most models have an additional button to increase the
bullet IRONING TABLE: This square or rectangular padded table is used for the bulk of the pressing procedures. The ironing tables are significantly larger than a regular ironing board to allow the costume technician to spread large pieces of fabric out flat for proper pressing.
bullet IRONING BOARD: These are similar to ironing boards found in the home, but are sturdier to withstand constant use. All ironing boards must be level and well padded, they also have a tapered end to press small areas.
bullet PRESS CLOTHS: These pieces of fabric are used to protect the garment from marking during the pressing process. Not all fabrics need this protection, but it is a good idea to check all fabrics first before pressing without one. There are several types:
bullet White broadcloth or muslin are used to avoid creating a shine on all fabrics.
bullet Transparent pressing cloths allow the costume technician to see the fabric while pressing. These are especially useful when pressing design details such as pleats or tucks.
bullet Heavyweight cotton duck or drill press cloths are used when a fabric needs a lot of moisture to properly press. The press cloth is moistened and placed over the fabric, heat is then applied until the press cloth is dry.
bullet The procedure for using a press cloth is the same for any of the above types. To avoid a shine, place the press cloth over the right side of the fabric and press as usual. To avoid seam edges marking the right side of a garment, place the press cloth between the wrong side c the fabric and the seam allowance.
bullet NEEDLE or VELVET BOARD: These boards have hundreds of small ? dull metal spikes attached to a heavy fabric . They are used to press any fabric with a nap or pile. The fabric is placed with the RIGHT side down and pressed on the wrong side only.
Many costume shops substitute a piece of napped or piled fabric for a needle board. The pressing process is the same.
bullet TAILOR'S HAM: This oblong, firmly stuffed cushion has rounded curves. It is designed to press curved areas of the garment such as darts, sleeve caps, and princess seams.
bullet PRESS MIT: This is similar to a ham, but it is small enough to slip over your hand. In addition it can be slipped over the end of the sleeve board to press sleeve caps and ruffles.
bullet SLEEVE BOARD: This actually is two small ironing boards placed one on top of the other. It is designed to press small, narrow areas such as sleeves, trouser legs, and necklines.
bullet SLEEVE ROLL: This tubular, firmly stuffed cushion is rounded on either end. It can be used to press curves and seams in hard to reach places. With this roll you press not only the seam, but the surrounding area as well, which prevents creases.
bullet POINT PRESSER or PRESSING BOARD: This is an important tool because it has a variety of pressing surfaces. One side of the smooth wooden block has a narrow ridge that is pointed. It is used to press open enclosed seams such as collars, lapels, etc. It is also useful when pressing a seam that comes to a point.
bullet POUNDING BLOCK or CLAPPER: This smooth wooden block is usually attached to the point presser. It is used to flatten seam edges and produce crisp flat edges. To use the pounding block press the area as usual and then immediately place the block over the area just steamed. The wooden block forces the steam back into the fabric, producing a crisp edge. On large or bulky areas you may actually pound the fabric in a circular motion.
bullet SPRAY BOTTLE: Often stubborn wrinkles and creases need a shot of water in addition to the steam provided by the iron. A light spray before pressing will usually remove these marks. Pretest the fabric before applying the water as some fabrics water spot.
bullet CLOTHES BRUSH or NYLON NET: A clothes brush or a wadded piece of nylon net is used to remove small pieces of thread and lint from the garment or the ironing surface BEFORE pressing. If you press without removing this lint, it can permanently mark the fabric.
bullet STEAMER: Hats and various accessories need a constant source of steam. This tool has a gallon of water that is attached to a motor. A long, flexible wand delivers the steam. The steamer is also useful to maintain costumes during the run of a production.
bullet IRON CLEANER: This product is designed to remove scorch, marks, lint, and dirt buildup from the bed of the iron while the iron is hot. Read the directions carefully before using, and always protect the surface of the ironing table with several layers of scrap fabric.

SEWING MACHINES:(see chapter 3)

Depending on the size, location and the demands placed on a costume shop there can be any number of different kinds of sewing machines ranging from the basic to highly specialized models. The following is a list of the most common models and a brief description of their uses:

bullet DOMESTIC LOCKSTITCH MACHINES: These are designed for the general sewer and range from models with only straight stitch capacity to those that embroider, monogram and do a variety of novelty stitches. In a costume shop the most important features of a domestic machine are a straight stitch, zig zag, buttonholes, and a stretch stitch. Many domestic machines have a FREE ARM on which the large flat sewing area is removable making the sewing area small enough to accommodate cuffs, collars, etc.
bullet INDUSTRIAL LOCKSTITCH MACHINES: These are heavy-duty machines that have the durability to withstand constant use. They sew anywhere from 800 to 1800 stitches per minute and are equipped with many time saving features. Generally industrial machines are straight stitch only, but there are models that zig zag. Industrial machines can be used on almost any type of fabric and are a necessity for sewing multiple layers of fabric. They are harder to control but their speed cuts the costume construction time in half.
bullet INDUSTRIAL BLIND HEMMERS: This is a specialty machine that produces a invisible, quick hem on almost any garment. This machine uses a cone of clear plastic thread. This machine only hems garments, but can save countless hours of hand sewing.
bullet SERGERS: This machine can either seam fabric pieces together or be used to produce a quick, durable seam finish. Sergers are available in domestic or industrial models and use from two to five cones of thread. A serger has a set of knives that trim the seam allowance away as the fabric is fed through the machine, therefore it is necessary to work carefully and accurately.
bullet SEWING MACHINE ACCESSORIES and ATTACHMENTS: There are a multitude of attachments to accomplish a specific task. Attachments are available for any type of sewing machine. Buttonholes, pleating, gathering, cording, etc. are just some of the things that can be accomplished quickly and with more accuracy by using attachments. All sewing machines have a manual that explains in detail how to use the attachments.
bullet BOBBINS: These metal or plastic spools hold the thread for the bottom half of the lockstitch produced on domestic and industrial machines. The bobbins must be wound with the chosen thread, and are stored in or close to each machine.
bullet SEWING MACHINE OIL: All sewing machines must be frequently cleaned and oiled. Sewing machine oil is a light weight, high quality oil, and the manual for any machine will explain how and where to lubricate the machine.


Costume craft work is a wide field, it might include dyeing and painting of costumes, leather, fur, or bead work, jewelry construction, millinery, shoe and boot construction and repair, wig styling and maintenance, mask making, and armor construction. Most large costume shops have an entire room devoted to this facet of costume construction. Craft supplies are as varied as the type of work being produced. Below is a list of the most basic supplies and tools used.

bullet CRAFT TABLES: These are large sturdy tables that are covered in paper so that it can be removed as it becomes soiled. They often have a series of drawers or cabinets underneath them to provide storage for supplies.
bullet HAMMERS: Several different hammers are useful in crafts work, the most common being a rawhide mallet for leather and shoe work, and a *holster's tack hammer for work on jewelry and armor.
bullet SCREWDRIVERS: These are necessary for machine repair and maintenance as well as jewelry and armor construction.
bullet PLIERS: There are the smaller variety and are useful for jewelry, corset and hoop, and armor construction.
bullet HOT MELT GLUE GUN and GLUE STICKS: This mainstay of the costume crafts area has almost unlimited uses. Quick repairs to shoes, hats, jewelry, and armor can be done. Hot melt glue can also be used to fabricate trim and detail work on costume pieces. The large, trigger controlled models are safer and easier to use, but the small, pressure controlled models are better for detail work.
bullet STAPLE or TACKING GUN: This is a small version of the ones found in the scene shop and is useful for armor, leather, felt and jewelry construction.
bullet GROMMET and EYELET CUTTERS AND SETTERS: Many costumes and accessories must lace together, so these cutting and setting tools come in a variety of sizes.
bullet POP RIVET GUNS: A rivet gun and the accompanying two-part rivets are used extensively in the construction of vacu-form armor and accessory pieces.
bullet STOVE or HOT PLATE: These are used for preparing dye stuffs and paints for application to costumes. Small costume accessories are often dyed in large kettles on top of the stove.
bullet DYE VATS: Only the largest costume shops have commercial dye vats simply because of their size, complexity, and cost. A common alternative is the steam-jacketed soup kettle found in restaurants and cafeterias. With these a constant temperature can be maintained during the dyeing process.
bullet WRINGER WASHERS: These are used with a dye vat to rinse and remove water from fabrics and costumes.
bullet ADHESIVES: There are any number of adhesives that are used in most costume shops. Some of them are very basic, with others designed for a specific use. The most common are:
bullet White glue, a mainstay is used in masks, jewelry, and felt accessory construction.
bullet Flexible glue is used for bead, sequin, trim, and jewelry application to fabrics since it will not peel off the fabric.
bullet Barge cement is specifically designed for use on leather and shoe construction.
bullet Bridal or millinery glue is a clear drying glue that will stand up to most dry cleaning procedures and so it is ideal for beading and trim application directly to costume pieces.


Since costumes are frequently soiled some method of laundering or dry cleaning must constantly be used to keep the actor fresh and to preserve the life of of the costumes. Only the largest of costume shops have their own dry cleaning plants, but any costume shop has to have:

bullet WASHER: These are standard domestic models or large commercial models. Not only laundry is done, but all fabrics are preshrunk before any costume is made.
bullet DRYER: Once again a heavy-duty commercial dryer is preferable, but many costume shops have standard domestic dryers. Dryers are also often used to set the dye and paints applied to costumes.


bullet DRESS FORMS: These come in every standard size for men, women and children. They are also available in special forms for swimsuits, trousers, jacket and full body work. Dress forms found in costume shops are not adjustable, but are solid simply for durability. These are invaluable to the cutter and stitcher during the construction process.

horizontal rule

This page is the property of Scott R. Robinson and may not reflect the opinions of CWU nor any of its departments
Material on this web site may be used for educational purposed, if this footer is included.  
Grateful appreciation is extended for all the links that assist in sharing this information with my classes.
All Rights Reserved  2000 - 2010