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The 5 Tools Every Fashion Design Student Needs in Their Kit

by Carolyn Boyd
Posted: September 11, 2015

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If you're ready start your own fashion label or simply make a great garment, expert patternmaker, fashion trainer and assessor Yvonne El-Alam says there are some essentials you’ll need in your toolkit. 

With over 20 years of experience, Yvonne utilises her fashion skills and knowledge to be an effective trainer and assessor. She excels at patternmaking, grading and garment construction and has extensive experience in consulting to industry professionals, taking a design from sketch to production. She works as a freelance patternmaker and grader for clients including major corporate wear and small start-up labels. Here, Yvonne shares what's in her Fashion Design Toolkit


1. A good pair of scissors: Cost: $70-$150

Definitely a must is a good pair of scissors. There are different sizes of scissors. You should get something that’s comfortable on your hands and sharp. You have to keep your scissors separate. One pair is for paper and cardboard and the other is for fabric. And they should be sharpened regularly, oiled and kept in a good safe spot.

I had my original scissors for about 15 years until they were sharpened incorrectly and it was a sad day for me. Sometimes you can get those mobile guys who sharpen hairdressing scissors as well. I think that’s what happened to me – they just could not do my big scissors.

Top tip: Go to a fabric store where they have specialists to sharpen scissors. They’re the most trustworthy.


Fashion Designer Scissor and tape Measure

2. Tape measure, dressmaker’s set square, grading ruler: Cost: tape measure $2.30; set square $48; grading ruler $26

You always need a tape measure around your neck. I buy five at a time. Keep one in your bag. Keep one in your little toolbox. Have one always with you. You need a tape measure to measure a body, the mannequin, where you want to place a seam, a dart, the design line. And they’re flexible so they’re great for measuring arms and armholes on patterns and sleeves.

The other two important measuring tools are a set square and a grading ruler. You need a set square so you can square off all your corners and lines. And the grading ruler is your friend. It is what you use constantly – you’ll draw your darts, you’ll draw shoulder lines, whatever parts of the pattern you’re be drawing, you’ll be using the grading ruler.

Top tip: Buy tape measures that show inches and centimetres. If someone says ‘I want this three inches shorter’, you’ll need to know how long that is.

Fashion Designer Tools

3. Pearl head pins: Cost: $10 for 1000

Other pins are just too hard to work with. Pearl head pins are easy to pick up and easy to put on all kinds of fabrics. They’re safer. You can see them. You can grab them easily. The coloured pins just don’t work. Sometimes they’re too long. Pearl head pins are the perfect size.

Top tip: I usually get them through specialist suppliers because you can buy a whole box. You won’t use them all up quickly. A box is going to last you quite a while.

4. Sewing machine and an overlocker: Price: $200-$1000

This is where you weigh up how much you have to spend. It has to be reliable, so buy the best you can afford. Cheaper models are going to conk out as they’re not designed for constant sewing.

Top tip: You need a straight sewer that can also do a zigzag, so you can zigzag the edges of fabrics if you don’t have an overlocker – which is also a good investment.

sewing machine and an overlocker

5. Dress forms: Price: $150-$400

There are two types of dress forms: adjustable and stock size. The stock size dress forms are excellent because they’re such good quality, but they don’t adjust, and that sometimes does not work for students when they have to make things for a client who might not be a standard size.

Top tip: An adjustable dress form is a must. All prices are approximate.

fashion designer dress forms

Think you'd like to learn more about what it takes to be a Fashion Designer? Take a look at this infographic to read more about the industry. 


Carolyn Boyd

Carolyn has been a Journalist for 20 years. She holds degrees in communication and business, and enjoys hunting great stories. The human element of stories fascinates Carolyn and she believes everyone has an interesting tale to tell.

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