#1--Love them, use them all the timeSewing gauge
A handy, multipurpose little gem that doesn't cost much. Unfortunately, I still haven't found mine after 3 days of unpacking. At least I know where the JoAnn's is in my new town.
Retractable tape measure
It measures, it retracts, and it's a cat toy. Oh, and cheap. If you buy one in 5/8-inch width, it also helps you quickly and easily mark sewing seam allowances on your Big 4 patterns.
I have several types of marking items (see the "I want a refund, what a piece of crap" category) but my favorite has always been the basic hunk of chalk, preferably in a holder with a sharpener available.
Magnetic pin cushion/wand/nest
One can never have enough magnetic gadgets for picking up or holding pins. The "nest" is the best for traveling and the wand works great for finding pins in the carpet.
Paper medical tape
This little gem earned me a nod in Threads magazine. I use it to hold "cording" in place for my corded buttonholes. I mark seam allowance guides on my machine. I tape patterns together after altering (or attack from kitty claws).
Over-sized cardboard mat
I use this mat for cutting out patterns, adjusting patterns, laying out fabric, measuring fabric, protecting fabric from rough table edges and as a work surface in general. It's not a huge investment ($15-25 USD) but I guard it against cat claws and husbands that want to jot a note down and see this surface as a table to lean on.
Wooden yard stick
I misplaced it once and had to buy another. Unfortunately the store I went to only had metal ones. I dislike metal rulers. They don't feel right in my hand. Plastic and wood are more comfortable to work with. Wood is great because I haven't broken one yet. The plastic rulers haven't fared so well.
Cheap ink pen and Sharpie
Sometimes this is a better marking tool than chalk. I use those crappy hotel pens to mark patterns and fabrics (in places it won't show). The cheap pens are also good for writing on muslin when you are recreating a pattern. I also use Sharpies for marking up muslins during fitting.
Rowenta steam iron
Do yourself a favor and invest in a good iron. I can't afford the fancy steamers but I did upgrade to a nice Rowenta iron (on sale and it came with a rebate at Bed Bath & Beyond). I used to hate ironing and now I find it almost enjoyable and most definitely easier.
I have 2 styles that I love. One is the basic cheap seam ripper that you can buy in any store. The other is like a scalpel and I have 2 different styles, a curved one designed for ripping seams and the other is supposed to be a buttonhole cutter. The cheap seam ripper is great when the fabric you are handling is sturdy or you want to pull the thread out as opposed to cut it. The scalpel seam ripper works well with delicate fabrics, when you need precision control, and I sometimes use it for pulling out threads (I turn it so the dull side can be used). I also use the buttonhole slicer for cutting/ripping seams and cutting open buttonholes. In a pinch, I use cheap razor blades for cutting buttonholes as well.
I found a retailer that sold just about every accessory for my sewing machine so I waited for a sale. I ended up spending over $200 USD just on accessory feet. With the exception of one, I've used them all and found them very handy. The ones that get the most use are the edgestitcher, walking foot and the stitch-in-the-ditch feet. My topstitching has improved by leaps and bounds with the edgestitcher. I now understand why some people only sewing with a walking foot. Sure you could pin fabrics together to align the ends perfectly...or you can just use the walking foot and stop cursing and stabbing yourself with pointy pins. I also found an automatic buttonholer for my Singer (the kind that comes with tons of buttonhole plates). This thing has always worked so much better than any buttonhole function on any machine I've ever owned.
The packaging doesn't tell you how to use it and I couldn't understand how it would work (and not damage your needle or fabric). Then I had a "duh" moment in a sewing class...you need to heat up the wax. Don't I feel silly. I hated hand stitching until I finally figured out how to use this stuff. What a time saver! In my defense, every packaged beeswax I've ever picked up says nothing about using heat, just to run your thread through it. I suppose you could use it without heat but I like it iron it.
Tailor's ham & Point presser/clapper
#2 Neat tools
#2 Neat tools
I just bought these last year. Before that, I used to create really odd contraptions to iron hard-to-reach places. Besides, "clapper" just sounds funny.
Looks like an accordion and really isn't a necessary tool but makes life easier when your brain won't do basic math. Figure out how many buttons you will have, put point one at the first buttonhole and the last point at the last buttonhole...ta-da! Buttonhole spacing is perfectly even every time. When I took my couture sewing class in Nashville last summer, we went shopping at Textile Fabrics. I was so excited to shop in a store with nothing but fashion fabrics but when I entered I felt overwhelmed. I ended up buying this buttonhole gauge, the above-mentioned clapper and buttons for my Nashville Chanel. Even the salesperson was surprised I didn't buy fabric. The store was even having a sale on every piece of fabric and still I bought none. Do you see how overwhelmed I was?!!
Sewing needle pin cushion/storage
Everyone has their system for keeping track of what a needle is and how much use its had. I've never been able to maintain a system. I found this little gem in JoAnn's and I use it consistently every time. I'm still not sure how you are supposed to estimate how many hours you have sewn with a particular needle so I probably change them sooner than I need to.
#3 Looked cool, haven't use it yetJean-a-ma-jig
We all have them. Do you use yours? When I get to the seam that could use a boost to stitch over, I just plow on through instead of stopping to find my Jean-a-ma-jig. I think it's still in the package too.
Serger foot for conventional sewing machine
Yes, I know it doesn't make your sewing machine function like a serger but it supposedly stitches and trims at the same time. Sounded handy but I've never used it. It was the most expensive accessory foot I bought too.
#4 Piece of crapChalkoner
Seriously, how do you make this thing work? Mine won't work on any fabric. I even have 2 of them and neither will mark so clearly I'm doing something wrong. In the meantime, I'm blaming it on the Chalkoner.
Disappearing ink, different colored ink, wash-away ink, doesn't matter. I dislike them all. They make me nervous (what if the ink doesn't come out?). I trust chalk. I can make it disappear every time. If I mark incorrectly with chalk, I can fix it immediately without waiting for ink to disappear or finding a wet sponge to remove ink.
Uniquely You dress form
First, the service sucks. Doesn't matter who you buy it from because the retailer will have to contact the manufacturer (one-person shop) to send it to you. He is slow to ship, didn't include every part I needed, and then refused to return my calls or phone calls from the retailer I bought it from. I finally did receive everything but I think this dress form is already ruined for me. The cover was a pain to fit so I'm making my own. I now wish I had saved my money and bought an adjustable Ronis instead.
This is more of a danger to me than a piece of crap. Everyone said "you must buy snips/snippers, etc.", so I did. I've cut my fingers (deeply, I might add) on many occasions. I've decided I simply can't afford to keep replacing fabric I've bled on so my Fiskars snips stay safely in my drawer.