When the wonderful David P. Coffin was here for a day long workshop we had a chat about sewing before the students arrived. He came to the conclusion that I am a minimalist - especially when it comes to sewing tools and supplies - I don't own a rotary cutter or mat, no collection of fancy machine feet, no glues, etc. I believe that the most important tool for sewing is with our own hands and learning how to sew well requires first and foremost the ability to manipulate fabric through the machine, on the dress form, and under the iron. Below I have put together a list of what I think are the essentials in no particular order -
1.GRAVITY FEED STEAM IRON:
All I can say is don't skimp on the iron - it works miracles literally. Customers come in all the time unhappy with their project but as soon as I give it a twirl under the steam iron all the troubles melt like lemon drops. I recommend a Pacific Steam model PSI 5E and also purchase a teflon shoe and steam diffuser. If you use tap water you must purchase a package of resin if not just use distilled water. All available here at WAWAK.COM
For scissors I look for a balance of quality, availability, and affordability. There are some beautiful scissors in the world some are harder to find stateside so my choice may not be that glamorous but i think it is practical and has worked for me over many decades. Since I was a student at FIT a hundred years ago until now I have always used MundiaI Industrial Forged Heavy Duty Shears, the catalog can be found here: http://www.mundial-usa.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/Scissors-and-Shears-Catalog-2015.pdf. I also recommend a pair of Japanese thread nippers even the cheapest get the job done.
3. RAZOR BLADES
Please don't spend hours killing your eyes and crying over the mistake you made which will require the ripping out of tedious seams with a home sewing seam ripper - USE A RAZOR BLADE. Once you get past your fear of accidentally cutting the fabric and find your own method that is comfortable you will be so happy. Razor blades are a really fast and efficient tool for opening seams. Trust me.
4. LOOP TURNER
Unless you are Harry Houdini incarnate it is impossible to make spaghetti straps or any other type of narrow tube without a loop turner - however I am sure that back in the day they had some other special technique.
Rulers are essential. I recommend the essential C-Thru 2" by 18" (clear ruler with red printed graph) which is great for everything especially for pattern making and tracing. For marking hems/cuffs and when you want you need a sharp edge I use a 1.5" Cuff Wide Ruler. Also, a hip curve and basic french curve are good to have on hand as well.
6. MEASURING TAPE
7. TRACING WHEEL
Personally I use a pattern making tracing wheel which has long sharp spikes that can penetrate oaktag which is used for final patterns and also works well if accosted at night in a dark alley and literally the price has not changed in 20 years some prices are even lower go figure.
There are a lot of different kinds of chalk on the market usually split between two types: chalk and wax. Also, there is disappearing which will fade in 24 hours but if we are talking about a good everyday marking tool I use Carmel Super Glide Wax Chalk and I have this in stock at 40 cents a piece. It disappears with heat and works great on almost all fabric types. Always do a test first and I shave the edge down when I need a sharper point. It tends to leave a faded mark on silky types but if rubbed together and washed I have been able to get it out.
9. HAND NEEDLES
Needles are a big topic, however for the minimalist I recommend an assorted pack of sharps sizes 3/9. A good example can be found here from John James.
Honestly, I love the beautiful Murano glass head pins I carry from Sajou Haberdashery but for everyday I recommend getting A BIG BOX OF PINS - enough so that you just sweep them into the trash. I recommend a box of 2500 from PRYM Dritz #17 dressmaker pins or #20 which is finer.