Tightwad Tailoring Tools- Pincushions and Portable Design Boards

I ask a lot from my tools and equipment.  Naturally, they should be in decent condition and perform the desired task.  I also like them to be simple, multi-talented, durable and inexpensive.  My tools don’t often meet all those criteria; if I want durability and general usefulness, I have to pay for it.

Not this time.  I found some cheap cork boards at the Swedish box store, intended for use under hot dishes.  Some time ago, I went to a friend’s house to help her put a quilt together.  She had one of these pads covered in pins!  I loved the idea.

I use three distinct spaces for sewing: the cutting table (my kitchen counter),

my sewing machine,

and the ironing board (where I pin seams).   I like to keep one pincushion in each area, so I don’t have to interrupt my workflow to track down pins.

I discovered several other uses for these cork disks.  The one next to the machine also holds any notions I need for a project.  This is especially helpful when I can’t finish in one sitting- I won’t lose the zipper or the buttons or the particular foot I want or the useful scrap of bias tape.  I’d also call it a portable design board, since I can carry it over to the cutting table (kitchen counter) as I ponder how to put a garment together.

It’s also great for using sharp tools.  Now I don’t have to get up and locate my self heal mat to use my:


Buttonhole Chisel

Seam ripper razor blade.

All that for the same price as two cans of Coke!  Do you ever “re-purpose” an ordinary household item to use in your sewing, only to discover it works really well?  What is it?  How do you use it?  What do you “go” for in tools?  Looks?  Durability?  Design?  Cost?

(I really enjoy the comments lately… I feel like I’m having a dozen slow-paced conversations.  :)  Also bought at the Swedish store- a clearance duvet cover destined to become the dress I show you how to build a simple bra into…!  Soon! Tomorrow is my basic FBA tutorial, so I can build from there…)


  1. Definitely like the idea of the cork boards and have picked up a few at my local IKEA to use with hot dishes. Maybe I’ll relocate them from my kitchen to the sewing room.

  2. I’d glue two of those together with same sized heavy washers in between so it would work as and extra hand to hold fabric in place while you are pinning.

    • I’d probably bust out my hot glue gun and some fabric scraps. I probably wouldn’t cover the entire cork board but the sides are definitely up for grabs even if you wanted the entire top for work space. Probs not a good idea to use a button hole chisel over the decorated bit. lol I also distinctly remember having some really cute push pins as a kid so I’d have to hunt some of those down for a bit of decoration too. They’d be cuter than pins for holding down notions.

  3. I like this idea. I usually move the pin cushion from the sewing machine to the ironing board and back again and, having everything pinned to the cork round would eliminate (One can hope!) me *mis-placing* the notions for a particular project. Great idea thank you for sharing.

  4. I use unglazed tiles from the home improvement store for pattern weights. I have stamped the tops on some and others are just plain. They also serve as coasters in my sewing room but after spilling Diet Coke all over a top, I am going to enforce a no eating/drinking rule.

    • It’s a very wise rule. That’s a reason I wish I had a designated sewing space, absolutely no food… As it is, I guess sewing helps me keep my house clean… I don’t want to put fabric down on a dirty countertop… ;)

  5. Good idea/ideas! My pins are all stuck to a magnet in a tin. Magnet is puck shaped and covered in chrome and started life as an executive toy covered in metal stars you couldplay with and ,ove around. Tin is just the right size, had a soap in it and was a gift from when I was a teacher. All of this kit is 28-20 years old now in its repurposed usage. :)

    • I like it. The magnets make me kind of nervous, though… I tend to have my computer and camera around when I’m sewing, I can’t afford to replace them if I accidentally mess up the components…

  6. I have a collection of small forceps for odd jobs (and teasing the cats) and a long handled kitchen spoon I use for turning tubes and straps. I will be stealing the cord idea!

    • MMmmm forceps… That reminds me, I meant to check up on some surgical knife a friend of mine has… One of those ridiculous instruments that aids precise cutting…

  7. I would never have thought of this – I have loads of those cork pads in several sizes. I use an old postage tube for a sleeve board. I just drape an length of old towel over it. It also serves as a holder for my tracing paper and stands neatly in the corner when not in use. This sounds like a KTel ad …

  8. Great idea!. I use a magnetic parts dish for pins, (my sewing machine is mechanical.) I also use a knitting needle to turn tubes and such, cans of tuna fish as pattern weights, hair clips to hold some fabrics together.

  9. Clever! I so need something like this because losing the little things at the sewing table is my bane. Thanks! (I also use a postage tube for patterns–that’s really helped keep them neat.)

  10. Slightly off topic but I bet you’d know… I’m thinking of upgrading my sewing machine and want some advice. I’ve got an Elna 240 now. I sew a lot – not as much as you do, but quite a lot, and it varies from hemming jeans for my son to sewing chiffon scarves and occasionlly home-dec stuff (when I run out of fun things to sew).

    Honestly the Elna is nice, I’d just like something a bit more heavy-duty and with a good buttonholer.

    • Amy– I’d go with what you know if you’re happy. That is, probably stay with Elna. Ask yourself what other features you want- make a list of the little irritations you have to learn to work around on your sewing machine and take it with you to a good dealer- independents often have exceptional customer service and after purchase care, if you can find one near you. You should be able to take your list to a salesperson and they can help you, but do take a list and make sure to ask lots of questions. It’s the salesperson’s job to answer questions and help you find what you need. Otherwise, you can email me some of your preferences and I can see what I know..

      But just from what you told me, I’d probably upgrade to a higher quality machine by the same brand. As a general rule, the more you pay for a machine the higher the quality of construction (among other things… bells and whistles are fun to use and can improve the quality of your finished garment, but for me durability is a big reason to shell out decent $$.) I hope that helps!

  11. I keep seeing those at my local dollar store and talking myself out of buying them. You’ve given me a reason to stop doing that. :D

  12. I like the idea of having pins in all the places you work. Even the smallest distraction feels like a big deal to me when learning to sew is such an uphill course.

    • Yes. I like to both coddle and micro-manage my beginners for that reason. It’s so hard! Uncomplicate! Look for ways to make your sewing simpler. :) Cheaper is good, too.

  13. I use a piece of plumbing pipe – one that’s the same thickness as a postage tube – for my pattern pieces and spare tracing paper. It has lids on either end that can be removed. This means I can transport my patterns on my pushy without roughing them up, or ruining them in the rain.

    I like it!

  14. I have a bunch of very large metal washers and nuts from the hardware store that I use for pattern weights. My stepfather made me a nice little wooden stand for them, really just a flat piece of wood with three dowels stuck in it vertically. He sanded the tops of the dowels into a smooth rounded shape, and I just drop the washers etc. over them. I can also carry it around by the middle dowel.

    I am one of the magnetic-pin-dish adherents, although I have two that were actually designed for that use. I love the fact that I can literally chuck the pins at it and they find their way home – so much faster when pulling them from the fabric while sewing at the machine! – and if I drop a pin or two I just turn the dish upside down and wave it over the area, and spang! the pin pops up into place. I also like that I can cart it around sideways and nothing falls out.

    I do have to keep my scissors a couple of inches away from it or they stick, but I haven’t had any camera/other electronic incidents.

    Oh, and since my dad is a dermatologist, I grew up using leftover disposable scalpels for seam ripping and a hemostat for turning tight seams! (I still use the hemostat…)

    • Thank you for those thoughtful tips, the description of your washers and their holders reminds me of a towers game we used to play in elementary school… ;) It sounds really useful, maybe I’ll email it to my husband and see what he comes up with… (He’s on holidays and needs to be kept busy…) ;)

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