So this is going to be a very very long post! Before you start uni, you’ll no doubt receive a letter advising you what equipment to buy for the course but if you want to be prepared before that, here’s what I found to be most useful throughout my time at university.
A sewing box
My advice is to buy two, a cheap large plastic one for all your non-essential and spare items, such as threads and spare scissors, etc. Then also buy a smaller one that you can easily take to university and fill it with all your essential items. Make sure you keep both your boxes organised. It’s such a pain in the backside when you really need something and you’ve left it at home. Untangling threads and tape measures when you need to be sewing is never fun.
What people normally say is: invest in a good pair, but that doesn’t necessarily mean an expensive pair. I bought my pair of scissors from Boyes and I found them good to work with and they only cost around £10. But if you’d like to shop around, by no means give it a go. And never ever cut your paper with these scissors
Just buy a cheap pair and keep them in your art materials box rather than your sewing box so you don’t mix them up.
Small sewing scissors
Keep in your sewing box and use them to trim all your threads and fiddly little bits.
Pinking shears (The ones with the jagged edges)
These are used to keep your fabric samples nice and neat around the edges. In all honesty you’ll probably use these more for presenting you illustration work, etc. Not essential sewing equipment, but very useful to have. Put these in your big sewing box.
Always make sure you either write your name or do something else to make your scissors recognisable to you. The amount of times I’ve misplaced or mixed up my scissors with other people’s was silly, all because I forgot to write my name on them.
Buy a lot of unpickers. Although you’ll hate using them, they will save your arse many a time. And they always seem to mysteriously disappear. Buy in bulk, always keep two in your main sewing box and a couple in your big sewing box
Buy a couple of these because they always get lost. Keep a few in the big box and one in the little box. And don’t bother buying the fancy ones that wind themselves up, they break within two days and it’s really disappointing when that happens.
Don’t bother with fabric marker pens or pencils – they either don’t work or stain. Invest in some got old-fashioned tailors chalk, it works a lot better and is better value for money. And always remember to use it on the wrong side of the fabric!
When you start off it’s best to buy a basic set of colours; then as you work your way through uni buy specific threads as you need them and add them to your collection. Buy a couple of black, white and cream threads to ensure you have them when you need them as they are the colours you are most likely to use, especially in your first year, when you’ll probably be working with calico and not actual fabric. Shop around online and you’re likely to find special deals on buying boxes of different threads. Also buy a thread box or a spool organiser, so they don’t get messy.
Buy two packets of these, as you can find them fairly cheap in Boyes. Pop one in each box. Also, if you study machine knitting at your university it will be worth buying a darning needle.
Buy a couple of boxes, as they disappear very quickly! Over the course of three years I managed to lose all my pins, mostly in my carpet. Then I stood on them all again, it was very painful! If you can, buy a magnet so you can clean them up easily if you knock them over.
It’s pretty expensive but worth it, and if you take good care of it, it will last you for years. Make sure you put your name on it somehow and I would advise you to keep it in your portfolio case. Pattern masters have a habit of going missing when you need them the most!
Pattern paper, Calico and interfacing
Most universities will have a system where you pay a certain amount of money at the beginning of each year and then you can use their supplies of these items. However, if this is not the case, I would advise you to buy a roll of pattern paper and medium weight calico, as you will use so much of it, and buying in bulk will save you a fortune. I bought my roll of pattern paper in the first year and it’s now the end of the third year and I still have half left. As for interfacing – if you’re going to buy a roll I would advise medium weight. However, this may be worth buying as you go as you need different weights for different parts of clothing.
The first things I will say about art material is: don’t rush out and buy lots of different materials. When I first received my equipment list for university, it had things like charcoal and pastels on it. I bought them, used them once and that was that. Don’t be bullied into buying media you are not comfortable using just because it’s on the list. If you can experiment with lots of different media, then decide what you are most comfortable using. After all, you’re the only one who will be using it, and if everyone used the same, it would be very boring!
Another point to make is: don’t assume that just because a media is expensive it is better. The media is only as good as your work. After spending lots of money on art equipment in first year, half of which I never used, I learnt that very quickly. The works is quite cheap and the art materials are fairly good quality if you are after pencils, sketchbooks, etc. If you want to buy a media you know you will use often, it might be worth spending a little more money on it. For example I use watercolour paints in nearly all my drawings, so I would spend a little more on these and less money on sketching pencils. It’s all about what you want to work with, and if you feel it’s worth spending the money on it. Don’t buy things just because you university tells you to.
Media you may like to work in:
Water colour paint
Fine liner pens
I’m sure there are many other different types of media you could use, these are the ones that seemed to be the most popular among my course mates. Each one produced different but amazing results.
The best advice I can give with this is: don’t bother buying expensive ones. Chances are, as mine did, the tutors will tear out pages, stick them back in, draw all over them and maybe ever crumple them up. I bought a lovely pink pig one in first year that cost around £15 and really wish I hadn’t bothered. Now I buy all my sketchbooks from the Works for around £4, and they are just as good, if not better.
An A3 one is standard within the industry. It’s worth spending a bit of money on a good quality portfolio case. It looks a bit more professional and it will inspire you to fill it with lots of amazing work.
A3 carry case
Its up to you if you want to spend a lot of money on one of these or not. I have a lovely one from WHSmith which I put all my work in to take back and forth. Or some people preferred to buy cheap plastic ones from Wilkinson’s and then put different projects in them. It’s up to you.
Make sure these are good! Rubbish glue sticks can ruin your work.
Buy them depending on how much you think you will use them. I only use mine occasionally for adding detail to drawings so I only have a small tipped one, but if you like using these, you may want to invest in a couple of different thicknesses
I would advise everyone to buy a set of skin toned Pro markers – they range from very pale to brown and are really good, and save a lot of time trying to get the right skin colour for your model. These can be quite expensive, but again they are worth it. Try searching the internet to find a pack within your price range.
This isn’t really essential, but the amount of times I’ve had a good idea while I’ve been out, and not been able to draw it, then forgotten what it was is unbelievable – just buy a small one for your handbag and you’ll never lose a good idea.
To store all your materials in, get one with a handle, so it’s easy to carry.
These are useful to neaten up edges and cut out things all nice and neat. Not essential, so buy one from the Works, but useful to have around.
A fabric sample book – I just used a small a5 sketchbook for mine. Keeps all your fabrics organised and you don’t end up losing any down the back of your desk draws!
Other useful art equipment:
A pack of bog standard pencils
Pens (I never seem to have one when I want one)
Other bits you may want to splash out on
A domestic sewing machine
Mine cost around £250 and was an early birthday present. But is the best investment ever. And let’s face it – at one point you will need to be up all night sewing. Been there, done that, and buy plenty of machine needles to go with it! They will break at the most inappropriate times. Normally deadline days.
This is a really good investment, although wait until you find out the standard side your uni uses before you buy one.
A personal organiser
This will be a lifesaver – write everything in it. Addresses and contacts, important dates, deadlines, etc. I even keep a tube map in mine – you’ll find that you become well acquainted with London doing Fashion. If you want something pretty, try Paperchase – they have some lovely organisers.
A pretty (and large) handbag. To keep your organiser, mini sketchbook and other things in. Make sure it’s uber stylish so you can use it every day and not have to constantly change bags.
A bag for all your uni equipment
Just a cute canvas bag – big enough to carry your sketchbooks, sewing boxes, etc., and very very sturdy.
A suitcase or a little trolley
No, I’m not joking. When you get to the third year you will be using this on a daily basis. Trust me, it’s a lot less painful than carrying 2 portfolio cases and several bags into uni.
After reading this rather long list, your jaw has probably hit the floor and you’re freaking out over how you’re going to afford it all. The best advice I can give is: buy a little at a time. Also, start saving up asap! Fashion is expensive and will probably have you out of pocket for most of your university life, unless you managed your money very well. And don’t be surprised when you start to put fabric costs and travel before food money! But if you make sure you take care of all your equipment, it will definitely last you through uni and beyond! I hope this was useful to everyone, and please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with any comments!
Laura Brandon is a 22-years old Fashion graduate currently living in London. She blogs about being a Fashion student, fashion brands/trends/looks and beauty products, etc. She’s just started up a jewellery/craft business (check it out on Facebook) and she’s also looking for fashion/writing related jobs. She’s hoping to publish a book based on this series one day. See more of her work on her blog here.