Aesthetics or Function?

Aesthetics or Function?

The sewing room tools.

When buying things for the home, especially kitchen utensils I like things to be aesthetically pleasing, as well as functional. I like things to make me smile, to be fun, an added pleasure, cause a subconscious reaction perhaps, not just functional? Maybe it is in the eye when you buy?

I know this can cause conflict, as sometimes the function wins over aesthetics and visa versa.

Which is more important to you? 

Function: purpose for which something is designed or exists; role.

Aesthetics: The branch of philosophy dealing with such notions as the beautiful,the ugly, the sublime, the comic, as applicable to the fine arts, with a view to
establishing the meaning and validity of critical judgments concerning works of art, and the principles underlying or justifying such judgments. The study of the mind and emotions in relation to the sense of beauty.

Lets focus on the sewing room tools as my example. I use several different tools on a daily basis and have changed these over the years, in search of the ones that suit my specification best; my spec being equally looking good and working well.

The pins and pin cushion

I taught Design and Technology in schools for 16 years and 10 of those as head of a design department. I was responsible for ordering all the materials and tools for a department that taught food, textiles, electronics and product design. A very expensive department to run, my head teacher would constantly remind me. Hence one of the many reasons schools are closing their DT departments. I was always looking for ways to save money, we would spend a lot of money on pins, the reason being, most of then would end up on the floor. So finding the perfect pin storage was an ongoing challenge. We taught hundreds of students and textiles was taught in many different rooms, there wasn’t always time between each lesson for a teacher to keep tabs on resources, going to another room from one lesson to the next.

Every product you buy, you have a defined specification, I want this because, I need this because? We needed enough cushions for classes of 25 and they needed to be affordable and small enough to store, aesthetics wasn’t part of our specification. After many failed solutions we settled on the Red tomato pin cushion. Pincushions come in all shapes and sizes, but the tomato is the design that remains iconic. Why a tomato? According to folklore, placing a tomato on the mantle of a new home ensured prosperity and good health by warding off evil spirits. As tomatoes are seasonal, the good-luck symbol was frequently created from fabric and filled with sawdust or wool. During the Tudor Era it became common practice to use fancy, stuffed shapes to showcase one’s collections of pins and needles. Eventually, the stuffed, decorative tomatoes were used as pin cushions. The strawberry tassel attached to the pin cushion was filled with emery and served to clean and sharpen needles and pins. The tomato was further popularized in the Victorian Era. Victorian ladies took an immense pride in their parlor rooms, displaying collections of pin cushions in various shapes, and taking pride in their number and variety. The tomato was always the crown jewel of her collection.

I use the Tomato cushion in my workshops, as they are light making them easy to carry to different venues, I teach at the Arts Depot in Finchley and at many different fairs around london. The next fair being the

At home I have lots of different pincushions, the one that I find the most useful is the wristband cushion. I use pins when at different areas of my sewing room and was forever having to go back a get a pin. The wristband goes everywhere I do, so I never have this problem. I find it the least desirable, but the best for its purpose. I don’t like magnet cushions for many reasons, the main being that they are not securely stored. My first fashion job after college was as a design room assistant, I spent most of my days cutting out the samples, for the designers to show the buyers in their meetings. one summer I took my shoes off and stepped on a pin, the pin broke in my ankle and I subsequently had to go to hospital and have it removed under general anesthetic, they tried with local, but it was too deep. I was on crutches for two weeks as a result. As you can imagine I am very OCD about pins on the floor, especially as my sewing room, is our dining room and my son runs in and out of this space often. The pins with pearl heads make a sound when they drop, so I always listen and then can see where they land.

I use the magnetic cushions when I am teaching embroidery, they are great for collecting up the needles. I do like to have them next to my sewing machine too, as they are also good when you remove a pin to place on the magnet, you don’t really need to look and can stay focused on what you are sewing. When you use a fabric cushion you need to look and push the pin into the cushion. I have a large dog pin cushion, this is a fun cushion and normally is used on the ironing board as it sits nicely at the end.

I have a lovely Liberty mouse cushion, this looks lovely, but is the least successful for function, as it falls to one side, but I forgive her as she looks so lovely. I have a donut magnetic cushion, this also looks lovely, but the pins don’t stay on well, maybe better for holding needles perhaps?

I will continue collecting pin cushions, as I love how different they can be.

Pins, you definitely pay for what you get. The cheaper big boxes of pins usually contains the factory seconds, including several nail size pins that can’t even get through fabric. I like to buy the pearl ended pins, even these can be of a poor quality, if you buy online you can’t test them and I have some can be shorter and have a rusty feel to them, as a result I only buy pins in a shop not online.

A simple ruler

I recently bought a liberty ruler, this was purely for aesthetics, it was double the price of a plain plastic ruler and the only difference being that someone had added a strip of liberty print paper inside the centre. It makes me happy using it. Everything can have an extra special something added to make it personal to you and when something is to your personal taste you enjoy using it more right?

A loop turner

For years I used a safety-pin to turn my loops through, when I was finally shown the loop turner, well it’s like your first dishwasher or washing machine, it’s a life changer. It is just a shame the aesthetics can’t be changed, it only comes in boring metal.


I mentioned before when I ran a department I was responsible for buying all the materials and I had a budget that I had to stick to. I learnt with threads, that you cannot go cheap, there is a large box of unusable thread in a cupboard to this day at my old school, that can only be used for hand sewing. why, well the thread is fluffy and clogs up the machine needle and breaks every so often when sewing. the more expensive threads are smoother and of a better quality. I have found that Moon threads are cheaper and very good, but the one thread that I use for all my products is Guterman. you can get large rolls and some beautiful colours.

Pattern weights or pins?

When I was a sample cutter I never used pins, I was expected to cut out at least 20 products a day, if not more, so pinning was not an option. In those days I used long rectangular weights, that had handles, we had several different sizes available. I bought a lovely set of donut pattern weights from Etsy and they look edible and work well if you are cutting out small products on a table. I need more if I was to use them on bigger garments. They are also good for thicker fabrics, fabrics that don’t move much, fabrics that would leave a hole if you added a pin for example. these are more aesthetically pleasing than functional. I do love using them, but my instinct take me to pins.


I like to have a small pair of embroidery scissors very close to my sewing machine, this I use to cut away loose threads. I taught GCSE textiles and if garments had any loose threads students would lose marks. I always try to teach beginners to remove all threads as you sew, there is nothing worse than loads of seams with messy threads hanging from it and you are more likely to miss one. I don’t have a brand for fabric scissors to recommend, I think this is a case of always buying the most value for money, as I have always ordered scissors in bulk for teaching. I think a better purchase would be a good pair of blade sharpeners.

The coffee cup

This is an essential in most people’s sewing room, well it is in mine. How ever I don’t like to have coffee anywhere near my makes, the reason being; I used to work in bridal wear and we always had to wash our hands before we touched a dress. I suppose this rule has stayed with me and I never eat or drink anywhere near my sewing. I do like a good strong cup of coffee, these are needed when you need a break if something is not quite working, or you have been sewing for so long and the tiredness kicks in. My preference is a large, thin rimmed, textiles themed mug, my favourites are featured in the pictures below.


I have 2, why? Well, when I was a teacher we had a planner and I did miss this when I first stopped teaching. Teachers use this to plan their daily lessons, plan their professional development and to keep a log of their marking and registers. I write lists all the time and now use my Liberty dairy, which lucky for me, I received at my last birthday my brother for my birthday. this works for both aesthetics and function. it looks lovely and there is a page per day, so perfect. I have also started using the dream plan do diary, this I fill out once a week and it is inspiring and helps you focus on the bigger business picture.

The sewing machine

Before teaching I worked in industry for 6 years, from runner to designer, from high street to couture. In all the businesses I worked in, we used Brother sewing machines. Janome was seen as the household sewing machine of choice. Janome were not made to last, not like an industrial machine. These were used for hours a day, making thousands of garments opposed to one a week. I spent many years working on industrial sewing machines and when I get more space I will definitely buy another. In schools we could never afford my machine preference and you usually inherited a set of machines when starting in a school. I did exchange several terrible machines once for a brand new set of Bernina machines, they had front loading bobbin cases. These were so difficult to teach students how to load, I much prefer the top loading machines and would highly recommend these to anyone buying a machine today. They just didn’t exist years ago. I use the brother sewing machines in my workshops, I have 12 in total, but when I teach at fairs they provide Janome and they have improved so much since my industry days. Machines range from £100-£2000, if you are a beginner buy a machine that you can grow into, by this I mean one that has features that in time you can learn how to use. one with button holes for example. Don’t pick a machine that has 500 different stitch designs, you probably won’t use any of them. I think £300 is a lot of money, but money well spent. I remain a Brother fan and always will, this is like having a recommendation or a recipe from your grandmother, its loyalty to your own history. You can get some great deals here:

I think we can understand from this that so many things can affect the choice of your sewing tools; from personal experience, purpose, how many you need, cost restrictions, colour, shape and finally how one makes you feel. I like my life to be sew simple and to keep smiling.


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