When you start quilting – or any new hobby really – the number of tools that are available can be a bit overwhelming, and you can be
Over the years I have encouraged a few friends to try out quilting by giving them a little care package of;
- Fabric scraps
- Hexagon EPP Paper Pieces
- A couple of wonder clips
Most people have scissors and thread at home, and to start with I think it’s more important to play and see if you like patchwork and quilting before getting caught up in what is the correct thread, fabric and scissors to have and use.
It’s a great starting point as the fabric doesn’t need to be perfectly cut to wrap around the paper pieces, the clips help with basting the shapes and keeping everything together and as a quilter, I have all of these things to hand (quite often from magazine freebies!). If you would like to get some paper pieces to make your own care-package or try out quilting, it’s worth checking out Sew & Quilt as Jessie offers lots of different paper shapes and specialises in hand-sewing.
Alternatively, if you wanted to have a play at piecing fabric on a sewing machine, precuts are the perfect introduction as they are already cut to size and ready to sew (learn more about pre-cuts here). Depending on what is used, a pack will be the right size for a cushion or small cot quilt.
So, you’ve had a play and decided that Yes! Quilting is for you. What should be next on your list?! Ideally, you will want to buy a cutting mat, acrylic ruler and rotary cutter. I have listed below the tools that I have tried over the years, to give an idea of all the different options available!
Needles & Pins
There are many types of needles and pins available. Because everyone has their own way of holding and using needles, what is ‘best’ is very much down to personal preference, which can take a bit of trial and error.
- Needles: I switch between needles, often depending on what is to hand! I mostly sew with short, fine needles as I feel it gives me more control over what I’m sewing. My go-tos are a Size 10 (applique) or Size 12 (quilting between) gold eye needles but if I’m working with something like Liberty, I will often use a black-gold needle as it seems to be smoother with the fine Tana Lawn. I have also heard great things about Tulip Needles but have yet to try them out – they are on my list!
- Pins: I prefer fine dressmaker pins as they don’t leave big pin marks in the fabric. The one downside is that they can become invisible if they drop on the floor as they have no decorative head on them, so you may prefer purpose made quilting pins. The other pins that I use a lot are applique pins which are fine and short so that they don’t get in the way when stitching.
- Needle Threader: this needle threaded helps to alleviate my frustrations of working with a fine needle and thread, which I’m finding more useful with each passing year! It is also more robust than any other needle threader I have tried and easy to use.
For quilting, it is best to use cotton thread with cotton fabric as it prevents excessive wear and tear, helping your finished project to last a long time. There are lots of brands available – personally, I love Aurifil Thread as it is available in
Colour wise, if you are just starting out and want to buy just one spool, I recommend a pale grey (for Aurifil, this would be colour code 2600) as it doesn’t stand out too much against a bright/dark fabric.
Cotton thread is available in different thicknesses – a 50wt is a great starting point as it can be used for hand and machine sewing.
As the numbers get lower eg. 40wt, the thread gets thicker making it good for more quilting definition or embellishing your project. As the number gets higher eg, 80wt, the thread gets fine and is often preferred by those who hand-piece/do a lot of English Paper Piecing as the stitching becomes almost invisible!
If you are doing a lot of hand-sewing, it can really help to use a thread-conditioner to coat the thread as it helps strengthens the thread and prevent it from tangling whilst sewing.
Self-healing cutting mats are fantastic for cutting fabric on: the mat ‘heals’ after you have cut on it. They prevent the rotary cutter from blunting too quickly, have measurements on which helps with cutting projects out quicker and also help with protecting work surfaces.
Over time, it is likely that you will end up with a few cutting mats for different needs – I now have four and they all get used regularly! My recommendations are;
- 24″ x 18″ cutting mat: if you have one cutting mat, this is a great starting point and was all I had for the first couple of years of quilting. It is just big enough for a Fat Quarter of fabric which makes it ideal for lots of different projects.
- 12″Rotating cutting mat: if you are making blocks that need trimming eg. Half Square Triangles, or trimming a lot of blocks to size, a rotating mat is very beneficial. You can trim two sides, rotate the mat 180* – without needing to lift the block, which helps with accurate cutting – and then trim the other side. Easy Peasy!
- Larger Cutting Mat: at 36″ x 24″ this is useful for cutting lots of strips without having to rearrange the fabric all the time, and ideal for other projects such as bags and dressmaking
- Desktop Cutting Mat: although I love my 24″ x 18″ cutting mat, I can’t use it very easily in my sewing room (I have to clear a space on the kitchen table!) so for smaller projects/individual blocks I have a cutting mat which fits perfectly on my worktop. This will all very much depend on your sewing room/space set-up.
As quilting is mainly about chopping fabric up into smaller pieces, before sewing it back together again, there is obviously a need for cutting tools in your sewing room! If you are doing a lot of quilting, it is worth investing in a rotary cutter (to be used with acrylic rulers) as they help to speed up the cutting process. A secondary benefit is that it helps to reduce fraying of the fabric as handling is minimised.
- Seam Ripper: one of the most essential tools for a quilter, mine often gets way more use than I would like! If you are doing lots of sewing, it is worth spending a little bit of money on a seam ripper as they tend to be more robust and sharper (they can blunt over time) – I’ve been really happy with this one. It has a lovely feel to it and, once a seam has been undone, the silicon end is rubbed over the stitch line to help pull out any stray threads and remove/reduce the needle puncture marks. It’s magic! They are also a great tool for holding bits of fabric together under the sewing machine!!!
- 45mm Rotary Cutter: rotary cutters are available in a few different sizes, but this is one I’ve found to be the most useful and versatile. The safety mechanism tends to work in a slightly different way across each of the brands and the blades can be replaced as they get blunted with use. A smaller 28mm rotary cutter can be useful if you are making smaller blocks/cutting curves.
- Embroidery Scissors / Snips: useful for trimming threads, keeping close by when doing hand-sewing and snipping/trimming fabric.
- Dressmaking Scissors: a good pair of scissors for cutting fabric are essential, and to maintain their sharpness should only ever be used for fabric. There are lots of different scissors brands available – these ones have got holes in the blade so that they are not too heavy which means I never get sore hands when doing lots of cutting!
Acrylic rulers, when used with a rotary cutter and self-healing mat are really helpful for cutting fabric pieces quickly and accurately. You will probably find that you start off with one ruler and end up with a multitude! To start off with though, I would recommend;
- 6.5″ x 24″ acrylic ruler: this is an ideal first purchase as it is long enough to cut a whole Width of Fabric that is folded in half (perfect for cutting binding strips!) and when paired with a cutting mat can be used to cut large pieces of fabric easily. And as a friendly warning, if you have small children, make sure the ruler is always stored somewhere safe where they can’t jump on it and break it…….!!!
- A 6.5″ square or 12.5″ square ruler: a great next purchase, these are really beneficial for trimming blocks to size, and I probably use them both equally. These rulers are also great when it comes to bag/pouch making for cutting slightly bigger pieces accurately and quickly.
- 6″ x 1″ ruler: a handy size for keeping close by, useful for measuring seam allowance/piecing accuracy, adding a seam allowance and drawing guidelines.
- Pen or Pencil: visit this post to read more detail about all the different options that are available!
- Hera Marker: I didn’t learn about these until I’d been quilting for a little while, but they are so useful! You can draw along the edge of a ruler with the sharp end – much like a pen – and it flattens the fibres creating an indentation line which can be used as a guide for sewing along. This is brilliant when you don’t want to use a pen of any sort on the fabric, for example when marking quilting lines. A quick blast with a steam iron will help to plump the cotton fibres back up and the line disappears.
The only other things that I can think of which gets way more use than you would probably think is a wooden chopstick! Although not strictly for quilting, they are fantastic for turning out pouches/straps without piercing/damaging the fabric.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this post – if you have any questions or think that I’ve missed any essential tools off then please do drop me a line.
If you would like to look at the other posts in the #QuiltingTheory series to learn more about quilting, you can see them here;
- Introduction to #QuiltingTheory
- Week 1 – Quilting Lingo
- Week 2 – Seam Allowance
- Week 3 – Fabric
- Week 4 – Essential Tools
- Week 5 – How is a quilt made?
See you soon,
Today’s sky::: overcast and grey