Do you want to start quilting? As a beginner quilter, figuring out what to buy can be overwhelming. Read this post to learn what you need to have or buy for your first machine quilting project.
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Learning (or re-learning) new skills is the best way to keep our brains sharp and life interesting, but it’s also stressful to be a newbie at anything. Not knowing exactly where to start, here’s a list of what you need as a beginner quilter to cover all the bases before you start your first project.
The 25 most essential quilting tools
1 – The first thing you’ll need for the sake of your sanity (bless you if you have the time and patience to quilt by hand) is a sewing machine. I started with a general purpose sewing machine and it’s doing just fine. There are machines available from $100 to $10,000.
2 – My recommendation for the second item is to buy a pattern that will get you excited for your project. My favorite designer is Brigitte Heitland who designs under the brand Zen Chic. Her designs lean heavily to my modern aesthetic and suit a wide range of quilt levels. Brigitte recommended her pattern “Color Chart” for this post because it’s a great one to start for a beginner quilter!
Note if you are buying a pattern from Zen Chic. Downloads hav a certain limit to avoid abuse. This limit is a 3 times attempt and a 7 days timeframe. Photo courtesy of Brigitte Heitland.
3 – Next up is a large cutting mat. You might have a smaller one for crafts but a big one will definitely come in handy when you’re laying out fabrics.
4 – To go with your cutting mat, you’ll want to purchase some tools to help you cut. The first is a 6” x 24” quilter’s ruler. You’ll use it all the time!
5 – Then comes a quilter’s square, which helps so much when you’re trying to keep your squares square (a challenge for a beginner quilter)! I have the Omnigrip but I prefer the Tucker Trimmer III because it’s much easier to read. Both will do the job.
6 – The quilter’s ruler and square do nothing without a rotary cutter. I’ve used one for years for my paper crafts but you’ll need to get one specifically for fabric and only fabric.
8 – If you don’t want to drag your ironing board down to where you’re sewing then you can get a handy quilter’s pressing pad. I actually bought a new ironing board but if I were to do it again, I’d just buy a pressing pad. This is an optional purchase for sure.
9 – Along with the iron and pressing pad, you need to use spray starch to add some form to your fabric. I recommend Mary Ellen Products Best Press. This is a suggestion, however, any spray starch will do the job.
10 – An organizing bin for all your notions is a must if you’re an OCD-ish beginner quilter. Not sure why a modern looking sewing box isn’t on the market yet. So I went to the craft section and found an ART BIN clear plastic organizer and it works great!
11 – Traditional round head pins are what most people know.
12 – Let’s break away from notions and get back to a fun purchase, your fabric. The fabric for the pattern Color Chart is no longer available but if you use the Spotted Charm Pack by Zen Chic for Moda Fabrics you’ll be in good shape. You can select coordinating fabrics as identified in the materials list of the pattern. All materials are listed in the pattern so you know how much yardage to buy or if you need a charm pack (small cut squares in a bundle), a layer cake (large cut squares in a bundle), or a jelly roll (strips of fabric in a roll). You can pick whatever fabric you like to match your taste and décor.
13 – Thread is obvious but I didn’t know that there are degrees of quality to the thread that apparently really make a difference. The Singer repairman and Kathy, who taught my quilting class, both couldn’t say enough for using really good quality thread. I didn’t know the difference but a good thread is a bit of an investment so I simply believed them and took a big deep breath when I saw the price tag.
14 – Bobbins are a little thing but a must buy. You need to have a bobbin for each color thread you’ll be using for your project.
15 – You’ll also need batting in a size big enough for your fabric. 100% pure cotton batting is
16 – As a beginner quilter, a quilting term you’ll learn “sandwiching”. That’s when you assemble your pieced fabric layer, backer fabric, and batting together so they can be quilted as a whole. This can be done with safety pins (lots and lots of safety pins) or you can use spray adhesive to do the trick as well. It is NOT environmentally the best choice so I feel a little guilty but it is SOOOO much easier than the safety pins. It’s also great to have a friend help to do this step with you.
17 – Your sewing machine might come with a walking foot. If it doesn’t then be sure to buy one that fits your machine. The walking foot helps your quilt sandwich move through the machine evenly top and bottom. I didn’t really like the Singer walking foot that came with my machine because it was really stiff and that led to puckers (super annoying!). I ordered another generic one that a classmate had and like it much better.
18 – When it comes time to quilt the sandwich together there are tons of different patterns you can use and they’re all subjective. As a beginner quilter, I recommend using your quilter’s ruler and a fabric pencil to mark out your lines before getting to the machine. I tried eye-balling it and it didn’t go so well. Lesson learned!
19 – When you’re sewing the border, using sewing clips is a huge time saver. They’re easy to apply and remove so your sewing proceeds efficiently. These are optional as you can use the flathead pins you already purchased but for the money, they’re a great value and under $10.
20 – Isn’t it funny that I haven’t mentioned scissors yet? They are essential but not as useful as in the past before rotary cutters took over. Like your rotary cutter, you need to keep a set of scissors just for fabric so they don’t become dull by paper and other non-fabric things.
21 – Optional and probably already in your desk drawer are post-it notes and labels. These are great for labeling the fabric pieces that you cut so you won’t forget their purpose, size, and quantity. I also used a post-it note taped to the deck of my sewing machine to mark out a ¼ inch seam, making it much easier to see as sew your pieces together.
22 – Sad but true, you’ll probably need a seam ripper. Wish this wasn’t so but odds are that at some point as a beginner quilter you’re going to be un-doing one or more of your seams. Don’t be obsessive though! It’s okay if the quilt isn’t perfect. They are a craft that you put together for the joy of it. Keep it joyful and don’t be OCD like me!
23 – Needles and more needles … the edge finishing is often with a hand stitch so you need hand needles. You’ll also need to buy extra needles for your machine. You need to replace the machine needle for each project. The recommendation is to change the needle every 8 hours! I don’t think I ever replaced a needle before unless it broke. Another lesson learned.
24 – The next tool on the list is one that I didn’t use but I’m going to for my next project. It’s quilter’s gloves. In speaking with other quilters, they say that the machine quilting is much smoother when you wear gloves. I guess I’ll have to see for myself and you can try too but it isn’t a necessity!
25 – The last recommendation for the newbie quilter’s tool kit is YouTube! If you have any question about how to do something, I can almost guarantee that there’s a YouTube video (or a hundred) that will show you how!
bringing back quilting bees … in a modern way
I know, it seems like a lot as a beginner quilter. Most of the things on the list are small with a few notable larger items. What I can say is that the satisfaction that comes from finishing a quilt you have made yourself is definitely worth the cost and effort. With this list, you’ll start your first project well equipped for a great experience.
Want to make your quilting even better? Share this post with a handful of friends and form a modern quilting bee. Working together as a community is a great way to make the experience something that you’ll want to repeat and share over and over!