Beginning Tools For Quilters 

By  Karen

Before we can start quilting we need to understand the tools that are used and which ones are most important for starting.

Because I have taught beginning piecing classes for several years, here are my favorite must have tools. This list is always growing and I realize these tools become expensive really quickly. However, use coupons and sales whenever possible to purchase new tools for quilting.

Let's start with the rotary cutter. There are so many different models out there to choose from. If you can, try before you buy. Why would that matter? I once had a student who had difficulty cutting and it took us 3 different options before she found one that she could work. This might be you. That was certainly an eye opening experience for me. So, let's look at some options. There are different brands and even ergonomic types. All of the models I will show are 45 MM.

When I first started the only type available was the Olfa (Insert Olfa 1 image)>

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If you chose this one, you MUST REMEMBER to close the blade after each cut. I am constantly reminding students to do this. So, add my voice to your head "close the blade" after each time you make a cut.

Then I saw this Fiskars Comfort Handle option (insert Fiskars Comfort Handle).

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This one was a little more comfortable in my hand, I felt I had a little better control. Still have to remember to close the handle after each cut.

My favorite Rotary Cutter was this updated version from Olfa, the Deluxe Handle Rotary Cutter. (insert Olfa Deluxe Handle Rotary Cutter Image)

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Just the name sounds more posh than the other options I had been using. So, I purchased one and fell in love with it. Just the natural motion of squeezing the handle drops the blade automatically. Once I release the handle the blade retracts. No more repeating "Close the blade" and it was very comfortable in my hand. However, this one seems to be tricky for some people to use. I am not sure why, but this is why I recommend try before you buy if you can.

I also really like the Olfa Splash model. Not just because they come in such pretty colors, but because this model is the easiest to change the blades. (insert the Olfa Splash Colors)

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These are just a few of my favorite rotary cutters. There are many options and since these models are easily available, start here. We can explore other models later in our quilting adventure.

Don't forget to purchase extra blades. I purchase my blades in bulk - 10 per package. I get a better price on them in bulk. Don't worry about purchasing a blade sharpener. So far, they don't restore the blade's edge to new like sharpness. Save your used rotary blades for other crafts involving paper cutting.

Next up is the cutting mat. You should invest in a self-healing cutting mat. If you get a plastic mat, your blades will not wear as long and you will wear grooves really quickly in the most frequently cut area. There are all kinds of fun mats out there from different designers as well as from Creative Grids, Olfa and Fiskars. Most mats will have a grid on one side and no grid on the other. I very seldom use my grid when I am cutting for a quilt, but occasionally, that is a necessary option. Purchase the largest one you have space for.  I keep the 24" x 36" on my cutting table. I have the 12" x 18" that I take to my guild classes. I can use both sides of my mat and have had them for several years. Always keep your mats away from extreme heat and lay them flat to prevent warpage.

You will now need a few rulers. Again, there are all kinds of rulers out there. My favorite rulers have been and continue to be the Creative Grids rulers. They have rulers for just about every project imaginable.  Creative Grids rulers have black and white markings so I can read the ruler on all colors of fabrics. They have an embedded grip on the backs of all their rulers that slides over fabric until pressure is applied. This grip helps prevent slipping and mis-cuts of fabric.

To begin with, I recommend a 6 ½" square and a 6 ½" x 18". These are probably the most commonly used rulers in my tool box. I have larger squares, longer rectangles, and more, but I use these the most as my go to rulers. Of course, I have added many more rulers and try not to purchase rulers that are only one time use. These tools are probably the most difficult to store. I have a ruler rack but have found I have a lot more rulers than will fit in it, so I am looking into options for hanging them.

I've already talked about a good sewing machine. I will refer you to that blog post.

Fabric, needles and thread would be next. Oh, and a pattern.

What to look for in fabric. Ok, I will admit I am a fabric snob. I wasn't always. My very first quilt was made out of simple cotton broadcloth. It wasn't great quality of fabric, it wasn't well made (I hadn't learned much yet) and it didn't last. I am not sure I even have a picture of it. I made it for my daughter when she was two and was in a big girl's bed).  When I took my first quilting class, I was trying to save some money and used discount store fabrics. I had already spent a ton on tools, so this seemed logical at the time. BIG MISTAKE! I had problems with not having enough fabric once it had been squared up, so I had to buy more. Then, some of my fabrics stretched when they were being sewn, again I had to buy more. So, I wasn't saving any money at all. Sadly, I learned there was a HUGE difference in the quality of fabrics that were purchased in a Quilt Shop vs. Discount Chain. Sometimes, you can get the same prints in those chains that are in the quilt shops, but the grey goods they are printed on are not the same. I realize it is more expensive to purchase the fabrics at the quilt shops, but the durability, ease of sewing and the finished product are truly worth the investment. However, I realize that many people cannot afford to shop in the quilt shop. Be very careful with the fabrics you choose and purchase the best you can afford.

Needles are one of the least expensive items in our tool boxes, and yet, I find over and over again that people don't change them often enough. These little pieces of metal are not supposed to last for years. Each needle has about 10-15 sewing hours in them. Yep, you heard me. I purchase a new pack of needles each time I pick out a new project whether it's a sewing project, quilting project or an embroidery project. I recommend Schmetz, Klassé, or Inspira Needles. Don't spend extra on exclusive brands of needles. They are rebranded needles made by the big manufacturers and therefore get to charge more because a "Special" name is on them.

For most sewing machines, you need a flat-back needle and all brands are interchangeable. Some machine manufacturers will recommend a specific brand, but I have found that they aren't necessary. Just a good brand of needle is required. I will have more all about needles to help you feel more comfortable as you move forward into your new hobby.

Finally, thread. Thread is also relatively inexpensive considering all of our other tools, but is definitely a consumable and therefore needs to be replaced frequently. Some people in the quilting world insist on using only natural fibers and so will tell you to use only cotton thread. Others, like me, will say use a good quality of thread and the correct weight. I use mostly Aurifil 50 weight cotton thread. (insert image of Aurifil Thread HERE)

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There are 270 colors of Aurifil to chose from but,  I mostly use white, cream, light gray or dark gray thread. I don't try to match my thread, rather I prefer that it blends well. You can choose what you would like to do, blend or match. Those 4 colors works superbly for me. I have also used Superior So Fine thread. This is a polyester thread, it is also 50 weight and comes in lots of colors.

Keep in mind, you will get lint from the thread in your machine. I like the Aurifil because it appears to produce less lint when I go to clean my machine. The So Fine claims it is lint free (because it is polyester) and is easier on your machine. Just please, please, please do not use the really cheap thread in the bargain bin at the discount store. I will have more on threads and why we chose them so watch for that lesson in the future.

I hope you all are excited to begin your journey. Oh, I almost forgot, pattern. In my course, the very first pattern we will make will be a rail fence. This is a simple, traditional and fun pattern with several variations. It's the perfect starting point to get those seams straight. I will have many different projects for you to chose from as you progress through the series. I am so excited to you have join me.

Get ready to have some fun!


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About the Author

I love crafts in many forms and the freedom to indulge when I please. I really enjoy teaching them as well. My greatest joy happens when I see someone else succeed with something I taught them. I love teaching. I love quilting. I love life.

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