New to Quilting?

If you are brand new to quilting and don't know where to begin, start with the posts in September 2011 (look in the blog archive). The first four posts cover basics such as choosing equipment, choosing colors, how to sew 1/4" seams, how to use a rotary cutter, and how to press (not iron) your block during construction.

Monday, September 26, 2011


My list of essential equipment if you are quilting at home. If I have left anything out, please leave a comment below!
First on the list is a sewing machine. My machine has a 1/4" foot that makes it much easier to sew 1/4" seams for quilt blocks. I also have a walking foot, not necessary, but it helps keep the top and bottom fabric aligned. Use a NEW needle! I generally use a size 10 needle. A dull needle will push your fabric into the hole on your machine and get it caught in the bobbin case!
If you don't have a 1/4" foot, you can line up a ruler under your sewing machine needle and measure out 1/4" to find where to align your fabric when you are sewing.
I also have a good, bright light near my sewing machine since the machine light itself isn't bright enough for me.
Rulers, scissors (some to snip threads with at least), a rotary cutter, and thin pins.
Rulers: If you are only going to get one ruler, I would suggest a 6" x 24" ruler. It's a bit long, but it allows you to cut strips easily. 

Scissors: I have some fancy Ginghers scissors, but they are stashed in a drawer. For quilting I usually only need a pair of scissors to cut threads.

Pins: I have headless pins, they really do have a small head on them, but it is up to you whether you like heads on pins or not. It is very important to get sharp, thin pins. You can't sew over thick pins, but you can sew over thin pins. If you can sew over your pins, your blocks sew together much more accurately.

My assortment of rulers. There are more in a drawer. If there was a Rulers Anonymous group, I would probably have to go! (Yes, I use them ALL!) 
Another essential if you are quilting at home, a cutting mat. I have a variety, but I usually use the yellow one in the background. 
Cutting Mat: I have an old kitchen table in my sewing room so I really like a large cutting mat. Mine is a Fiskars Brand because I like having two colors (mine is yellow on the front and light green on the back). It doesn't matter what color I am cutting, I can always see the fabric depending on the mat side I am using.

In the photo above, the green mat on the left is a Clover brand mat. For me that was a much better color than the dark green Olfa mat on the right. Both the Clover and the Olfa mats have cutting lines on one side and are plain on the other. 

To tell how far off your cutting mat lines are, line up a large ruler with the mat's cutting lines.
This is where my large ruler lines up at one edge of the cutting mat.

This is where the ruler lines up with the bottom edge of the cutting mat. My mat is 1/16" short over 24" however, the lines are exactly perpendicular, so I can use the mat lines as a square.
Some people don't like to use the lines on their cutting mat so they use the reverse (un-lined) side. I use the lines to line up the edges of my fabric (like using a carpenter's square), but I use the ruler for measuring.

Ironing surface, iron, and Magic Sizing.
You can use a towel folded up to iron on, or a small table top ironing board. Fiskars or Clover used to sell a padded ironing surface that had a cutting mat on the other side. I have a very large, wide ironing board because when I am ironing yards of fabric I want to iron as much as possible at one time. My ironing board has a 12 1/2" square that I drew on the center. I use that to stretch my blocks if they end up just a tiny bit small.

Any iron will do, I've used the cheap $10 irons before, and they work fine. You need an iron that has a setting for no steam.

Magic Sizing is on my essential list because if I am ironing fabric, especially after it has been washed, I like to add a little bit of body back into the fabric to make it easier to cut and sew. Magic Sizing also makes it easier to get out wrinkles. I don't use starch because it gunk's up the bottom of the iron. There are also some very nice (very expensive) ironing aids that smell really nice! Google "ironing spray" or "ironing aids".)

Non-essentials: Scotch tape, chenille needle, and a "hairy".
Scotch tape: For taping together rulers to make a bigger, longer, or otherwise more usable ruler. I use it especially if I am making a block that is more than 12 1/2".

Chenille Needle: I use a chenille (blunt pointed needle) because I don't have a stiletto. It is used to push seam allowances under your presser foot as you sew. You can also use a bamboo skewer or a small awl.

"Hairy": Some sewing machines can't 'catch' the end of the block cleanly without pushing the fabric down the needle hole. If you start sewing from the middle of a piece of scrap fabric, then put your block under the foot, you always have a nice edge at the top of your block. It's also called a "Starty-Stoppy" or a "Leader".

Pencil: I also use a pencil for drawing diagonal lines on fabric usually when I am sewing triangle pieces.

Good cotton thread
Thread: I use Aurifil. Gutermann also makes a good cotton thread. It is really important to use cotton thread when you are sewing on cotton fabric. Aurifil and Gutermann are both thin, long staple cotton threads that are very strong and shed very little lint. 

Your bobbin case will stay cleaner if the thread doesn't shed lint, which means your machine will have less wear and tear. 

A thin thread means that your 1/4" seam will be more accurate because the thread won't take up much (if any) of the seam allowance. 

Long staple means that it is a very strong thread which will hold up as long as your quilt. 

Don't use a poly-cotton thread if you are sewing on cotton fabric. Once in a while the lower quality thread will rip through the fabric and there will be almost no way to repair the block. It generally happens after the quilt is finished and has been washed a few times.


  1. Very informative. I think we forget to talk abou the basics.

  2. Thanks for stopping by!

    Some of the women in our group are beginning at the very beginning and the live teacher went over lots of basics for them! I thought it would be helpful to have a reference/tutorial/basic information blog for anyone who needed a refresher :)


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