When you first start out with a new hobby it is almost impossible to know which pieces of equipment and tools you really should invest in, which you can buy at a later date, and what features to look out for.
Here is our list of must haves and nice haves for quilting, with buying hints and tips.
Alongside general sewing supplies there are three pieces of equipment that a quilter cannot live without – their quilter’s ruler, rotary cutter and cutting mat. Whilst you can ‘make do’ and ‘work around’ not having other items on our shopping list, you will really struggle to produce accurate quilts and remain in love with quilting without these key pieces of equipment.
Rotary cutters are used for cutting fabric in straight lines, accurately and crisply without the need to draw lines onto your fabrics first.
To use you simply place your quilting ruler on top of your fabric, put pressure on the ruler to stop it moving, and run the rotary cutter along the edge!
They are perfect for cutting strips, squares, rectangles and triangles, and can cut through several layers of fabric at once. You can also use a small rotary cutter to cut curves but it is questionable if they are better than scissors in this situation.
There are a number of great quality brands on the market but the market leader has to be OLFA. OLFA produce a number of different rotary cutters, we recommend buying either the standard 45mm rotary cutter, or the deluxe model.
Check out our separate blog post exploring the pros and cons of each type before buying – click here.
A cutting mat is essential if you are planning on cutting with a rotary cutter, it will protect your table, is designed for use with a rotary cutter and has self-healing properties. It is also a valuable tool when trying to get fabric pieces squared off and accurately marked. Place your fabric on the mat, lining the edge of the fabric up with a straight line on the mat, and use your ruler and cutting mat lines to measures and cut the other sides – perfect lines and angles!
A cutting mat is also a great surface for tracing pattern pieces as it is smooth and none of the knots or ridges in real wood tables will come through as you trace over your patterns.
Look out for mats with inches on one side and cms on the other. The mat should have a variety of diagonal lines on the mat as well as vertical and horizontal ones (the diagonal lines help with cutting a range of shapes including triangles and hexagons, as well as with cutting fabric on the bias).
Why bother with inches? Even if you grew up only using cms, a lot of sewing terms, references and patterns are still written in inches and having to make the conversion every time you measure something is a nightmare you can easily avoid with a double sided mat.
Buy the largest size mat you can easily store. We use 60cm x 45cm mats at our Sewing School as they are easy to store and transport and large enough to cut most pattern/quilting pieces on without folding the fabric. We have a larger 1mtr long mat back at our HQ, but storage is a nightmare as it really needs to be stored flat to stop it buckling.
A good quality quilting ruler is a must for quilters and anyone who plans to cut squares and rectangles for other sewing projects. Without one you will struggle to produce accurate right angles. You can also use it to cut more complicated shapes such as hexagons and triangles as all the angles are printed on the ruler!
They are see through which helps when trying to line up the pattern on your fabric and the measurements are printed in two directions, allowing you to read from left to right, or right to left, which is more helpful than you might imagine!
They come in a wide range of shapes and sizes, we recommend starting with a ruler 16cm x 60cm. It is long enough to cut binding strips from folded fabric in one go, and wide enough to cut the most common square and strip widths, but is still easy to store.
You can buy rulers with either cms or inches printed on them so make sure you buy the right one for your needs (we have both here and swap to and throw depending on the type of pattern we are using).
We recommend quilters have two pairs of scissors in their tool box, a pair of multi-purpose scissors or dressmaking scissors for cutting pattern pieces and fabrics (like our 21cm or 26cm scissors) and a pair of embroidery scissors for trimming seam allowances, snipping into curves and cutting out fiddly applique. If you are just starting out and have limited resources, or you don’t want to commit just yet, use a cheap pair of multi-purpose scissors and embroidery scissors, in the UK Dunelm sell great, cheap sets, and invest your money in a good rotary cutter, upgrading your scissors when you can.
All pins are not born equal. For quilting, we recommend using flat headed pins. The pros and cons of different types are explored below…
Plastic-headed pins – these pins are a good length, easy to spot when in use (or on the floor!) and due to their colourful heads, they are easy to grab. On the downside the heads are plastic and this means they will melt if you iron on top of them.
Glass-headed pins – these are great for anyone who wants to be able to iron over their pins as the heads won’t melt, on the downside, they are more expensive than plastic headed pins and normally shorter.
Flat-headed pins – these come in handy when you need to lay a quilting ruler or tape measure over a pinned area. They are also a good choice for lace, eyelet, and loose weaves, as the large heads won’t slip through the holes in the fabric. Our flat headed pins are also longer than our regular pins, making them a great choice for quilters who want a longer grip.
Where would we be without our seam rippers!
If you are new to sewing, take it from us, your seam ripper will become one of your best friends. Regular sewers accept that mistakes will happen. When they do you need a good quality seam ripper to rescue the situation without fear or ripping or distorting the fabric, this is particularly important when quilting as, until sewn, those little pieces of fabric are easily stretched and distorted.
We have thoroughly road tested this one at our sewing school and love it. Its handle is soft to the touch and ergonomically designed, making unsewing almost a pleasure!
To read our tips and hints for using a seam ripper click here.
Sewing Machine Feet
There are two main sewing machine feet that quilters use, a quarter inch foot, which is covered in the next section (Making Life Easier) and the one we consider a must have – a walking foot. A walking foot really helps to keep the layers of your quilt in the right place as you sew them together.
Use your regular foot (or quarter inch foot) to sew the top of your quilt together, then, when you have pinned your top to the wadding and back, swap to your walking foot to quilt layers together.
If you want to do free motion quilting you will also need a free motion or darning foot.
If you plan on adding applique to your quilt it is useful to have a plastic see through foot with a wide gap for the needle, so you can see more of what you are sewing.
MAKING LIFE EASIER
The following tools are ‘add ons’ they will make your life easier and we really do use them all the time, but when you are first starting out you can manage without them.
The number one ‘extra’ I would advise you buy is spray starch, it is readily available at your supermarket and smells nice too 🙂 (you can buy spray starchs designed for sewing but we find the one from the supermarket works fine). Spray your fabrics before you cut them, or if using pre cut fabrics, before you sew with them.
The starch will stiffen the fabric temporarily, minimising any stretching, producing really crisp creases when you iron seam allowances over and will make the fabrics generally easier to work with.
A sewing gauge may not look like much, but it’s the sort of tool that once you use, you can’t live without!
- Measuring seam allowances as you turn fabric over and iron in creases.
- Adding seam allowances to patterns and quilting blocks.
- Double checking you are using the right seam allowance on your sewing machine.
- Measuring buttons and marking spaces between button holes.
- Turning out sharp corners, including the ends of bunting triangles!
If you are a committed quilter we recommend buying your templates cut from template plastic, or buying template plastic sheets to cut your own. Unlike cardboard:
- Template plastic is see through, so you can see the fabric underneath and make sure it is lined up correctly and you can fussy cut your shapes.
- Template plastic won’t get dented or curl, the shape will be the same on piece 100 as it was the first time you traced round it.
Freezer paper was originally designed to wrap around food before your freeze it – IT IS NOT THE SAME AS GREASEPROOF PAPER. The paper is wax coated on one side and some clever sewer way back, found that if you cut your pattern pieces out of the paper and iron the shiny side of the paper onto your fabrics, the paper sticks! Once you have cut out your shapes you can peel the paper off, there is no residue and you can reuse the template several times before it no longer sticks.
It is also great for paper piecing and applique as there is no need to pin the papers to your fabric – just iron into place!
Quilter’s basting spray is a temporary adhesive that you use to stick your quilt top and bottom to the wadding whilst you quilt the layers together – eliminating the need for pinning!
If you hate pinning but can’t get hold of basting spray, consider using Vilenne’s double sided fusible fleece as your wadding, you can iron both the top and bottom sides of your quilt on to the fleece and can choose whether or not to quilt the layers together (as unlike wadding this product does not need quilting at regular intervals).
A Pressing Board
If you look under your ironing board cover, odds are you will see a metal frame with a criss cross pattern running across the board. This mesh construction helps steam disappear through the bottom of your fabrics when ironing, and gives your ironing board a degree of ‘give’ which is really helpful for normal ironing. But when you are ironing parts of a quilts the bounce built into the ironing board can distort your fragile fabric pieces and you really want to retain the heat in the fabric for as long as possible.
If you use a hard pressing board rather than an ironing board, you will eliminate the stretch and retain the heat.
You can make a pressing board cheaply at home, using fabrics from your stash, a small piece of wadding, piece of hardboard, such as MDF – and a stapler!
PLUS if you make your pressing board the right size, you can have it next to you when sewing, allowing you to sew a seam and iron it, without having to get up and down, up and down.
Click here to view our pressing board tutorial.
If you are a committed quilter we recommend buying a sewing iron. These nifty little irons get hotter than most travel irons, but are a similar shape and size. Prym ones come with their own travel bag and have a water chamber built in to use steam.
These irons are small in overall size and have a small point for getting into corners, inside soft toys, bags, baskets and dressing making parts. Plus the smaller plate is easier to control when trying to keep multiple seam flat for pressing.
We use these irons at our sewing classes and love them!
Sewing Machine Feet
We talked about the walking foot in the must have section above. In addition to this foot there are three other feet that quilters use:
- A quarter inch foot – this one is slightly narrower than a standard foot, helping you create seams with smaller allowances. It also has a straight piece built into it for your fabric to butt up against for accurate sewing.
- Free motion or darning foot – if you plan to do free motion quilting (this is when you quilt a random swirly pattern on top of the quilt rather than stitch in the ditch or use a pattern made out of straight lines) you will need a free motion or darning foot.
- A see through foot – if you plan on adding applique to your quilt a see through foot with a wide gap for the needle is very useful as you can see more of what you are sewing.
If you already quilt and there is something you can’t live without, we would love to hear about it below!