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Quilting Tools/Notions 101 - Beginner's Quilting Series


There are so many tools, notions and supplies in the quilting world! You may feel like you need everything, otherwise you can't start quilting. That is not true! Today I will be going through all the tools/notions you will find in my sewing room. I did not purchase these tools/notions all at once, I accumulated them over a span of time with a lot of half off Joann, Michaels and Hobby Lobby coupons! You do not need all of these tools to quilt! So please don't go on an insane shopping spree! I will let you know which tools I find are required, suggested, or optional.

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Rotary Cutter (strongly Suggested)

Shown in the picture are two rotary cutters a 45mm and 60mm. Rotary cutters are available in several different sizes, from 18mm to 60mm in diameter. The larger the rotary blade the easier it is to slice through fabric. Smaller blades are a good choice for cutting around curves, but cutters with larger blades will be the ones you use most often. You only need one rotary cutter to start with, and the most common is the 45mm. There are quite a few brands out there, I started with a Fiskars 45mm, but later switched to Olfa which I have come to love. A rotary cutter will be one of the most time saving tools you own. It helps to eliminate marking and cutting individual fabrics with scissors. It can also improve your cutting accuracy. Rotary cutters work much like a pizza cutter, but have razor sharp blades, so they can cut through many layers of fabric.

Self-healing Mat (strongly suggested)

When using a Rotary Cutter, you must use a mat. I strongly suggest a Self-Healing Mat. Self-Healing means that the cuts and nicks in the mat from your blade are not permanent. Your blades and mat will last much longer when using a self-healing mat. Most mats are marked with a grid to help you measure accurately. Take note that rotary mats cannot be heated, so do not iron anything on your mat, or you will ruin it! I suggest purchasing the largest mat you can afford and will fit in your sewing space. I personally have an 18" x 24" Olfa Self Healing Mat and when I can afford it I plan to get a larger one.

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Quilting Acrylic Rulers (strongly suggested)

Along with your rotary cutter, and self-healing mat, you will need acrylic quilting rulers. There are many different sizes and brands on the market. Now that I have been quilting longer, I have come to realize which sizes I use the most often and find to be the most important. These are
  • 12.5" x 12.5" Ruler - If you ever join a Quilting Bee, or make any classic 12.5" blocks this ruler will be crucial for squaring up your blocks accurately.
  • 6" x 24" Ruler - Typically your yardage when folded will be 22" so this long skinny ruler will be your #1 ruler for cutting from yardage.
  • 6.5" x 6.5" Ruler - You will use this ruler for cutting charm squares, half-square triangles, and most any small squares.
There are other fancy rulers you may want to invest in the future such as a Quick Curve Ruler, Hexagon Template Ruler, Tri-Tool, or Dresden Template Ruler. But, when you are starting just stick to the basics!

Add-A-Quarter Ruler (optional)

Another ruler which is new to my sewing room, is the Add-A-Quarter Ruler by CM Designs. You will not need this ruler right away. My main use for this little ruler is for paper or foundation piecing. When paper piecing you usually need to add 1/4" seam to every edge. Most seasoned paper piecers can just eyeball a 1/4" and trim. I on the other hand need a little help. So this brilliant tool, with its specially designed lip, automatically adds a 1/4" seam allowance to any angle and provides the straight edge for your rotary cutter. When I first started paper piecing I wasn't a huge fan, until I watched one tutorial in which she used this ruler, now I love paper piecing.

#1 - Painters Tape (suggested)

Painters tape is an extremely easy way to achieve a straight edge on your quilt, without actually drawing on it. When you quilt straight lines, it is always helpful to have a guide to follow. Sometimes you can just follow your seams, but in some cases you cannot. So with painters tape you can create your guide and sew along the edge of the tape. Once your done the painters tape comes right off and does not leave any residue on your quilt.

#2 - Fabric Glue Stick (optional)

A fabric glue stick can be a handy little tool when you really need something to stay in place! I use it most often when doing freezer paper appliqué, or reverse appliqué. It is water-soluble and safe on your fabrics.

#3 - Sewing Gauge (strongly suggested)

When you first begin quilting, it will take a some practice for you to get an accurate scant 1/4" seam. Often people come from a background of sewing clothing which usually requires a 1/2" seam. With years of 1/2" seams ingrained in you, it can be a little bit of a change to use 1/4" seams. This sewing gauge comes in handy to double check that your seams are coming out accurately. If you don't have accurate seams, you will have a wonky quilt. So this tool is highly suggested for a beginner.

#4 - Tweezers (optional)

When you begin quilting you may find yourself doing a lot of seam ripping, which is completely normal! I find having a set of tweezers by to help get those leftover little pieces out is pretty helpful.

#5 - 2" Bias Tape Maker (strongly suggested)

There are a few different methods to binding a quilt, we will discuss each method thoroughly later in the series. One of those methods is by Machine Stitching. A bias tape maker will save you time when creating your binding and it will help prevent from burning your fingers when pressing. You will cut 2" strips of fabric which will be sewn together in one long strip, that strip will then be fed into the bias tape maker which will automatically fold you fabric in half on each side leaving you with a 1" strip. Your 1" strip will then be folded in half and pressed leaving you with a 1/2" binding ready to add to your quilt.

#5 - Quilting Needles (optional)

Quilting Needles are just regular needles for basic hand sewing. In our beginner series the only hand sewing we will be doing is on our binding, and when you bury your thread tails. It never hurts to have these inexpensive little needles on hand. Even an embroidery needle would work just fine.

#6 - Marking Tools (required)

Marking tools were one of the things I researched a lot when I first began quilting. I cannot seem to "eyeball" anything so marking provides me with the most accuracy. But, I was extremely scared to draw on my precious fabric. When you start looking for a good marking pen you will see that there are hundreds of different kinds. These are the basic categories. Water Soluble Markers A water soluble marker is a fine-tip pen that will disappear if sprayed by water or washed with water. These markers come in either white or blue. They are pretty popular amongst long arm quilters, because you can draw an intricate patterns on a quilt, quilt it and spray it off with water right away without taking the quilt off the frame. This type of marker is personally my favorite and I typically use the blue. Chalk Chalk markers can usually be brushed or washed away. If you plan on working on a project long term, chalk may not be the best choice as it can rub off easily. But, if you plan to use your markings right away than it can work great. There are a lot of different chalk markers, they even make mechanical chalk pencils, with different colors of chalk you can load into the pencil for different color fabrics. Chalk Transfer Paper The most common transfer paper I have heard of is Saral® Transfer Paper. Saral® Transfer Paper is a wax free transfer paper (also known as graphite paper or tracing paper) made for general and specialized use, it allows you to transfer your design from a sketch, pattern, template or free hand to any surface. You just transfer the design with a ballpoint pen or dull pencil. The transfer lines can be sponged, washed out or brushed off of fabric, and a hot iron will not set them as will other tracing or transfer papers made for fabrics. Saral is economical and can be used again and again. It comes in 5 different colors for different purposes. Air Soluble Markers The marks made by an Air Soluble Marker, disappear in time. Each brand is a little different and you definitely should read the directions. In some cases heat can set a marking and you will be stuck with something permanent. When using marking tools on your quilts, you should always test them out on your fabrics. It would be a complete bummer to ruin a quilt, just because you didn't take the time to test.

#8 - Hera Marker (optional)

If you are a little hesitant about drawing on your quilt, than consider a Hera Marker.  This marker marks your fabric by making a crease which can be seen on both the front and backside of your fabric. Since it's only a crease there is no worry of the mark not washing out.

#9 - Pins and Pin Cushion (required)

Pins are crucial to accurate piecing. Even seasoned quilters use pins! It's not just a tool for beginners. There are a lot of different pins out there. I personally have found the flat head flower pins are very nice to work with. Whichever pins you decide to go with, make sure they are sharp! A dull pin will leave a bigger hole in your fabric. If you have bent pins, either try to straighten them or trash them. A pin cushion is a great way to store your pins, but also serves other purposes. Have you ever wondered what that little dingle berry that dangles off the top of a pin cushion is? Well Typically, a pin cushion is filled with wool roving to prevent rust, and that little dingle berry is filled with an abrasive to clean the pins and sharpen them.

#10 - Quilting Gloves (optional)

When you are machine quilting you will be handling a lot of layers of fabric. Quilting gloves can help you get a good solid grip on your quilt so you can maintain accuracy. My favorite quilting gloves are Machingers Gloves, which are made of breathable nylon and are comfortable enough to wear for hours. The fingertip coating gives full control with less resistance and drag on the fabric.

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#1 - Conair Hair Roller Clips (suggested)

This is a new notion in my sewing room, and I love them! These little clips are actually made to hold hair rollers in your hair. You can find them in the hair accessory isle at Walmart or Target. I use these when attaching binding to my quilts. Whether you are hand or machine sewing your binding these clips will really save you time and hassle.

#3 - Basting Pins (required)

Basting Pins look just like a basic safety pin, but have a curved side. Nickel-plated steel curved safety pins are easier to use than straight safety pins for quilt basting. The curved pin has just the perfect angle for easy penetration of quilt layers with no shifting. Whether you are spray basting or pin basting, I always use these pins. As with your basic pins you want these to be very sharp so that your holes are smaller.

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If you have been sewing for anytime you may have already learned that it is wise to have separate scissors for fabric. I personally have three pairs of scissors. I have a pair of Gingher Scissors for fabric ONLY. A less expensive pair of scissors for cutting paper templates. Then finally a even less expensive pair, for everything else. If you have scissor stealers in your house you my find it helpful to label your fabric scissors, so no one uses them on anything else. Otherwise you will end up with dull scissors. You will also want to make sure you have a nice seam ripper as you will need it often!

#1 - Fabric Scissors (required)

#2 - Paper Scissors (required)

#3 - Everything Else Scissors (optional)

#4 - Seam Ripper (required)

#1 - Spray Bottle w/Water (optional)

If you plan to use a water soluble marking pen, than it can be handy to have a little spray bottle of water nearby to spray your markings.

#2 - 505 Basting Spray (strongly suggested)

505 Basting spray is a temporary, repositionable, fabric adhesive used to temporarily bond fabric. It is odorless, colorless, no mist, does not gum sewing needles. It can be used for machine appliqué, quilting, basting, holding fabric to stabilizers in machine embroidery and hemming. 505 basting spray can be a little pricey, but let me tell you in my sewing room it is used all the time. I find it to be a very important notion!

#3 - Starch (required)

In my personal opinion starch is a required quilting notion. You could say I am one of those starch happy quilters. If in doubt, starch! I find that if I starch and press my fabric before I cut it and piece, I get very accurate results. Starch also helps to hide piecing flaws :) You can use any starch, but I personally am set on Best Press which is a clear starch thats non-flaking even on dark fabrics, non-clogging, acid-free, leaves no residue behind, and relaxes stubborn wrinkles. IMG_1034_sm-w

Iron (required)

You will need a nice hot iron for pressing and ironing your fabric. Recently my cheap $10 Walmart Iron died. So I went to work researching irons. I only had a $30-$40 budget. I learned that Rowenta is a very popular iron in the quilting community, but costs $40 and up.  I found that it's best to find and iron that is 1500 watts or higher and has steam/no steam options. Another feature which was important to me was automatic shut off since I have a bad tendency to forgot my iron! I found the Hamilton Beach Durathon for $35, and so far love it!

Cover Mini Iron (optional)

Don't underestimate this little iron! These babies get hot! The Clover Mini Iron, is another favorite tool of mine. It is perfect to keep close to your sewing machine for pressing seams in between sewing. The pointed tip makes it easy to open your seams and press.

Pressing Table or Mini Clover Station

Pressing Table & Ironing Board (Required)

Of course with an Iron, you will need an ironing board. In my sewing room I have a classic ironing board hanging from my sewing room door, which I use when ironing my yardage and larger pieces. I also have a TV tray which I converted to a pressing table. Just take a tv tray and staple a few layers of batting to the top, and then staple home decor weight fabric over the batting and you have a perfect little table to keep next to your sewing machine for pressing seams in between sewing.

Fusible Adhesive (strongly suggested)

My favorite fusible adhesive is HeatnBond Light. This heat activated adhesive has the strongest bonding power of any lightweight adhesive you can buy without adding extra weight or stiffness. Fusible adhesive is commonly used for appliqués, quilts and other sewable lightweight craft projects. It can be purchased by the yard or in sized packaging.

Freezer Paper (strongly suggested)

Freezer paper is the classic waxy paper that is often used when you purchase meat from the butcher. It comes made for quilters in printer friendly sheets or you can use classic Renyolds Freezer Paper from the grocery store. Be sure you use “freezer paper” and not “wax paper” because wax paper is waxy on both sides and you only want it to be waxy on one side. Freezer paper is often used for templates and appliqué.

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Sewing Machine (required)

Well of course with machine quilting you will need a sewing machine! I am not a sewing machine expert. In fact I myself have had a lot of sewing machine drama. My first sewing machine was a Huskystar I purchased at a Viking store for $150. I used this machine before I ever quilted to make my wedding vail and then it sat in a closet for almost 5 years. When I got it back out to make my first quilt it's timing was off, and to have it serviced cost more than $90. I decided i'd rather put that $90 towards a newer machine with the bells and whistles. So I ended up purchasing a Brother CS-6000i from Amazon, which was only $150 and had a ton of great reviews. At first this little machine was a dream come true to me it was my first time with a computerized machine. I had needle up/down, speed control, and a bunch of pretty stitches. I only used the machine for 2 1/2 months and my bobbin timing went out. The price to fix the part was more than the machine, so I sent it back and got a replacement machine. The next machine only lasted 3 weeks and had the same issue. So I returned it all together. I had a pretty big problem, I was a quilting left and right and no longer had a sewing machine. I only had $175 to spend, and so I went to work researching machines. What I learned was for quilting and anyone who sew a lot, it is wiser to go with a solid machine from a reputable dealer than Amazon, Target, Walmart, Costco. Reason being is that most of those machines are made with cheaper parts and do not last as long. How else do you think they can offer a machine with all the bells and whistles for so cheap! A dealer will always include servicing for your machine and a better warranty. So in my case I could not afford the $400-$3000 Janome, Pfaff, Babylock, and Brother machines from the local dealer. The next best option I could find was to settle for a used machine with less options, but one that was made by a solid company and originally was sold by a dealer. I ended up finding a used Elna (which is made by Janome). The seller had terrible arthritis and could no longer sew, she took very good care of it and had proof that she had just serviced it a few weeks before. You must take great care when purchasing a used machine and make sure you do your research! I don't have as many options with this machine, and have had a little trouble when quilting all my layers. But It has already lasted me longer than all my other machines and I sew a TON.

Sewing Machine Presser Feet

Most machines nowadays come with many different feet, and additional feet can be purchased. If you purchase additional feet make sure they are compatible with your sewing machine! Three of the feet I find most valuable when quilting are

#1 - Free Motion Darning Foot (strongly suggested)

We will not be discussing free motion quilting in this series. But, If you plan to learn to free-motion quilting you will need a Darning Foot. They come open-toed, closed-toed, metal, plastic ex. This foot doesn't fit tightly against the fabric, so you can move the fabric around as you stitch.

#2 - 1/4" Guide Presser Foot (strongly suggested)

This is one of my favorite tools! This presser foot has a guide edge which is perfect for piecing your quilt. Simply line up the edge of you fabric to the edge guide and you have a perfect 1/4" seam, which is ideal for any quilter or projects that require a 1/4" sewing seam.

#3 - Walking Presser Foot (strongly suggested)

This foot is often used for quilting. A walking foot has built-in feed dogs that grip and advance your upper layers of fabric in unison with the sewing machine feed dogs which advance the lower layers of fabric. This action helps keep all your layers from shifting apart. I find a walking foot is essential to avoid puckering when quilting.

Sewing Machine Needles (required)

For most of my quilting I use a Schmetz Universal 90/14 needle. Although there are many other brands and sizes. Here are some things to keep in mind when choosing a needle. Sewing machine needles are numbered 70/10, 80/12, 90/14 and so on. The numbers indicate the size of the needle. The higher the number the larger the needle. The first number (70) is from a European numbering system and the second number (10) is from the American numbering system. Smaller needles are good for stitching seams as well as lightweight cottons. When quilting heaver fabrics, multiple layers or using metallic thread, its better to use larger needles. It is helpful to have a few different sizes on hand to try out. Also keep in mind most threads have a suggested needle size. You can find this by looking for information on the thread manufactures website. Expect to change your needle often. In fact I put a new needle on my machine every single time I start a new quilting project. If you find your having thread issues with your machine it could be because of your needle, so try changing it out for a new one. Never use a dull or bent needle!

Thread (required)

Choosing thread can be a little overwhelming. There are tons of brands, and those super sale threads can be very appealing. But, this decision is very important. There is a large debate whether you should use cotton or polyester thread, but everyone has their own preference. Cotton thread has the same fiber content as your fabric and blends well with the quilt.  Polyester thread is stronger than cotton fabric in the quilt and may in time cause your fabric to weaken and wear around the quilting lines. Threads just like needles are numbered, but work opposite. The higher the number the thinner the thread. The numbers 60/2 on a spool mean that there are two strands of 60 weight thread. You wont always find this information on your thread, so you may have to compare the thickness of the thread to one that is labeled. I personally prefer the look of a thicker thread around 30 or 50. Don't go cheap on thread! If you purchase bargain brand thread, you will run into a ton of problems. It will break more often, leave ton of lint in your machine, which can lead to tension and thread issues when quilting. Some popular high end thread brands are Gutterman, Mettler, Superior, Coats Dual Duty, and Aurifil.

Batting (required)

Batting is the soft layer between the quilt top and the backing. It gives the quilt dimension and definition as well as offering warmth. It is available by the yard or packaged to fit standard bed sizes. As with a lot of the other quilting notions there are tons of batting options to choose from. Before choosing a batting here are some key terms to know
  • Loft: Loft describes the thickness of the batting. Different thicknesses will change the look and temperature of the quilt.
  • Grain Line: The cross grain will be stretchy, the length grain will be stable without give.
  • Draping: Is the stiffness or softness of a finished quilt. The loft and choice of quilting whether dense or sparse will effect the draping.
  • Washing and Shrinkage: Cotton can shrink about 3 to 5 percent. Polyester and wool battings do not shrink.
Here is a great chart from allpeoplequilt.com that shows you all the different types of batting the advantages, disadvantages, and characteristics of each. I personally use a 100% Cotton Batting, usually Quilters Dream or Warm and Natural. Again just as the thread, do not go cheap on your batting! It could cause serious problems when quilting.

Other Resources

Throughout this series I would love your feedback and questions! No question is a stupid or silly question! So please do not hesitate to ask. Do you know of a tool/notion I a missing and must have? Please share :)
Alyssa

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Alyssa Lichner from Pile O' Fabric

Welcome to the Pile O’ Fabric blog, my name is Alyssa Lichner, I live in sunny Gilbert, AZ. I am a freelance web and graphic designer turned avid sewist. I write modern quilting tutorials and share techniques and inspiration here at Pile O’ Fabric… Read More

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