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Best Tools for Beginning Quilters

Essential Tools for New Quilters

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Visit a quilt shop or browse stores online and you'll quickly discover an endless number of quilting tools, so many that beginning quilters aren't sure where to start. Which quilting tools do you really need and which tools can wait until you're more experienced? Our list will help you decide, and covers the basic quilting tools and equipment to help you begin sewing.

Rotary Cutter

You'll be way ahead of the game if you learn to rotary cut right away. It's a skill that lets you quick-piece your quilts, or at least cut the patchwork shapes you need very quickly. One of the tools you'll need is a rotary cutter, and there are lots of variations to choose from. Try to visit a local quilt shop where you can test drive a few rotary cutters to see which one feels best in your hand.

Rotary Cutting Mat & Rotary Rulers

Rotary mats protect the surface you cut on and the material they're made of helps keep the cutter blade sharp. Transparent rulers are used to grip and cut accurate pieces of fabric. For home sewing, buy a 24" x 36" mat if possible. If you plan to take quilting classes, and can only buy one, you can get by with a smaller mat that's more portable. A 6" x 24" ruler is essential. A square ruler makes it easy to cut shapes and check the accuracy of quilt blocks. Start with a 12" or 12-1/2" square ruler and add to your collection as you sew.

Sewing Machine

Unless you plan to hand sew, you'll need a sewing machine. It doesn't have to be an expensive machine that sews tons of unusual stitches--most of your sewing will be a plain old straight stitch. Do look for a machine that helps you easily sew a 1/4" seam allowance, the quilting standard. Many machines have a special presser foot for that. A sewing machine that accepts a walking foot -- for straight machine quilting -- is a big plus.

Read which sewing machines other quilters rate as "best."

Cotton Quilting Fabrics

Save the velvets, satins and other fancy fabrics for later, after you're accustomed to working with quilting cottons. You can't go wrong with the cottons made by manufacturers who cater to quilters--we're incredibly picky and they do what they can to please us. Buy what you need for the pattern you're making, but it won't be long before you're buying fabric for your stash. Don't skimp on fabrics, because quality, tightly woven cottons will extend the life of your quilts.

There are thousands of shops online for those who do not have local selections. A few of my favorites are:

The Virginia Quilter
The Fat Quarter Shop
The City Quilter
Hickory Hill Quilts

Iron & Ironing Board

Any iron and ironing board you already have will work just fine. If you don't own an iron, find one that's fairly heavy, because it's the combination of weight and heat that presses your quilting components. If you have to buy an ironing board, consider one specially made for quilters, like the Big Board. Its rectangular shape eliminates the narrow leg on one end, making it easier to press fabrics and quilt tops.

My favorite ironing board is a vintage board picked up at a local antique shop for about $25. It's heavy, so it stays put when I iron.

My favorite iron is a Rowenta. (Buy Direct)

Fabric Scissors & Paper Scissors

You'll need scissors for some quilting tasks. They don't have to be expensive scissors, but one pair should be reserved for fabric and the other for cutting paper, plastic and other crafting materials you might use at some point. Buy scissors with different handle colors to help you keep them straight, or mark one with masking tape so you'll know it's for paper. You can add to your scissor collection when you discover which types are most important to accomplish specific quilting techniques.

Cotton Thread

Put away the polyester and cotton-wrapped polyester threads you use to make clothing, because they're too abrasive for a cotton quilt. You don't have to buy lots of different colors of thread -- either medium gray or tan usually blend with most fabrics. If you like, pick out a light and dark gray or tan spool too, just in case you need them. The same cotton thread used for piecing works well for machine quilting. If you plan to hand quilt, buy cotton quilting thread, but don't use hand quilting thread in your sewing machine.

Design Wall

Design wall is an expensive sounding name that describes a very simple tool--a place to tack your quilt blocks and other components up so that you can step back and look at them singly or together. One or two large pieces of white flannel work just fine. So does thin quilt batting. Blocks and other pieces stick nicely to both materials. Ready-made design walls are available if you'd rather go that route.

Seam Ripper

We all have to rip out seams once in awhile. Depressing, but a fact of quilting life. It's amazing how many seam rippers are available--does that mean we're making lots of boo-boos? No, just more of the quilter's choice that manufacturers know we want. Find a seam ripper with a very fine head. I like Clover's seam ripper, but there are many other excellent alternatives.
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Pins & Needles

You'll need long straight pins to hold components together. Choose very thin needles with large heads, like the pins Keepsake Quilting sells. I recently bought a package of glow in the dark pins. They're easy to find if I drop them on the floor. You might also want to pick up betweens for hand quilting and regular sewing needles for your machine. Needles with a large eye are helpful for machine quilting.

Related Video
Hand Quilting Techniques
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