Getting started in quilting requires a one-time investment in some tools that should last for your quilting life. A few are “must-haves” but the large majority are optional. It goes without saying that you will need a sewing machine unless you plan to create your quilts by hand. That is a whole other lesson!
Basic Tools For Quilters
1. Rotary Cutter
The rotary cutter is one of the most useful tools invented in the last 40 years. It looks and works somewhat like a pizza cutter allowing the quilter to cut through several thicknesses of fabric at once with precision, due to the razor-sharp blade.
The rotary cutter comes in a variety of sizes with blades from 18 mm to 60 mm in diameter. There are a number of brands of rotary cutters. Olfa and Fiskars are the most commonly used cutters and they now offer ergonomic models. The blades can be sharpened periodically to increase their lifespan.
The 45 mm rotary cutter is my favorite as it can comfortably cut through 6 layers of fabric. It costs approximately $20 – $30.
2. Cutting Mat
The cutting mat (or cutting board) is self-healing and is placed under the fabrics while they are cut using the rotary cutter. One side of the mat displays a measured grid, while the other side is plain, but both sides can be used for cutting. This mat is a necessary tool to preserve the sharpness of the rotary blade and to protect the cutting table.
Cutting mats cost approximately $25. Cutting mats come in several colors. The original cutting mat was made by Olfa and is green on both sides. Other manufacturers now make mats that are one color on top and a lighter color on the bottom. Grey and burgundy are common colors for the tops and the bottoms are usually a version of white or beige. I find that the grey or burgundy cutting mats are preferable simply because they have a light and dark side, although I prefer the texture of the green Olfa cutting mat. It is easier to cut the darker fabrics on the light side of the mat and vice versa.
Green and blue fabrics are frequently used in quilts and I find that it is harder to see exactly where to cut when using a green cutting mat.
3. Clear, Acrylic Quilter’s Ruler
A clear, acrylic ruler measuring 6″ x 24″ is needed in order to cut full-width strips from fabrics. Several manufacturers make these rulers but be sure to get one that has markings as small as 1/8″ since this is a common measurement in quilting. It costs about $18.
Note – These three tools can be purchased separately or in packaged sets, and often they are on sale at your local fabric store. Of course, prices vary greatly depending on where you live.
4. Straight Pins
Straight pins are necessary in order to maintain the precision required in making a quilt. I recommend that you invest in “quilting pins” which are longer and thinner than regular straight pins used for other projects.
You need sharp scissors to be used only for fabric and a second pair to be used for paper and general purposes. Make sure your fabric scissors are comfortable to hold. Don’t worry about cutting through freezer paper or smaller pieces of paper with your fabric scissors from time to time.
Today’s paper is not made with sand and grit as in the past, so supposedly, it will not really harm your fabric scissors.
However, I subscribe to the “better safe than sorry” philosophy and suggest that you keep your fabric scissors strictly for cutting fabric, when at all possible. Optional, but very helpful is a small pair of scissors to be used for cutting threads.
6. Seam Ripper
A seam ripper is something that must be part of every sewing basket. No matter how skilled you are as a sewer, I have never known a quilt to be made without the help of a trusty seam ripper.
7. Small Square Acrylic Ruler
(Optional – but you really do need this one – kind of an oxymoron that one !) The first tool that I would encourage you to buy after the above 6 mandatory tools is a small, clear, square ruler measuring 6″ x 6″ or 6 1/2″ x 6 1/2″. I tell students in my quilting classes that this tool is their new best friend in quilting. Often you are required to cut small patches and this tool is so handy.
Not really tools but …
8. Fabric ~ 100% Cotton
Although it may be a stretch to think of fabric as a tool, it is a necessity in making a quilt. Good quality fabric, preferably 100% cotton is what most quilters use. If you are going to invest many, many hours in creating an heirloom, you don’t want it to fall apart in the first washing. That old cliché “you get what you pay for” rings true here. So, if you want to pay less for your fabric, wait until your local quilt shop has a sale. Then you have the best of both worlds.
Cotton is preferable over polyester or a polyester blend for several reasons, the main one being that cotton holds a press and polyester, which is meant to be a wrinkle-free fabric, does not hold a press well.
9. Thread ~ 100% Cotton
Good quality thread, preferably 100% cotton. Do not make the mistake of buying cheap threads for your quilting project. This thread breaks easily and does not feed smoothly through your sewing machine. A polyester thread will remain its original color while cotton thread will fade over time along with the cotton fabric in your quilt, which is the look you want.
Optional tools, but very helpful…
10. Quarter Inch Quilter’s Foot
A quarter-inch quilter’s foot may or may not come with your sewing machine. If it does not, it can be purchased separately for a cost of approximately $14 to $40 depending on the brand of your sewing machine.
11. Safety Pins
Hundreds of safety pins if you plan to baste your quilt by pinning rather than basting threads. Buy good quality pins that are made of nickel so that the pins do not rust over time.
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