Home / Guides & Tutorials / 10 Essential Tools: Quilting Basics for Beginners
quilting basics for beginners

10 Essential Tools: Quilting Basics for Beginners

The art of quilting stems way back before the Pilgrims arrival in the new world. All over the globe people have been making and using padded fabrics for bedding, clothing and in other practical ways for centuries. When the settlers made their way to North America, the quilting trend grew in popularity. In this individual blog post entitled 10 Essential Tools: Quilting Basics for Beginners, we plan to help newcomers understand the art of quilting.

In early America, quilts were made out of necessity. Colonial women didn’t have time to explore their artistic sides through quilt making for fun. Coverings were created to provide warmth and cushioning for beds. Sometimes they were placed over doors and windows as shields against the cold. Since resources were not bountiful, nothing was wasted. Any pieces left over from used fabrics would be sewn together to make a larger covering. Through this process, early quilters became very creative. This quilting basics for beginners is designed to help newcomers to the art create a solid foundation and understanding of the practice.

Why Start Quilting?

In modern times, resources are not so scarce and it is very easy to shop online and purchase quilts from all over the world. It is easier, and oftentimes cheaper to buy one. So, why is quilting still such a popular hobby?

Many quilters simply enjoy the creative process of putting all of the parts together. There is no end to the possibilities. There are so many fabrics to choose from in a vast assortment of colors and textures. You can mix and match any which way. Photos can even be displayed on your quilt. A project can be large and complicated, or very simple and small. This artistic outlet is therapeutic for some folks. It helps them manage stress and gain a feeling of accomplishment. Many quilters like to sell their crafts at fairs or make quilts for gift-giving. A quilt made especially as a gift is a great way to make that person feel special. The most meaningful pieces often become keepsakes or family heirlooms.

What are Some Quilting Basics for Beginners?

Someone who is very inexperienced with the ins and outs of quilting may feel very overwhelmed at first. Rest assured, all you need is some information, organization and lots of ideas. First, you will need to build your supply of quilting tools. If you have ever gone into a fabric store, you may have noticed a large assortment of notions in the quilting section. There’s no need to feel intimidated, because you won’t require all of them to get started. Also, keep in mind it is easier to comparison shop and find great deals online, so follow this quilting basics for beginners guide to learn the in’s and out’s of the art.

Beginners will learn basic techniques such as machine piecing and rotary cutting. These particular moves will be used time and time again, and will require specific tools.

Machine Piecing:  It is essential that your machine piecing is on the mark. To accomplish an even pattern with blocks that fit together perfectly, your seams need to be accurate. There are old-school, seasoned quilters out there who will argue that an authentic handmade quilt cannot be constructed with the aid of a sewing machine. This system may work for those talented artisans with unlimited time, a very steady hand, and a lot of patience. For more practical quilt-makers (the majority), the use of a machine will provide better consistency and speed. If you are operating the machine, you are still doing all of the work. The finished quilt will still earn the stamp of being handmade.

Rotary Cutting: Most quick pieced or easy quilt patterns will instruct you to rotary cut strips of fabric.  Instructions often state to cut from selvage to selvage, which is the finished edge used to inhibit the fabric fibers from unraveling. Cutting should proceed across the crosswise grain (the area from selvage to selvage that offers more stretch).  Lengthwise grain runs parallel to the selvages and has minimal stretch. Always glide the cutter away from you!

Rotary cutting allows you to make fast, clean and accurate cuts. It is a big time saver. The cutting tool consists of a razor blade wheel that is extremely sharp, always handle it with care. It is strongly recommended that you choose a rotary cutter that includes a safety lock. Make it a habit of engaging the lock immediately after each cutting session is completed.

10 Essential Tools

Quilters of every level need to acquire a complete supply of essential tools. Learning ahead of time how to use each piece, instead of as you go along, will make the process flow much more smoothly. New quilters need to build their toolbox with some basic quilting and sewing supplies. Additionally, more advanced sewing and quilting notions will be added to your collection as you take on more challenging pieces. The following is a list of quilting basics for beginners:

1. A rotary cutter (and spare blades) is a must-have tool for all quilters. It resembles a pizza cutter and comes in a variety of sizes. A medium-sized cutter is recommended for beginners. The blades on this cutter are extremely sharp, to cut through fabric quickly and very accurately.

how to quilt with a sewing machine

Fiskars 45 mm Contour Rotary Cutter

Fiskars, a top-rated rotary cutter, is a best seller on Amazon with close to a 5-star customer rating. This high-quality stainless steel rotary cutter works well for plowing through stacks of fabric, paper, vinyl and more. The blades remain sharp much longer than other blades on the market. You can assemble the blade on either side of the cutter making it usable for either left- or right-handed quilters. The ergonomically shaped handle provides a comfortable grip and better control.

2. A sewing machine that is capable of sewing very straight lines. There’s no need for a higher priced model. You can include a needle made specifically for quilting if you so choose.

how to quilt with a sewing machine

Singer 9960 Quantum Stylist

According to Consumer Reviews, the 9960 Quantum Stylist computerized sewing machine is the top choice as of May 2016. This model combines a truckload of usable features into one machine. It has everything any quilter or sewer needs, and more, in an easy set-up, from 600 built-in stitches; drop in bobbin case system, and LED screen to automatic tension control and an automatic one-touch thread cutter.

3. Universal sewing needles offer comfortable stitching through varied thicknesses. They are light ballpoint needles generally used on knit and woven fabrics. Highly durable, these needles will not shred or break when used with metallic or other embroidery threads. They are usually available in a number of sizes.

quilting basics for beginners

Schmetz Universal Sewing Needles

The Schmetz Company has been selling supreme sewing machine needles since 1851. They are the leading manufacturer in the entire world! Their products have received continuous five-star ratings and positive customer reviews. The box design has been praised by consumers because it is a space saver and convenient to use. For storage purposes, this perk makes it easier to save money and buy in bulk. Also, these needles are known for penetrating thick, bulky fabrics much better than thicker needles.

4. Buy an assortment of fabrics. 100 percent cotton is recommended. You can shop online, at craft or fabric stores, or one of the few department stores that still include fabric departments.  Gain an understanding of fabric terms, such as selvage, crosswise and lengthwise grain, and bias. When purchasing fabric, refer to the following measurement term definitions:

  • Fat quarter = 18” x 22” fabric portion
  • WOF = width of fabric
  • WOFE = width of fat eighth
  • Fat eighth = 18” x 11” segment of fabric
  • WOFQ = width of fat quarter
  • LOF = length of fabric
  • Jelly roll = two and a half inch, pre-cut strips of fabric that are rolled up
  • Charms = pre-cut squares measured at 5” x 5”
  • Layer cake = 10” x 10” pre-cut squares

Buy samples and determine if the fabric is colorfast, and if it has a tight enough weave to withstand years of washing and wear.

  • Be willing to explore a wide variety of colors.
  • Choose prints that strike your eye and build the rest of your colors around them.
  • Pick a variety of types of fabric.
  • Fabrics that are part of the same collection tend to blend together best.
  • Always purchase a little more fabric than you need. Prepare ahead for the possibility of mistakes.
  • Always grab fabric samples. Refer to these when planning future projects.
  • Launder and press the fabric before you cut it.
  • Cut all of your fabric pieces the same way.
  • Stay away from knits, crepe and stretch materials these fabrics are hard to sew.

how to make a patchwork blanket

Fat Quarter Bread and Butter Stash

The most popular fabrics for today’s quilts are cotton and flannel. For a different look, designer fabrics will provide more uniqueness to your piece. Themed or novelty fabrics are fun and can appeal to many age groups and interests. To gather a variety of themed or colorful fabrics, Fat Quarter Shops is a great online shopping option. This is a popular way to purchase pre-cut fabric bundles that include multiple selections. Another option is Bargain Box, who offers discount prices on quality quilting fabrics.

5. A cordless iron that gets good and hot, and makes your task easier, is all you really need. It should also have a steam feature.

how to make a patchwork blanket

Panasonic 360 Freestyle

The skilled experts at Heirloom Creations have decided that the 360 Freestyle iron is the best cordless steam iron for quilters. It stays hot for up to 30 seconds and takes a minimal eight second to heat up from the base. This stainless steel, state-of-the-art iron has a steaming option with extra spray for stubborn wrinkles. It also offers a removable water tank and a drip-free guarantee.

6. A self-healing cutting mat for use with the rotary cutter for cutting fabric. These cutting mats are very important. They protect work surfaces from sharp rotary or straight cutting blades. They are an essential tool for sewing and quilting hobbyists. One with a printed ruler-grid will help with measuring fabric. Cuttings mats are available in an assortment of sizes. For a beginner, 18″ x 24″ self-healing mat is a practical size.

how to make a patchwork blanket

Alvin Professional Self-Healing Mat

With over 1,000 customer reviews and close to a five-star rating, the Alvin Professional Cutting Mat is one of the most sought-after quilting tools on Amazon. This durable product is three millimeters thick, that’s twice the thickness of standard mats. It is reversible, has straightforward lining and angle guides and a glare-free surface.

7. It is useful to have a good pair of sharp sewing shears on hand. Many quilters get comfortable enough with their rotary cutter to use it in lieu of scissors. Always keep in mind; scissors should be used for cutting thread and fabric only. Have a separate pair for any other household use.

Fiskars Softouch Scissors

Top choice on Amazon, having earned five stars and over 300 positive customer reviews, Fiskars Softouch Quilter Snip is perfect for cutting all sorts of fabrics. The short serrated blades are easy to use on silk, denim or on multiple layers of material. The spring action design has received recognition from the Arthritis Foundation. This piece is particularly suitable for quilters with arthritis or poor hand strength.

8. A seam ripper is a small tool with a handle that provides precision and control for removing stitches. Everybody makes mistakes or changes their mind from time to time. Sometimes you will need to take out a stitch. A seam ripper is easier to use for this purpose, than a pair of scissors. There is less chance of tearing. Electric seam rippers, like the well-received battery-operated models by Wahl or Galaxy, offer more control and a decreased risk of damaging your fabric.

how to quilt with a sewing machine

Galaxy Seam Ripper

Featured on the American Quilter’s Society’s website, this battery-powered seam ripper resembles a miniature shaver. The highly-efficient, ergonomic style is very easy to use. The special steel blade removes unwanted threads precisely while maintaining the integrity of the fabric. The set includes a cleaning brush for the blade.

9. Not all thread is created equal. The best thread for quilting is 100 percent cotton. The cheaply made thread will break easily and make a mess of lint on your sewing machine. It isn’t necessary to buy the most expensive brands available. A strong cotton thread that doesn’t snap easily will meet your needs. If you invest in top notch fabric, your thread choices should also be of the same high quality.

how to quilt with a sewing machine

Aurifil Mako Thread

The most popular thread for quilters is the durable Aurifil Mako cotton thread. This strong and reliable staple has a silky smooth finish and a fine texture.

There are three well-received options for quilting:

  • Hand quilting: cotton 28 weight, also used for blanket stitching
  • Machine quilting: cotton 40 weight, also used in embroidery
  • Machine piecing: cotton 50 weight, also used for appliqués

10. Straight pins with either plastic or glass heads are ideal. They are easier to handle, find and pick up when dropped, than the pins with the flat heads. It is also a good idea to have a supply of safety pins in your toolbox. Quilter’s pins are longer straight pins, about an inch and a half in length. Standard straight pins are useful for assembling a few patches but aren’t always long enough to pin together several layers of quilting fabric.

how to quilt with a sewing machine

    Dritz Quilting Pins

These extra fine glass head quilter’s pins are a user-favorite and best seller on Amazon and other quilting supply sites. Dritz provides extra fine nickel-plated steel straight pins designed for basting fine materials and machine piecing. The five-millimeter glass ball heads are heat resistant.

Some Key Points to Consider

Now that you know what tools to get, choose your patterns and read them through carefully.  It is helpful to make a practice block. Here are some basic terms you will need to learn to understand the instructions included with your patterns:

  • Basting – Basting is the process of temporarily connecting the top, batting and back of a quilt. The layers are secured with a temporary adhesive spray, loose stitches, straight or safety pins.
  • Batting – Batting is a cushiony layer of insulation typically made of cotton, polyester, wool, or a blend. This piece is placed between the top and bottom tiers of a quilt. Batting is also known as wadding or filler.
  • Binding – Binding is the last strip of material that is secured around the outline of a quilt.
  • Borders – Borders are a fabric that surrounds the top of a quilt.
  • Sashing – Sashing is strips of fabric sewn between blocks.

When you are first learning quilting basics for beginners, be patient with yourself. No crafter has ever created the perfect quilt. Making mistakes is part of the learning process. Some mistakes may turn out to be masterpieces.

At first, practice keeping your stitches even. Both long and short stitches look good as long as they are all even. Invite friends to start quilting with you or join a group. You can also participate in an online or local quilting workshop. Once you get the hang of it, you might just embrace a new and rewarding lifelong hobby. The craft of quilting can provide a form of recreation or relaxation, or it can signify a valued, passed down tradition. Either way, quilt making is a time-honored artistry. All an aspiring quilter really needs is desire and some creativity.

We hope this our quilting basics for beginners article helped you to understand the basics and help you build a solid foundation for the art of quilting.

Stay tuned to QuiltingAce.com for more in depth quilting guides and tutorials!

Related Article: How to make a patchwork blanket

About Amy Patterson

Check Also

quilting motifs

Free Quilting Motifs & Stencil Designs Available Online

Free Quilting Motifs and Stencil Designs Available Online Quilting motifs are a great way to …

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *