Quilting 101: What Do You NEED to Get Started?
Are you wondering if you can learn how to quilt? Overwhelmed by the mystery of what you actually NEED to start quilting? Curious if you're even up to the task of learning how to quilt?
Of course you can! ANYONE can quilt! (including me) – notice, this is the name of our YouTube channel because, until December 2020 when my mother Judy and I decided to open a quilt/fabric store, I had never quilted a day in my life!
I had sewn one time since my high school home-ec class, making these pillow/nap/lounger things for my two little girls, which entailed sewing four pillowcases together. That was the extent of my foray into sewing and my machine had sat in the basement workroom for the six years following that endeavor.
But, you can’t open a quilt/fabric store and not be able to “talk the talk and walk the walk” per my mother, so I dived into all things quilting. YouTube videos, blogs, magazines, chats with Mom, etc…
I’m still very much a beginner but what I’ve learned in my first 9 months of quilting is that there are some things you MUST have and some things that are NICE to have and many things that I probably could have done without. So, I wanted to create a couple lists for all the beginning quilters out there who are likely as lost and overwhelmed as I was!
- You must have a sewing machine – there are so many to choose from and if you start joining some Quilting groups on Facebook (highly recommended) you’ll see this question more than once a week. Brother, Bernina, Babylock (only available at local retailers), Janome, Juki and of course, Singer. All of those lines have great beginner machines that range in price from $200 to $700. As a beginner, I started with a Brother and just recently was gifted a Babylock Jubilant. I keep my Brother in the shop so I can work on projects during slow times and really love both machines. You’ll need extra needles and bobbins too, and can usually buy a universal version as I’ve linked here, but sometimes those vary by machine so read your manual or ask!
- You really should have a Walking Foot. It's sometimes called an Even Feed foot and you can find universal versions. A walking foot is almost never included with your machine and can be very specific to your machine model, so read the “included” list of any machine you decide to purchase to see if your chosen machine comes with a walking foot. The walking foot is really needed once you reach the point of quilting your project – the more layers you have, the harder it is to move everything as one piece, and the walking machine walks the layers together so your stitches are even and consistent.
- Thread for that sewing machine. This may vary according to your machine manufacturer but generally speaking, quilting uses 100% cottons (sometimes flannels) so you 100% cotton thread is your best bet. You may have to try a few brands out - my machines love Gutterman, Tutti and Konfetti, (both by Wonderfil) but hate Coats & Clark.
4. Snippers for when you're sewing and need to cut your thread away after stitching or clean threads up.
5. A self-healing cutting mat. No, it can’t heal your own cuts, but it does heal quite well from the different cuts of fabric you’ll be making time and again. The size will depend on your crafting area – are you using your dining room table? Maybe you need to go smaller Are you using a desk or some other 2’ by 4’ area? Try a 24” X 36” option. Do you have a large crafting table? Go big! There are all kinds of different sizes and brands… ask around and see what other crafters you know prefer.
6. A rotary cutter. There are more brands and sizes and styles than I care to dive into – unless you have an ergonomic need, any of the standard 45mm rotary cutters you can find from Fiskars, Olfa, Clover or Arteza. Sometimes you will find sets with the mat(s) and cutters and even a ruler included. You do you! We do carry Clover and clover blade refills in the shop/online.
7. A ruler. No, that wooden ruler from your elementary school days is not going to do. Quilters use acrylic rulers. There are so many different rulers available that your head would spin if I tried to list them. I have found that my go-to rulers are my 6” X 24” for those long cuts, a 2 ½” wide ruler and a set of square rulers. I have about 20 other rules that we won’t get into this go-round, but those two are the rulers that are at my table at all times.
8. Fabric scissors. Repeat after me: My fabric scissors cut fabric and NOTHING ELSE. Use them on cardboard to open that Amazon package and they'll be dull and useless for clean cutting of fabric.
9. Iron & Ironing or Pressing Board. You really want an iron that doesn’t have a auto-shutoff because you may go more than 10 minutes between pressings. Many people set up a small pressing station with a small iron and a wool mat or a pressing board that they make themselves.
10. Quilting Gloves. Some would say these aren’t a necessity and I tried quilting without them and then promptly purchased a pair. They help you keep a grip on your quilt sandwich and maneuver it around your machine, keeping everything together and handled while you quilt.
11. Pins – all kinds of Pins! Specialty safety pins for basting, pins for marking & securing, flat-head pins you can sew over and not risk poking an eye out with a broken needle, seam pins, even clips that are great for binding! I have a wide assortment because depending on the project, I find I prefer a different pin!
12. And finally, a good quality seam reaper. Make friends with this guy, because he will be by your side and used in likely every single project you tackle. He’s your friend, not your enemy.
You’re going to need fabric – and depending on your project, relying on some Wal-Mart or JoAnns fabric may just get you to where you want to be. Just be aware that it is lower quality and will not be as soft as what you’ll find in your local LQS (Little Quilt Shop). But rest assured, even we LQS owners have been known to use WalMart white cotton for our Collage quilt foundations, or JoAnns calico for a baby doll quilt. My motto is, save the good stuff for the good stuff! Anything I’m gifting, making to sell, display in the shop is made with premium 100% cotton. The highest grade 100% cotton is only sold to quilt stores; your medium grade is at JoAnns and lowest grade is at WalMart – just FYI.
Of course, there are always some nice-to-haves, but you don’t need any of these to get started!
NICE TO HAVES
- Extension table for your machine. Depending on where you bought your machine and what brand it is, you may find one on Amazon or you may need to special order. My extension table for my Brother was purchased online but the table for Jubilant was special-ordered to custom-fit from my local sewing machine dealer.
- Quilting Rulers or templates. You can get rulers at different widths and lengths that make cutting easier – the 24” ruler while ideal especially when dealing with yardage, can become cumbersome. Templates are great for easily cutting your 2 ½ “ strips into shapes and other such quilting shortcuts such as the Tube Ruler.
- Ruler grips. Unless the ruler you purchase has anti-skid on the underside, you have to be careful when cutting so that you don’t move the ruler which ends up skewing your straight cut! These are thin and quite useful in giving your ruler some grip.
- Seam Guides. These give you a gridded straight-line map for your machine (useful only if you have an extension table – if you don’t, use a couple pieces of painter’s tape to mark the ¼” seam line to the edge of your machine).
- Bobbin organizer or Bobbin grips. The bobbin is what feeds the underside stitching and you want to have a few loaded with the same (or different – you do you!) color thread you’re stitching with on the top stitch at all times because your bobbin is guaranteed to run out at the worst time, and you’ll just want to load another one and go on your merry way! Some machines require specific bobbins so do your homework before you buy universal. Your machine will come with a handful of bobbins, but you’ll soon realize you need more for different colored thread. I keep my bobbins in a jar next to my machine because I like the pop of color from the grips and my acrylic nails don’t play nicely with bobbin organizers.
- Thread spool organizer. I love this rack because I can immediately see what I have and what I may be running out of.
There’s so much more – but this is a solid start.