Before beginning any quilt project, and especially if you are just starting out, it’s important to have a few essentials on hand.
Whether you are buying new supplies, or using ‘gently used’ tools, it’s ever so helpful to have the best equipment and tools that you can afford. Anymore, we all have enough stress in our lives. A hobby is supposed to be an escape from, not an addition to, your busy life.
So, let’s gather some stuff:
A Sewing Machine
Seems obvious, but if you are on the market for a machine to support a new hobby, it’s important to have the right equipment. If you are using an older machine or a borrowed one, if the machine you are using doesn’t have some key accessories, then you might consider making a purchase. This isn’t an endorsement of any sewing machine manufacturer; a decent sewing machine with basic quilting accessories can cost $2-500. Of course, you can spend lots more if you want more ‘bells and whistles.’
If you are sewing machine shopping, ask lots of questions and provide an honest assessments of your skills to the person helping you at the dealer. Test drive your machine before you buy it. It should be easy to use and feel ‘right.’ Most importantly, ask how your machine will be serviced! Your machine needs regular cleaning and calibration. If you notice something fishy with how service arrangements are made, then beware.
During my first year of making quilts, I out-grew my sewing machine model twice!
A machine that is ideal for making quilts will have all the standard accessories, plus a quarter-inch foot, a walking foot, and a free-motion or darning foot. Plus the ability to raise and lower the feed dogs. Sometimes the walking foot and darning foot are not included with the machine, but may be purchased separately. Before you begin, take some time to get acquainted with your machine, learn how to thread the upper thread, and bobbin, and get a feel for how the presser foot works. If your dealer offers a get-acquainted-with-your-new-machine session, take advantage of it!
Sewing Machine Needles
Typically, you should change your needle after eight hours of sewing. It’s really easy to let that slide. But, relatively speaking, it’s a really inexpensive element of your sewing hobby that can make a huge difference in results. Sewing machine needles come in many shapes and sizes. The size of your thread determines the size of the needle. For piecing, I typically use a size 80/12 or 90/14 needle to go with a 40- or 50-weight thread. Needles are also characterized by their point. For now, let’s stick with a Universal point.
Again lots of choices. Since I typically use cotton fabrics for my quilts, I prefer to use 100% cotton thread for piecing and quilting for the simple reason that the cotton thread will age at the same rate as the cotton fabric. Other fibers, like polyester, will age at a different rate from the cotton fabric and may damage your work over time. Thread comes in different weights or thicknesses. The larger the number, the finer or smaller the thread width. I like using a 40- or 50-weight 2 or 3 ply thread for piecing. Brands: Mettler, Aurifil, Superior, Star Cotton, and others, all good!
Not just for fixing mistakes! (But keep it handy anyway)
You can’t have enough of them in my opinion. I like glass-head pins with a very sharp point and a shaft that is not too long and not too short. For quilting, you’ll also need some curved safety pins to baste the layers of your project before quilting, but you won’t need those right away.
Snips or Scissors
You will figure this out pretty quickly, so I might as well fess up right away, I have some weird sewing habits. For example, I rarely use the thread cutter built-in to most machines. I like using thread snips. What can I say? I’m a gadget gal, and there’s something powerful about using tools and gadgets you love.
Rotary Cutter & Fresh Blades
My favorite rotary cutter is made by Olfa and has a 45mm blade. It has an ergonomic handle that closes when you put it down. The blade is easily locked closed. This is great for beginners.
Important! The blade is sharper than it looks. Always treat your rotary cutter with respect and keep it away from curious little fingers and out of reach of pets. When not in use, return your rotary cutter to closed and locked position.
A basic, self-healing mat that is at least 18″ x 24″ is a really good start. Don’t worry about the lines on the mat, we won’t use them much, if at all. If you can clear a counter-height space for your cutting sessions, that would be ideal. The mat in the photograph is a 12″ rotating mat; these are really nice, too. And portable for quilters on the go!
Lots of options here. No slip bottom, slippery bottom, partly slippery bottom. Black lines, green lines, red lines. What’s important: Easy to read lines and numbers. Most of my photos will probably be shown with a variety of rulers. Go to a quilt shop, review your options, and choose carefully! For now, a 6-1/2″ x 12-1/2″ size – or something in that neighborhood – will be ideal!
Here’s the thing. The beauty of this hobby is that there are lots of options, and no one tool is right for everyone.
Good luck! Next time we’ll discuss fabric selection for the First Timer Table Topper.