Sew You Wanna Quilt? – Tools of the Trade

Welcome to Sew You Wanna Quilt? – a series of posts which I hope will help empower those individuals who long to make a quilt. Since this is the first post in the series, let me take a minute to explain my “vision.” I plan on posting once a week on Fridays (the exception is the second installment about Creating a Space which will post tomorrow). Right now it looks like there will be at least seven posts…maybe eight. Each post will address a different aspect of quilting with the intent to take you right up to stitching your first project. At the end of every post will be some activities you can do that relates to the particular post. Sound like fun? I hope it will be educational, fun and motivating. I welcome comments, questions, and suggestions I might have missed!

Click on ANY photo in this post to enjoy a larger view.

The most obvious place to start is a look at the tools you will need to make your first quilt (or wall hanging or table runner). As with any art form, quilting requires some basic tools to make it all possible. I have listed those tools which I think are essential. There are plenty of gadgets and advanced tools that experienced quilters keep handy. Everyone has their favorites. But, to get started, you really only need a few things.

A Space of Your Own

When I first started quilting, I spread out on my kitchen island and took over a corner of my dining room. You really just need a flat surface to cut fabric, a space for an ironing board and iron, and a small area to set up your sewing machine. I am going to talk more about creating a sewing space tomorrow, but for now, just pick a place in your home and stake it out!


Sewing Machine

Lots of quilters sew on their old Singers from high school.  The new machines have lots of bells and whistles, they are really gorgeous and fun, but you do not need to run out and buy an expensive machine right away. I sewed on my old machine until the engine burned out, then I dug into my savings and splurged on a high end machine which I love. If you are planning to use an older machine, do yourself a favor and take it in for a little tune up before you start sewing.


I like 100% cotton threads. Many people use polyester threads, but beware: they can melt under a hot iron. I like cotton for its durability and weight. Any sewing store will have a wide variety of threads in 100% cotton. Choose a quilting weight thread. I have several spools of white, some neutrals, and also threads in my favorite color palettes. Have at least two spools of thread of one color. If you’re not sure what to buy, white is always a safe bet. Make sure you have at least two empty bobbins for your sewing machine, too.

Iron and Ironing Board

Again, you don’t need a spanking new iron…but, you do want to make sure it is clean and won’t spew black water onto your beautiful fabrics. I use only distilled water in my iron which helps preserve its life and keeps minerals from building up inside it. Just make sure your iron can give you some steam and gets nice and hot. A full size ironing board is not necessary – my favorite board is actually a table top one which is just the right size when I am piecing a quilt.

Sharp Scissors

Ideally you want a pair of scissors which have only been used to cut fabric (cutting paper dulls the blades). For the longest time I made do with an old pair of scissors. Then one day I used a 50% off coupon for Joann’s Fabric and splurged on a high end pair of scissors which are spring loaded. I love them and they were well worth the money. Good scissors are something you will never regret buying.

Cutting Mat

The size cutting mat you choose will largely depend on the size of your cutting area. They come in all sizes. Just make sure you purchase a self-healing mat which will last a long time. I love both Omnigrid and Fiskars brands because the surfaces are not slick and my fabric doesn’t slide all over the place. This is one item which you will spend a little money on if you go with a large size (and I do recommend the largest size you have space for because it makes it much, much easier to cut from large pieces of fabric). But, trust me, this is one tool you cannot do without and it will be worth every penny you spend. A word to the wise: store your mat FLAT and in a cool place. Heat and propping the mat on its edge causes distortion. If you have to prop it on its edge, make sure it is stuck between two flat surfaces that don’t allow sagging. For a long time, I hung mine on the wall using big clips.

Rotary Cutter and Blades

There are several sizes of rotary cutters. I recommend the 45 mm size, but if you can afford it, having two cutters is perfect – one which is 45 mm and one which is 60 mm. The larger size can be used to cut through several layers of fabric at a time and makes cutting fabric faster.  Make sure you also buy extra blades for your cutter. It is amazing how quickly the blades go dull…and sharpness is key to making good, clean, accurate cuts. One thing I do NOT recommend are the self-sharpeners you can buy at some sewing stores. I bought one and it was very disappointing – I could never get the cutting blades sharp and actually created some “nicks” in the blade which caused uneven cutting quality. Replacement blades are expensive – but if you subscribe to you will get 40 and 50 percent coupons in your email regularly and can stock up at a savings.

Cutting Ruler

Cutting rulers should be nonskid and see through. You only need one – but having a couple of different sizes can make life easier. If you only buy one, choose one which will span the entire width of your cutting mat. Trust me – smaller rulers will frustrate you. If you can afford more than one, I suggest (in addition to the large one which spans the width of your cutting mat), a 6.5″ square and a shorter rectangle one.

Seam Ripper

These are cheap and very necessary, unless you never make a mistake!

Straight Pins

I like the flat head pins because they lay flat and a cutting ruler can be laid right on top of them. But any good quilting pins are fine.

Fabric with Some Type of Storage System

You cannot make a quilt without the fabric! I am planning an entire post about fabric – selection, quality, quantity, etc… For now, just know you need it – and if you are like me, that will be the most interesting and fun part of the process! If you are only going to buy enough fabric for one project, storage is not an issue. BUT, if you become quilt-addicted, you will definitely need storage for your stash. In my post about fabric, I’ll give you some ideas re: this.

Optional Tools

  • Kwik Klip – only needed if you are going to quilt your project yourself (vs. sending it out to be quilted) – this tool is used to pin a quilt (more about that in a later post)
  • Painters Tape – only needed if you are going to quilt your project yourself and plan to do straight line quilting (more about that later)
  • Safety Pins – again only needed if you are going to quilt your project yourself
  • Design Wall – a place to help you with design layout (more about this in a future post). My design wall is a felt backed table cloth mounted on a piece of hard board. Inexpensive and very useful! The fabric sticks easily to the felt back and you can move your blocks around to determine the best placement. You may see design walls out there on the Internet or in the stores for purchase. They tend to be pricey, and really, a tablecloth works great!
  • Quilter’s Calculator –  a necessity if you are planning to either design your own quilts OR if you are going to change the size of quilt pattern. I got mine at Joann’s in one of their sales and I love it.
  • Quilting Gloves – only necessary if you are doing free motion quilting (more about that later)

Sew You Wanna Quilt?

  • Become a member of and start taking advantage of their sales to stock up on essential supplies.
  • Begin purchasing and gathering up your essential tools.
  • If you have an old sewing machine you have not used in awhile, dust it off, and take it into a dealer or service place to have it tuned up, oiled, cleaned, etc… This may cost a little money, but it will save you some headaches when you actually start to stitch.
  • Consider throwing your name into the hat over at Wantobe Quilter (they are doing international giveaways of quilting tools and supplies through the end of October).

August 13th: Watch for the next article in this series – Creating a Quilting Space.

Happy Sewing!

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    • Lisa on August 12, 2011 at 18:46

    I agree with everything here! Except I might say if you only get one color of thread I’d get a natural color instead of stark white. I’ve never heard of Kwik Klip though, so off to look it up!

    • Wendy on August 12, 2011 at 19:36

    Good point, Lisa 🙂 If you are pinning a quilt, I highly recommend Kwik Klip – it saves your fingers and makes the pinning go really fast. I love mine!

  1. Oh what a fun post! I’ve never gotten in to quilting, nor do I have a desire to, but my grandmother has always been an incredible crafty person and LOVES quilting. May pass this on to her.

    • Wendy on August 13, 2011 at 10:02

    Pam: Thanks for stopping by! Hope your grammy likes it 🙂

    • Jeanie on August 13, 2011 at 14:40

    Haven’t visited for a while, so the quilting info sort of surprised me – but in a GREAT way! I’ve just returned to quilting after about 10 years away from it. Seem to have lost or given away all my tools, so I’m starting over. Can’t believe how much I’ve forgotten, but am excited to get back to it. Your posts are very helpful!

    • Wendy on August 15, 2011 at 07:03

    Jeanie: Glad I surprised you 🙂 And happy you are picking up quilting again! I hope you’ll enjoy the series!

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