Tools of the Trade

Rotary cutter, cutting mat and ruler/template --The must haves!

Here is some basic information on the tools you will need to get started into quilting as well as some tricks, tips and such to help you along the way.
I have my must have tools that I use everytime I quilt and more tools on my wish list. And there are even more tools out there! 

So many quilts, so many tools, so many patterns, so much FUN!

In general to get started the tools needed will be :
1) Rotary cutter
2) Rotary cutting mat
3) Rotary rulers
4) Sewing Machine and accessories (unless you will be doing it all by hand)
5) Cotton quilting fabrics
6) Thread
7) Pins and needles
8) Seam Ripper
9) Iron and Ironing board
10)Scissors for Fabric only - have a separate pair for paper
11) Pattern or idea of what you want to quilt
12)  Band Aids! 

Details on each below:

     These come in a few different sizes and by several manufacturers. I like the 45mm for most of my work. But also have the 18mm as well as a 60mm size. I prefer the Olfa brand, but also have others.  A word of caution when picking the one that is best for you is to look for safety factors.  It is very easy to use one that does not have any protection around the blade and end up slicing your thumb very quickly, rather deep and need a band aid if not stitches!  Look for safety covering around the blade.  And ALWAYS be sure to store it in a safe place with the blade 'in' so it's not sticking out where it can cause injury. Store it away from young children.

    These come in a very wide variety of sizes, brands. Shop for the one that best meets your needs. I have a few in different sizes but mainly use the 24" x 36" one that is self healing. I also use a much smaller one that sits right next to my sewing machine for the smaller cuts while stitching seams that need to then be trimmed.    ( I usually have my 18mm Rotary cutter near that one which works great for the smaller cutting.

    There are many sizes of these also. I use the 6" x 24" the most for the initial cutting of my fabrics. I also have a 3" x 18" that I often use and a 1" x 6" that I use on a regular basis.  There are several different brands of these also so shop around and look for the best deals . I also use several different square  rulers, for squaring up the blocks and fussy cutting and cutting out squares and triangles. I have them from 1.5 inche square to 16" square and use them all.
A few of my rotary rulers and squareing rulers

     Unless you are going to do all your quilting by hand you will want a sewing machine (or two or more).  Let's start with just one.  You don't need to start out with the most expensive on the market that does all the fancy stitching. You need one that will sew a straight stitch.  I started out with one I inherited from my daughter. It did the basis straight and zig zag stitches. After several months I upgraded.  I went with one that was computerized, had a needle threader and came with several sewing feet.
The features I really looked for when choosing mine? 
a)A 1/4" foot so my seams would be easy to sew correctly
b) a needle threader
c) drop in bobbin
d) extention table
e) drop feeder dogs (teeth)
f) walking foot - to do quilting stitches and FMQ (Free Motion Quilting).

When you do choose your sewing machine learn all you can about it. Read the manual or watch the CD/DVD that come with many of the new ones. Learn how to thread the needle, fill the bobbin, oil your machine and do the basic maintenance on it yourself.
Learn what size bobbins fit your machine. Different machines use different sizes (Classes)
Learn if one brand/weight of thread may work better for you.
Learn how to adjust the tension
Practice on scrap pieces of fabric until you get comfortable with your machine. This is good if you are  experienced at sewing or a total beginner. Each machine is different.

 The fabric currently used most often in quilts is 100% cotton.  Places to buy fabric range from Walmart to a high end quilt shop as well as other  fabric suppliers.   Fabric quality will vary no matter where you shop for it. Getting to know the feel of the fabrics and knowing which is better takes some practice, experience and learning.  Some fabrics look awesome, but are thin and won't hold up well. A search through the internet will supply you with a wide range of places to find fabric.  The cost of fabrics range from $1.50 per yard to over $13.00 per yard!  In choosing your fabrics look for good quality, colors that won't bleed, and buy enough for your projects and a bit more.  The 'bit more' is for building your stash.

There are many types of thread. 100% cotton thread, Polyester thread, hand quilting thread, machine quilting thread - just to name a few. Many people prefer the cotton thread over the polyester because the polyester thread will melt under a hot iron.  Different sewing machines work better with certain thread.  Your choice of thread is 'your choice'.  

When you decide what type of thread you want you then have the choice of all those wonderful colors! Which ones to buy? In quilting as in sewing we tend to match our thread with the fabric we are working with. If you don't have the color you need you can use white, off white or even gray thread. 

How many spools of each color should you have? I try to keep two spools of the basics - white, off white, and a dark either blue, green or black. I also have two spools of colors I use a lot.

Do your best to also have two empty bobbins at all times. This will enable you to fill it with the color you need for a project and not have to empty a bobbin and waste thread just to change the color. 
Straight pins, curved safety pins, hand sewing needles and sewing machine needles. 
Straight pins can have the round heads so they are easy to see. Quilter's Pins generally have a yellow ball head, are a bit longer than other straight pins and are very sharp.  Many quilters like to use the flat head pins. These often have a head in the shape of a flower. 
Curved safety pins are used when you sandwich your quilt together before you quilt it with your regular sewing machine. The curve helps connect the three layers and not pull any of the layers. 

A quick tip to temporarily sharpen your pins -gently rub the side of the point of the pin against your scalp. This works by putting the oils from your scalp onto the pin and it will slide  easier.

This is a tool you will need more than one of. They get used on every quilt you will ever make. I've never met a quilt that didn't have one used on it at least once. 
Seam rippers get used to take out the stitches you have sewn wrong. the seam that is too far away or too close to the edge, the knotted threads from a bobbin gone wild, and more.  You will need more than one because they do break, they tend to get lost (or hide) and it's just handy to have them at your immediate reach wherever you are at the moment.

I know many of you are thinking, "I don't even own an iron or ironing board! I hate to iron". But, welcome to the world of quilting and the need to iron - often!
The good news is you don't have to spend a fortune for a particular iron or a special ironing board, Any iron will do and any ironing board will do. As long as both are in good condition. The iron I use is so old I don't remember where I bought it. The ironing board is one I 'inheritated' from my late mother in law. 
If you want to spend more and go for the best for quilting, look for an iron that is heavier than some, as it is a combination of the weight and the heat that presses the seams/quilts.  I would recommend an ironing board that is squared at both ends instead of coming to the point as most do. This makes it easier to iron larger quilts. 

You may also want to purchase a small craft iron to use for pressing the short seams on the small patchwork you do. This will make it quick and easy for you. 
I just use my regular iron for everything. 

Work of caution: IF you also use your iron and ironing board to iron you regular clothes - watch out for all the threads that may find thier way to your clothes as you iron in your quilting space!  Just ask my DH about that! I try to find the threads before he heads out the door. 

You can start out with just one pair, but I know that over time you will have more than one and more than one kind. One RULE ( while there are no quilt police and not many rules this one is a RULE) Your scissors for fabric need to be used ONLY for fabric. Do NOT use your fabric scissors to even but paper. When you use them to cut other things it will dull the blades and you will not be able to cut fabric. I've heard horror stories of the fabric scissors being used for cutting paper, cardboard, and even wire!  Buy other scissors or tools for these uses. 

The brand of scissors you use is up to you. Good quality is the only real advise I will give here. The most expensive pair is not necessary.  Size, shape, weight and function are what matters. 

Pinking Shears are used to cut fabric and help keep the fabric from fraying. 
Shears are used to cut fabric and come in different length blades. Pick the pair that fits your hand and your needs the best. 
Snips  are used to snip the threads as you sew. They also are used to cut the threads from the back of the quilt when you are finished with the quilt top and prepare it for making the layered sandwich.
While there are more scissors available these are the main three types to have. 

11) PATTERN or idea of quilt you want to make. 

Most quilters will follow a pattern. Many will make a quilt with no pattern. Some of us look at a pattern, make changes to it and make a quilt our own.  I can count on one hand the number of quilts I've made by following a pattern exact as it is written. 
When I made my first quilt, a wall hanging, I used a full size pattern and just did 9 blocks of the pattern to make my wall hanging. I then did my own top stitching idea to finish it.  My second quilt I made without a pattern at all. And since then I've designed a few of my own.
Not everyone can make a quilt without following a pattern. I have a talent for looking at a pattern and being able to figure it out for the most part. I've even made a wall hanging from a photo I took on my phone of a wall hanging that had a style I  wanted to use. I calculated the size of all the pieces and made the quilt. 
A word of caution about patterns. Every once in a while there will be a mistake in the pattern. It may be in the amount of fabric needed or in the size pieces to cut. When you first find the pattern you want to use read through the directions completely before you start cutting the fabric. Make sure that the directions make sense and that you have enough fabric for the completed quilt top. 

12. BAND AIDS, SUPER GLUE AND A TELEPHONE (for 911). (Details here may be too much to handle)

Yes, you will need these. At minimum keep a box of band aids handy. You will either prick your finger with a needle or pin, cut your finger with the rotary cutter, or sew through your finger. 

Like motorcyclists say, "if you haven't had a bad accident yet, your time is coming". For quilters is it , "If you haven't cut your finger with a rotary cutter yet, your time is coming".  No matter how careful you are you can easily cut your finger especially when you put in a new blade!  Some have cut their finger so bad they needed stitches, some have lost the tip of their finger.  
Some have sewn the sewing machine needle right through their finger. 

These accidents happen quickly. We get in a hurry. We think that it's just one quick cut of fabric for finish that piece. We look away when we cut, we don't take the safety precautions we learned as beginners. Then..... ouch! 

(I have cut my finger enough to consider stitches. Instead I held it together, cleaned it up and super glued it. A month later you would never know I had cut my finger. )

When you injure yourself, take all the care of your injury you need. Clean it well, bandage it, and take care of it.  Get a tetanus shot if you haven't had one in a while.


13. After you have all the tools and have made a quilt or two one other tool to consider is a Longarm!  But, if you don't have one, can't afford one, or don't have the room for it give me a shout!  I can do the longarm work for you at Quilter's Pantry!  
Check out my web site that will give you all the details including an ordering page to place your order to have your quilt top finished. 

If you would like information about buying a longarm I can help with that too!  

 I hope you have found this section helpful in getting the start to quilting, or learning something new if you are already a quilter. 

May you have many years of happy quilting.