Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Quilting 101 Part 2: Tools of The Trade

Thank you all for your positive and encouraging responses to the first post of this series! 

I'm so excited to share this part with you, but it will be a bit of a long & meaty post, so let's not waste any time! 

 I do have to say that in the previous post I mentioned the absolute basic necessities. There are some quilters that can use even less, but there are those of us who couldn't do what we do without specific tools. This post will cover the tools that were mentioned before, as well as the tools I couldn't work without. As extensive as this list may seem to the first time quilter, I promise you that there are those out there who have much longer lists! There are so many specialty tools on the market. You could easily spend a small fortune on notions alone! I, however, do not have a fortune of any size. lol These items have been accumulated over several years, and with many gift cards, coupons and sales.

FYI:  JoAnn's seems to have a 50% off coupon twice a month, plus one on their app. They also have their quilting notions marked down twice a year. Keep an eye out & plan your purchases accordingly!

Another word about notions. About 75% of the time, you really do get what you pay for. Buy name brand thread/rulers/mats/scissors/rotary cutters, etc. They will last a long time and perform with much more accuracy than their generic counterparts. On other items like pins, needles, rotary blades, seam rippers, go with generic. You'll save loads of $, and get the same quality and amount of usage.

Cutting Tools: 

     *Large pair of scissors for cutting batting, trimming the quilt for sewing the binding and other tasks that lend themselves to a long blade.
     *Small pair of scissors for cutting threads and cutting misc pieces of fabric
     *Rotary cutter and extra blades - buy name brand cutter, but replace with generic blades
     *Self healing mat - if you're going to make this a hobby, I say get the largest mat you can. You can make the smaller ones work, but they're a headache.
     *Rulers - at the very least, get one as tall or taller than your mat. As you go, you'll probably want to buy several sizes and shapes. Your project will determine your need.
I'm a big fan of Olfa & Omnigrid.
There are other brands out there, but these two are my favs and they work well with each other 

Above are the mats and rulers I use for my projects. I wish I had more, but these are sufficient for nearly any pattern. My absolute fav is the rotating mat from Olfa. When squaring off a zillion blocks, it's a pain in the rear to have to turn each and every one two to four times. Each time you pick up a block it wastes time and affects accuracy. The rotating mat solves both problems. It is pricey, so wait for that coupon! The one in the upper R hand corner is the Cut'N Press from June Tailor. It's a mat on one side and an ironing table on the other. Very cool. It saves on having to pull out the big ironing board just for pressing blocks. 


You really should invest in a good iron. One with a wide surface and lots of steam will help "press" the fabric and reduce the need for an "ironing" motion. Never ever "iron" your fabric while piecing. You use a "pressing" motion. If you move your iron back and forth or side to side over the fabric, you will likely stretch it in places and end up wondering why your blocks are so crooked! 
#beenthere #donethat 

Presser Feet: 

Your machine will most likely come with all the feet you need, but you might not know what to do with them! lol!

     *For piecing, you'll need to get yourself a 1/4" presser foot. This will ensure you have the right sized seam with every stitch. If your machine doesn't have a specific foot, you can get a the one shown above on line or in the fabric stores for $10 or less.
      *For quilting, you'll neeeeeeed a walking foot. Almost every machine comes with one of these. You shouldn't need to buy one. It feeds the top of the quilt in sync with the bottom, so you'll get much less, if any, puckering in the quilt.


If it's your first go at a quilt I suggest using a simple pattern that's labeled beginner. The one pictured below is what I'm doing for Gen's!

Your first few patterns need to be chosen on your ability to complete them, not the colors in the book! lol! You can make it with whatever fabric suits your fancy. Have fun with it!

Thread and Needles: 

There is a specific purpose to each thread, and accordingly, each needle. I do NOT recommend using whatever you find in the clearance bins at Walmart. Thread is very much something you need to buy name brand, however I have found generic needles to work just fine. Most brands will have a chart or "advisor" in the store and on line.
{Here is one for Coats & Clark thread. Here is one for Shmetz needles.}
I highly recommend you print out a copy & keep it handy. Over the years, I have tried several different thread brands and have fallen in love with good ol' Coats & Clark. Fantastic quality, wide variety of colors & blends and sold at a realistic price.  Below are my go-to threads & needles for piecing and quilting.

Piecing: Coats & Clark "Dual Duty XP" thread works great!  I can use this for regular sewing, too, so that makes it an economical purchase. It is durable (rarely breaks) and leaves little to no lint as I piece. For this thread you'll need an 11/75 needle.

Quilting: I typically use Coats & Clark Machine Quilting (which I works/looks/feels great and is a great price!), but I splurged for Gen's quilt. EEKK! I'm using this multi color Coats & Clark Machine Quilting & Crafts. It's made with mercerized cotton and has a fantastic feel. It's beautiful, soft and durable. It will be perfect for her quilt! I will use the recommended 14/90 needle

Until recently, I was using a super thin yarn (CANNOT for the life of me remember the brand or size! My bad.) for both hand tying and hand stitching my binding, but about 2 years ago, I discovered DMC's size 8 Pearl Cotton Balls. I. AM. IN. LOVE. It makes me want to learn needlework! So soft, smooth, strong and easy to use. I buy the DMC needles just so I know I'm getting the right fit for the thread, but I'm sure as long as you chose the right size, generic would work just fine.

**While doing research for this post, I learned via DMC's blog, that I've been using the wrong size needle for this thread! The size 8 Pearl Cotton calls for a size 22 needle. Woops!**

One last word on needles. Change them often! Most manufacturers, (and experienced quilters) recommend tossing the needle after each quilt. (Remember, you'll have a separate thread/needle combo for piecing than you will for quilting. So, you'll toss 2 needles with each project.) For sewing, they'll last through more projects, I'm sure. But, they do get dull. A dull needle is like a dull pair of scissors or a dull razor blade. More trouble than good! Generic needles work just as well, are super cheap and often go on sale. Stock up once a year & you'll be fine. 

Fabric & Batting: 

This the the fabric for Gen's quilt. It will be what you see throughout this tutorial. 

Okay, so here's a major place where the rule "you get what you pay for" applies. Yes, you can get a decent quilt with $4 a yard fabric, but I promise you, it will not be the same. The $7-$10 a yard fabric is almost always a better fabric. Better how? Well, that's where it gets super technical, and I sorta get lost. lol But, I can tell you from experience that it is more color fast (meaning the colors last much longer after washing), tighter woven (which results in much less give and far better accuracy in cutting & piecing), thicker (which means you can't see the batting, or Heaven forbid, the backing(!) from the top and your quilting stitches will stand out more and be more stable.), and overall have a more pleasant look & feel. But! With all of that being said...I can *rarely* afford the good stuff. JoAnn's has a decent offering of fabrics in the $5 to $7 a yard range and is on sale quite often, so it's typically the only option for me. Oh, and before y'all suggest: Hobby Lobby is new to us, so I've not yet had a chance to price their fabric and compare quality. I'll have to do that soon!

Price also matters in batting. Batting is SO EXPENSIVE! UGH! I don't purchase unless I have a 50% off coupon, or if there is a sale. Cheap batting is AWFUL to work with! I tried to hurry a quilt recently and used some that was given to me and it was a MESS! It rips super easy, bunches in places, shrinks a LOT and can even pull through the fabric with the needle! Gah. Don't bother. Pictured here is my absolute favorite. Scored it on sale for 50% off! Brand doesn't really matter much to me, more the cotton/poly count. Has far less shrinkage, can be washed BEFORE use to avoid shrinkage all together (seriously. win), can be quilted as far apart as 10" and is super thin & light, but also very warm. 

For Quilting and Binding: 

These are a couple tools that I have discovered over time and cannot live without! 

The adhesive spray is absolute must for me. (Pictured is a brand I don't use normally. JoAnn's was out of the one in the link, so I got what was available.)  It holds the top and bottom to the batting like a glue (which is what it is) and keeps the fabric in place while quilting. It also saves me from breaking my back with trying to pin a twin sized quilt! 

Quilting Gloves are awesome. They help keep a firm grasp of the fabric while quilting, thus aiding in better stitches and less puckers or wonky rows of stitching.

Binding tools are super helpful in cutting & sewing the binding, as well as getting that perfectly mitered corner. There are quite a few to chose from, I have two. They both really help!

Notions on hand: 

Because I don't have a room dedicated to quilting/sewing, there are a few things that I keep right by the sewing machine while the rest are stored away on the counter, and/or in a closet 'till I need them. 

They are simply: Scissors, rotary blade, seam ripper, measuring tape, pins & pin cushion, presser feet, mini screw driver (to change feet), quilting gloves, extra spool of thread & an already threaded bobbin or two. I keep them in this cute little carry-all from 31Gifts. Love it!

PHEW! What a full post!

Thank you so much for sticking around. I hope this was a help to you as you begin to quilt.

Please come back for my next post in the series: "Quilting 101 Part 3: Washing and Ironing"

***I was not paid in any way from any featured brand/company mentioned in this post. 
The pictures are mine. The content is mine.***


  1. Wow! What a post! It's full of great links, but you are speaking another language, seriously.

  2. I have always wanted to know how to quilt, but I don't know how! Thanks for a how to and I nominated you for a liebster award http://teaspoonoflifeblog.com/2014/04/01/liebster-award/