Written by: Dana Goyer
So you want to learn how to quilt!
Congratulations! You have opened the door to a new adventure. In the beginning, quilt making may seem a bit overwhelming. With all of the diﬀerent sewing machines, tools, supplies and patterns to choose from, it's easy to wonder where to start. Never fear! We’re here to help beginners learn how to begin quilting.
The first post in our quilting tutorial series will help beginner find the quilting tools they really need to get started.
First things first: let's define what a quilt is (and isn’t)! Technically, in order for a quilt to be called a quilt, there needs to be three layers involved—the top, the backing and the stuﬀ that goes in between and makes it soft and fluffy called the batting. It’s possible to make coverings that just have one layer, but these are just blankets and they have nothing on cool quilts!
Quilts can be made with high quality fabrics purchased from local quilt shop or online quilt store, but they can also be made from clothing scraps, souvenir T-shirts or old ties! For a beginning quilter the best choice of fabrics would be good quality, 100% cotton fabrics from your local quilt shop or fabric store.
Before we begin, though, we need to gather the quilting materials we’ll need.
1. Quilting Sewing Machine
The tool that you will use the most when making a quilt is your sewing machine. A good quality sewing machine is an investment that you will not regret. A lot of new quilters regret purchasing a very inexpensive machine from a department store that oﬀers absolutely no service or repairs. Visit a nearby quilt shop and try out the diﬀerent makes and models and purchase the best machine that your budget will allow. Your local sewing and quilting shop (or online sewing store) will be a wealth of knowledge and support when you have any questions or issues that you cannot solve alone.
There are several diﬀerent brands of sewing machines that many quilters use: Pfaﬀ, Viking, Brother, Janome and BERNINA are all very popular. Personally, I am loyal to the BERNINA machines because of their reputation of being one of longest lasting and trouble-free sewing machines in the industry. Attending a local quilt show is an excellent way to preview a lot of diﬀerent brands and price ranges of machines. Be sure and check out all the BERNINA machines—you won’t be disappointed.
While not necessary to begin piecing a quilt, we highly recommend buying a walking foot for your sewing machine. The walking foot will keep your quilt sandwich (don’t worry—it’s not an actual sandwich, and we will eventually explain what it is!) from bunching up during the quilting process. It’s easiest to purchase a walking foot alongside a new machine, but don’t worry! A nearby sewing and quilting store can help find a walking foot that will fit your machine.
2. Rotary Cutter and Self-Healing Cutting Mat
These two tools are like peanut butter and jelly—they go together! Rotary cutters pretty much replace scissors for the biggest part of cutting out fabric for a quilt. They come in diﬀerent shapes and sizes and are manufactured by several companies. Probably the best-known brand name is Olfa and the most popular sizes are the 45mm and the 60mm blades.
Most of them look like a lot like a small pizza cutter. Watch out! They are sharp.
Another very popular brand is Martelli. The shape of their cutter is a little diﬀerent and takes some of the stress of cutting oﬀ of your wrist. Its ergonomically designed grip is easier on your hands and wrists when cutting for long time periods. The Martelli cutting mats are also some of the best on the market.
The first cutting mat you should purchase should be one that is approximately 18” x 24” or larger. The second cutting mat you purchase should be a Martelli rotating cutting mat! This rotating circular mat is a game changer when you are cutting out smaller shapes or working with layer cakes (which are 10” squares—we’ll cover that in a later blog).
3. Quilting Rulers
You can’t have a rotary cutter and mat without having a quilting ruler to use with it. A quilting beginner’s first ruler purchase should be one that is 24” in length and approximately 6” wide. A ruler this size will allow them to make most all of the cuts they will need when making a beginner quilt project. Once again, there are many, many brands of rulers. When buying your quilting ruler, here are a few things to consider: Can you easily read the numbers? Does the back of the ruler have a non-slip feature? Can you easily follow the 1/4” and 1/2” lines all the way across the ruler?
Creative Grids is a huge manufacturer of rulers and quickly has become one of many quilters’ favorites. The grippy circles on the back of the rulers help keep the ruler from slipping around on the fabric when you’re cutting—potentially saving you from ruining a piece of fabric and a trip to the fabric store. The lines are clearly marked with all the increments of measurements included. After your initial purchase of the 24” Ruler, watch out! They are like potato chips - you can’t own just one!
You want to sew your quilt top with a good quality 50 wt cotton thread that doesn’t have a lot of lint. If you use an inferior thread, the sewing machine will get all of that fuzz inside of it and will need to be cleaned and oiled or taken in for service. Avoid that issue and just begin with a good quality thread like Aurifil. While some quilters try to match their thread with each of their projects, it is also widely acceptable to use a neutral tan or neutral gray thread for all of your piecing needs.
5. Sewing Kit Basics
Here are more items that you will need to have close at hand:
Scissors: Although you will use your rotary cutter for cutting out your fabrics, you always need a good pair of scissors to clip threads.
Pins: Buy sharp and thin pins - not the heavy ones used for upholstery. Pin Cushion: Get a cute one that makes you happy.
Pin Cushion: Get a cute one that makes youhappy.
Seam Ripper: We’d like to think we won’t make mistakes, but we will.
Iron: You probably already have one of these in a closet somewhere! I do think that cordless irons make the process a little easier, but a corded iron works also.
Ironing board: If you can’t find one anymore, you can make your own table top ironing board or purchase a wool pressing mat.
If buying so many items at once seems daunting, there's also a number of great starter kits that can make the process a lot simpler.
Gather your sewing machine and beginner quilting supplies and get ready to begin this grand adventure! This blog post is the first in a series to help beginning quilters learn how to quilt. We’ll walk you through the whole process, from gathering your materials to finishing the whole project. Prepare to embark on a trip to finding your lifelong passion.
In our next entry in the series, we’ll be discussing the love and bane of many-a-quilter: quilting fabrics and patterns. We’ll discuss the different ways to select and purchase fabrics (like jelly rolls and layer cakes) and the benefits of using a quilt kit for beginners. I’ll also introduce some easy quilt patterns for beginners!
We’re glad you’re here. If you have questions, feel free to leave us a comment. We’ll help you or direct you to someone who can.