Written by Nancy Scott of Masterpiece Quilting
So you want to become a quilter? Congratulations! I’m always excited when new quilters discover the joy of making quilts. It’s a fulfilling hobby that gives creative expression while making something useful and functional.
Just like starting any hobby, there are some specific items that you will need and the first time buying those items can be expensive. It’s good to remember that you don’t need the fanciest and newest equipment with all the bells and whistles to make a beautiful quilt. Many quilters start with the basics and then add items as their needs become defined and their skills grow. That is exactly how I started quilting – with a hand-me-down sewing machine and supplies purchased with discount coupons.
When I’m asked about the basic skills needed to piece a quilt, here’s my response. The ability to properly cut the fabric, the ability to precisely stitch a ¼” seam, and the ability to press the fabric.
So let’s look at the basic supplies needed to achieve those skills.
Cutting tools – mats, rulers and cutters, scissors and snips
For cutting fabric, you will need a self-healing cutting mat (24” x 36” is my favorite), a rotary cutter (45mm is a great standard size for a beginner), and a cutting grid (or ruler) that is used to guide the rotary cutter as you cut the fabric. Many times you can purchase them as a bundle which is more budget-friendly for beginners.
I have 2 rulers that I use on a daily basis. One is 2-1/2” x 36-1/2” which spans the width of my cutting mat for cutting width of fabric pieces and 2-1/2” binding strips. The second grid is 6-1/2” x 12-1/2” that I use for cutting smaller pieces. Both have 30, 45, and 60-degree lines marked for making angled cuts.
As I grew my quilting skills and my budget expanded, I added different sizes and types of mats (a rotating mat is convenient for squaring blocks), cutters, and specialty grids that increased my quilting efficiency. A variety of cutting grids for making angled cuts are available as well as tools for squaring up blocks.
A die-cutting system for fabric saves a lot of time but may not be budget-friendly for a beginner.
Scissors and snips – you will need 1 pair of scissors for fabric, 1 pair for paper, and anything other than fabric as well as a small pair of thread cutting scissors or snips. Spend your budget on the fabric scissors and go discount for the paper scissors. Thread scissors vs snips is a personal preference. I’ve used both and as long as they are sharp and available next to my sewing machine, either gets the job done.
A sewing machine.
Patchwork quilting requires just a straight stitch and an accurate ¼” seam allowance. I’ve seen beautiful, jaw-dropping quilts pieced on inexpensive, entry-level machines and I’ve seen quilts with poor workmanship stitched on machines that cost thousands of dollars. The machine doesn’t make the quilt, the quilter does. Regardless of the price of your machine, knowing how to properly operate it and getting it cleaned/serviced once a year is key.
As you grow as a quilter, then look at investing in a machine with more features. An adjustable zig-zag or buttonhole stitch is essential for raw-edge fusible applique. Conveniences such as a needle threader, thread cutter, or knee lift for applique can make stitching easier. If you are quilting using your sewing machine, then a larger throat space is important. These are buying points that you aren’t likely going to know as a beginner, so take some time to figure out what features are most important to you and allot your budget accordingly. And remember, just like buying an automobile each of us has our own personal preferences. For me, a start/stop button on a machine is essential while other quilters prefer to use a foot pedal.
Many quilters have two or more sewing machines. One is their primary machine and a second smaller machine that is easy to take to retreats and classes. The sky is the limit on sewing machines with new models and new features coming out each year at a variety of price points.
Pressing Matters – irons and boards
Second, to my sewing machine, my iron is my next largest investment. I like an iron that stays hot, has some weight to it for pressing seams but isn’t so heavy my hand gets fatigued and gives me the option of using it with or without steam. If you struggle with remembering to unplug an iron, then an auto-shutoff is an important feature.
If you already own a basic iron and collapsible ironing board for clothes you can sure use both for quilting and that saves on your budget.
Given the triangular shape of a collapsible ironing board (and the fact that mine always collapses when I don’t want it to!), I prefer a rectangular oversized ironing board that I can either place over an ironing board or position on a table or even across the kitchen countertop. It gives a firm even pressing surface.
As you become more involved in quilting and again as your budget expands, adding a second pressing board or mat (I’m loving the wool pressing mat that I purchased recently) that is located next to your sewing machine can be helpful.
Other supplies – seam ripper, pins, clips, and such
There are a few other supplies that are essential to quilting.
A good ergonomic seam ripper that is comfortable in your hand helps make a dreaded task easier. You will need straight pins plus a cushion or container to keep them in (I prefer a magnetic pin tray). Binding clips are super handy for holding fabric. You will need some hand-sewing needles as well as a fabric marking pen. These are all small price point items but are still essential as a quilter.
If you have shopped the notions section of any quilt shop, you know there are a variety of gadgets available. As your budget grows you will find many of these super helpful in the quilting process.
So by this stage, you may be asking what does all this cost. Obviously, prices are going to vary from area to area and from country to country. Here in the Midwest USA (I’m in Indiana), I recently helped a friend purchase the items she needed to get start quilting with a budget of $500.00. The largest portion of her budget went to purchasing an entry-level machine at a local dealership that had been a trade-in. It was serviced, still had a warranty and a beginner lesson was included. She already owned an iron but added a tabletop ironing board. Taking advantage of seasonal sale coupons, she picked up all her cutting tools in bundles at a big discount as well as the rest of her supplies.
Quilting isn’t about keeping up with the Jones’ but instead is about making and creating works that bring you joy and fulfillment regardless of your budget.