Wednesday, February 4, 2015

11 Quilting Tools You Need To Start Quilting Today

What do I need to start quilting?  That’s a question I get asked often.  There are so many notions and tools that it can quickly become overwhelming and budget busting.  In this post, we are going to cover the must-have notions and the must-have tools.  There are a lot of other tools on the market that are fun or make life easier but they aren’t needed to get started in quilting.  These are just the basics.  As your skills grow you can add some of those other tools.

Trying to figure out what tools you need to start quilting? I've got you covered.

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Quilting Notions

Notions are consumable items.  You’ll eventually have to replace them because you are going to use them up.  That doesn’t mean you should cheap out on them.  You need decent quality notions.  Cheaply made notions can make for headaches and frustration.  When you are frustrated you are more likely to walk away from quilting.


There are three basic types of pins on the market, all metal, metal with a plastic head, and metal with a glass head.  Skip all metal ones.  They are great for garment construction but not for quilting.  Plastic head pins have been the standard in quilting for years.  They come with flat heads and with round heads.  They are cheap and easy to find.  They are not my preferred pins.  The reason is that the heads melt when you accidentally iron over them. Not that anyone would iron over a pin on purpose but it happens and then you have a mess.  I spend a little more and go with glass head pins.  I use 1 ⅞” pins.  A lot of glass head pins are shorter but I like the length of these.  I bought a box of 100 about three years ago.  I have tossed a few due to bending but I still have plenty to use.


Thread can bring up a lot of debates.  Please take a moment to read this article from Superior threads, it does a wonderful job of explaining how thread and fabric work together.  From there make your own choice about the type of thread you are going to use.  In a lot of my demos, I use Maxi-Lock thread.  It’s affordable and comes in a lot of colors.  I use it for demos because those aren’t things that I am going to pass on, they are one-offs that may never make it into a project, and since I do so many I don’t want to spend a lot of money on those.  Now when I am making a quilt for myself or for my family I use Aurifil.  Aurifil is 100% cotton thread. You can purchase it at many quilt shops, Amazon carries some collections, and Sewing Machines Plus allows you to buy it by the spool.  I also use it when I’m doing my quilting on the quilt.  My rule of thumb is to use the best you can afford and if you are making an heirloom spend the money on 100% cotton thread.

Needles and bobbins would also fall under notions.  I don't cover those because those are dependent upon the type of machine you use.  While the majority of machines take a 15x1 needle and a class 15 bobbin there are machines that take something different.  Please follow the manufacturer's guidelines for those.  If you have a vintage machine and don't know what you need to buy please reach out and we will do our best to get you pointed in the right direction.  I do purchase the majority of my bobbins from Sewing Machines Plus.  They carry for old and new machines.

Quilting Tools

Tools are something that doesn’t have to be replaced as often.  Over time things will wear out but it won’t be as often as the notions above.  So these are the things we invest just a little bit more money in because we don’t want them to wear out as quickly as some of the cheaper products. 


There are two kinds of scissors I keep in my sewing room.  I keep a pair of dress shears and a small pair of scissors.  The dress shears aren’t used a lot.  They are there to help break down shirts and jeans.  The small scissors are what I use the most.  Some people will use thread snips and I have no problem with the snips.  My mom used them and I have used them as well.  I switched to a 6-inch pair of scissors because they do more.  Not only can I clip my threads but I can also trim off dog ears as well. 


Here’s something I don’t suggest spending a lot on.  Don’t go over about $50.  I have not seen anyone report that the irons that cost more than that last any longer than the cheaper ones.  I currently use a Hamilton Beach iron.  I’ve had great luck with them.

Cutting Mat

This is the first tool we need for fabric cutting.  It’s also one of those items we are going to spend a bit of money on.  I use an Olfa cutting mat.  My mom bought and I’ve used it for years as well.  It is just now getting to the point that I need to start thinking about buying a new mat.  They are well worth the money.  Large mats that cover big tables must be purchased locally.  They cannot be rolled for shipping which means shipping costs a lot.  A big box store is able to mitigate that shipping costs much easier than a small store or even you and I buying online. 

Rotary Cutter

They come in three sizes, 28mm, 45mm, and 60mm.  The one you need to start with is the 45mm.  There are several manufacturers.  I just happen to use Fiskars because I’m still using the same rotary cutter that I bought over 20 years ago.  In several of my videos, you’ll see me using this style of rotary cutter.  I prefer the first one linked but after some feedback, it’s not as easy for everyone to see what I am doing.  It’s a personal choice which style you think will fit you the best.  A little side note about blades.  You are going to have to replace them and don’t try to make a blade last after it has gotten dull.  You are doing damage to your mat.  Also, don’t go off brand.  They will tear up a mat in a heartbeat.  You can get 5 Fiskars blades from Walmart for a good price, just buy those.  Your mat and your fabric will thank you.


You need three rulers to start.  A 6x24 for cutting down yardage, a 6x12 for classes and smaller work, and a square up ruler.  I have three 6x24 rulers I like.  I like Have’ls traditional 6x24, Havel’s combo ruler with a rotary cutter, and Omnigrid 6x24. The Havel's products are only available from Havel's website and local quilt shops. I also use an Omnigrid 6x12 ruler.  My square up ruler is discontinued but they are a “new” version of it.  When you have your rulers take a few minutes to stabilize them.  It helps keep your rulers from sliding and ruining your fabric.

You are going to need a few other things as well.  You’ll need an ironing board to go with your iron.  You’ll also need a sewing machine.  If you don’t have one I highly suggest getting a vintage machine if you don’t have a lot of money to spend on a new sewing machine.  The machines in the big box stores aren’t well made typically.  You’ll get more life out of a vintage machine and face a lot less frustration than a cheap new machine.  While I wish you would never need it you will need a seam ripper.  Of course, you will also need fabric and your pattern will tell you how much of it you need.

Tips For Saving Money Purchasing Tools

I do my best to save as much money on tools and accessories as possible because I want to save that money for buying high-quality fabric.  So I want to pass along my tricks for pinching pennies on quilting tools.

  • Shop garage sales, estate sales, and second-hand stores.  Everyday quilters are having to give up quilting due to age and health.  It's sad but those quilters want their tools to be used by the next generation.  They may not be the exact brands that I listed but that's OK.  You can always buy a new one later on.
  • Shop big box stores and online.  I preach a lot about shopping local especially for your fabrics but tools can often be found cheaper online or in the big box stores.  Big box stores offer coupons that you can use to get notions cheaper and sometimes even tools.  Online is a big money saver for those of us in rural areas.  I'm always mindful of how far I have to go to get something and how much that adds to the cost.  Being able to order and have it shipped to my door saves gas money and that means more fabric.
  • Ask for the items as gifts.  Every birthday, Christmas, and anniversary I ask for a new quilting tool.  I'm very specific about what I want so they don't get the wrong thing but that allows me to expand my tool collection without breaking my budget.  

Now that you have all of your tools be sure to check out my quilt projects and my small quilted projects so you can get started today!

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There's lots of tools for quilting but find out the ones you need to get started quilting today.

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Home Ec. Mel
Home Ec. Mel

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  1. Rulers are pretty "straight" forward. :) Good list.

  2. Great informative post. I wish I had it when I first started quilting. I am still a quilting newbie, but it's good to know that I started out with the right tools! :)