Quilting is an art, so it can be tough to know just what tools are necessary for nailing your first project. Not to mention, whether you’re an expert in the craft or just starting your quilting journey, technology is always providing innovative ways to change the sewing game. This guide has all the information on the quilting supplies you need and some of what you will want to add to your wish list.

Skip ahead by selecting one of the links to the right.

Basic Quilting Tools & Notions

 

Sewing Machine (& Maintenance Kit)

Yes, quilts can be sewn completely by hand, but in addition to being faster, you will have better accuracy and stitch quality with a sewing machine by your side. Beginners, don’t make a huge investment in a machine until you are sure this is something you plan to do on a larger scale. There are various levels of sewing machines and those at a more affordable price that have less bells and whistles will do just fine for a casual quilter.

 

Rotary Cutter & Scissors

Quilts are essentially a collection of fabric pieces sewn together. Of course, you know or will soon learn there is so much more to a quilt, regardless, in order to achieve that, you will need something that can slice your fabric pieces. Scissors will work for cutting pieces, but you will get more accuracy and control over your cuts with a rotary cutter. Rotary cutters have circular blades that glide along a ruler or straight edge. Those blades need to be replaced often to ensure a clean cut to fabric and safety to you. The standard size quilters use is a 45 mm.

 

NOTE ON ROTARY CUTTERS

Rotary cutter blades are sharp so be sure to look over our post about common injuries and how to avoid them here before you get started. You will also need a pair of scissors to trim or cut threads.

The Right Sewing Machine Foot

The type of sewing machine foot you use can be super important to your stitching accuracy – which is critical in piecing – and efficiency. Always check sewing machine compatibility when purchasing a new foot. 

Quarter-Inch Sewing Foot

The ¼-inch sewing foot, which is sometimes included with sewing machines, provides the perfect guide for ¼-inch seam allowance. Quilters follow the ¼ inch seam allowance when piecing and sewing because it is large enough to hold pieces together but small enough to save fabric. Check out this video about nailing the quarter seam allowance!


Walking Foot

The walking foot is critical if you plan to quilt your project on your sewing machine instead of a long arm. You can piece your quilt with a regular sewing foot, but a sandwiched quilt (the name given to a quilt top with batting and a back) is thick, heavy and hard to maneuver. The feed dogs, or the mechanisms within your sewing machine that move fabric from below, will not be able to push or pull the quilt. You will instead have to push it manually, which will get tiresome and could affect the accuracy of your stitches. Here’s a quick look at the two compared!

 

 

Needle (Machine & Hand Sewing)

There is a difference between machine and hand sewing needles, and depending on how you bind, you might need both. Depending on the fabric you’re working with or pattern, it’s recommended you change your needle after completing a project. Heavier fabrics will dull needles faster and a mug rug will have less impact on the needle sharpness than a king-sized quilt. You can also use the bobbin as a reference: change the needle after every 2-3 full bobbins.

 

SEAM RIPPING TIP

Only rip every 3 or 4 stitches instead of each and every one. Once done, gently open your once sewn pieces. The stitching should easily fall free and will save you a lot of time when ripping.

Seam Ripper

It doesn’t matter how slow you stitch or how much care you take when piecing, you will undoubtedly make a mistake. There’s a tool for that. The good ol seam ripper will be your best friend and greatest enemy. You won’t love to see it, but you’ll be happy it exists.

 

Basting Pins or Spray

Basting is the process of securing your quilt sandwich (quilt top and back with batting in between) so that it can be quilted. There are a few ways to baste a quilt though the two most common techniques is pin or spray basting.

  • For pin basting, use curved safety pins that are 1½-inches long so they can pin through all layers of your quilt. You will need a lot of pins as you will be pinning about every three inches of your project. Do not underestimate the number of pins needed; it’s better to over pin and ensure your project doesn’t budge or pucker while quilting.
  • Spray basting is faster since all it takes is applying a temporary adhesive spray to each layer of your quilt. This is great if you will be using a long arm to quilt but can also be used for machine quilting. Keep in mind the spray gives off strong fumes and can leave a tacky residue on surrounding surfaces, including the needle that’s sewing your quilt.

 

Acrylic Rulers

Acrylic rulers are clear, hard and durable rulers that help with many aspects of quilting, from preparing and cutting fabric to squaring off blocks. There are rulers of every size out there, so choosing the right ones might seem like an overwhelming task.

Ruler Wall

Below are the two basic rulers all quilters should have, but also consider the design of your ruler. Be sure the lines and numbers are clear enough for you to see while you work with any fabric, including darks and lights.

The Two Rulers All Quilters Need:

  • A long ruler that’s at least 18 to 24 inches long. We like the 6 x 24 inch, which will allow you to cut your yardage by width of fabric (WOF) or length of fabric (LOF).
  • A square ruler that can be used to square up blocks. You can get square rulers from as small as 2½ inches to as big as 20½ inches, so choosing the right size should depend on the size of block you’re using in a project. If your pattern calls for 9-inch finished blocks, get a 9½-inch square ruler. Chances are a 12½-inch square ruler will be a safe one to start with as it will fit your smaller blocks as well as a 12-inch finished quilt block.

From there, you can build your ruler collection to include all types of shapes and sizes. Just look at how GO! Getter, Lori Miller’s large collection of rulers.

 

Bobbins

Speaking of bobbins, you will need at least one bobbin to sew, but 2 or 3 is even better because there is nothing worse than an empty bobbin in the middle of piecing. The bobbin is the small spool that is placed within the sewing machine, under the throat plate and provides the lower thread caught by the needle’s top thread. You will save yourself a lot of frustration if you have two bobbins wound with the right thread and ready to sew while you’re working.

 

Pins

Pins are a basic sewing tool, regardless of what you’re sewing. You will need 1½-inch to 2-inch long pins to ensure they are long enough to account for thicker fabrics and sandwiched quilts. Consider choosing pins with multi-colored heads so they are easy to see regardless of the fabric you use. Many quilters love the flathead pins that have shaped pin heads, because they’re cute but also easy to see and grab.

Sewing Room Essentials

 

Self-Healing Cutting Mat

As the name suggests, self-healing cutting mats are softer and flexible so they can re-close the tiny scratches the rotary cutter makes. There are a lot of options as far as size and features. Most have ruler grids, but some include angle guides, too. Depending on your sewing space, there are large mats (24” x 36” or 18” x 24”) that will leave a lot of room to work. However, if you have a smaller workspace, you can go for a smaller or foldable mat that are easy to travel with or store.

 

Table or Counter

The surface you cut your fabric on is just as important as the rotary cutter you use. You will need a flat, sturdy surface that is at about belly height. On average, a table at 36 inches is the right height but everyone is a little different. Decide if your table is the right height by standing up straight, bend your elbows at a 90° angle (forearms parallel to the floor) then drop your hands slightly.

 

Iron

You don’t iron in quilting; you press. If you don’t know the difference, read this post about proper pressing techniques. The iron helps with just about every step of the way. You can guarantee that just about any time you’re working on your quilt, you should have your iron hot and ready. The iron is used to get those wrinkles and lines out of freshly purchased fabrics, but more importantly, it presses your seams so that they lay as flat as possible.

Basic Quilting Supplies

 

Fabric

This is another area where investments provide return. Again, poor quality will lower the durability and lifespan of your quilt, so it’s best to invest in good fabric that will be loved for years to come. The 100% quilting cotton is a safe bet but watching thread count is a good idea too; 70 count is ideal. Anything lower than 60 will be too loose, meaning more stretch and less strength.

It can be hard to find thread count on bolts, so you may need to compare designer swatches with the look and feel of the bolt to estimate thread count and quality. Don’t be afraid to carry a swatch of fabric you trust for this! You can also hold it up to the light. The more light showing through, the less thread count.

 

PLAY IT SAFE

Big box stores typically run cheaper with lower thread count. That’s not always true, but while you’re still getting a feel for fabric, you might want to stick to shopping at local quilt shops and designers you know and trust.

 

Thread

What is sewing without thread? Not very effective, that’s for sure. When it comes to quilting, there are a few supplies you shouldn’t skimp on and thread is one of them. Low-quality thread is weaker, thinner and therefore breaks easier which means you risk breaking while sewing as well as after you’ve completed your quilt. How terrible would it be to have completed a work of art only to have it fall apart in half the time it took you to put it together?

 

PLAY IT SAFE

According to Quilting Daily, a 2-ply 50 weight, 100% cotton or poly-cotton blend is strong enough but will keep to a true quarter inch seam when sewing.

Once you get familiar with your machine and quilting in general, feel free to branch out and try some other materials for variety. For example, using a thicker thread to quilt leaves an interesting and bold effect. Just keep in mind there are pros and cons to each and the thread you use to piece won’t be seen when the quilt is finished.

 

MORE TIPS TO PICKING THREAD

Many quilters say to match the weight and material of your thread to the weight and material of your fabric. Thread size is not consistent from brand to brand. When you see 50/2 or 50/3 on a spool, the 50 refers to the weight, but the 2 and 3 refer to the ply in which 3-ply is usually stronger. Match your bobbin thread to your top thread to maintain a balanced tension. Give it the eye test; if you see inconsistency or bulbs of thread massed throughout the strands, then don’t use it.

 

 

Batting

The layer between your pieced quilt top and backing is called the batting and it’s the material that gives quilts their weight and coziness. Batting comes in various weights, thicknesses (called loft), colors and materials, so don’t worry if you are confused on what you need. Take a look at this blog post about choosing the right batting.

 

PLAY IT SAFE

Get the highest quality batting you can reasonably afford. It is important to the life and comfort of your quilt and will therefore return the investment. Ask your local quilt shop or quilter friends for their recommendation. Be sure to have a basic idea of the fabrics you will be using and look you would like to achieve.

Quilting Tools You Will Want (But Aren’t Necessary)

 

AccuQuilt Fabric Cutter

While a fabric cutting machine isn’t necessary, many quilters find it to be one of the most valuable tools in their sewing room. A few minutes using a rotary cutter is all it takes to see just how much energy, muscle and concentration it takes to get accurate, clean cuts. A fabric cutter like AccuQuilt makes those cuts easier and accurate while eliminating dog ears and increasing. Better yet, AccuQuilt cuts up to six layers of fabric in one pass, so you’re cutting more pieces in less time and without the strain of a rotary.

 

 

Design Wall

Design walls are blank spaces where quilters can test block and color placement or plan the overall design of their projects before sewing a stitch. Often made of a flannel or felt covered foam board, design walls grip all the important pieces or blocks so quilters can stand back and get a feel for their pattern. If you have children or pets around your sewing space, you will love the safety of a design wall.

There are design wall options for all sewing spaces. For dedicated crafting/sewing rooms, there are great permanent solutions like commercial design walls, composite boards with flannel, neutral cork, foam or cardboard with pins. For less space, you can hang flannel sheets or even the fuzzy back of a vinyl tablecloth on a wall when in use then store it rolled up when not working.

 

An Adjustable Lamp

Quilting requires tedious work and high attention to detail, so bad lighting can strain your eyes and leave room for error. That’s why many avid quilters get specific lamp styles for each of their workspaces. For example, Emily Tindall of Homemade Emily Jane has a floor lamp next to her cutting table and clamp table lamp next to her sewing machine table. You might have to test what works for your space best, but you will undoubtedly want a lamp that can be adjusted for different angles as you try new techniques and sew different pieces.

 

Outline - The Complete Guide to Quilting Supplies

 

Ruler Gripper

As you begin cutting fabric, you will notice the need for a great deal of pressure to keep a straight and consistent line. Ruler grippers are removable handles that can help avoid slipping and distribute pressure for less strain when using larger rulers. They are attached by suction so you can easily make do with one handle.

For extra grip, you can also use transparent grip tape.

 

Roll Press

As you’ve read, pressing is a big deal in quilting. Crisp seams help with more accurate piecing and affect the way quilt blocks lay. As you practice, you will find that finger pressing is a good way to get your seams where you want them before you use a hot iron to set them. Thought it sounds easy to finger press, it can be a little straining trying to train fabric to go a new direction with the sheer strength of your hands. A roll press allows you to more easily pre-press those seams and will help you avoid dangerous burns from going straight to the ironing board.

 

Clips

Clips come in handy when sewing your binding to your quilt, especially if you’re working with curves. They’re easier to clip over the thick layers of fabrics, batting and binding that make up the edge of your quilt and are quicker and safer to remove while at your sewing machine. No more getting stuck by pins!

 

 

Stiletto

This instrument has multiple uses in the quilting world. They can be used to help better grip and guide fabric under the foot of your sewing machine, turn appliqué edges, help with piecing and seam accuracy and prep small stitches for seam ripping. In fact, some seam rippers have a stiletto type point. Above all, the stiletto can alleviate pressure on fingers and hands and lower likelihood of injury.

 

Seam Guide

Some sewing machines have seam guides built into the throat plate but are often difficult to see while working. Many quilters will add either a magnetic or adhesive seam guide that can be moved depending on what’s being sewn. If in a pinch or don’t like the additional bulk of another option, painter’s tape is another great option. Pile a few layers together then use a ruler or the guide on your throat plate to line it up with your ¼-inch seam. The bulk of the layered tape will offer that solid guide while the bright color will be easy to see while you’re stitching.

 

Wool Pressing Mat

Wool pressing mats are dense and absorb heat, which helps the seam to be heated on both sides. That means better efficiency and better seams!

 

Shopping List

Check out the lists below to review all the quilting tools and supplies we covered. 

 

Basic Quilting Tools & Notions

  • Sewing Machine (& Maintenance Kit)
  • Rotary Cutter
  • The Right Sewing Machine Foot
  • Needle
  • Seam Ripper
  • Bobbins
  • Basting Pins or Spray
  • Acrylic Rulers
  • Pins

Sewing Room Essentials

  • Table or Counter
  • Self-Healing Cutting Mat
  • Adjustable Lamp
  • Iron

Basic Quilting Supplies

  • Thread
  • Fabric
  • Batting

Quilting Tools You Will Want (But Aren’t Necessary)

  • Fabric Cutter
  • Design Wall
  • Ruler Gripper
  • Roll Press
  • Clips
  • Stiletto
  • Seam Guide
  • Wool Pressing Mat

 

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Ready to Quilt!

 

As with any art, there are so many different paths to a completed, beautiful quilt. If you feel overwhelmed by any of the information listed here, remember that quilts have a long and rich history. Quilters from our past did not have access to the tools of modern quilters, so you already have so many advantages on your side!

With all the right notions, you are now ready to find your first pattern! Here are some recommended next steps: