Virtual Quilting Bee: Quilting Supplies

As we kick off our Virtual Quilting Bee (click here to see the introduction post), today I’d like to talk a little bit about basic quilting supplies.

I’ve written a similar post as part of the Beginning Quilting Series. Since the Beginning Quilting series already exists (and I’ll probably refer to it from time to time) I’d like this quilting Bee to function as “the next step up” – moving on to more intermediate quilting skills.

Beginning Quilting Series

Today I’ll talk about basic quilting supplies, but give you a little more in-depth thought.  Now, here’s my first disclaimer: This is called “Quilting according to Amy Smart”. I do not pretend to be the most knowledgeable quilting guru out there. Far from it. So please don’t think of me as the be-all and end-all when it comes to quilting. I have made a few quilts over the years and so I’ll share what works for me. Please feel free to take it or leave it. I want you to do what works best for YOU.

Let’s talk supplies. Here is my original post about Basic Quilting Supplies for your review. Rather than rehash the same topic, I’m going to refer you there. This post talks about the basics of getting started: rotary cutter, mat, seam ripper, pins, scissors. I don’t have much more to add to those categories. I will expound and embellish on a few others below.

There are a TON of quilting tools, gadgets, and gizmos out there and many of them are really cool. Obviously people have been quilting for centuries without anything more than a pair of scissors and a needle and thread. That’s all you need really. Don’t get too overwhelmed by the number of tools available – especially if you’re just getting started.

I’ve been picking up quilting supplies here and there over the past 14 years. I now have a nice collection – many of which are great helps – but starting with the basics will be just fine. As with everything, watch for sales, check thrift shops, use coupons at places like JoAnn’s, etc. You can get really great deals on lots of your quilting notions by doing so.

I get asked about machines a lot, and I don’t feel super helpful. I don’t have a fancy machine. It’s probably almost as old as I am. It’s a Bernina Sport 801- all metal, heavy duty, and I love it! I don’t do a lot of fancy stuff with my machine. I just need it to sew a straight line, and it’s great for that. That said, I’m starting to look at upgrading and getting a new one. I’d like one with a bigger work surface and maybe a wider throat (more space between the knobs and the needle).

As with anything you don’t always need the fanciest of the fancy, but quality does make a difference. I personally would not buy a machine from Costco or Target and expect to have a great experience with it. But you can still find a decent machine at a good price. My mom bought a great little Janome from Hancock’s fabrics that is frequently on sale. There are some great tips and suggestions in the comments section of THIS POST.

Also, Melissa has written an excellent post about buying a machine here. I would echo everything she said. The main point being: find a good local dealer, if you’re looking to invest in a good machine for the long haul. They’ll be an invaluable resource.

I highly recommend good thread. Definitely 100% cotton for working with 100% cotton fabrics. I personally prefer 50 wt thread for piecing blocks. (Heavier weight like 40 -28 for quilting.) This thread is thin, but it helps your pieced seams lie flatter – especially when you’re working with small pieces.

[Thread “weights” tell how fine or thick the thread is. The higher the number the thinner it is. This post by Aurifil shows the differences between the various weights of cotton threads.)

I know it seams silly, but there is a difference in thread quality and you get what you pay for. I personally love Aurifil 50 wt. It’s not cheap, but I buy it by the cone so I get a lot for my money’s worth. (I use this thread stand for the cones with my regular machine.)

I also like DMC 50 wt but it’s been harder for me to find locally and I haven’t found it in bulk. Both keep my machine from getting as full of lint. I also recommend Gutterman which you can get on sale at JoAnn’s. It’s a slightly thicker weight, but it will work.

Colors: Most of the time I just use one basic color for all of my piecing – which is why the cones work so well for me. A good neutral cream or taupe blends with almost anything. I use colored threads in smaller spools for applique or binding.

If you have old, not-so-great quality thread, don’t get rid of it. It’s great for things like basting.

As mentioned in the Beginning Basics post, there are two rulers that I would invest in from the very beginning. A 6″ x 24″ long ruler so you can cut strips, etc. and a shorter 6″ x 12″ ruler for easy in cutting smaller pieces or squaring up blocks. I have gradually collected a few more that have become really useful to me: a 6 1/2″ square, and 8 1/2″ square a 12 1/2″ square. The square rulers are handy for cutting and for squaring up blocks.

Another ruler I use consistently has this marking on it for squaring off the top end of triangle or flying-geese blocks, leaving 1/4″ for seam allowance. Simplicity has an Easy Pineapple Ruler with this marking, which is also a 12.5″ square ruler. Mine is about 10 years old and I can’t find them anymore. I know Creative Grids used to make one too, but I couldn’t find it on their website. If someone knows of one, leave it in the comments and I’ll add it to the post.

From there, there are all kinds of nifty flying geese, and angled and hex and wedge shaped rulers out there. They really can help on specific projects. If they’re within your budget and you would use them frequently, I think they are totally worth the purchase.

I happen to prefer a really good iron. I got a Rowenta as a wedding present and it lasted for 10 years. I was so sad when it died but I didn’t have as much money to invest in a new one, so I tried some cheaper brands. You can read my iron saga that ensued. After going through a few other decent irons in a short amount of time, I invested another Rowenta. It was worth it to me.

Keep your eyes peeled for irons on a good sale or with a discount coupon. A few months after I bought one new, I saw a nice, newer model Rowenta Professional at the thrift store for $4.99. (I still keep the price tag on because it makes me feel happy.) I figured it was worth the gamble to see if it worked and it has worked like a dream for 3 years. Now I keep one in my laundry room and one in my sewing room. So check thrift shops! Department stores like Macy’s or Bed Bath & Beyond will carry fancy irons and sometimes have great coupons, so watch for those. Also places like Tuesday Morning or Big Lots will sometimes have random fancy irons at clearance prices.

I was recently given a fancy Oliso iron to play with by the Oliso company. It’s super posh and I love it, but I know they’re a bit pricey too.

I know some quilters who absolutely love vintage electric irons because they stay nice and hot (just remember to turn it off when you’re done) and have a nice pointy tip and the end. Watch for them at thrift stores and yard sales, but make sure they’re safe.

I am frequently asked about fabric quality. This post on fabric shopping advice has a lot more in depth information on where to buy fabric, the difference in quality, definition of a fat quarter, etc.

With the continued price increase for cotton, quality fabric costs are adding up! Here’s what I think. And again, these are just my own thoughts and experiences, so take them for what they’re worth and do what’s best for you. Basically you get what you pay for. The reason that some fabrics are more expensive is because they are generally higher quality (higher thread count, better dyes, etc). Decide for yourself whether it’s worth it to invest in quality that will last longer, or if it’s just a practice project does longevity really matter? Every person will have different thoughts. Do what you think is best.

But definitely get fabric that inspires you to create. It’s so much harder to feel creative when you don’t like your medium.

Don’t forget about watching for sales, coupons, etc. They can make a big difference. I usually only buy 1/2 yards to 1/4 yards or fat quarters because I like scrappy quilts with a lot of variety in them. I’ll wait and buy bigger pieces for backs, etc. when they are on clearance.

We will talk more about fabric, specifically choosing colors, amounts, etc next week.


Again, the Basic Sewing Supplies lists the basic notions such as pins, needles, seam rippers, etc. Here are a couple more that I’ve come to use frequently. I love the adhesive Needle Grip-It dots. I use them in place of a thimble when I’m binding or hand quilting sometimes. I also love the Pilot FriXion pens. The ink is eraseable when you iron over it. (The ink could return if the marked fabric gets cold again, just FYI, but I haven’t had any problems with it.) I use them for labeling rows or marking half-square triangles all the time.

There are a myriad of quilting books available and most of them will have a section with basic quilting skills. One of my recent favorite quilting and sewing reference books is Nancy Zieman’s The A to Z of Sewing. If you’re looking for a good, clear reference to have on hand, or as a gift for someone getting started, I recommend this one.

Alright friends, there’s some food for thought this week. If I’ve missed something you’d like covered or have question about quilting notions and supplies, please leave them in the comments. Also if you have tools or gadgets that you can’t live without, share them in the comments as well!

I have to say, your feedback in this series has already been amazing! It’s harder that I thought it would be to get to respond to all the comments individually, so please know that I’m so appreciative. And I’m going to start doing something that my husband has been trying to get me to do for years: I’m going to start responding and answering questions in the comments section as well, so watch for those.

One question that I’ve received a few times is fabric requirements and availability for this project. I’m working with a few online shops and will have all the information for you before our first block tutorial in March. Hang tight!

Thanks again for your feedback and contributions. I love being a part of this community. And feel free to take a button if you like!!

Virtual Quilting Bee
<div align="center"><a href="" title="Virtual Quilting Bee"><img src="" alt="Virtual Quilting Bee" style="border:none;" /></a></div>


  1. says

    Amy- What can you tell be about using the cone thread with a standard machine. I have seen those stands that hold the thread but don&#39;t know much more than that. What are your thoughts on that? Thanks you!

  2. says

    I&#39;m very excited for this series as i&#39;m such a newbie at Quilting. I have yet to make my first Quilt. Since i am a student living in Germany, it is quite hard to find reasonably priced fabrics. Do you have any recommendations?

    • says

      There are lots of super online retailers (see my sidebar for some of my favorites)- even with shipping costs it&#39;s probably a lot more reasonable than buying yardage in Europe. There are some great online shops in the UK which would reduce shipping even more for you. (Check the side bar of or [both UK quilters]. I hope that helps!

  3. says

    Would you believe I headed into our study tonight telling my husband &quot;I&#39;m just going to check if the quilting bee post is up yet&quot;?!<br />I&#39;m with you on the old faithful machine and iron front, I use my Mum&#39;s 80&#39;s Elna supermatic she bought when I was a toddler, and my iron I bought when I was in the military and had to precision iron uniforms 10 years ago. I think I

  4. says

    Excellent post! I completely agree with you on the fabric. I only buy good quality fabric now, but I have some old, cheap stuff (chain store) in a separate box. Your post reminded me of it and I think I&#39;ll make some quick charity quilts and get it out of way!

  5. says

    I have a Janome sewing machine that I love, but my favorite machine to use for piecing is a hand crank! The stitches are perfect and never breaks down, if something is &quot;off&quot; I can fix it myself within five minutes!

  6. says

    This looks like it will be a fun quilt-a-long! I like those Needle Grip things; never seen them before. I found that using a Band-aid works for me so I don&#39;t ruin my fingers. =)

  7. says

    Thank you for doing the virtual bee!! I can&#39;t wait to get started and see what other posts you have in store for us. On the iron front, I am so glad I splurged on my Rowenta. I was using a cheap iron I bought at Walmart when I was in college…thankfully my mom and gram have always used Rowenta and convinced me it was worth it. Kohl&#39;s carries Rowenta and they have sales now and then…if

  8. says

    Great post! You&#39;ve got a lot of useful information there. I really loved seeing your machine – I have a Bernina Sport 802, and even though its 25 years old, I LOVE it! Totally agree that you don&#39;t need a big fancy machine.

  9. says

    Wonderful post! Very thoughtful :-) I&#39;ve just started using Aurifil more, and I love it. Thanks for the input about how you use the different weights and piecing with taupe.

  10. says

    Thank you so much for this post! I really admire your work, so it&#39;s great to read your thoughts on supplies. Thanks for giving us a little peek inside your process.

  11. says

    This is my favorite post of yours ever! Where do you get the Pilot Frixion pens? Only at quilt shops or even at the grocery store? <br /><br />I prefer my Continental dry iron. I don&#39;t get spots on my fabric, I&#39;m never tempted to fill it for steaming, it&#39;s the best!!! :) Plus it was like $12 haha.

  12. says

    Amy, thank you for this series!! If this post is any indication for what is to come, I am on pins and needles! I&#39;ve only been quilting for a few months and have been reading a lot of books, blogs and anything else I can get my hands on. But very few quilters actually talk about the tools they use to make quilts. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!

  13. says

    Amy, Thank you so much for this very informative post. I have sewn for years but teaching myself to quilt for the last few years. This will be a fun series to read.

  14. says

    Amy, Thank you so much for this very informative post. I have sewn for years but teaching myself to quilt for the last few years. This will be a fun series to read.

  15. says

    Thank you for taking the time to go over some of the basics for us newbees! Sometimes as a beginner it is information overload and you don&#39;t know where to start. I am looking forward to this series and following along!

  16. says

    Great post! I recently needed a new iron and after tons of research, I bought the Singer Perfect Finish Quilting Iron. I wanted a really HOT, steamy iron (HA!) and this is it. Best of all, it does not spit! Not a drop, not a drizzle. Just wonderful steam at the touch of a button. The price was an astounding $45.00. I&#39;m in love.

  17. says

    Thank you so much for a VERY informative post! I am very much looking forward to this Virtual Quilting Bee. I really admire your work and your choice of colors and fabric. I really need help in this area. Thank you so much for imparting your knowledge with us. It means a lot.

  18. says

    Thank you! I&#39;m so excited to join this quilting bee. I never have time to join in with the local ones (I work and they meet during the day.) This has some wonderful information on getting started. I teach and always make my students learn first that all they need is thread, fabric, and scissors. I&#39;m also a firm believer that the quality of your supplies makes your projects treasures

  19. says

    Thank you for the informative post. I am itching to get started. I have had an iron on my list for a while. Was wondering if you have any recommendations on rotary cutters. I have one , which shall remain nameless because I don&#39;t think it is the has not cut thoroughly since day one, I.e. snagged the fabric so it is really worth it to invest Ina more expensive one?

    • says

      Yes! A good rotary cutter is invaluable!! I use Olfa brand and I love them. You can find them frequently on sale at JoAnn&#39;s or watch for the 40% or 50% off coupons to buy them. Same goes with the blade replacements. A new blade is a great thing too. Whenever I change mine I always wonder why I waited so long. 😉

  20. says

    Excellent post, Amy. I&#39;m coaching some new quilters (and no, I&#39;m not a teacher, just a long-time quilter like you) and everything you covered in this post is exactly what I&#39;m reviewing with them. Thanks for the reinforcement!<br /><br />Susan

  21. says

    Would you talk a little more about cutting mats for me? I bought one a year ago that just broke…probably because I like cutting on carpet in front of the tv- eek! But now I need a replacement and want the best brand- any opinions? And self healing vs not? Thanks!

    • says

      Investing in a good cutting mat is worth it – it will last for years. I like my Olfa mat – easily available at craft and sewing stores where you can use their coupons. I&#39;ve had it for ages. I just bought a new mat made by American Crafts (you can find them on Amazon.) It&#39;s a prettier color (mint green), it&#39;s thicker, and it&#39;s double sided so if one side is looking bad after a

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