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 ½″ square, and 8 ½″ square a 12 ½″ 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 ¼″ 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 ½ yards to ¼ 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!!
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