People frequently ask me what machine, tools, etc that I use when I sew. Here’s a summary of the tools I use most and that I like best. It may be subject to change and grow from time to time, but for now, I feel like this is a pretty in-depth quilting essentials list.
Note: some of the links on this page are affiliate links, meaning if you click on an affiliate link and then proceed to purchase something from that affiliated website, I receive a small commission. This helps me continue to provide high quality, free content. But rest assured all of these items are things that I love and use consistently and I believe make the whole quilting process better!
Let’s start with the tool I use most: my sewing machine.
My current sewing machine is a Baby Lock Destiny II sewing and embroidery machine. I am using this machine on loan from the Baby Lock company and I have LOVED it! The machine pieces beautifully and has a large throat space for machine quilting. This machine definitely has all the bells and whistles – including machine embroidery functions, which I am just starting to wrap my head around. You can see more about this machine in these two posts:
Prior to using the Destiny II I was sewing on a Crescendo. My honest review is that I can’t say enough good things about my experience using Baby Lock machines. And they run the full gamut from entry level machines right up to the deluxe Destiny. If you’re just getting started, check out the Julilant and the other machines in the brand new Genuine collection. This is a great place to get started. For mid-level upgrades, I recommend checking out the Jazz and Lyric.
This post by Dana is really helpful talking about how to pick a sewing machine. Definitely visit a local dealer to find out which machine is fits your needs and budget best. The best part about buying from a dealer is that not only are they super helpful with maintenance and helping you learn how to get the most out of your machine, but they’re also willing to exchange your current machine when you are ready to upgrade!
I learned to sew on this old Bernina Sport 801- all metal, heavy duty – and sewed on it exclusively until a few years ago. It’s still my travel machine when I sew away from home. It’s been great for when I just need to sew a straight line – which is what I do most of the time when I’m piecing. So if you have an older model, hold on to it! Some older models hold their value really well, as long as they’re properly maintained – regularly oiled, and serviced.
I also recently bought a Singer Featherweight built in the 1930’s. I need to get it serviced, but I look forward to working with it – again, mostly for when I travel and all I’m doing is piecing.
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. There are some great tips and suggestions in the comments section of THIS POST. 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.
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. But 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. These are the basics for getting started: rotary cutter, mat, seam ripper, pins, scissors. Here is my original post about Basic Quilting Supplies for your review.
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.
Invest in a good rotary cutter and mat. Seriously. You’ll thank me. My favorite brand is Olfa. They are the most sturdy and best rotary cutters for the price. I especially love my Olfa rotary cutter (I have 4 different kinds). My favorite is the Olfa Splash, but I also love the 60 mm extra large size for cutting lots of fabric layers at once as well as the 28 mm version for cutting applique pieces and around templates
- Wonderclips (that come in a wide variety of options)
- Clover Fine Glasshead pins (I LOVE these)
- Flatter Smoothing Spray (available on Amazon or from Amitie Textiles in Australia)
- Olfa 5″ scissors (hands down, my favorite small scissors)
- Clover Seam Ripper
- black Elan dressmaker scissors (very affordable and stay sharp. I LOVE mine)
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 – improving the accuracy of your piecing.
[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 seems 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. Don’t piece with old thread. They look so pretty on those vintage spools, but the threads are more likely to break if they’re old.
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.
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 Smart 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, the electrical cord is in good condition, etc.
One of my favorite tools that I use every day is my handy pressing table next to my machine. This one is made from an inexpensive TV table. You can read more about how to make your own pressing table here.
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.
If you’re looking for a place to put all of these fun tools and gadgets to use, check out all of the free Tutorials I have available. If you’re looking for the perfect place to start, be sure to check out my Beginning Quilting Series:
|Beginning Quilting Series|