Top Ten Things To Know Before You Start Quilting

Quilt for Beginning Quilters

1. Rotary This, Rotary That

Get up close and personal with the term, rotary. Rotary cutters, rulers and mats make cutting the squares of cotton, if not super simple, at least manageable. With a rotary cutter and a transparent ruler you can be much more precise than with a pair of scissors or shears, and cut many layers of fabric at once. Also, if you choose to use geometric shapes, such as hexagons or stars, you will find the rotary cutter a necessity to get in and around those tight spots.

Your rotary mat will accommodate the rotary cutter without dulling the blade as it protects your cutting surface. Mats come in several sizes, with 24” x 36” a good, all-purpose size if you can only have one.

2. Quilting Blocks

If you think of a quilt as a sandwich, two pretty fabrics hugging a layer of thick polyester that provides loft and warm, the individual squares of this sandwich are called blocks. I know, self-explanatory. When the individual blocks are assembled, you arrange them in the final design, using a long table or design wall (see below).

3. Batting

Batting is the meat in the sandwich. It can be polyester, cotton or a blend and vary in thickness and weight depending upon the intended use. Polyester batting is favored for hand quilting and cotton for machine quilting. You can also find silk and wool batting if you are willing to pay extra for them.

If you plan to tie a quilt together rather than sew it, use batting with a high loft.

You will also see the term batting refer to the technique of assembling the three layers of the block together.

4. Long Arm Quilting Machine

While handmade quilts have not gone out of style completely, you most likely will want access to a machine that will make light work of sewing your quilts together. You can certainly use a standard sewing machine. However, long arm quilting machines are designed to accommodate a frame that holds the quilt in place while it sews the various pieces together.

These machines can be quite expensive and you can find services that will do this for you. Dedicated quilters, not to be confused with professionals, who take a long view, often see an investment in a long arm quilting machine as important as the money put into the family car for the savings in time alone over the years.

5. Traditional Sewing Machine

Of course you can sew a quilt on your hand-me-down treadle machine. Or any other machine you happen to have available. Just know that it will take you longer to complete your project. MUCH longer. If possible, find a machine with a walking foot, which really eases the work on straight machine quilting. Basically, any machine that allows a ¼ inch seam allowance will work for a quilter.

6. Use Only 100% Cotton Fabric For Starters

You can use any and many decorative and even polyester fabrics when you assemble a quilt. But they can be tricky and not advised for beginners. Save them for later when you have some experience under your belt. You want to make your learning curve as easy as possible so that nothing dampens your enthusiasm for your craft.

7. Quilting Thread

And while we are on the subject of cotton, always use 100% cotton thread. You will find that polyester or mixed threads that work beautifully when sewing other projects, can damage the cottons you use for your quilts.

Also, do not try to collect every color of thread in the rainbow, just because you are making multicolored quilts. White, gray and beige, with an occasional dark color if you use dark fabrics should be all you need.

You may have come across quilting thread, which works well for hand quilting. Do NOT use it in your sewing machine, however, where plain cotton thread is best.

8. The Pressing Station

A good iron and roomy ironing board are just as crucial to professional looking quilts as for any other sewing project. If you are investing in a new iron, choose one that has some heft to it, and forego lightweight aluminum models. They might be fine for laundry day when you want something easier on your hands and back. But you need some weight behind you when you are pressing quilt pieces.

The family ironing board will work when you press your quilts, but if you can swing it, invest in a rectangular Big Board, for obvious reasons. You will find an abundance of space your friend when you quilt, whether it is on the cutting table, ironing board or design wall.

9. Design Wall

Did someone mention design wall? You need to display your blocks and edgings as you go and the place is your design wall, though some quilters have been known to use the floor or a big bed.

You can hang some muslin or flannel and pin your pieces to this frame or you can purchase design walls for this purpose. Whichever route you take, make sure you have a scheme for stepping back and looking at your creation as it comes together so you can rearrange and design as you go.

10. Miscellaneous Quilter’s Supplies

In addition to the items mentioned above, you will need a collection of notions to make your work easier. If you do not yet have these, pick up a seam ripper—possibly your best sewing friend, am I right?

Although you will do most of your cutting with a rotary cutter, you will also need a good pair of shears for fabric, plastic and paper. Models you can pick up the grocery store will work fine here. Don’t invest in expensive dressmakers shears for your quilting projects.

It goes without saying that you will need an assortment of pins, needles and quilting clips. You’ll want thin quilting pins with large (likely plastic) heads, needles with large eyes and quilting clips that looks suspiciously like hair clips for holding the edges of your quilt sandwich together as you work.

You may find yourself investing in other items as you go, but this list will get you started on your quilting life.

Happy quilting.

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