Essential Tools for Beginning Quilters

Essential Tools for Beginning Quilters at Fabric Bias

Want to start quilting? When I started quilting in around 1990, I had no idea that it would take over my life like it has, so I wanted to buy as few expensive quilting supplies as possible to get started. Looking back, I’m not sure I bought the right things, but there wasn’t anyone around to tell me what the bare minimum really was. The goal is to strike the balance between usability, quality and expense. If you’re in that situation (or want to be in that situation, Heaven help you), here’s a list of essentials to get started:

  1. A sewing machine. If you don’t have one, maybe you can borrow one from a friend or relative. Do make sure that it has been serviced recently, and that you can set it to sew an accurate 1/4″ seam.
  2. A rotary cutter. When you choose a rotary cutter, try not to go for the cheapest thing just to get by. The medium 45mm size is the best choice and there are many choices available now that have ergonomic handles as well. If quilting doesn’t turn out to be your “thing,” rotary cutters are always handy to have around for paper trimming and other crafty tasks.
  3. A ruler for rotary cutting. There are so many different types and sizes of rulers around these days that it’s really hard to know which one to choose. I started with a 6″ x 12″ Omnigrid ruler and it’s still the size I use the most on a daily basis. That being said, if you don’t have much experience you have with fabrics and don’t know much about grainlines and such, you might consider purchasing the 6″ x 24″ size since it’s sometimes harder for beginners to cut strips perfectly with the 6″ x 12″ size since the fabric must be folded more times to fit the ruler. Omnigrid rulers are marked in yellow and black, and I’ve never really had any issues seeing the markings when cutting fabrics. Other choices abound, and when shopping, consider testing the visibility of different rulers against various fabrics.
  4. A mat to use with the rotary cutter and the ruler. Look for a “self-healing” mat made to work with rotary cutters. Choose a mat that’s bigger than your ruler, and keep in mind that when it’s time to cut borders for your quilt, a smaller mat may make the task more difficult. I started out with a 12″ x 18″ mat, and that was okay until I started making bigger quilts and then things got hairy and I decided to purchase a 24″ x 36″ mat. Gridlines on the mat are not necessary (in fact, I often recommend that beginners turn gridded mats over so that the gridlines are not there to confuse them) but most mats do come with one side marked with a grid. I’ve always used green mats and only ever had visibility issues when using a fabric that’s very similar in color to the mat. There’s nothing to be done about that really, because no matter what color your mat is, at some point you’ll be using a fabric that same color. Good lighting is the solution to that one.

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