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Making Your First Quilt | Must-Have Quilting Tools for Beginning Quilters

Updated on January 6, 2013
No-slip cutting ruler
No-slip cutting ruler
Self-healing cutting mat
Self-healing cutting mat
Seam ripper
Seam ripper

You don't need to spend a fortune on tools and supplies, but there are a few tools you really should have before you start to quilt:

  • Rotary cutter. Put away those scissors! A rotary cutter is an absolute must for cutting fabric fast and accurately. I use a basic Olfa cutter with a 45 mm blade, but there are many good brands, such as Fiskars, Fons & Porter, or many others. Cutters come in many different sizes. You can find ergonomically designed cutters if you have problems with sore hands. There are also cutters that automatically cover the blade when you stop cutting. This is an important safety feature, because rotary cutters are SHARP. (Don't ask me how I know.) To make your first quilt, you just need a cutter with a sharp blade. If your blade skips or doesn't cut cleanly, replace it.
  • No-slip, see-through cutting ruler. For your first ruler, I recommend one that is 24" long by 6" wide. This ruler is long enough to cut fabric strips across the whole width of a folded piece of quilt fabric. Paying a bit extra for a no-slip ruler is definitely worth it. You may want to add to your ruler stash later, but for your first quilt, you just need this one.
  • Self-healing cutting mat. "Self-healing" means that the mat doesn't develop big gouges as you cut on it over time. Like cutters and rulers, cutting mats come in many sizes. Cutting is generally easier on a larger mat. f you can leave the mat sitting out on your cutting table, I would get the largest size that fits. If you have to put the mat away between uses, get one that is small enough to slide into your storage space.
  • Seam ripper. Yes, you will probably make mistakes that need to be ripped out. (So do experienced quilters.) You don't need an expensive seam ripper. Any fabric or crafts store will have one that can do the job.
  • Scissors. These don't have to be anything special -- just a pair of ordinary scissors you can use to snip threads, cut out paper patterns, and use for this and that around the sewing room.
  • Iron and ironing surface. If you already own a steam iron, you're ready to go. If not, you will need an inexpensive iron to press your quilts as you work on them. And you will also need a heat-proof surface to press on. If you own an ironing board, you can use that. I made a thick ironing pad from a layer of ironing board fabric (available at big-box fabric stores), several layers of quilt batting, and a top of pretty quilt fabric. I use it on top of my cutting mat.
  • Straight pins. You will need these to anchor your fabric in place until you can sew it together permanently. Pins made especially for quilting are longer and thinner than garden-variety straight pins, but ordinary straight pins will also work just fine. It's also useful to have a pin cushion to hold your pins, but not strictly necessary.

Painter's tape used as a 1/4" seam guide
Painter's tape used as a 1/4" seam guide

A Handy Quilting Tool from the Junk Drawer

And the secret is... blue painter's tape. Layer a few strips a scant 1/4" to the right of your needle to make an inexpensive seam guide that helps you sew that elusive perfect quilter's seam. I still do this even though I'm an experienced quilter, and it makes my piecing much more accurate.

You can also use painter's tape to mark your ruler when the dimensions you want aren't easy to see. Use the blue tape as a guide instead of rechecking that you have the right dimensions every time you make a cut (or worse, cutting your fabric the wrong size.)

Blue painter's tape sticks well to your rulers or the bed of your sewing machine and is just as easily removed, leaving no residue behind. I always keep a roll next to my sewing machine.


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