If you can sew a straight line on your sewing machine you can make a quilt. I am not claiming that quilting is completely non-complicated. It is as complicated as you want it to be or make it to be. If you want to use the most detailed and intricate appliqued or patchworked blocks to make your quilts, there you are – You have got complicated! But a simple quilt can be sewn with the simplest of sewing tools.
Basically, quilting tools are sewing tools. But in quilting there are some tools that are of use more than for any other sewing. If you do not have the right tools you are set up for frustrations from the word go, as it is in any work you do.
A good ordinary home Sewing machine for piecing, quilting and binding, good quality 100% cotton fabric for the quilt top and backing, nice and sharp pins, seam ripper and iron and ironing board are general quilting tools, that doesnot require much elaboration. As a sewing enthusiast interested in quilting I hope you have all these already. Other than that, here is the list.
Sewing machine foot
You can use a 1/4 inch seam foot (also known as 1/4 inch quilting foot) to sew an accurate 1/4 inch seam. This is useful in piecing quilt pieces.
A walking foot is useful when you sew the quilting stitches – it goes through the many layers of quilt sandwich easily, keeping all the layers in tact and together. It also has a convenient guide.
For intricate designs you may have to use a darning foot or a simialr foot with more visibility.
I also love the foot with an edge cutter. It is very useful when you bind the quilt. It will cut the extra fabric on your quilt edge past the binding.
Marking tools in quilting
All the marking tools used in sewing are used in quilting, and then some. Quilting involves a lot of marking. The fabric pieces for quilt blocks need to be marked, then the finished quilt top has to be marked for basting the layers together and then joining it to the other layers. Then if you are sewing an applique quilt or an embroidered one you have more marking to do.
The criteria I would look for in marking tools is whether the lines will wash off and also whether the tool gives a fine non-smudged line.
You can use your simple ballpoint pen to mark the cutting lines. You can mark on the back of the fabric and then cut.
For quilting designs, Chalk pencils are good to use as long as they are of good quality. You can also use regular pencils or water-soluble marker pens. A special mechanical pencil with a very fine lead that will wash off very well is available. Other options are silver pencils for dark-colored fabrics, slivers of soap, etc. You will also need a sharpener and eraser if you are using a pencil.
Cutting tools – Scissors and Rotary cutter
Buy commercial-grade scissors if you have quilting as a life long hobby – you will be cutting a lot of fabric.
For cutting smaller fabric pieces for piecing quilt blocks, a Rotary cutter is invaluable. The time it saves in cutting multiple fabric pieces is unbelievable. Keep layers of fabric on the cutting surface, and cut away.
As easy as it is to use, it is also very very dangerous. You will have to be careful with the sharp blade of the rotary cutter, lest it cuts your fingers as well.
Marking board/self-healing mat
A very useful tool in sewing – protects your surface first and foremost and protect your blades as well. This board will have marking lines for straight lines and diagonal lines and angle lines; you can use it to cut fabric pieces accurately.
You can keep layers of fabric on this and cut accurately – so no need to cut each piece separately. When a quilt top involves cutting a lot of fabric pieces you will find this board to be very useful.
The self-healing mat is a marking board which doesnot damage at all and is usually of a size 18″ x 24″ but smaller sizes are also available.
Regular and Specialised rulers
Other than the ever-useful cloth measuring tape, a long plastic (transparent) ruler, which is at least 18 inches long is a must; The L shaped ruler is also useful to straighten the edges and to square up the edges and corners. A 24 inch by 6 inch clear plastic ruler marked in grids and with angle lines are also very useful.
I have a 6-inch square ruler and it is my favourite. The size of the square ruler depends on your quilt block. If you regularly make a 12 inch square block, buy the ruler in that size so that you can square up the blocks using this tool.
Even if you machine quilt you may want to sew some parts of the quilt with hand sewing stitches. Like applique, embroidery, or atleast the binding.
For hand quilting use ‘Betweens‘ needles – these are specialized hand quilting needles. These are short and strong needles, the best type for sewing layers of fabric together. For hand embroidering on quilt blocks, you can use crewel needles – with large eyes to pass the embroidery thread. For applique and for sewing fabric pieces together (hand piecing) you need to get sharp needles.
Larger the number on the needle shorter and thinner the needle. A smaller size is always preferred but you will have to practice to use it efficiently.
As for machine quilting and piecing use your regular sewing machine needles that you use – depending on the fabric you are using. If you are using old T-shirts for making the quilts you will need a different needle than the one you would use to make a cotton woven fabric quilt. Check out this post on selecting sewing machine needles for the details.
Thread used for quilting
100% cotton thread is used for sewing quilts (piecing and quilting) – this is the best. For hand sewing, you can use a thicker and stiffer thread. If it is waxed, better. For hand embroidery on quilt blocks, you can check out this post on the 13 different types of hand embroidery thread available.
The color of the thread used is a personal preference. You can use a neutral color like black, white or grey or you may want to quilt with a color matching the quilt top or you may want to quilt with a completely opposite color so that the quilting stitches will stand out.
The freezer paper is used to make templates for quilting (for patchwork blocks) and to sew appliques on the quilt top (for needle turn applique). It is a paper used in cooking that has a plastic coating on one side. The paper is printed with the design and then cut in the shape of a stencil and then this plastic side is pressed onto the fabric with a hot iron. After the use, you can remove it easily.
Freezer paper can also make your fabric stiff and ready to be printed. You can also cut the freezer paper in the size fitting a printer ( usually 8 ½” x 11″) and then iron this onto the back of your fabric and print on it.
Quilting frames /hoops
Quilting hoops are larger than embroidery hoops. This hoop can be used to keep the fabric stretched out and smooth and to prevent the distortion of stitches. The hooping also prevents the layers of the quilt from shifting.
You will need a hoop of at least 14 inches or bigger. Professional hand quilters use big floor frames as big as 6 feet and larger.
These are templates to mark the quilting stitches. You can buy readymade quilting stencils – they just need to be placed on the fabric and marked. But alternative DIY solutions work as well.
You can make your own templates – buy sheet plastic for making templates and then cut out as required. You can use double-sided tape to keep the stencil firmly on the fabric until you have completed the marking.
This is useful in making parallel quilting stitches. Gives you a yardstick to make straight stitches consistently.You can buy masking tape in the width you want – 1/4 inch, 1/2 inch etc. Keep them, stitch and then peel away.
For hand sewing quilts, this is a very useful tool to use when you think long term. You may not see the use of it Immediately. But when you hand sew a quilt, it involves making a lot of tiny stitches, and all those come against your poor fingers. A thimble can save you from painful fingers with skin ripped off at the end of the day.
You can either use a metal thimble or a leather one. Both are effective, though a leather one is soft on your hand and comfortable.
You will need two.
One is worn on the middle finger on the holding hand (nonsewing hand, kept under the quilt) when making the quilting stitches/ doing embroidery.
The other is worn on the the sewing hand middle finger.The top edge of the thimble (if your thimble has this) can be used to push needle as needed to the many layers of fabric.
Most quilters make their own bias binding strips for binding their quilts. But you can buy pre-folded quilt binding. Very convenient to have it readymade, in any color you want.
Pins or Binder clips
You can use really sharp pins to keep the quilt sandwich together instead of time consuming baste stitching. But for binding you will need to use several binder clips to keep quilt binding in place.
This is what you keep between the quilt top and the backing, to give warmth and thickness to the quilt.
You can use a fully natural fiber batting (cotton, wool, silk) or a fully synthetic one (polyester batting) or a blend. A cotton-polyester blend is the most preferred on by most quilters. You can use flannel inside as an alternative to batting. Some even use cotton sheets instead of batting. To each his own (depends on what weight you want for the quilt).
You will find other notions like Fusible web (for applique), Tracing paper, Graph paper, machine quilting gloves, etc useful – All of these maybe needed in your quilting one way or the other in different ways.