Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Come Quilt With Me! The Essentials...

 You may or may not know about the Quilting Bee that I am running starting this September... If you don't know then check out my previous post if you do, then carry on reading!

I will be putting together a series of blog posts throughout August that will detail the steps required in quilting.  I am making myself a bedspread for Autumn and thought that it would be perfect to use this to demonstrate all those steps, from the essential items you need to make a quilts, through to choosing fabrics, cutting, sewing and finishing.

So here we go with the first step...The Basics.  Yes, tea & coffee goes without saying.  Oh and music!  All my quilts have their own soundtrack!

I guess most of you are thinking - I won't be able to do it, I need too much stuff, I can't sew that well - sorry to disappoint you but these are NOT excuses NOT to quilt.  I thought all of this and I was proved happily WRONG!

There are a few items that you *might* need to go out an buy but they don't have to cost you the earth.  Shop around (visit The Works if you're in the UK, they always seem to have a suprising amount of useful stuff like this!) and you will bag a bargain, I bet you.

Ok so here are what I would say are The Essentials.

Fabric (may as well start with something you will all WANT to buy huh?!)
Fabric Shears/Scissors
Unpicker (sadly it gets a lot of use!)
Sewing machine (yes, maybe obvious but you CAN also sew by hand if you want to)
Iron (I'm so sorry but yes you will HAVE to use the iron!)

Yep, you CAN quilt using these.  It may be trickier and a little less precise but you CAN.  So I would suggest you practice using these.  Chances are you won't need to buy a thing.  I'm right, aren't I?

So what are The Essentials Upgraded?  This would be my list of Essentials that also make life EASIER.  Winner.

Here you can see *most* of what I use when I quilt.  There are a few more bits in the photo below, but lets deal with these first...

Notebook & Pen - I invariably forget where I am, what I have already done or some measurements.  Write things down, it saves on swearing later..

Rotary Cutters - these little chaps are LIFESAVERS.  They provide quick and accurate cutting.  Enough said.  You can pick these up from pretty much anywhere.  Amazon and eBay are always great, but obviously try any online haberdashery that you would usually use or a bricks & mortar store too.  They come in various sizes, 45mm, 28mm, 18mm etc but for general quilting where your fabric requirements aren't teeny tine, a 45mm is perfect (the turquoise one in the photo is an Olfa.  You can get these from in a cool kit with a ruler and cutting mat for around £39 which is a bargain).  The smaller one shown here is an 18mm that I use for smaller work (my Farmers Wife Quilt for example) but I don't use it a great deal.  Prices range from about £7 up.

Fabric Scissors - still an essential even if you rotary cut.  invest in a good pair & they will last for years (my mum has had hers for about 25 years!).  Mine are by Fiskars & cost around £25.

Embroidery Scissors or Snips - cutting threads is easier with small pointy scissors!

Fabric Pen - sometimes you need to draw directly onto fabric for guidelines, so either a chalk pen or air-erasable fabric pen is perfect.  I prefer chalk but find your own favourite.  If you are only drawing on the reverse of fabric you can just use a plain old pencil!

Unpicker - sadly this humble fellow will get almost as much use as your machine in the early days.  Don't be disheartened!  I regularly use mine because I've not checked my fabric before sewing or I've gone off track a little.  Being accurate when quilting is needed if you want to achieve clean lines and sharp points.

Masking/Washi Tape - you'll be suprised how often you reach for a roll!  I'll explain all as & when its needed.

Rulers - oh boy.  If you thought there were a lot of rotary cutters to choose from then rulers are just as bad!  There are LOADS.  These are the 3 that I use every time I quilt.  I could just get away with the largest one along the bottom but I find the others make life a little easier at times.   So these ones are a 24.5" x 6.5' (largest) a 6.5" square ruler (both by Creative Grids) and a 12" ruler by Sew Easy.  Try Amazon for these.  I got mine from a local haberdashery.

Right, here are some more things that you will need in the later stages of the quilting process...

Fabric  - yes, lots of it (especially Sarah, you NEED LOTS ok!).  Try to sticking to 100% quilting cottons.  If you do change over to another fabric then check it works ok with the fabrics you're using.  Linens and lawns can be used easily with cottons but they do have different weights and properties.  I don't worry too much, I'm a "wing it and see" kind of person but if you're not then stick with quilting cottons!  If you scour the net, some people will advise you to wash fabrics before you use them.  I don't, usually because I buy fabric by Fat Quarters (I will explain all the sizings in a separate post) and washing these smaller pieces isn't really worth it. Plus I like the look of a quilt after it's washed as it goes all crinkly.  When you're starting, just use any fabrics you have to hand to practice.  Old or cheap bed linens are great but they can be poly cotton blends which aren't quite as nice to work with.  Just be aware of that!

Wadding - god there's a whole world of wadding out there too - cotton, wool, bamboo, polyester....  I use cotton primarily but I do occasionally use polyester.  That's because the poly tends to be more springy & washes well.  I use it a lot more for baby quilts but in the future I will stick to cotton.  There are lots of brands - Warm & Soft, Hobbs, Sew Simple - and try out a few to find what you like.  You can buy them in precut sizes for cots, single, double & king beds.  I buy the largest & cut to size.  I would buy polyester for a start in a small size as its cheaper - if you don't enjoy your quilting journey (which you will enjoy I promise!) then you haven't got loads off extra stuff hanging around.

Curved Pins - when you assemble your quilt, you will pin 3 layers together - top, wadding & backing - and curved pins allow you to pin quickly & accurately.  A tub costs around £3.

Paper Clips/Wonder Clips - when you come to attach your binding you can use pins, paper clips or Wonder Clips (by Clover).  I use pins & Wonder Clips but paper clips work just as well!

Pins - prefreably glass head pins as they don't melt under the iron!

Masking Tape - when you baste your quilt (sandwich all 3 layers together) you will have to layout the back fabric and wadding on the floor & stick it down before putting on the quilt top.  This is to make sure that there aren't any wrinkles in the quilt.  low tack is best so as not to leave marks on the floor!

LtoR: Aurifil in 3 of my favourite shades (2310, 2115 & 2830.  I also use 2600 a lot which is a beautiful light grey which you can use with any colour fabric - this is my "go to"), Gutermann 100% cotton in 1000m spool, Gutermann 100% polyester and Gutermann 100% viscose.

Thread - as a general rule, use the same thread as your fabric.  If you're using quilting cotton fabric, using cotton thread.  My favourite is Aurifil as it's fine and comes is beautiful colours.  Guterman also do fab, large spools.  Try to buy large spools if you can (800m+) to make usre you don't run out part way through!

Cutting Mat - If you use a rotary cutter you will NEED a cutting mat.  They come in loads of different sizes.  I use an A2 and A3 size, but you can easily use just an A3. The come labelled up with measurements to make life easier too.

Needles - keep hand sewing needles on hand for binding or hiding any loose threads.

I tend to keep ALL my scissors and rotary cutters in a jug on my table so they are easy to grab when I need them! There's also an archival pen (that I use to label quilts) in there along with a soft pencil for making marks.

Right, all you need is a table near to a power point to plug in your machine and iron.  You will also need your ironing board set up nearby.  If you don't have it near you, you won't iron.  This leads to disasters.  When quilting, IF IN DOUBT PRESS IT OUT.  Press press press....!!!

I work in our dining room & keep all my quilting bits on an Ikea Rakog trolley so that I can move it around easily.  The trolley stores by rulers, mats, cutters etc as well as fabric for current projects.  That way, nothing gets confused.  It really is best to keep things easily to hand.  If you want, keep it all in a clear plastic box that you can pack away easily after you're finished.  Then everything is together and your space is tidy when it needs to be.  My space isn't tidy or pretty, but it works for me!

I also store all of my fabric by colour.  That way, it is easier to grab something quickly if I need a little extra fabric or perhaps I want to change something out.  I also keep all my little sewing notions - buttons, pins, safety pins etc - in a small storage unit (top right of the Raskog above).  Everything is in small plastic boxes, so I can take out what I need but keep it all locked up away from little hands (who love paper clips!).  

In the centre of the top shelf is a small yellow/orange bag that I use to hold all of my basting stuff - masking tape, curved pins, pins, pen etc - so I can just grab that & know I have everything that I need...  

 When I make my quilts, I like to label them.  Depending on what I'm making and who it is for, I either use a stamp that I had made at the English Stamp Company or write on vintage embroidered handkerchiefs that I sew to the back of the quilt along with my own label.

So to sum up here is what you NEED:
Sewing machine
Fabric scissors
Washi/masking tape

And here is what might make life easier:
Cutting mat
Rotary cutter
Various Rulers
Wonder clips
Embroidery scissors
Archival pen
Chalk pen/air-erasable pen
An organisational system!

There are other tools that I use as well, but I will address these as & when I get to them.  There really is NO END to the tools you can buy for quilting.  I have triangular & diamond rulers as well of lots of other things I don't use often, but I do actually use them.  The key is, only buy as you REALLY need and then it won't spiral out of control (ahem...)

I hope this has been useful.  The next topic will cover choosing and cutting fabrics!  Yay!

Tracy xx

*all recommendations in this post are based on my own opinion.  None are sponsored! 


  1. Well, the only things I need are curved pins, wadding & clips.....I'm most disappointed and going to buy tons more fabric just because :-p Sarah xx

  2. Holy Cow, Batman!!

    Haha! Taking stock, counting my pennies and making a list...

    hello gorgeous xxx