People ask me what my favorite “quilting” gadget is frequently. I know they are hoping I will name some tool they saw advertised in a quilt magazine or website. My answer is generally met with disappointment, after all it is a very common household item.
And my favorite “quilting” gadget is……….(drum roll please)……….my stove timer (when home) or the alarm on my phone (when traveling) !!!!!! Before you roll your eyes and give a disgusted snort…
Let me explain my reasoning:
I work full time, and I spend hours many weeks traveling. I carry along parts and pieces of quilts that I can work on while in an airport or hotel. In order to prepare for this, I need to have items sorted, cut, and organized. This includes thread, needles, and small scissors. Setting the timer/alarm allows me uninterrupted time to concentrate and prep the supplies I need.
2. Setting the timer allows me to concentrate solely on the task at hand. It is amazing how much sorting, cutting, or even sewing on the machine I can get done in 10 or 15 minutes.
3. If I am lucky enough to be home working, instead of traveling, before I start working for the day I sort, iron, cut, or sew for 15 minutes to start my day already feeling like I have accomplished something. It gives me a good mind set for the rest of the day.
4. Setting the timer for a short amount of time allows me to hand quilt without distractions too.
5. I try to utilize all those little spans of time between other things on my schedule to do something quilt related, but I get so engrossed in what I am doing that I forget to leave on time, or make a scheduled phone call, or get to an appointment, etc. However, if I let the timer pay attention then I can relax and just enjoy the process of quilting.
I would encourage you to try it
Stack the pieces you want to sew together in order by the sewing machine. Remember the machine needs to be in good repair and threaded correctly at all times so you don’t waste time on that when the timer is counting down. Set your timer for 15 minutes and sew.
When the timer goes off, get up (this also breaks the concentration you had) turn off the timer, and go to work or the next thing on your “to do” list for that day. It might take a little practice, but if you get in the habit of setting a timer for those little bits of time within your day, you can get so much more accomplished on your quilting.
Have you ever had an idea for a quilt that was so totally different than what you see normally in the quilt world? The idea just rattles around in your head and you can’t get away from it? But you think it is embarrassing to even consider something so different from “normal” quilts. Stop thinking that. Quilting should be fun, and making quilts from the ideas in your head can be so satisfying.
I am going to share three very different quilts from my quilt scrapbooks because I want you to make the quilts that make you happy. We are all unique creations, and it should not be surprising that we have ideas for unique quilts.
Before we start, put away the angering, sad, and depressing thoughts about the current events in our country. We are taking a break and just going to have fun for a few minutes.
Making quilts from the ideas in your head – Queen’s Crown #1 Mini Quilt
See here about this fun, hand quilted mini quilt that is embellished with beads.
Making quilts from the ideas in your head – Welsh Beauty Whole Cloth Quilt
When I mentioned making this whole cloth quilt to a few ladies in the local quilt guild, they gave me either blank looks or were verbally negative. The kindest comment asked me why I would “want to quilt silk fabric, and use itchy wool batting? And something about extremely sore fingers. I continued on with my plan for this beautiful quilt.
Welsh Beauty is posted on my old blog here, see for details.
Making quilts from the ideas in your head – Maxine Strikes Again (reversible quilt)
My mom-in-law really, really likes Maxine (you know, the really sarcastic old woman comic strip). When I found both the Christmas and regular fabric versions, I had the wild idea to make a reversible quilt.
This is probably pretty tame compared to my “normal” outside the box quilt ideas, but it was fun. Coordinating fabrics from my stash. A little math to make them the right size.
The Christmas side I made 2″ bigger all the way around than the regular print side. This was so I could do self-binding.
advice to you
Go ahead and make quilts from the ideas in your head. If you have an idea for a quilt, follow your heart and mind, and just make it. So what if the quilt is not how you imagined it. If it truly is not what you want when it is done, gift it to someone else in your family or community.
But it may turn out better than you ever thought. Just think what a satisfying finished quilt you would have missed if you had not made it. Follow your ideas.
Enjoy your quilting journey.
PLEASE NOTE: ALL PHOTOS AND WRITTEN CONTENT ARE MY OWN UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED.
Are you new to quilting? What are must haves for a basic quilter’s tool box to get started piecing? If you have been reading my blog for anytime at all, you know I am all about keeping my life fairly simple. Several readers ask recently what I absolutely have to have in my basic quilter’s tool box to piece a quilt top.
There are so many gadgets in stores, quilting websites, and advertisements that claim to be “must haves” for the beginner quilter. It makes it hard to decide, and it is easy to get distracted. For those on a tight budget there is no money to waste on something not really needed.
Forty years ago, I started quilting with my sewing box from Home Ec class. All these years later, I am using many of the same tools because they still do the job. However, as I have gotten older and have a bit more money to sink into better tools, I have… if it is something I will actually use.
I am more about my tools being functional than pretty or the “newest and greatest”. There is nothing wrong with those things, but there is also nothing wrong with using simple things to get a project done. It is not a contest, decide what works for you.
As stated numerous times in various posts – get the best supplies you can afford now. You will be happier than just buying whatever is cheapest to save a few dollars. If you continue to quilt then upgrade as time, interest, and budget allow for better tools and gadgets.
Forget the fabric and thread for right now – this list is the “prequel” to that.
A super basic list for (in my mind at least) the basic quilter’s tool box:
This can be a separate table, an old desk, or any other flat surface. You just need a flat space that will hold your machine safely and allow you enough room to use it.
In my life time of sewing, I have used the end area of a long table, an old sewing cabinet, a small kitchen table, and a plastic picnic table. Now an sturdy old wooden desk with drawers is home to my sewing machine and tools. Post on old blog about my desk (and other useful stuff) is here .
Something to use as an ironing board, and an iron.
I own an ironing board, but the reality is I rarely use it. Why? Because I like more room when ironing. See here . If you prefer to have an ironing board, then get one. They are readily available and not expensive.
However, in the past I have used a table top covered with several layers of towels. I have also (when much younger) spread an old wool blanket on the floor. Think outside the box here, if you do not have space or a budget for an ironing board, what can you use that is already on hand?
For me personally, I don’t spend a lot of money on irons. I am hard on them plus they get dropped routinely (no one ever said I was graceful). I do use a spray bottle for water instead of filling the iron. This one has lasted longer than the normal (for me) six to twelve months. What you need is what will be comfortable and usable for you.
A reliable sewing machine that is easy to use and maintain.
Find one that fits your budget with features you will use. Some people get a machine with all the bells and whistles, others go with what can be purchased at Wal-Mart or JoAnn’s.
I openly admit I own and use a Pfaff sewing machine. I use my sewing machine constantly. The machine needs to be a work horse. It needs to be easy to clean and maintain. Another requirement is simple to use. Before you say, those machines are way out of my budget, look at the less fancy ones. Mine has useful stitches, but mostly it is just a hard working machine. No computer to crash, it is functional without lots of extras I will not use.
I just looked at the shop in Indianapolis where I bought this one in 2011 and the new price for the current model of this one is $649 + tax. Ok, not cheap but not unreasonable either.
Rotary cutting mat in a size that works for the area you must use it in.
These mats come in all sizes from a few inches to large enough to cover a table top. The original mat I bought was 12″ x 18″. When I had more space and money to upgrade, I got one 24″ x 36″. I still have the smaller mat and it is great for those times I am traveling and take fabric with me to cut. Get a mat that fits for your needs.
A rotary cutter and ruler that is a “general” all purpose.
Rotary cutters come in different sizes and with various types of handles. If you spend hours cutting what you want is one that fits your hand and is comfortable. I prefer the straight one above and a 45 mm blade. Be safe with your tool, they are sharp and a nasty cut (with possible stitches) will slow down your quilting project.
Rotary rulers come in different sizes and shapes for different projects. I encourage you to get a general size and shape for the first one. My favorite is still the 18″ x 3″ pictured above. When you shop, think in terms of one that will work for strips and squares, is easy to handle, has a safe area for your fingers to hold the ruler down, and is comfortable.
The yellow handled one is my original and it still sees a lot of use. The gray one is a commemorative model for 25 years of Olfa cutters. The handle is a bit thicker and feels different. I use both, but am looking at the ergonomic ones that are available now. My wrists and elbows are not as young as they once were.
Fabric scissors that you like and will use.
Even with the rotary cutter, you will need at least one pair of scissors. They will be used for cutting threads, small amounts of fabric (like for applique), and just general fabric cutting. Mark them as only for fabric, or store with your sewing supplies. Cutting paper, wire, and cardboard will make them too dull to cut fabric or thread easily.
Sewing scissors come in various sizes with different kinds of handles. Again, try them out if possible and get the pair that feels good in your hands. Make sure you get right handed or left handed scissors depending on your need.
Quilting pins and a container to safely hold them.
Quilting pins are a must for pinning blocks together at intersections. They are helpful for bindings, and pinning rows or blocks together. They are just a great tool with numerous uses. Sometimes I think mine act like extra fingers.
Along with a pin cushion or some form of container to hold the pins is necessary. Unless you find the game of “pick up pins” to be fun. I store my pins in a regular canning jar. When I am using them they get put in a magnetic cup that I bought for $2 at the Dollar Store in the automotive section.
This basic quilting tool comes in various sizes and shapes. Find something that fits your hand. When sewing it is easy to make mistakes or not sew a straight seam. A seam ripper is tons easier to use to fix this then a pair of scissors.
A BASIC QUILTER’S TOOL BOX Needs a container to keep all the small items in.
This can be a clear plastic box with a lid, a cardboard shoe box, a fancy sewing box, or something else. The important thing is to have a container to keep all the small tools in.
I use my ugly orange Tupperware sewing box that originally held all my sewing tools for Home Ec class in school. It still does the job, and with a tight fitting lid can travel or be moved around without loosing items.
A good reference book or website that will walk you through the steps to making your first quilt top.
I still have these books for reference and ideas. Do some research and talk to other quilters to see what they use for instructions. There are some really good books. If you prefer videos, see what you can find on YouTube.
The important thing is to find an instructor or instructions that help you. I remember seeing an Eleanor Burns video and being so excited because she was fun and made the quilts look easy.
Finally for your basic Quilter’s Tool Box…
There is a learning curve to using the tools and getting comfortable with them. The most important thing is for you to like the tools and practice with them. This is especially true with the machine and the rotary cutter.
But it is something you can learn. Quilting is not rocket science. It is very do-able. Just remember to have fun with it. Find another quilter who can mentor you when you get stuck. The most important tool is you being willing to learn, and enjoying the process.
PLEASE NOTE: ALL PHOTOS AND WRITTEN CONTENT ARE MY OWN UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED.
Spending the day cutting quilt pieces ?? Is the scrap bin or space on your shelves too crowded for more fabric? Are you really wanting to get started on a new quilt but just not getting to the cutting part? The solution maybe to block off some time to spend part or all of the day cutting quilt pieces.
This week, I was able to sort out scraps and iron for one entire afternoon. I turned my phone off, listened to music I like, and just enjoyed the process of pulling various scraps out of the bins, ironing them, and laying them flat on an extra plastic table.
The next day, I got up early to get my work done. Then I was able to make a block of several hours to cut up those ironed scraps. Again I turned off the phone, put in music I like, and enjoyed the process of cutting.
a word about messy sewing rooms
I have been working from home for several weeks thanks to the COVID-19. It’s a really nice change to not be traveling each day. The downside is that I have more and more quilting ideas – which leads to an even messier quilting area.
Did I say messy – what an understatement!! I am one of those creative types who does not clean up the mess until I am done with said project. I feel like there has been just one continuous project the last several weeks. What that means is that in several weeks, the mess has grown because I continue to go happily from one project to the next.
I didn’t realize how bad it was until another quilter was here over the weekend. Her first question was, “what happened in here??” I really looked at the mess then. I am going to simply say there is no excuse (I can certainly relate to this kids book).
Just remember that I have quilted for 40 years…I did not gain all this overnight. Nor did I buy all of it. Some was traded for other items (quilting and non-quilting items). My hubby, kids, and mom-in-law buy me yards of fabric for b-days and holidays.
A MARATHON OF SPENDING THE DAY CUTTING QUILT PIECES
Do you ever have days you just feel like cutting fabric?? I tend to do marathon ironing and cutting back to back. I work with some standard sizes of strips and blocks so I can cut up a pile of fabric fairly quick with a little preparation.
Sort out the fabric you want to work with – whether scraps or yardage.
Iron and then lay out on a nice flat surface that will not be disturbed.
I personally cut fabric from the largest to the smallest blocks/strips I want from that fabric. In my case, I keep a bin of 2.5″ strips, 3″ blocks, and 5″ blocks on hand all the time. I will cut up the piece until there is nothing left but a scrap that does not fit with what I normally use.
I saw a quilt on Pintrest made of rectangles, so while I am cutting scraps I got out another bin and started putting 4″ x 7″ rectangles in that.
A word of warning: Rotary blades are sharp and will make a serious cut in your finger or hand. Always, always pay attention to where your fingers are before using the cutter. Keep blade covered when not actually using it.
A cutting area for yourself needs to work for you. Below is my cutting table. It is a sturdy 6 foot long plastic table on risers so the table is at a comfortable height. Under the table is the “crumb” bin, then a bin of colored yarn (for tying quilts) with a bag of big plastic clamps (for holding down quilts to table as I tie them). The stacked bins on the right are toys for the grand-daughter when she is here.
Here is another photo of the area. This is what works for me. When making a work area for yourself, arrange so it works for you.
That left-over piece goes into the “nesting” bag (that will later be sewn shut and given to the humane shelter) or the “crumb” box (for making string/crumb quilts). Think about the size of scrap you will realistically use for the “crumb” box. The rest goes in the “nesting” bag.
As you completely cut each size of strip or block, put it in the correct bin. Here they will stay nice and flat to be used when you are ready.
Set up a comfortable area for yourself to do quilt related activities in. A table the right height. A chair that is comfortable for you. Shelves or some sort of storage area for fabric and books. A way to organize your actual tools that works for your area and budget.Get busy on doing your own spending the day cutting quilt pieces.
I love to see how others organize their sewing areas, however, I am more about function than beauty. I have a budget for quilting and will cut corners by buying the furniture (shelves, desk, chair, plastic bins and jars, etc) at a used store or a dollar store. That leaves more money for fabric, batting, and the annual trip to Paducah quilt show.
MY HINTERBERG QUILT FRAME: People ask me frequently about my quilt frame. I love this frame and am very proud of it. I purchased this frame in the spring of 1990. It is rock maple. The website for Hinterberg is: https://www.hinterberg.com/default.aspx
The bars are 92-93″ long and it can be dismantled to transport or to move around at home. It also has a tilt feature but I like to use it flat. I love having my hands free. It is also nice not to have the quilt on my lap (like with a hoop). I have had 6 people quilting on it at one time.
I admit this frame looks used, but it works just as well now as it did when it was new. And the frame is used. Before I take out a quilt, the quilt to go into it for quilting is ready and waiting. The frame is never sitting empty.
This frame is so easy to adjust, tighten, or even tilt.
The frame I used before this was simply 4 (1″ x 4″) boards with c-clamps that was held up at the corners on chairs. The quilt was tacked into the frame. It was big and bulky but did the job of holding the quilt tight.
My husband took time to put a double layer of duck cloth on this frame (when new) with tacks. I pin the quilt to the fabric.
So here is my Hinterberg quilt frame with a quilt in it. The quilt is tight and without wrinkles or puckers. A joy to quilt this way.
My kids were teenagers before it really hit them that a quilt frame is probably not standard living room furniture. They all can hand quilt and have quilted at this frame.
In my opinion, one of the nicest things about a quilt frame is the room to have a quilting bee. I try to do one once a year with other quilters just for the fellowship and joy of being with other quilters.
While I definitely prefer to have an actual quilt frame, it is not for everyone. Some people prefer a different type of frame, or a hoop. Some prefer just to wad it up in their hands and quilt. Find what works for you, and just enjoy the process of hand quilting.
Some other quilts I have hand quilted on this frame: