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:
Flat surface to put the sewing machine on for use
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.
ALL PHOTOS AND WRITTEN CONTENT ARE MY OWN UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED.