During the 1980s I owned a cross-stitch shop in Alabama and offered different classes to members of the community. Several of them wanted to learn more about quilting. I offered a short course in the basics, as I knew them to be then.
With time, improvements and innovations have changed a lot of the basic supplies that we use today, but for the most part you can find all of the things I’ve listed here in your local fabric or quilting supply store. I concentrated on hand piecing and quilting in my classes because the wonderful machine quilting that we love today was not “in vogue.” The quilting experts touted 100% cotton. It was expensive for the time and most of my students purchased fabrics with a blend of cotton and polyester.
Taking into consideration that you can now find a lot of new innovative tools that could make your quilting experience a bit easier or more fun, I think you will find my list of quilting supplies as relevant today as they were in the 80s.
(c) 2008 Judith Richards Shubert
The larger the identifying number, the smaller or finer the needle; second, a smaller needle allows you to take small (short) stitches.
For quilting, choose a size 7, 8, 9 or 10 quilting (betweens) needle. A quilting needle is short but permits greater control than a longer needle. Some sewers also appliqué and piece their blocks with this needle.
A size 7 or 8 embroidery (crewel) needle serves as an all-purpose needle for appliqué, piecing, and embroidering. This needle is longer than a quilting needle and has a large eye for easy threading.
HINT: Use a small piece of rubber (a balloon or a finger cut from a kitchen glove) to pull out a needle that’s stuck.
Smooth, sharp, rust-free sewing pins are a must. Brass silk pins are the standard, though some other types work as well. Several companies make extra fine, extra long, very sharp steel pins. Some brands have glass heads for visibility and easy handling; however, these shouldn’t be used if you machine stitch over your pins because they don’t lie flat in the fabric. Experiment – you may find that you use several different types of pins.
HINT: Do not leave your pins or needles parked in your quilt. The fabric and batting will corrode the metal and leave dark spots on your project.
You may want to have as many as four pairs of scissors on hand.
For cutting fabric pieces, very sharp fabric shears are essential. They should cut easily and accurately through several layers of fabric.
Paper scissors are necessary for cutting patterns and designs; paper will dull good fabric shears.
Embroidery scissors are handy for thread cutting, which can form a dull spot on your fabric shears.
For small-scale cutting, such as clips in appliqué, use detail scissors with sharp points.
HINT: Never use pinking shears – they create a zigzag edge that makes it impossible to measure accurate seam allowances.
For appliqué and piecing, #50 cotton thread is recommended. For hand stitching, work with lengths that are 18-inches or shorter.
Though polyester thread has replaced cotton thread in most fabric stores, polyester thread has many drawbacks in quilt making. If it’s stronger than the fabric it’s sewn into, polyester thread may eventually cut the fabric. For this reason, cotton-covered polyester is safer.
Polyester thread also builds up static electricity in your sewing machine, causing skipped stitches and tension problems. If you’re sewing with polyester thread, clean your machine thoroughly with the machine brush or a clean toothbrush and remove all lint.
You should use quilting thread to do the actual quilting. It’s very wiry and has a special coating to make it stronger. Polyester has now invaded the quilting thread market, but most experienced quilters still look for cotton.
Quilting thread comes in a narrower range of colors than regular sewing thread. Many quilters use either black or white quilting thread to make the fine stitching show up. Others try to match the thread to either the quilt top or the backing so the thread blends rather than stands out.
HINT: Thread spools are designed to be used on sewing machines. When hand stitching, to sew with the natural twist of the thread and avoid knotting, thread your needle while the thread is still attached to the spool; then cut the thread and knot the end you’ve just cut.
Worn on the middle finger of your sewing hand, a thimble helps you push the needle through layers of fabric. Also wear it as a protection when you appliqué and piece by hand. Thimble wearing is a habit – at first it feels awkward, but once you get used to it, you’ll never be without one. Some quilters like to wear a second thimble on the hand underneath the quilt, too.
HINT: A metal thimble may conform better to your finger if it’s bent slightly to an oval shape.
Beeswax: This can be used to strengthen your thread for hand stitching and hand quilting. Run the thread through the wax twice, then between two fingers to remove excess wax. Some brands of thread, such as DMC and Lily, are prewaxed.
HINT: Keep wax in a separate container or compartment in your sewing box. Wax melts in hot weather.
For marking, use a sharp #2 pencil; softer pencils smudge and harder pencils may not mark on fabric. Washing, but not dry cleaning, will remove most pencil marks.
Many quilters use fine-point indelible markers for drawing cutting lines. These markers have the advantage of gliding smoothly over the fabric. But the ink may bleed when the fabric is steam pressed or washed, depending on the fiber content, weave, and finish of the fabric. Before using indelible marking pens, try them on a scrap of your fabric; then press and wash the scrap to see if the marks bleed.
Water-soluble pens save time in marking quilting designs. Read the package directions carefully and proceed cautiously. Some marks are permanent, though they are supposed to be water-soluble; others reappear after they are presumed removed. Colored pencils can be used where a regular pencil doesn’t show up. An artist’s white charcoal pencil also works well.
Be sure to test all markers on each fabric you’re using.
You’ll want to have several types and lengths of rulers on hand. You’ll need both a 12 to 18-inch ruler and a yardstick for measuring and marking. A clear plastic ruler is especially helpful in designing and pattern drawing, since you can see through it to add seam allowances.
If you’re cutting templates with a craft knife, be sure to use a metal ruler as a straightedge; plastic rulers nick easily. Metal rulers are also more accurate than plastic ones.
Either a right-angled plastic triangle or an L-square can be used to mark squares and right angles.
Pressing with a steam iron is very important in quilt construction. Make sure that the sole plate is clean so you won’t soil the fabric. For best pressing results, test the iron’s temperature on scraps of fabric. An iron that’s too hot can melt and permanently warp synthetics.
For speedy piecing, keep the ironing board near your sewing area. Press with a terry cloth towel under your work for the best results.
HINT: Always store your steam iron in an upright position. Storing it flat allows any remaining water to drain out, corroding the bottom of the iron.
Frame or Hoop:
For many people quilting with a frame produces a smoother quilt. No mysterious bubbles appear and an even tension is maintained. Full-size quilting frames are handy for large projects and quilting bees.
Small frames are also available; one of the handiest and least expensive is a 14-inch embroidery hoop. Try different sizes to find the frame that best suits your quilting needs. Your choice may vary from project to project.
Graph paper is especially helpful for designing and drafting piecing patterns. Use large sheets with dark lines at 1-inch intervals.
Use tracing paper for copying a design. Cardboard and tag board, available at art supply stores, make good templates. Both wear down at the edges, though.
A sturdy, clear plastic, acetate is available in sheets at art supply stores and some quilting stores. It maintains an accurate edge, and you can see through it, which aids placement on fabric. To keep an acetate template from sliding on fabric, attach pieces of masking tape on the wrong side.
Whichever methods you choose for your quilting projects – machine or hand stitched – enjoy the journey. It will take researching patterns, planning and coming to a decision about the final look you want. Gather your supplies and just begin. It will be a journey you will remember for the rest of your life and you may very well discover a new love for quilts.