Newbie Quilter Tips - Top Ten "Must Have" Tools



Are you just starting your quilting journey? Don't have any idea how to start other than buying fabric?

That's what happened when I decided I wanted to make quilts back in early 2020. I knew I needed fabric, thread, and a sewing machine but that was about it. I can just sew some seams and it'll all be good. I was very naive.


But thanks to YouTube and some great instructional videos, I did it! I made my first quilt!! I look back now and see my mistakes but I was so proud of it and hubby didn't see a single thing wrong with it (bless his heart). Then I was hooked--I couldn't stop. But I learned so much along the way from watching videos and live demonstrations (it was during the pandemic--'nuf said) that each quilt got easier and came out better each time.


I was so clueless when I started. Who knew there was such things as rotary cutters and quilting rulers?? Because of that, I'm going to start a Newbie Quilter series with hints and tips I wished I had known when I started. If it helps another new quilter, it will be worth it.


Today I want to talk about basic tools for your first quilt. They don't have to be expensive tools (but don't get the cheapest either). Having the RIGHT tools is a must for any job. You don't cook or build something without the right equipment and quilting is the same thing. If you can get these items at your local quilt/fabric shop, please shop local! Otherwise I'll give some suggestions on who I like to buy from online.


  • Cutting mat - Mine is as large as my table so size is up to you, but get at least a 18" self-healing mat. With mine, I use it as long as I can then turn it around to use the other edge (cuz I seem to cut in the same spot all the time). Then I turn it over and get two more sides to cut on so it lasts me awhile.

Self-healing cutting mat


According to the National Quilters Circle, you can refresh your mat: "To soak your mat, place it in a bathtub or container that is large enough so your mat can lie flat. Add a solution of ¼ cup white vinegar per gallon of cool water and let it soak for 15 to 20 minutes. Make sure the water is cool! Warm or hot water can warp your mat."


  • Rotary Cutter (and sharp blade!)- you'll be much more successful than if you used scissors. To start out, choose either an Olfa or Fiskars. If you decide you're going to become obsessed like I am, you'll want to think about upgrading to this awesome metal Quilter's Select cutter. I got mine from my favorite online (mom & daughter) quilt store--Fabric Patch in Ephrata WA (www.fabricpatch.net). And don't forget the replacement blades!! I change mine with every project--always, always use a sharp blade. Did I mention a sharp blade?

Olfa 45mm rotary cutter

Fiskars 45mm rotary cutter

Quilter's Select 45mm rotary cutter (www.fabricpatch.net)


  • Quilting Ruler - You definitely want at least one quilting ruler. Once you get going and are like me, you'll end up with a bunch of different sizes but start with at least a 6 1/2" x 12 1/2" ruler. My preference are the Creative Grids rulers--they have good lines and a non-slip back so they don't move around when you're cutting. "I have a ruler, I don't need one just for quilting." Oh yes you do!! Regular rulers aren't thick enough to use with the rotary cutter and you'll be cutting into your ruler all the time (ask me how I know).

Creative Grids 6 1/2" x 12 1/2" Quilting Ruler

  • Cotton Fabric and Thread You get to pick!!! But be sure it's 100% cotton fabric. Quilt/Fabric stores have good quilting fabric. Big Box stores may not have the same quality but they are less expensive. I choose to spend a bit more because I put a lot of time in making a quilt and I want it to hold up. Because I live in the middle of nowhere, I will sometimes head to a different town to touch and feel the fabrics and see what I can pick up. But if I need something they don't have, my two favorite websites are Fabric Patch (www.fabricpatch.net) and Hancock Fabric in Paducah, KY. For thread, you'll also want 100% cotton (50wt). I've had "no name" thread gifted to me but it tends to break, fray and create a lot of dust in my machine. My favorite is Aurifil 50wt thread from anywhere. As a beginner, you can get by with a light (2021-Natural White or 2600 Dove) and a dark (2605-Grey or 2692-Black). Strong, consistently made and easily available.

  • Sewing Machine (I don't want to forget that!) I started out with an inexpensive Brother that I got for about $100. But once I decided I "had" to be a quilter, I upgraded to a BabyLock. It cost some money but I am extremely happy with it and it sews like butta'. I've named her Baby and she hasn't failed me yet!! If you're starting out, find a good used one or try the Brother or Singer. Whatever machine you go with ALWAYS clean the bobbin area!! I do mine after about 8 hours of sewing time. You'd be surprised how much dust accumulates in there! And grab some extra bobbins made for your machine to have on hand. I'll do a more in-depth sewing machine post soon so you know what options you can get (& the ones I like) if you decide to take your quilting up a notch. And don't forget your needles! A standard 80/12 size works for everyday quilting. We'll talk about other needles another day but to start, the 80/12 Universal is good. My favorite brand is Schmetz--they are always sharp and straight. Again, changing the needle about every 8-10 sewing hours is a must.

Brother XM2701 Sewing Machine


Singer M1500 Sewing Machine


  • Iron and Ironing Board (or wool mat) Most everyone has an ironing board and iron and your everyday ones will work just fine to start. Adding a wool mat or wool pad will definitely help because good heat makes quilting much easier. Last year I upgraded my ironing board to a wide model that doesn't have the pointy end--never use it and a wide board lets you iron more fabric at once. I bought one of these and then trimmed it to the size of my ironing board. Then I put it under the cover and it works just great. It will smell like hot wool when you first use it but it really makes a difference

100% Wool Pressing Mat

As for the iron, find one that

* doesn't leak (read the reviews!)

* gets nice and hot (be careful!)

* has good steam (steam vs no steam is a topic for later)

This is the one I bought last year and it's great! And it doesn't leak (even better). It has over 300 steam holes and a long cord. Plus it doesn't automatically shut off for 30 minutes which is good for quilting.

Chi Steam Iron with 300 holes and 30 minute shut off

  • Straight Pins - Pins don't matter? But they do! Pinning your pieces together will add to your piecing accuracy and you will be much happier with your finished product. Granted I don't pin 2" x 2" squares, but get to a 5" piece and I do. It makes for less stretch, you ease in any (minimal) excess or pull it a bit if you cut just a shade off. Any straight pin will work to start but the finer the point, the less you will see a hole in your fabric.

  • Spray Starch or Pressing Spray - Again, it seems like you don't need to but if you're cutting small pieces, bias pieces or less expensive fabric, you will be much happier using starch or pressing spray. I buy liquid starch and mix it 50/50 with water in a spray bottle. Or you can use a product called Best Press and it works as well. You can also buy this in larger bottles and mix 70/30 with water in a spray bottle. I will starch my fabric the day before I use it so it can dry overnight and then iron it before I use it.

Best Press Spray Starch (unscented)

  • Seam Ripper - And last, but certainly not least, a good seam ripper is a necessity. It's gonna happen. But having a good, sharp, easy to hold ripper is a must. I call mine Jack (Jack the Ripper) and I use him more often than I'd like to admit. Little known fact--if you put the side with the red ball toward the larger portion of your fabric, you will be less likely to miss and poke a hole in your fabric. Who knew?!

Dritz Soft Grip Seam Ripper

It sounds like a lot, I know. But having the right tools will lessen any frustration and stress and make quilting much more fun. These will get you started without a lot of investment. But if you fall in love with quilting like I did, then you can add to your arsenal or upgrade to higher quality tools a little at a time.

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