Top Tips For Beginning Quilters


You are new to quilting, and searching for the basic tools and knowledge you need to do it right? Here are the top tips for beginning quilters. Share it!

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Top Tips For Beginning Quilters

It's so easy to become addicted to quilting! I'm guessing that you're reading this because you are one of those who have discovered the fact! Quilting is a very relaxing and enjoyable art, and using the correct tools and having the knowledge to use those tools the right way makes quilting even more gratifying. Having the "know-how" in the quilting world will bring your confidence of creating and assembling quilts to a higher level. You'll want to explore new techniques, play more with color and be able to look at new quilt patterns with the assurance of "I can do that!".

Top Tips For Beginning Quilters


Quilting Supplies

There are tons of quilting notions available for you to use to make your quilting easier and run smoother than what was available to us quilters even ten years ago. In truth, you only need a select group of quilting supplies to be able to create a beautiful quilt.



1. Cutting mat

You'll be the happiest if you can purchase a 24" x 36" self-healing cutting mat for home use. Especially if you have a dedicated space to sew and/or store the mat. For travel and class purposes, you will want an 18" x 24" cutting mat. You can find cutting mats in many sizes and colors-small ones for creating mini quilts, rotating mats, and mats that can be connected to others. As your quilting talent grows, so might your cutting mat collection!

2. Rulers

There are so many different rulers available to quilters! Almost every geometric shape that can be imagined! Here are a couple of suggestions that I feel all quilters will need to have close at hand: a 6½" x 24" ruler; a 6½" square ruler; and a 12½" square ruler. A 4½" ruler and a 4½" x 14" ruler down the road will be a nice addition. Then you can add triangles and specialty rulers as you go.


3. Rotary Cutter

The cutting mat, ruler, and rotary cutter are the three staples that are a necessity. A 45mm rotary cutter is the easiest to use, and most user-friendly. Some folks love the 60mm too. If you do a lot of mini quilts then you will find the 18mm and the small rulers a real plus. You can find rotary cutters in colorful prints and even with great ergonomic designs. Also, change the blade in your rotary cutter as soon as you find the cutter not slicing thoroughly. Don't try to hold out!



4. Thread

Here again, you will find a wild array of different thread types, brands, colors, and prices. With a deep breath I will say that a basic cotton thread works just fine for piecing your blocks. The thread does not have to be the most expensive or from a famous designer. Most quilters use a medium gray color of thread or a khaki color to piece with. I like to use Star® brand thread, Aurifil® brand thread, and Connecting Threads™ line of thread. I could go on and on about threads! I just might do that at a later date!

Now add these items to your quilting tote: 1⅞" long straight pins; blue - water erasable marker; seam ripper; fabric only scissors; paper scissors; pin cushion; spare size 11 or 12 machine needles; and any of your other favorite sewing notions.


Cutting fabric

The first rule of making a quilt is to use 100% cotton fabric. This means quilt-store quality cotton fabric! If you are using the large 24"x 36" cutting mat, you have the ability to lay your fabric out on the mat with the fold toward you and selvages away from you. This is the easiest way to cut your fabric.

If you are using the smaller 18" x 24" cutting mat then you will need to fold your fabric in half once more so that the fold meets the selvage edges. This is not the most ideal, but necessary when using this size mat.

Here is the biggest key to cutting fabric that I drill into my students heads: if you are right handed using the rotary cutter then have the bulk of your fabric coming onto the cutting mat from your right. (See below)



If you are left handed using the rotary cutter, then have the bulk of your fabric coming onto the cutting mat from your left.

ALWAYS use your ruler to measure the width of the strip of fabric that needs to be cut. Do not depend on the cutting mat for your measurements! That said, there are times when the strips or size of fabric that needs to be cut is a lot wider than the ruler and you are relegated to using the mat to measure with.

The rotary cutter should be in your dominant hand and the ruler in your other hand! Following the above rules will make cutting your fabric so much easier!

The ¼" Seam

Find that ¼" seam on your sewing machine! Every sewing machine will be different so always test for an accurate measurement. Always stitch with a ¼" seam allowance unless the pattern designer states differently. The little touch of sewing with an accurate and straight ¼" seam allowance will make or break the final measurement of your pieced blocks.

Quarter Inch Seam


Pressing and Setting a Seam

You will find that you will be pressing a 12½" pieced block several times during the process of making it. Just make sure that you are "pressing" the block and not "ironing" the block. The difference is that when pressing a piece of fabric you are lifting the iron up and down onto the pieced block versus the act of moving the iron back and forth onto the block which can stretch the fabric.

Setting a Seam

This makes your pieced block look much sharper and actually makes assembling the pieces of the block easier. Setting a seam with your iron means just what it sounds like-it sets the stitches in the seam. It helps your block lay flat at each step of the assembly. To set a seam: keep the pieced section that has just been removed from your sewing machine as is and lay onto the ironing board, press the seam in place. You will now find that you can press the seam to one side much easier.



Matching Seams

The process of matching seams can be called many names by different quilt pattern authors. I call it "snuggling seams" in my patterns. I rarely press my quilt seams open unless I'm bringing multiple star sections together in the middle of a block. Opening seams eliminates bulk. By pressing my seams to one side or the other, it gives me the satisfaction that my quilt block seams will be sturdier and secure. There is less stress to this type of seam.

A pattern designer will often tell you which way a seam needs to be pressed so that when stitching two block pieces together the seams are off-set from each other and "snuggle", creating less bulk.





This technique is a time saver! I love it and use it constantly! When sewing together multiples of the same type of piecing in a quilt (half-square triangles for example) you can go ahead and feed one set after another under your presser foot without stopping between each piece to cut the thread.




Templates are different from rulers. Templates are usually used when creating an unusual block shape, or for use when doing any type of applique. Quite often you will find different shapes that are needed for template usage printed in the back of quilt books and patterns. You can use template plastic that can be purchased at quilt shops, or freezer paper also available at quilt shops.

Always make sure to read the directions in the quilt book or pattern to find out if the shape to be used as a template has been printed in backwards form or if it needs to be reversed by you. Also, check to see if the printed template to create a block has the seam allowance already added, or needs to be done by you.

Template usage was the norm for most quilters prior to the late 1970's when strip quilting was introduced. Template shapes were often traced onto newspaper, brown bags, or cardstock.



Sewing Feet

There are a few sewing machine feet that you will find that makes quilting go much smoother, and will bring you much more satisfaction in the final result.

The ¼" Foot is now available for almost all sewing machines. If you own a sewing machine that did not come with this invaluable foot, you can often find a foot compatible to your sewing machine on the internet. This little foot makes creating the perfect ¼" seam allowance! (Not shown below)

A Walking Foot is a must have! It looks strange and a little intimidating, but is advantageous if you want to sew through extra bulk (as in creating a quilted tote) or top-stitching through the layers of your sandwiched quilt. I love using this special foot and often forget to take it off when it's not needed! This foot feeds your fabric totally even between the feed-dogs and the walking foot itself. You'll eliminate scrunched fabric, skipped stitches, and not being able to stitch through bulk!

The Darning Foot will be necessary to do free-motion quilting on your already sandwiched quilt. The foot has an open circular-type area for your sewing machine needle to speedily stitch through. The foot has a spring on its shaft so that the foot can "bounce" up and down on top of your quilt as you guide it along. With the sewing machine's feed dogs lowered, your quilt can slide easily beneath the darning foot and you can stitch all kinds of fun designs on your own. The possibilities are endless!


Knowledge is power!


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Attaching individual pieces of fabric to a background to form a design.

Same As: Appliqué

See Also: Freezer Paper Applique, Needleturn Applique, Machine Applique, Reverse Applique, Shadow Applique
The basic unit of a quilt top, usually square but can be rectangular or other shapes. Blocks can be pieced, appliqued or plain.
A quilt that is so badly damaged or worn that it's only purpose now is to be cut up for other craft projects.
Cutting Mat
Surface used for cutting with a rotary cutter. The mat protects your tabletop and can serve as a measuring tool when you use the gridlines on the mat to line up your fabric. Many mats are self-healing which means that the blade of the rotary cutter will not create permanent grooves in the mat.
Feed Dogs
The mechanical teeth under the area of a sewing machine which move to pull the fabric through the machine. For free motion quilting or embroidery or needle darning these feed dogs are lowered or covered.
Accessories that are available for sewing machines and are especially made for quilting.
Moving a hot iron while it has contact with fabric. Often ironing can stretch and distort fabrics and seams. A better alternative is to press, where you just lay the hot iron down and lift straight up from the fabric.

See Also: Pressing
Small sewing supplies such as pins, scissors, rulers, seam ripper, and so on.
The process of assembling quilt blocks from pieces of fabric sewn along their edges to form a whole.

See Also: English Paper Piecing, Assembly Piecing, Machine Piecing, Chain Piecing, Paper Piecing, Hand Piecing
Method of using an iron to press seams and blocks. This means simply pressing downwards on the seam with the iron from above and not moving the iron back and forth which can distort the block or seam.
Presser Foot
The removable sewing machine accessory surrounding the needle that holds the fabric in place.
Picking a hot iron up off your fabric or quilt top and then putting it down in another place to remove the wrinkles. When you press your fabric, you do not slide the hot iron.

See Also: Ironing
Rotary Cutter
A very sharp tool that looks like a pizza wheel which is capable of cutting through multiple layers of fabric.
A heavy plastic measuring guide that can come in a variety of shapes and sizes.
Seam Allowance
The width of fabric left to the right of a sewn seam. In quilting this is traditionally 1/4 inch. For sewing garments it is usually 5/8 inch.
The outer edge of both sides of a woven fabric where the weft turns to go back across and through the warp. This is a stiffer and denser woven area of about 1/3-1/2 inch and is usually trimmed off and not sewn into a quilt.

Same As: Selvedge
A large central star, made up of diamond shaped fabric or a square with right triangles, to form the star points from the center out.
A construction technique in which long, narrow pieces of cloth are joined lengthwise, sometimes with long rows of quilt blocks, to form a quilt top. The term "strip" can be used to describe the long pieces of fabric between blocks (see Sashing) or to describe the small, narrow remnants used in string patchwork.

See Also: Sashing
Pattern pieces made out of paper, cardboard, plastic or metal, giving you something to draw around so that you can accurately replicate any shape.
Walking Foot
A special foot which can be attached to a sewing machine which helps to feed the top layer of a quilt fabric sandwich evenly with the feed dogs feeding the bottom fabric.
Quilting Contessa

Quilting Contessa is a collection of various authors around the world that have submitted articles for the QuiltingHub 'How To' quilt wiki.  These are authors that do not write enough to have their own authorship, yet provide valuable content for the site.  If you wish to submit an article, contact us on QuiltingHub.

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