Quilting and sewing are fairly democratic crafts. Other than fabric, the barest of essentials is a needle and thread and a cutting implement. Having said that Modern Quilters, who usually use a sewing machine, do love a gadget! Believe me, there are specialist tools for every job! Take the humble pin, for instance. Do you want flat headed pins, glass pins, dressmakers pins, fork pins... etc. Buying all of it can get expensive. But do you really need a whole haberdashery's worth?
Not really, is the answer. Do they make a difference? Absolutely! But if you are just starting out how do you know which tools are the tools you really need? And how can you keep costs down if you are on a budget or if you're not sure yet if you want to commit?
Keep reading for some great ideas to keep costs down and sort the essentials from the nice but not necessaries. Let's start with tools.
Sewing machines The best sewing machine for the job is the one you already own. It doesn't matter how old it is so long as it can sew a straight line. If you do want to buy one then there's no need at all to purchase a fancy one with bells and whistles. A basic domestic machine will do the job. You could try a second hand one. I have a fairly basic Janome and I quilt all my quilts on it, even the bed sized ones! And if you don't want to buy then there are still several inexpensive of even free options available to you.
You could opt to sew by hand. This will take a lot longer than machine sewing and quilting but sometimes it's all about the journey and not the destination, right? Most people already have needles and thread lying around at home for mending the odd loose button. And they are very inexpensive to buy - see more on this below.
Borrow - I'm always amazed how many people have an unused machine in the back of their cupboard. Just ask! And in my experience sewists and quilters feel evangelical about their craft and would be more than happy to let you use their machine in exchange for some cake, maybe.
Rent - You can even rent a machine to take home with you from a specialist rental shop. Or some local bricks and mortar fabric shops also let you sew by the hour using their machines and workspace. Sounds like the perfect way to dip your toe in.
Cutting mat and rotary cut - a cutting mat is the next most expensive outlay. You will need one if you choose to use a rotary cutter. You can get away with using scissors if you are very very accurate but a rotary cutter is precise, easier on the hands (a large quilt might require a LOT of cutting) and lets you cut multiple layers of fabric quickly. A 45mm one is a good all round sized rotary cutter. As for the cutting mat, my advice is to get the biggest one you can afford.
Iron and ironing station - Quilting calls for some ironing ad lots of pressing. The one you have is the best one again. If you find yourself needing to get one there are specialist quilting irons (yes there are!) but any iron is fine. if you need somewhere to iron too then any ironing board is fine. The other alternative, especially if you are short on space, is to get a wool pressing mat. Again, the largest you can afford.
A ruler - this is a must if you are following a pattern. most of us have an old school ruler at home which is perfectly fine. Remember it must include measurements in inches as almost all quilt measurements are in inches. (you get used t it!). If you are going to buy a specialist quilting one you may feel confused by the sheer number of different sized rulers. Over time the type of quilts you prefer to make will ultimately determine the size of ruler than you use most but a good all rounder is an 6'' x 12''. Fiskars 6'' x 12'' quilting ruler
Needles - You will at some point need to bury your loose threads. Any household sewing needle will do. And as for your sewing machine needles. A universal 80/12 needle works just fine. A new machine will probably come with some. When it comes to machine quilting it is perfectly possible to quilt with a normal zigzag presser foot but a walking foot would be one of my first upgrades when the time comes. Yo can also hand quilt if you don't have a machine and many quilters opt to hand quilt anyway as it's so therapeutic. You can use the needles you have but using the right needle will make the task a lot easier. Luckily these days needles are inexpensive.
Pins - again you might have a few at home. Many quilters don' t pin as a rule but there will always be the exception. You only need a small box.
Stitch ripper - You WILL need one of these. It will be your frenemy. No matter how experienced you are it will always be by your side. Luckily most sewing machines come with a little one. Stitch ripper.
Snips or small scissors - you'll need these for cutting thread and you probably already have a pair at home. Make sure they're sharp! Snips.
Now on to fabric and thread...
Thread - quilters all have their preferences for brand and weight but any thread will do. most prefer cotton but if all you have at home is polyester then use that. just make sure it's suitable for your sewing machine, do not use anything in your machine that is marked as hand quilting thread - that could become an expensive repair! people often have all sorts of spools lying around for just in case. You could be that just in case so just ask! There is some debate about whether using vintage thread is OK, will it break etc? I think it depend on the thread, where it's been kept and so on but mending is all part of the quilting life so if that's what you have then go for it!
If you are buying new thread then pick a 50w cotton in a neutral colour. It will blend in with the most fabrics. For hand quilting you can choose a 12w or 28w thread. Aurifil quilting weight thread for sewing and machine quilting. Aurifil thread for hand quilting.
Fabric - The most fun part of quilting! once you have your tools though fabric can be the next most expensive part as you'll need more fabric for each new quilt. Again huge preferences amongst quilters but most agree cotton is the best fabric to learn with. Fabric shown is Golden Hour for Ruby Star Society by Alexia Marcelle Abegg.
Buying new - if you're buying new here's some things to remember. Firstly, don't be a hoarder! The urge to have all the pretty fabric can be a strong one but you must resist. we can treat ourselves now and then but try to buy only what you need. And shop small from small shops too, that goes without saying! And be savvy with your cutting plans to get the most from your excess fabric - quilters keep ALL their scraps to use later.
Second, when buying new solids or plain fabrics tend to be cheaper than prints.
Reusing - upcycling is a great (and environmentally friendly) way of keeping costs down. If you have old clothing that you never mended or won't wear again could it be right for your quilt? My neighbour regularly donates her old clothes to me and I'm sure others would do the same for you. Old bedding, sheets and duvet covers can be really good for quilt backing and you can often find them in charity shops.
Swap - Quilters love a destash! Quilters often sell off at a discount fabrics they no longer need. Look out for the hashtag #destash on Instagram. If you have fabrics you no longer like or won't use you could destash them too but I really like the idea of a swap! Why not do an exchange with anther quilter or group of quilters and then all you have to pay is the postage.
If you need to start from scratch then I've curated a kit that contains all the smaller tools. You can get your Patchwork Piecing Starter Toolkit here.
Lastly a handy tip that may seem unrelated but it's not. Get a pack of colour catchers for your washing machine. Most good quality fabrics wont run the wash but cheaper ones often do and if you don't know the provenance of your fabric, whether new or upcycled, it might be best to err on the side of caution. It could be a lot of fabric and, worse, time wasted if your colours run in the wash!
This list should help you feel more confident getting started. Over time through exploration and practise you will discover your own must haves and can do withouts...
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