Everything You Need to Start Quilting

So, you’ve decided to get into quilting. You go to the store expecting to pick up some fabric and a sewing machine, but the sheer volume of other quilting things there is overwhelming. Rulers, scissors, needles, sprays, gloves–is that pencil 15 bucks?! Hold your horses! Quilting doesn’t need to be overwhelming. Quilting has become so specialized and marketable that there is a tool for literally everything now. But you don’t need any of them until you know you need them. When you just start quilting, there are only 7 basic things you need to get.


  1. Fabric: It’s the obvious, most basic thing you need to start quilting, but there are a lot of fabric choices. The typical fabric is 100% cotton (if you go to a store or look online, you can search for ‘quilting cotton’). But you can use any fabric to make a quilt: sheets (a fugal backing fabric), t-shirts, cotton, flannel, they all work. But there is a reason why quilting fabric is, well, quilting fabric: It’s soft and easy to work with. Other fabrics like satin or stretch fabrics slip around or distort as you sew so the pattern you are trying to make becomes a bit wonky. The quality of fabric can also affect how easy it is to sew. You don’t need to be spending $10+ a yard yet, but stay away from the cheapest ‘see through’ fabrics (fabric you can easy see your hand through). They’ll give you more trouble then they are worth.
  2. Thread: Hopefully, another dead give away. You need something to sew the pieces of fabric together with. But like fabric, there are tons of different options, so its difficult to know where to begin. You’ll want a cotton, a polyester, or a cotton/polyester blend thread to begin with. Most people like cotton, but your machine may like something else. Mine likes polyester! (if you’re having problems with your sewing machine see here) Thread also isn’t something to cheap out on. The cheap thread constantly breaks and you’ll be stuck re-threading your machine again while wondering how long your piecing will hold up after a wash. Arm yourself with a coupon and grab a name brand thread. The color of the thread is also important to consider. You’ll be able to see bits of the threads through the piecing and you’ll definitely be able to see it during quilting. For piecing, you don’t need to be changing thread colors, but choose a color that somewhat blends across your fabric choices. For quilting it’s up to you, but I also like to choose a color or two that blends well across the quilt top colors. PRO TIP: For quilting (or well, any time) you can use different colors for the top thread and bobbin thread. This is super helpful if your quilt top and backing are different colors.
  3. Sewing Machine: You can totally piece and quilt by hand. It’s something even I have done (the hand piecing was done by choice… thanks curvy Lord of the Rings quilt), and chunky hand quilting adds a nice texture to quilts. But if you don’t fully understand the time commitment, the numb fingers, or the calluses, get a machine. You don’t need anything fancy. I still have and use the Singer Talent I got for $150 at JoAnn after the one I had been borrowing from my mom started on fire (It wasn’t my fault, I swear). I now also have a Brother FS50 that I bought when I was living abroad. Keep it simple until you know what you want out of a machine, not what other people like.
  4. Rotary Cutter and Mat: Stand aside scissors! There’s a new sheriff in town! Like the stubborn potato I am, when I first started quilting, I avoided rotary cutters like the plague (covid? too soon?) because they’re a bit pricey and why spend the 30-50 bucks when I already had scissors? Oh, you sweet summer child. While this is technically three items (cutter, ruler, mat), this set will save your life. Well, at least your hand. And you’ll definitely get some life back from all that time you saved cutting fabric. I hereby deem this a modern essential quilting tool. Go get one.
  5. Seam Ripper: When your sewing goes rogue, and it will go rogue, the seam ripper is the cape-less super hero that will swoop in to save the day. Or maybe it will make you painfully pick out each stitch. Either way, messes will be cleaned and work will get done. One should come with your sewing machine, but if you pick up a used machine without one or lost yours, go get one. Preferably find one with a little brush on the end to clean out your bobbin holder.
  6. Iron: While you can definitely get away without ironing anything in your quilt, do it. Iron every seam you make. There is some controversy over pressing your seams open or to ‘the dark side’, but a good quilt pattern will tell you the way. And either way its done, ironing will make your quilt look a lot more crisp and will help you get the corners of your pieces to line up. It will also make the actual quilting easier, because there will less weird lumps and bumps you’ll have to sew over. If you don’t already have one, you can get an iron for pretty cheap. And you don’t even need an ironing board. I literally just use two layers of bath towels on a counter or table. Rebel.
  7. Hand Needle: The pièce de résistance. You know how I said early we didn’t want to do hand sewing… well, I highly recommend finishing off the binding by hand. There are ways to machine finish your binding, but I find the quality you get is not worth all the time you spend cutting, piecing, and quilting your quilt. I hand sew the binding because it doesn’t take too long and it gives the quilt a professional finish. Don’t skimp! Jenny with Missouri Star Quilting has my favorite binding tutorial.

Alright friends! These were the seven things you need to start quilting. From here there is a crazy world of gadgets that can save your time or help you create new designs. But don’t worry about that yet. Get started and see where this hobby takes you.

Sew on!

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