A Guide for Beginner Quilters

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Have you just discovered the world of Modern Quilting and thought, "I want in!!"? Well, today I am sharing a quick guide to getting started.

This blog post is written with the beginner quilter in mind. If you are already a quilter - please share this with a friend that you hope will join you in your quilty adventures!

 

 

First thing's first - you have to get your supplies together. Here are the most basic things you will need to get started:

  1. Sewing Machine - (duh - I know!) There is not one right sewing machine. You should find your local quilt shop or sewing machine store and make an appointment to give different machines a try. If you don't have a quilt shop in your town - try JoAnn Fabric. They have some machines you can test out in the store! If neither of those work for you - try looking for a Sewing Expo or Quilt Show nearby. Make a plan to attend the show and there will definitely be some vendors selling machines. They also have some really good deals going on at these events so you might even get one on sale! (BONUS!) I sew on a Bernina B350 and I LOVE it! I started out with my mom's first sewing machine and it worked great for years. So, if you have inherited a machine your first step will be to get it serviced. You need to take it to a pro and get it all tuned up and cleaned. Trust me - this will help avoid a lot of headache down the road. You want all the kinks worked out! They will also be able to show you the basics of the machine and how it works if you have lost the manual. 
  2. Iron & Ironing Board - If you already have an iron - great! If you are looking to upgrade this is the iron I recently invested in - Rowenta DW7180. It works like a charm! It's worth every penny and I don't plan to ever buy a new one.
  3. Scissors - We have pretty strict rules in this house about who is allowed to touch the sewing scissors. (Spoiler alert - it's only me!) You want some really great fabric scissors not just any run of the mill scissor. Fabric scissors will cut smoothly and won't leave any snags that will come back to haunt you later. I love my Fiskars.
  4. Cutting Mat - I use the OLFA Rotary Mat that is self-healing. I have had this mat for 10+ years now. It works perfectly and the self-healing really does work if you soak it and follow the care instructions. It's worth the investment because you won't need another one! It's the perfect size for cutting quilters cotton. If you don't want to purchase this one the only tip I have is to make sure you find one with the measurements around the outside of the mat like the OLFA one. I have a free one from a friend and the numbers are along the inside edge. When you lay down your fabric you can't see the measurements and therefore cutting is very annoying and difficult.
  5. Quilters Ruler - I asked on social what the number one must-have was for quilting (besides a machine and iron) and this was it! I have this 6 x 24 Omnigrid Ruler and have used it for 10+ years as well. I have even chipped the corner and glued it back together. It's the perfect ruler and I use it for all my width-of-fabric cutting. (We'll get to that term later in the post!)
  6. Rotary Blade - Along with a mat and ruler you will want to purchase a rotary blade. This Fiskars Rotary Cutter makes cutting a breeze! Trust me. This was the number two recommended must-have. You could get by with just scissors, but cutting will be more difficult. 
  7. Seam Ripper - Ok none of us want to admit this, but mistakes will happen when you're sewing so make sure you have a seam ripper. My machine actually came with one. You can get fun artsy ones too if that makes you feel like the mistake was fun and not at all annoying. I have seen pretty glass ones at quilt shows or you can always search Etsy!
  8. Straight Pins - You will need some straight pins like these to pin your pieces together as you start sewing. This will make everything stay in line. (Never sew over you pins though! You will remove them as you feed the pieces through the machine.)
  9. Pin Cushion - Ok this isn't a "must" but it's fun! You could put your pins back in the box as you sew if you want to skip this purchase. There are so many unique pin cushions out there. This is a way to really show your own style and find something you love. Try Etsy! I purchased mine from Small Circle Studio.
  10. Thread - You want to buy some good quality quilting thread. I sew with 50wt Aurifil Cotton thread exclusively. It holds up and never breaks on me! If you purchase a cheap thread or use old thread that came with your inherited machine it will break down or most likely be a more brittle. It could also get caught up in your machine which will just be a huge mess. You can always ask your local quilt shop for a recommendation!

 

 

Ok - now that we have the basic supplies let's find out where to learn. I asked on social and the top three ways people have learned to quilt is from mom, from grandma or from YouTube. There is a LOT of information out on the internet. Here's how I would start my search:

  1. Get to know your machine - If you have never sewn a single stitch on your machine I would search YouTube or Google for the basics of your machine. Again, you can always call your local quilt shop and I'm sure they would be DELIGHTED to help you figure it out. Most machines have the same basic functions so they will definitely be able to help you navigate threading your machine, loading a bobbin and stitching a few stitches. (Those are the top three how-to searches I would do first.) You want to familiarize you self with all the settings so you can troubleshoot if you need to later. 
  2. Practice - Once you get oriented you want to practice sewing. Use scrap fabric, old clothes, or some cheap muslin from the store. Cut some small squares with your new mat, ruler and rotary blade. (Maybe 6" x 6"?) Practice  pinning them, sewing them together and pressing them open with your iron. 
  3. Find a Pattern - Now that you have sewn a few things together, it's time to find a pattern. There are several, super easy, FREE patterns on Pinterest. Look for something that is straight lines or even just squares to get started. If you want to start even smaller than a quilt there are some free tutorials for making quilted mug rugs or coasters. You can practice piecing, basting and quilting.

 

 

Which leads me to my next topic - terms. There are some quilting terms you need to familiarize yourself with. Here are some of the very basic terms that you will see most often.

  1. Quilters Cotton - This is a durable, high quality cotton that will be soft a snuggly for your quilt.
  2. WOF (Width of Fabric) - This is a term used in the cutting instructions for your pattern. Quilters cotton is 42" wide, but when it comes off the bolt it is folded in half. You will notice this when you purchase the fabric. Let's say you order 1 yard of fabric. They spool out one yard off the bolt and cut it at the 1 yard mark. That piece is technically 42" tall x 36" (one yard) wide, but folded in half it is 21" x 36". When your cutting instructions tell you to cut ( 1 ) 3" x WOF piece that means you leave the fabric folded, lay it out as is and cut a 3" wide piece that is the width of fabric tall. That piece will be 21" x 3" folded, but 3" x 42" unfolded. Make sense?
  3. Seam Allowance - Almost all quilt patterns call for a ¼" seam allowance. My sewing machines have always included a quilters foot. Measure this ¼" from the needle to the edge of the fabric. For me that means from the needle to the inside edge of the foot on my machine. So, as I feed my pieces through the machine I am watching that edge and keeping my fabric aligned to maintain a ¼" seam. 
  4. Right Side/Wrong Side - Fabric has a right side and a wrong side. The right side is the side with a print or the most bold color. The wrong side is the back side of the fabric. When you are piecing your quilt you will be pinning and sewing with Right Sides Together (RST).
  5. Press Open - There are a few ways to press. I usually press my seams open, but some quilters follow the rule of "pressing to the dark side". This means you always press the pieces open so that the seam allowance will be hidden behind the darker fabric. 

 

Now onto some key terms for the actual quilting process. In quilting there are four main steps. These terms briefly summarize those steps in the process.

    1. Piecing - You piece a quilt top together. This is where you are sewing all those cut pieces together as your quilt pattern has instructed. It's referred to as the top, because later in the process you will make a quilt sandwich and this is the top layer. 
    2. Backing - This is the fabric you have selected as the back of your quilt. Depending on what size you are doing you might have to piece this together. If you want to get fancy you can pattern match your backing.
    3. Batting - This is the fluffy delightful filling of your quilt! There are several options out there, but I always go with a cotton batting. I order this Warm & Natural batting for all my quilts.
    4. Basting - After your quilt top is complete and your backing is prepped, you will baste your quilt. This is where you make the quilt sandwich. You will want to look this process up on YouTube so you have a visual. You tape your backing (very taught) to the floor, layer on your batting and then your quilt top. Next you bind all those layers together by hand, with a basting spray or basting pins. I prefer to use these basting pins.
    5. Quilting - This is the final step that makes your quilt a quilt! This is when you sew all those layers together. Some people send their top and backing off to a long-arm quilter. I have done this a few times and I always love how they turn out!! They look so clean and professional, but sometimes cost or time are not always on my side. So, if you want to quilt your quilt at home here are a few quilting designs you can follow.
    6. Binding - This last step always feels meditative to me. This is when you attach the finished edge to your quilt. Again you will want to YouTube this because there are several ways to do it. I prefer to sew on my binding and then hand stitch the edge down to the back of the quilt. It gives me the time to reflect on the quilt and where it's going to live. 

 

 

It's time to practice now! You have your supplies, you know the basics of your machine and you have the terms down. You're a ready to be a quilter! Welcome to the community!! 

I'll end with a few recommendations of how you can practice your skills and learn more. 

  • Join a quilt guild! I am a member of the Modern Quilt Guild. This is a great way to meet other quilters and also get any of your questions answered. If you don't have a guild near you, but you have a quilt shop, ask them about any classes or groups they have. Quilters love community!
  • Donate a quilt. This is a great way to get your practice in, but also do some good. There are several charities around that take donated quilts. My local Modern Quilt Guild also collects nap mats for a shelter in downtown. You're own quilt guild will have a charity they support too! These also make good practice projects.
  • Give a quilt as a gift! This is how I practice most. It gives me a reason to create something beautiful and is the best feeling when you surprise someone with it. It's one of my favorite things!! 

 

I am so glad you have decided to jump into the world of quilting. I truly love this community. They welcome everyone with open arms. There is room for everyone at this creative table.

There is still so much more to learn on this journey. I hope these basics were helpful in getting your started. 

Happy sewing!!

 

Next you might also enjoy these blog posts:

Making Half-Square Triangles

Sewing Triangles

Chain Piece Sewing


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