How to Choose the Best Tools for Beginning Quilters

Tools for beginning quilters organized neatly

The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

Like any other craft, quilting requires at least some tools to make cutting and sewing tasks easier and more accurate.

Which quilting tools do you really need and which tools can wait until you're more experienced? Visit a quilt shop or browse quilting stores online and you'll quickly discover an endless number of quilting tools, so many that beginning quilters often aren't sure where to start. 

Use this list and description of basic tools to help you decide which quilting tools are important and which tools can wait until you are more experienced and know a bit more about favorite methods and the best ways to accomplish them.

  • 01 of 10

    Rotary Cutter

    Rotary cutter tool for beginning quilters

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

    You'll be way ahead of the game if you learn how to rotary cut right away. It's a skill that lets you quick-piece your quilts, or at least cut the patchwork shapes you need very quickly and accurately.

    One of the first tools you'll need is a rotary cutter, and there are lots of variations to choose from. They are available in a wide variety of styles so try to visit a local quilt shop where you can test drive a few rotary cutters to see which one feels best in your hand.

  • 02 of 10

    Rotary Cutting Mat and Rotary Rulers

    Rotary cutting mat with rotary rulers near cutter and folded pieces of fabric

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

    Rotary mats protect the surface you cut on and the material they're made of keeps the cutter blade sharp. Transparent rotary rulers are used to grip the fabric so that you can cut more accurately.

    For home sewing, buy a 24" x 36" mat if possible, and if you have space remember that larger mats are a great choice. If you plan to take quilting classes, and can only buy one rotary mat to travel with, you can get by with a smaller version that's more portable.

    Rotary Ruler Choices

    • A 6" x 24" rotary ruler is essential.
    • A square ruler makes it easy to cut shapes and check the accuracy of quilt blocks.
    • Add a 12" or 12-1/2" square ruler if possible and add to your collection as you sew.
  • 03 of 10

    Sewing Machine

    Sewing machine for beginning quilters

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

    Unless you plan to hand sew, you'll need a sewing machine. It doesn't have to be an expensive machine that sews tons of unusual stitches—most of your sewing will be a plain old straight stitch. Do look for a machine that helps you easily sew a 1/4" seam allowance, the quilting standard.

    • Many sewing machines have a special presser foot for 1/4" sewing.
    • A sewing machine that accepts a walking foot—for straight machine quilting—is a big plus.
    • Learn which sewing machines other quilters rate as "best."
  • 04 of 10

    Cotton Quilting Fabrics

    Cotton quilting fabrics in neutral colors with yarn and cutter

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

    Save the velvets, satins and other fancy fabrics for later, after you're accustomed to working with quilting cotton. You can't go wrong with cotton made by manufacturers who cater to quilters—we're incredibly picky and they do what they can to please us. Buy what you need for the pattern you're making, but it won't be long before you're buying fabric for your stash. Don't skimp on fabrics, because quality, tightly woven cotton will extend the life of your quilts.

    There are thousands of shops online for those who do not have local selections. 

    Continue to 5 of 10 below.
  • 05 of 10

    Ironing Board and Iron

    Clothes iron on ironing board next to folded pieces of fabric

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

    Any iron and ironing board you already have will work just fine. If you don't own an iron, find one that's fairly heavy, because it's the combination of weight and heat that presses your quilting components. We recommend the Rowenta iron.

    If you have to buy an ironing board, consider one specially made for quilters, like the Big Board. Its rectangular shape eliminates the narrow leg on one end, making it easier to press fabrics and quilt tops.

  • 06 of 10

    Fabric Scissors and Paper Scissors

    Purple and black fabric cutting scissors next to thread

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

    You'll need scissors for some quilting tasks. They don't have to be expensive scissors, but one pair should be reserved for fabric and the other for cutting paper, plastic and other crafting materials you might use at some point.

    Buy scissors with different handle colors to help you keep them straight, or mark one with masking tape so you'll know it's meant to cut paper. You can add to your scissor collection when you discover which types are most important to accomplish specific quilting techniques.

  • 07 of 10

    Cotton Thread

    Tan, red and pink thread on top of folded fabric

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

    Put away the polyester and cotton-wrapped polyester threads you use to make clothing because they're too abrasive for a cotton quilt. You don't have to buy lots of different colors of thread—medium gray and tan usually blend with most fabrics.

    If you like, pick out a light and dark gray or tan spool too, just in case you need them. The same cotton thread used for piecing works well for machine quilting. If you plan to hand quilt, buy cotton quilting thread, but don't use hand quilting thread in your sewing machine.

  • 08 of 10

    Quilt Design Wall

    Cut pieces of fabric arranged on wall to create quilt design

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

    Design wall is an expensive-sounding name that describes a very simple tool—a place to tack your quilt blocks and other components up so that you can step back and look at them singly or together.

    One or two large pieces of white flannel work just fine, but so does thin quilt batting as blocks and other pieces stick nicely to both materials. Ready-made design walls are available if you'd rather go that route.

    Continue to 9 of 10 below.
  • 09 of 10

    Seam Ripper

    Sean ripper tool on top of green piece of fabric

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

    We all have to rip out seams once in a while. It's amazing how many seam rippers are available—does that mean we're making lots of boo-boos? No, just more of the choices that manufacturers know we want. Find a seam ripper with a very fine head. We recommend Clover's seam ripper, but there are many other excellent alternatives.

  • 10 of 10

    Pins and Needles

    Small square case of pins next to fabric poked with pins

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

    You'll need long straight pins to hold components together. Choose very thin pins with large heads.

    Tip: Buy a package of glow in the dark pins since they are easy to spot if you drop them on the floor. You might also want to pick up betweens for hand quilting and regular sewing needles for your machine. 

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