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How To Start Quilting : A Beginner's Guide

Want to start quilting, but aren't sure what to do, what to use, or where to begin?  Well fret no more because I'm here to help you get started.  Today I'll introduce you to some of the basic tools and concepts that you'll need in order to let your creativity run wild.

STEP 1: MACHINE v. HAND SEWING

The first step to quilting is deciding how you are going sew.  Will it be with a sewing machine or by hand?  The majority of the quilting I do is by machine, but lately I have been doing more personal projects by hand.  Both methods have their advantages and disadvantages so here's a quick run down to help you decide.

MACHINE SEWING

  • Speed - sewing machines are much faster than hand sewing, but poor planning can lead to mistakes.
  • Even stitches - regular sewing helps to prevent the concentration of tension and stress on the fabric and helps to ensure the longevity of your quilt.

HAND SEWING

  • Time - sewing by hand takes longer than sewing with a machine and that can be a pro or a con depending on the quilter and the situation. Hand sewing can be quite therapeutic and a great way to spend and evening, but I would not recommend it if you need a project finished in less than a week.
  • Tradition - in the past most quilt were made entirely by hand and sometimes took years to finish.  Hand stitching will give your quilt the look and feel of an old quilt. 

Knowing which sewing method you're going to use will help to determine the other steps you're going to take in preparation of starting your quilt.  So once you've made your choice, move on down to Step 2.

 

STEP 2: TOOLS

There are some very basic tools available that will make your  quilting experience so much easier and therefore more enjoyable.  Not all the tools listed are technically necessary for quilting, but I highly recommend that you invest into them.  These tools are designed to make quilting faster, more accurate, and easy.  

I've listed which tools I use more for hand or machine quilting so you have a better idea of what you might need depending on your sewing method.

A. Quilting Ruler: these are absolutely essential if you want to cut your fabric in a constant and precise manner.  The grid and angle lines on the rulers make it easy to cut  30, 45, 60, and 90 angles.

B. Rotary Cutter: these are used with quilting rulers and make cutting lots of fabric fast and easy.  Line up the rule on the fabric, place the cutter alongside the ruler and roll. It's as simple as that (sometimes). Remember to double check your measuring first and be careful, these cutters are sharp!

C. Pins: Pins are nice to use to hold fabric in place while sewing.  They're not necessary but they are nice to use when lining up seams.  Some people like to use clothes pins or specially made fabric clips instead of strait pins to avoid being poked.

D. Sewing Machine Needle: If you choose to sew on a machine make sure you have the right kind of needle for the job.  Consult your machine's user manual to double check recommended brands and sizes.  Using the wrong needle on the wrong fabric can cause ripping, tension problems, and threading problems.

E. Hand Needle: Needle called Sharps are often most used for hand quilting.  They are shorter than other kinds of needs, making them more durable when working with multiple layers of fabric.

F. Bobbin: When machine sewing make sure that your bobbin is full and the proper size for your machine.  The user manual will tell you which size is needed and how to thread your bobbin properly.

G. Thread: Make sure that the thread you choose is the same material as the fabric you've chosen.  Don't use acrylic thread on cotton fabric, that can cause the fabric to bunch, slip, or cause stitches to break.  Here's a great breakdown by Craftsy of the weights of quilting thread

H. Scissors: A good pair of scissors is crucial to sewing of any kind and are worth the investment if you plan on quilting for a long time.  Remember to use your scissors on thread and fabric only.  Any other materials could damage the scissor blades, meaning the next time you cut fabric you will not make a clean cut.  I'm not joking, scissors are serious business.

 
 

I. Thimble: While a thimble might not technically be essential for hand sewing, they are so nice to have instead of torturing your poor fingers to press a needle through a tricky bit of fabric.  If you find metal thimbles uncomfortable there are other option available including open ended thimbles for those with long finger nails, and leather thimbles that are just as durable but less rigid.  

Like I said earlier, not all of these tools are necessary, I would have to say that only a needle, thread and scissors are absolute necessities.  Those are the three tools that I keep in my travel sewing kit, but a rotary cutter and ruler are priceless tools for accurate and expedient cutting.  

STEP 3: FABRIC PREP

Fabric choice can make or break your project in a variety of ways. Choosing the wrong type of fabric can lead to shrinking, pulling, puckering, and general ugliness.  Choosing the wrong prints can cause the patterns of blocks to be drowned in similar colors and too tight or too loose prints. 

My advice is to select 100% cotton fabrics because they have a nice, tight weave and are easy to work with.  The majority of quilting fabric is cotton, so you should have no difficulty finding it.

A variety of fabrics on a project is also a nice touch.  Mixing and matching prints can add polish and thought to a quilt.  A solid, a print, and a pattern are a good start.  Also keep color values in mind with a dark, medium, and light colored fabric.  I'm not saying that print choices and color values are nonnegotiable, but they are some basic principles to remember.  The quilt pattern that you've chosen will also be an influencing factor on your fabric choices.

One last thing when it comes to fabric treatment before you start quilting: pre-washing and pressing.  Pre-washing is something that I recommend.  It removes excess dye from the fabrics that would have other wise stained lighter colored fabrics on your quilt, and it allows the fabric to shrink a bit which prevents shrinking and pulling once your quilt is finished. Some quilters don't bother with pre-washing at all while other swear by it.  If you're itching to get started on your project pre-washing might not be an imperative, but I would recommend it for any fabrics you have that are dark, such as blacks, blues,  purples, or reds.

Once your fabric is pre-washed (or not) press your fabric so that there are no seam marks or wrinkles.  This will help with more precise measurements during the squaring and cutting phases of quilting.  Not sure about the difference between pressing and ironing?  Check out my glossary page for more clarification! 

STEP 4: START MAKING!

Now the fun begins!  Once all of your fabrics are prepped and tools assembled, get to it!  Follow the directions and requirements for the quilt you have in mind, or start sewing and see where that gets you.  If you're not sure about where to begin that's totally fine! You can start practicing your quilting skills by following any of the directions for the Simple Sampler Quilt, where I post a new quilt block every Wednesday.

Happy Quilting!

- Rita

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