Quilting is addictive – welcome to the club. You will need:
1. Rotary cutter – I recommend a 45mm blade. It’s small enough to handle some curves, but large enough to go through a lot of fabric. Once you’re sure you want to continue quilting, get some spare blades and change them as soon as you notice that it isn’t cutting through fabric effectively. Be very careful when using a rotary cutter – it’s essentially a round razor blade. If you lightly bump the blade, you will draw blood. Get a cutter that has a built in safety feature, and get in the habit of using it. I like Olfa’s curved one because you squeeze the grip to expose the blade, and when you let go, the blade is covered. You can also lock the cover into place.
2. Self healing mat – Buy the biggest one you can afford and have space for. I like by 24″ x 36″ mat, and I also use an 18″ x 24″ when I’m taking classes. Be sure to get the thin green, blue, pink or purple one (depending on brand) NOT the thick white plastic ones. They bog down your fabric and cutter. I prefer to use the back of the mat – the measuring lines just get in my way. I use the ruler for measuring and squaring the fabric.
3. Acrylic ruler – You need at least two – a short one that is easy to maneuver and a long one that you can cut strips from the width of fabric. I prefer a 6″ x 12″ and a 3″ x 18″, but most people like a 6″ x 24″ for the long one. Make sure you can see the markings on both light and dark fabrics. At least one of them should have diagonals marked – at least a 45 degree and a 30 degree, and preferably a 60 degree as well. You may not use these now, but you won’t have to buy another ruler later. They must have at the very least a clear 1/4″ marking and a 1/8″ “dot.” I prefer a ruler that has a 1/8″ grid in one corner (or all over if I can find it). When you measure, always measure to the outside of the marking line, not the inside or center. Some rulers come with a non-slip surface (Omnigrip) or you can buy a roll of clear plastic (Invisigrip) that you can cut and apply to the back of your existing rulers. You can also use little sandpaper discs with adhesive on the back.
4. Fabric – Start with 100% cotton, and buy the best quality you can afford. If you have a local quilt shop, see if they have a clearance section. Not only can you get first quality fabrics for nearly half price, the limited selection forces you to try colors that you might not otherwise have chosen. It’s good to stay out of ruts. If you like scrappy quilts, fat quarters are a good way to get a lot of different fabrics. If you like more planned color schemes, buy yardage. Watch for sales to acquire backing fabric. Value (light and dark) is more important than color. We gravitate toward the pretty fabrics in the middle values, but for a quilt to really sparkle, you need to include light and dark fabrics as well.
5. Thread – again, use 100% cotton for the piecing. Cotton (thread) against cotton (fabric) wears better. If you use a synthetic thread and make an heirloom quilt, the thread could damage the fabric and destroy the quilt. Use the thinnest thread you can find for piecing (I like 50/2). This helps keep your seams accurate. Every hair counts. If your seams are off just 1/8″ and you have eight squares in a row, the row will be off 1″. You don’t need to match your thread to the fabric color, just the fabric value. If you have white, black, cream, and gray you can handle just about any fabric. “Match” your thread to the lighter fabric. When you quilt the top, batting and backing together, you’ll probably want a slightly thicker thread (40/3 works great, and can also be used for piecing if you like). This doesn’t HAVE to be cotton, but many quilters still prefer it.
6. Scissors – you need both a larger pair to cut fabric, although you won’t use it very much unless you get into paper piecing or hand work, and a smaller pair for cutting thread. I love my spring handled large scissors. They’re comfortable for lefties and they open by themselves, which reduces a lot of strain on the hand. My small scissors have very large finger openings and are comfortable to hold. Both of mine are by Fiskars. You can also try thread nippers for the smaller scissors.
7. Pins – get the longest, finest pins you can find. A glass head is nice if you plan to iron with the pins in (plastic will melt). A large flat flower head pin is nice to avoid distortion when sewing, plus they’re easier to find on the floor.
8. Hand sewing needles – you’ll need this for the binding. I prefer a long fine “straw” needle, but most people use sharps for piecing. Betweens are for quilting.
9. Seam ripper – this will be your best friend. Rather than “ripping” the seam, cut every third or fourth stitch and pull it all apart. It’s faster and less messy, especially if you use a piece of tape to remove the cut threads from the fabric.
10. Blue painters tape – yes, I consider this an essential. When you sew your scant 1/4″ seam, you should not be watching the needle – by the time the fabric is at the needle, it’s too late to correct anything. Instead, you should watch about an inch or two before the needle. You can measure your seam by using an index card with a 1/4″ line. Put the needle down through the line and make sure it’s straight. Draw a pencil line on your machine bed along the edge of the card. This is your 1/4″. Use the painters tape to make a fabric guide. Cut through several layers of tape on the roll, peel it back and cut off a section that is at least 1″ long. Place this on the bed of your machine along the 1/4″ mark you just made. Now just butt your fabric up against this guide when you sew your seams. With this guide it doesn’t even matter if you have a 1/4″ foot on your machine (although they are handy).
11. Instruction books – I really consider a couple of good instruction books to be essential. You can find a lot of information online, but it’s worth the extra to get a couple of really good books. I recommend Start Quilting with Alex Anderson for your beginner book. It’s on Amazon and it’s a skinny little book that teaches you six basic blocks. I also recommend a reference book called The Quilter’s Ultimate Visual Guide. It doesn’t have patterns but it does answer nearly every question you’ll ever have. Spend a little extra (just a couple of dollars) and take your books to a copy center (Kinkos, Staples, Office Max, etc.) and have them cut off the binding and put on a spiral binding. This way you can fold your book back to the page you want, or open it flat.
12. Courage – Don’t let anyone say you can’t make a quilt the way you want to make it. It’s great to learn the traditional methods, but some of the most incredible quilts have come from people saying, “What if I did it this way instead?”
13. Inspiration – Use the internet to find photos of quilts that inspire you. It can be about the color choices, the patterns, the style – whatever you like. Use magazine ads to help you with color choices. Keep a file of interesting ads – you’d be surprised at what the professionals put together. I have a fantastic quilt in dark purple and lime green that I never would have chosen on my own. Check out internet sites that have quilting videos. Join one or more Yahoo Groups that are about quilting. Try Quilter’s Cache for free, amazing block patterns. (You’re going to love this site.) Also check out their tutorials.
14. Patience – You aren’t going to make a perfect quilt the first time. Enjoy the process, learn from your mistakes, and keep moving forward.