All the pros will tell you that quilting is a precise form of art! You can learn the art of quilting like a pro too! In the last two years we have seen, and probably experienced for ourselves, that so many people have taken up new hobbies. It’s one of the good things that has come out of the pandemic. The quilting community is growing and it makes me so happy!
So, if you are one of those who has picked up the art of quilting recently- have no fear! Kiley is here! I will lay out all my best tips, show you my favorite tools, and explain some things that I think you should know as a beginner quilter. You’ll be quilting like a pro in no time!
I will not pretend to be an expert on sewing machines. My first sewing machine was a $100 Brother from JoAnn’s. When I started quilting more I bought a nicer Brother for $380 on Amazon. It was great and it did all the basic things I needed it to do. I used that machine for several years. So don’t think that you have to jump right in to a big fancy sewing machine. Many quilting pros started with something basic.
As I got more into quilting, I decided to get a bigger and more expensive machine that could do more things, like free-motion quilting. I bought a Janome Memory Craft Horizon 9400 and it has been amazing. Janome is a great brand! Lots of people also really love the Bernina and Baby Lock brands (I also have a Baby Lock that I love).
The most important thing is to buy within your means, and to know what features you want your machine to have. Quilting like a pro doesn’t necessarily mean you have spend big money.
Let's Talk Fabric
Not all fabric is created equal. Quilting is a labor intensive art that produces an heirloom product that you want your family to enjoy for years to come. So, don’t use poor quality fabric. You want to use quilting cotton. It’s a medium-weight weave and you can feel the difference.
I like to buy my quilting cotton from the “little guys” to promote small businesses. There are tons of online shops that provide a wide variety of good quality quilting fabric. Here are some of my favorites:
There are so many more! But these are some of my go-to’s when looking for something new.
Tools of the Trade
Having the right tools really helps make the process easier, more efficient, and will help you produce a better quality. The deeper into the quilting world you go, the more fun tools you’ll find and add to your wish list. But here is a list of tools I recommend you have to get you started and on your way to quilting like a pro:
This is key. You should not be cutting your fabric pieces for your quilt with scissors. Using a rotary cutter and ruler is more accurate. Any rotary cutter works great, but the standard size is a 45mm. I recommend getting a pack of replacement blades to go with it. You should be replacing your blade every couple of projects (I am terrible at this and usually run my blades to the ground). You can tell you need a new blade if it starts to skip or you find yourself having to press harder to get a good cut.
Link for a cutter and blade bundle: https://amzn.to/3NTaKwI
There are times when you do need a good pair of scissors. The important thing is to get a good quality set of large sharp scissors for cutting bigger sections of fabric, batting, and remnants. And a pair of small embroidery scissors for cutting threads and keeping close by.
Link for big scissors: https://amzn.to/3O8SIGA
Link for little scissors: https://amzn.to/3zvVKkn
You can get different size and brands of cutting mats. I don’t have a favorite brand, but I do have a favorite size. You need the 24 x 36 size. Anything smaller and you’ll be folding your fabric too many times to make it fit for cutting.
These are SO important! Quilting rulers are typically square or rectangular. I like Creative Grids Rulers because they have a textured grip on one side, the grid lines aren’t too thick, and they have a variety of sizes. I have 3 favorite rulers:
Small ruler link: https://amzn.to/3QdIgiS
Large ruler link: https://amzn.to/3H9yYAw
Link for Stripology Ruler: https://amzn.to/3mGTu1K
(The stripology ruler is not a necessity, but it is my favorite time-saver!)
The kind of pins don’t really matter… however, my husband appreciates the brightly colored ones with larger heads so that he can spot them on the ground!
I like the kinds with a rubber tip on them because they are great for rubbing along picked seams and pulling the threads out.
I have two: a large regular iron, and a mini iron! The mini iron is to keep by my desk for small seams so I don’t have to keep getting up and down. The large iron is for the ironing table! I have a Rowenta and I LOVE it.
Link for mini iron: https://amzn.to/3H9Cf2M
Link for large iron: https://amzn.to/3aXQhIV
Any ironing board will do! But I do like to have a mini ironing mat by my sewing machine to use with my mini iron. I use a wool ironing mat.
There are lots of tools for marking fabric! The first is the 1/4″ seam tape that I put on my sewing table to mark center, and 1/4″ to either side! It’s great! The other tools you might need are for marking on your fabrics! I like Frixon pens, but don’t use them anywhere that might show up on the finished quilt. Only use on lines you’ll be cutting or marking in the seam allowance. I also like to have a white fabric marking pencil.
Link for 1/4″ Seam Tape: https://amzn.to/3RHH4oW
Frixon Pens: https://amzn.to/3ARsNjl
White Fabric marking Pencil: https://amzn.to/3o1wYl6
If you really want to get fancy, you can go to Modern American Vintage and get one of their gorgeous handmade sets of wood quilting tools!
Pro Cutting Tips
Like I said above, I like the larger cutting mats. If you have anything smaller, you are going to end up folding your fabric too many times and may not get a precise cut. I do like to layer my fabric, but I don’t recommend more than 4 layers at a time.
It is very important that you iron your fabric first. This helps the fabric lay flat and give you more accurate measurements. Some might tell you to wash your fabric first- I don’t have the time or the energy for that, HA!
If nothing else, remember this: Measure TWICE, cut ONCE. You will always get a more accurate measurement if you measure and align with your ruler instead of the cutting mat. Sometimes your cuts are too big to allow for that rule, but in general, you’ll want to measure with the ruler instead of the mat.
Make The Cut
Always use a sharp blade. You can tell if your blade needs to be replaced if you find that you have to press very hard or it skips thread. Make it easier on yourself and change your blade regularly.
Now that you have measured twice and are ready to cut, hold your ruler steady with one hand while gliding the rotary cutter along the edge. If you push too hard, you could cause your ruler to slip and get an inaccurate cut.
If you have lots of strips to cut, you will definitely want the Stripology Ruler by Creative Grids! It saves SO much time! It has slits every 1/2 inch. So you can cut a bunch of strips at once instead of moving your ruler for every cut. Once you have your strips, you can rotate them and sub-cut them with this ruler too! It’s amazing!
Tips for Quilting like a Pro
Every pro quilter finds their own rhythm that works for them. But here are some things to consider when you are ready to start your project.
A clean space and machine will help you mentally and physically prepare for your next project! Cleaning your machine around the bobbin and needle will help the machine continue to perform at its best. Make sure that your needle is still sharp. You should be replacing your needle after every project- but every couple of projects will be just fine.
Check your stitch tension and stitch length. Generally speaking, if you have thread issues on the bottom of your fabric, it is an issue with the top thread. If you see a problem with the thread on the top of your fabric, it is a bobbin issue. And, as a general rule, your stitch length should be 1.5 – 2.0mm. I like to keep it on the smaller side for a tighter stitch.
The last thing to check is your needle position. This is a personal preference. But wherever your needle is positioned, you need to measure a 1/4″ from the tip of the needle. This will show you exactly where the edge of your fabric should be for that perfect 1/4″ seam allowance. I like to keep my needle in the middle for straight stitches.
Here are some basic tips for you to remember so you can quilt like a pro:
- Once you are ready to begin, find a pace/speed that works for you. I tend to run my machine on the fastest setting possible. However, it’s important to slow down for bulkier seams or fabrics.
- If you have two blocks that are off by a hair, it’s okay to stretch them to match.
- If you are sewing together rows or blocks, it is important to match up your seams when possible and pin. It’s easiest if you “nest” your seams by pressing them in opposite directions
- When adding borders or sashing, always measure your rows first! If they aren’t exactly the same size, take the median size and cut your borders to that size. Stretch or ease your rows to make them match your measurement. This will ensure that your quilt is square and lays flat!
- Starch is great for keeping fabrics from stretching, but I don’t care for the way it makes my fabric feel. I prefer to allow for some stretch so that I can make sure everything lines up!
Not all patterns are written equally. Not all patterns will be easy to understand. It helps to read through patterns before you start to get a basic understanding of what you’ll need to do. However, there are some universal that every quilting pro knows:
- WOF means Width of Fabric and is usually assumed to be 42″
- RST means Right Sides Together
- HST means Half Square Triangle
- HRT means Half Rectangle Triangle
- Binding is usually measured at 2.25″ or 2.5″ strips
- Backing is typically assembled with a horizontal seam
- Fabric Requirements usually build in some wiggle room for mistakes
If you want a more in-depth dive on how to prep your backing, you can read this tutorial/blog: Assembling Your Backing Blog
If you want a more in-depth dive on how to prep your binding, you can read this tutorial/blog: How to Make Binding
And if you need more ideas for your next pattern, you can shop my patterns here: Pattern Shop. I try to make sure that each of my patterns is written clearly and comes with visuals and diagrams for easy understanding. Don’t worry if it is a skill you’ve never tried before- I will walk you through it! Soon, you will be quilting like a pro too! Remember, you aren’t growing if you are comfortable!