So, you want to start quilting? Yay! It is a wonderful, rewarding, inspiring, sometimes all-consuming craft - to be able to make something that gives your family (or friends / workmates / random people), the essential warmth, comfort and snuggli-ness that we all crave is an amazing thing.
Essential Quilting Equipment
Of course, these days, we have got not only beautifully inspiring fabrics, but also many labour-saving devices, to make your quilting enjoyable. Here is my list of Top 5 quilting essentials, to get you started you on your quilting journey:
1. A "self-healing" cutting mat (or board).
Made of some sort of rubber polymer (yep, that's the technical term, I'm sure), a cutting mat is essential so that you don't slice up your table-top. They come in various sizes, but the standard is around 17" x 23", which is plenty big enough to cut width of fabric, and most projects.
One of these should set you back no more than $40 - $50.
2. A rotary cutter and spare blades.
Quilting is a game of precision. You could cut out your fabric with a pair of dressmaking scissors, but it would take *ages* and you would never get the precision that you need, particularly for traditional patchwork, where you are wanting corners and points to meet exactly. Most quilters start out with a 45mm cutter - that is fine for most projects. However, I started using the larger 60mm size (more like a pizza cutter size!), a while back, and I will never go back to the 45mm size. I find the larger size has a better weight and stability in my hand, which is extremely important when you are cutting with a (literally) razor sharp blade.
A decent 45mm cutter will be around $25 - $35, and a 60mm might be around $45 - $55. The replacement blades shouldn't be more than $13 each.
3. A large clear quilting ruler.
Your ruler is the third in the trio of basic essential quilting equipment. They come in all shapes and sizes, but the first one to get is a 6.5" x 24" size (the long rectangle in centre of the picture). It is large enough to cut across the whole width of a bolt of fabric, in one slice (using your rotary cutter). It will have a grid of lines running in both directions, to help with lining up your fabric to cut - more on this in further blog posts.
Again, a ruler this size should be around $30 - $35 at most.
4. A 1/4" sewing machine foot.
99% of patchwork and quilting is figured in inches. It's a nod to its American history. It just is, and you will get used to it. So 99% of patchwork sewing uses a 1/4" seam allowance. Which your machine may or may not have marked on its seam gauge (that plastic or metal plate underneath the presser foot). Mine doesn't - in fact, my Janome is in millimetres, not inches, so no use at all. To be consistent and accurate in sewing a 1/4" seam, you need a 1/4" foot for your machine - ask at your local sewing machine dealer, they should have them in stock.
The foot will have a guide line (often the outside of the foot itself) that measures exactly 1/4" from the needle's stitching line. Even if your machine has 1/4" marked on its gauge plate, a 1/4" foot is still a handy gadget to have.
5. A "walking foot" for your sewing machine.
When you put your patchwork quilt top together with the wadding and backing layers, even when you pin it up to heck with snazzy quilter's safety pins, the layers of fabric will move, when they are going under the sewing foot.
When you are sewing just 2 layers together (as with normal dressmaking sewing), the bottom fabric is moved along by the feed dogs (the teeth underneath the presser foot), and the top layer of fabric is guided along with it, by the foot and the bottom fabric. When you add a third (and often bulky) layer of wadding into the middle, there is a disconnect between the bottom fabric which has the feed dogs to pull it along, and the middle and top layers which are very likely to be pulled along at different rates to each other, and the bottom - this will cause puckering and tugging in the quilt stitch lines. Which results in constant and exasperating use of your unpicker.
A walking foot is designed to pull all 3 layers of the quilt "sandwich" along under the needle at the same rate, so ensuring that they are stitched in the same place - reducing puckering (note not necessarily removing it altogether!). For around $50 it is a weird-looking contraption that is a good investment.
So that is my Top 5 Essential Equipment for Quilting. I hope it helps de-mysticise some crazy sounding terms! Next post in the series will be how to use a rotary cutter, board and ruler, to cut your fabric.... not your finger.