Tools of the Trade

This can be overwhelming!!!
I think new quilters can get overwhelmed when they see all the tools, rulers, templates and such available to quilters and they have no idea what they need to get started.  It can get expensive very quickly (remember seeing how much rulers cost for the first time?) so it helps to know what is useful and what is optional.  I thought I’d make my recommended list.
Obviously the tools needed for various projects are different, but for general sewing together of blocks and strips here is what I recommend.  If you have suggestions comment below!
Must Haves:
  • 60mm Rotary Cutter and extra Blades – Get something that has a guard on it that flips back into place when not in use.  Most rotary cutters now will convert over for left-handed users so you don’t have to purchase special one.  Make sure it feels good in your hand before you buy it.  If it isn’t comfortable to hold, it won’t be comfortable to cut with.
  • Rotary Cutting Mat – find a good self-healing mat that will last over a long time.  Keep it out of the sun to prevent it from bubbling or warping. Get a big one for cutting out strips and yardage and a small one (I love the rotating kind) for squaring up small blocks.
  • Scissors – You will need a few different types in the beginning.
    • Fabric scissors or dressmaker shears – if you need to quickly cut up yardage without using a rotary cutter these come in handy.  I use mine all the time for scrap quilting and appliqué.  Keep them sharp!
    • Thread nippers/small scissors – I keep these around my neck and use them all the time while I’m working.
    • Regular Scissors – For cutting through freezer paper or fusible web among other things.
  • Rulers – I recommend a 24″ x 6″ ruler, a large square ruler like a 10.5″ or a 12.5″ to square up blocks with and a few smaller rulers like a 4.5″ or a 6.5″.  There are others out there that do special blocks but you can try those out after you get basics down.
  • Pins
    • Flower head or flat head pins are useful when sewing layers together.  You don’t have that odd bump like you would with glass bead pins as you are putting layers together.  (Do take them out when sewing a seam though… don’t risk breaking a needle!)
    • Rust-Proof Safety Pins – for pin basting quilt layers together
    • Silk Pins (glass head) – You can iron on top of these and the holes they make are very, very small so it is suitable for delicate fabric or fabrics where you are concerned about holes showing from pinning.
  • Seam Ripper – Yes, even the best of quilters needs a seam ripper at their side.  Things do not always turn out perfect and your machine sometimes has a mind of its own so you need to be able to “unsew” on occasion.  Make sure to always keep a sharp seam ripper and replace them as necessary.  It makes a huge difference when you are ripping out stitches. (Thanks Colleen!)
  • Thread
    • Piecing Thread – I like to use a good sturdy cotton thread when putting blocks together.  I only use Aurifil thread! I get the 50wt Mako cotton thread from The Quilt Bear – free shipping!  You can save even more on Fridays from 4-6PM during happy hour if you use the code from their Facebook page at checkout.!
    • Quilting Thread – Here is where it varies greatly depending on your sewing machine.  Again, don’t skimp on thread.  My machine likes Aurifil, Mettler Thread and also Connecting Threads makes good quilting thread too.  Use what works best with your sewing machine and your project.
  • Needles
    • Good quilting machine needles to keep on hand are 75/11 Schmetz quilting needles and 90/14 Schmetz quilting needles.  Use what is recommended for the thread you are using.  Typically those are the two common sizes you will find most often when doing quilting.  Schmetz has an awesome guide on understanding needles if you are curious about the various types available.
    • Hand needles – these will vary depending on the project you are working on.  It is nice to have a pack around though for putting on binding.  I like size 8 sharps for binding and english paper piecing work.
  • Fabric – This one may seem obvious but the type of fabric you are looking for might not be so obvious.  Purchase the best quality you can afford.  You can often find good deals on quilt shop quality fabric online.  While shopping at big box stores, put your hand under the fabric and if you can see through it, it is too thin and won’t last for several washes in the machine.  Not all fabric is made equally!
  • Batting – Natural fiber batting is very popular and what most people use when machine quilting.  Wool and silk battings are also quite popular for show quilts as they hold up well when being folded and unfolded without leaving marks.  Amy wrote a great batting guide about the different types available if you are curious.
  • Iron – Get a good quality iron.  You need something heavy with a large soleplate, gives off good, even steam and has a nice shutoff capability.  There are lots within a huge price range, try out a few and see what you like.
  • Spray starch or Sizing – you will need this to treat the fabric and give it body before cutting and sewing.  Sizing is a synthetic and good to use if you are concerned about bugs eating through your fabric or quilts as it doesn’t serve as a food source.
  • Sewing Feet for your Machine – At the least you will need a 1/4″ Foot, a Walking Foot and a Darning or Free Motion Foot that will fit your machine.  Most companies sell these in a “quilting feet” package or you can find aftermarket feet online.

Find some great free patterns online and you are ready to get started!


  1. Thank you!! That's incredibly helpful. Luckily, I already purchased some of these things so maybe I can find some good deals and not spend a fortune more.

  2. Katie – you missed one very important tool – the seam ripper! (Or maybe you don't want to discourage people by telling them in advance they will make mistakes.)

  3. This is very helpful. I have a few of these things because I made some rag quilts for babies.I was surprised at how the tools added up to lots of dollars at the register. Now I know to watch for coupons and sales for other sizes! Your site will be very helpful for me, so thanks for having it!