Here’s a list of essential tools for machine and hand quilting. These have been tried and tested by the quilting community and are widely recommended. I’ve explained each item for complete beginners. And as a bonus, I’ve included other nice-to-have supplies that you may want later in your quilting journey.
Essential quilting tools for beginners:
- 45mm rotary cutter
- Spare rotary cutter blades
- Cutting mat that’s at least 21” big
- Fabric scissors (1 large & 1 small)
- Quilting ruler (6” x 24”)
- Measuring tape
- Fabric markers
- Masking or painters tape
- Sewing or quilting pins
- Safety pins (ideally curved)
- Hand quilting needles
- Basic sewing machine
- Sewing machine needles
- Walking foot
- ¼” foot
- Seam ripper
- Iron & ironing board
- Color-catcher laundry sheets
Nice-to-have quilting tools:
- Bias tape maker
- Sewing clips
- 14″ – 20″ quilting hoop
- Hera marker
- Spray baste
- Safety pin closer
- Quilting guide for your walking foot
- Binding foot
- Quilting gloves
- Wool pressing mat
- Other types of quilting rulers, like triangle and Stripology rulers
- Non-slip ruler stickers
Rotary cutter (45mm)
What is it? And what’s it used for? A rotary cutter is a cutting tool with a circular blade. You roll it over the fabric with some pressure to create cuts. It cuts fabric quicker and more accurately than scissors, so that’s why it’s preferred by quilters.
What size do you need? The 45mm version will be your everyday tool for making basic quilting cuts. If you’re curious what the other sizes are for, Fiskars recommends size 60mm for cutting thick fabric and size 28mm for cutting intricate patterns and tight curves (source). These are nice-to-haves, but not necessary.
Which rotary cutter do you recommend? Fiskars rotary cutters are popular, easy to find, and easy to get replacement blades for. Olfa is another reputable brand.
- You can get different designs and paddings that make the rotary cutter easier to hold.
- “L-shaped” rotary cutters require less pressure to create cuts than normal “stick-shaped” ones. If you have issues with your hands and wrists, you may prefer “L-shaped” ones.
- The ability to lock the blade is a really important safety feature so that you don’t accidentally cut yourself.
- And if you’re left-handed, make sure the rotary cutter is designed for this. For example, on my Fiskars Trigger rotary cutter (pictured above), you can put the blade on either side.
Spare rotary cutting blades
What is it? And what’s it used for? Your rotary cutter will become dull with use, so you’ll need spare blades on hand. Dull blades don’t create clean cuts. They miss spots, forcing you to keep cutting the same area. A sharp blade should be able to cut through 6-8 layers of fabric in one sweep.
Tips: Wendy Chow, the author of Urban Quilting, recommends replacing your rotary cutting blades after 2-3 projects.
And here’s how to put your new rotary cutting blades in:
Cutting mat (minimum 21” big)
What is it? And what’s it used for? A cutting mat stops your rotary cutter from damaging your table. And it reduces how much your fabric and ruler slip around as you cut.
What size do you need? Ideally, you want the largest size you’ve got room for, but 21” is as small as you want to go. Quilting fabric is normally 42” wide, so you’ll have enough room for it as long as you fold it in half.
Tips: If you can, store the cutting mat flat so that it doesn’t warp. For example, you could let it live on a table. If you can’t do this, sometimes I store mine against a wall, sandwiched between other things.
Also, try to keep your mat clean and reserved only for fabric. You don’t want glue and paint from other crafts ruining your fabric.
Which cutting mat do you recommend? I went cheap with mine. I got an unbranded one from Amazon 2 years ago and it protects my table well. However, even though it’s advertised as “self-healing”, it permanently holds cuts. I haven’t found this to be a big deal.
What is it? And what’s it used for? Most quilt cuts are made with a rotary cutter, but fabric scissors are still useful for making quick snips and cutting off excess thread.
What size do you need? It’s handy to have 2 pairs of scissors. Large scissors for cutting fabric, and small ones for tasks that require more detailed control. For example, snipping threads and trimming seam allowances. I recommend 8″ fabric shears for everyday fabric cutting, and tiny embroidery scissors or thread snips for detailed tasks.
What is it? And what’s it used for? Quilting rulers are used with a rotary cutter to slice your fabric in straight lines. They’re also used to measure and mark fabric.
What size do you need? Here are the 3 sizes that author Wendy Chow recommends:
- 6″ x 24″ is great for making long cuts. It’s big enough to cut 44″ (110cm) wide quilting fabric (folded in half) in one go. If you can only buy one ruler, this is the one to get.
- 6″ x 12″ is a smaller ruler for cutting and trimming smaller pieces. It gives you more control over your cuts.
- 12 1/2″ x 12 1/2″ is great for cutting squares, which happens a lot in quilting. Wendy recommends a large square ruler because you can cut small and large squares with it.
Tips: You can buy rulers in imperial (inches) and metric (cm) measurements, but most quilt patterns are designed in inches. You don’t want to mix the two measurement systems in the same project. This can cause accuracy problems and mismatched seams.
What is it? And what’s it used for? Long, flexible measuring tapes are useful when you need to measure something that’s beyond your ruler’s length. For example, when you need to measure the size of your large quilt.
What size do you need? If you’re planning to make big quilts, get an extra-long tape measure. For example, 120″ (300 cm) ones.
Tips: cheap measuring tapes are sometimes a little inaccurate. Many of my measuring tapes have a metallic end that isn’t perfectly positioned at 0, so my measurements can be off by 1/8″.
What is it? And what’s it used for? You’ll need fabric markers to draw sewing guidelines. You can get them as pens, pencils, and chalks.
Tips: You’ll probably need markers in a few colors to stand out on your different colored fabrics. It’s also a good idea to test your markers on a scrap of fabric from your project first. Make sure the temporary mark is visible, doesn’t disappear too fast, and doesn’t leave permanent marks.
Masking or painters tape
What’s it used for?
- Taping quilt blocks on the wall to figure out how to assemble them together.
- Labelling quilt blocks and pieces.
- Temporarily joining fabric together before piecing.
Sewing or quilting pins
What is it? And what’s it used for? Pins are used to hold fabric together before you sew. And they prevent your fabric layers from shifting as you sew. This is important for accurate piecing (piecing is when you sew fabric together to create a quilt block).
Which pins do you recommend? You’ll want long, fine pins designed for quilting. These are longer than dressmaking pins because they need to go through multiple layers of fabric and thick batting. Pins with glass or flower heads are easier to spot on the floor if dropped.
Avoid thick pins. They create large holes in the fabric which can damage your project. I once bought a cheap box of 1000 unbranded “fine” sewing pins from Amazon. In reality, they were so short and thick! Basically unusable. So I recommend that you don’t go cheap when it comes to pins.
Safety pins (ideally curved)
What is it? And what’s it used for? Safety pins are often used to hold the quilt layers together before sewing. Unlike pins, you don’t need to worry about them poking you or falling out. Curved safety pins designed for quilters are easier to put on and take off.
Hand quilting needles
What is it? And what’s it used for? Many quilters choose to hand sew parts of the quilting and binding process. For this, you need hand quilting needles. They come in different sizes. Weirdly, the smaller the number, the bigger the needle. So a #3 is a bigger needle than an #8. There are also different types of needles. The most common ones for quilting are Betweens, Sharps, and Embroidery needles.
- Betweens (aka. quilting needles): they’re short and thin needles. They have a small, rounded eye at the top (the “eye” is the hole where the thread goes through). Their small size is good for making small and accurate stitches at a fast pace. They should be used with thin and (ideally) waxed quilting cotton thread. They typically come in sizes #3 to #12. Sizes #8 and #9 are easier to start with.
- Embroidery needles: if you want to do big-stitch hand quilting with thick thread, you’ll need embroidery needles. They have big eyes to allow thick thread to pass through. And they’re strong, so they’re less likely to bend as they pass through your quilt sandwich. They often come in sizes #1 to #12. Sizes #3 to #6 are a good place to start for most quilts.
- Sharps: a popular choice for general hand sewing tasks. They’re long and thin needles with a round eye. They can be used for sewing binding on a quilt or hand applique.
Basic sewing machine
All you really need to start quilting is a basic sewing machine with a straight stitch.
You don’t need an expensive quilting machine with a huge throat space to make big quilts. When I tested basic sewing machines for beginners, I rolled a 100″ King size quilt into each machine’s throat space, and to my surprise, they could all fit the quilt! It was definitely a tight squeeze with some of the machines, but it was doable (with a lot of squishing!).
Before buying a machine, make sure compatible quilting accessories are available. You’ll want a walking foot (with a guide), 1/4″ foot, and free-motion quilting foot.
You’ll also want to be able to drop the feed dogs for free-motion quilting, or at least have a “darning plate” to cover the feed dogs. Not all budget machines have these options.
So if you only want a cheap basic machine, that’s fine. It will do the job. More experienced sewists may prefer a mid-range machine.
With cheap machines, the stitch quality is heavily affected by your sewing speed. So if you start slowly and speed up, your stitch length will become inconsistent. This can look messy when you look at the quilt up-close, or if you use a contrasting thread color. Mid-range sewing machines produce more consistent-looking stitches, no matter what speed you’re sewing.
Mid-range sewing machines also have better feed dog systems (the small metal ‘teeth’ under the presser foot). This means they can feed fabric through the machine better, making it slightly easier to quilt in straight lines.
Ideally, you’ll also want adjustable presser foot pressure to help you grip the fabric layers better. When I made quilt samples on budget machines, the feet sometimes didn’t grip the fabric layers enough, so my “quilt sandwich” would “slide” to the left or right by 1/8″ as I was sewing. This made it hard to quilt perfectly straight lines.
If you’re a complete beginner, don’t worry. You won’t notice uneven stitch lengths or slightly wavy quilt lines unless you look really close.
I asked quilting author Wendy Chow what sewing machine she recommends. She said “quilting is possible on any machine. However, at some point, you may want to consider getting a machine upgrade if you frequently quilt. Here are 3 key features to consider when looking for a new sewing machine for quilting:
Large throat / harp space: throat space (also known as the harp space) refers to the distance between the sewing machine’s needle and the main part of the machine where the motor is housed. You’re going to need as much space as possible, especially when working with larger projects, i.e. throw size and bed size quilts.
Extension table: an extension table provides additional space to the left of the sewing machine needle. It allows you to lay large projects flat and gives you the room to move your project as you’re quilting. Check the sewing machine specs to see if it comes with an extension table. Extension tables are not a one size fits all solution and are designed differently across different manufacturers and models.
Walking foot: a walking foot provides additional grip and works in unison with the feed dogs to prevent all three layers of quilting (quilt top, batting / wadding, and quilt back) from shifting as you move the project through the sewing machine. The walking foot also helps reduce puckering and air bubbles in the project. Some newer machines come with an in-built walking foot or a walking foot extension. Carefully read the specs before purchasing. If the walking foot extension does not come with the machine, you should factor in purchasing a walking foot extension as part of your budget.”
Sewing machine needles
What is it? And what’s it used for? All sewing machines require needles to stitch. Needles for home sewing machines have a flat back at the top, so make sure you don’t accidentally buy industrial machine versions which are round at the top. These won’t fit home sewing machines.
Which sewing machine needles do you recommend? Universal needles are good enough to start with. Get a few packs of size 80/12 and 90/14. Schmetz is a popular brand to choose from. They make reliable and good-quality needles.
- Universal needles are multi-purpose needles that work for lots of projects. Size 80/12 is fine for piecing quilting cotton fabric, and size 90/14 for quilting multiple layers.
- Quilting needles are available. They have a slimmer point that can penetrate 3 layers without damaging the fabrics. Schmetz sells them in 2 sizes. 75/11 and 90/14. (source)
- Topstitch needles can be used for multi-directional quilting. The long needle eye allows the thread to glide through better. It’s also ideal when sewing with thicker threads and for decorative topstitching work. (source)
Tips: Buy extra needles. Sewing machine needles will become dull with use, causing tension problems, puckering, and skipped stitches. Schmetz says “we recommend replacing the needle after 8 hours of sewing time.” (source)
What thread do you recommend for quilting?
- 50-weight cotton thread is a good place to start. You can use it for piecing, quilting, and sewing the binding.
- Use a finer thread like 80-weight when piecing. This will create flatter seams that are easier to match.
- For big-stitch hand quilting, 8-weight and 12-weight threads are often used.
- Quilting thread is designed for hand quilting, not machine use. It’s 100% cotton with a glazed finish for strength and sheen. It’s slightly thicker than general purpose thread.
What is it? And what’s it used for? When quilting multiple layers of fabric, the layers shift about as you sew. A walking foot has ‘feed dogs’ (teeth) that make the top and bottom fabric layers move together at the same rate.
Note: if you have a high-end sewing machine with a built-in walking foot, you don’t need to buy this foot separately. Brands sometimes call this feature a “dual feed system”.
Which walking foot do you recommend? Your sewing machine will work with specific walking feet made by the brand. The product code is listed in your manual. Some brands make multiple types of walking feet. Open toe vs Classic. 5mm vs 7mm. Normal walking feet vs Dynamic walking feet.
- Open toe feet give you more visibility over the stitching area. This is useful when doing stitch-in-the-ditch for quilting.
- 5mm feet can sew stitches that are 5mm wide. 7mm feet can sew stitches that are 7mm wide.
- The Dynamic walking foot can sew forward and backward, not just forward like normal walking feet. You can also sew decorative stitching with this foot, not just straight and zig zag stitches like normal walking feet.
What is it? And what’s it used for? Most seams in quilting are sewn with 1/4″ seam allowances. It’s easier to sew these accurately using a 1/4″ foot. You just line up the edge of the fabric with the edge of the foot.
The 1/4″ feet with a metal arm on the side are easier to use. The arm stops your seam allowance from accidentally becoming too big.
What is it? And what’s it used for? A seam ripper is a ‘stick’ with a small curved blade at the end. It’s used to break and remove lines of stitching that went wrong. You’ll want to get 2 or 3 of these because they do often go missing!
Iron & ironing board
What’s it used for? You’ll be constantly using your iron (and ironing board) to smooth out creases in your fabric, and press seams. Any basic steam iron is good enough to start with.
Color-catcher laundry sheets
What is it? And what’s it used for? These are sheets that you place inside your washing machine. They absorb any excess dyes from the fabric, rather than letting the rest of your items get spoiled. They’re also helpful when you have multi-colored fabric and don’t want the colors running into each other. If you pre-wash your quilting fabric, use them then. If you don’t prewash, add some sheets when you first wash your final quilt.
Nice-to-have (but not essential) quilting tools:
These items make quilting faster, easier, and more enjoyable. You can still quilt without them though.
Bias tape maker
What is it? And what’s it used for? The raw edges of quilts are often bound and finished using bias tape. These are bias-cut strips of folded fabric. You can buy them pre-made. Eventually, you’ll want to make your own bias tapes. This gives you more creative control over the colors and fabrics of your binding.
You cut strips of fabric on the bias and then feed them through a bias tape maker, ironing as you go to set the creases. Then just use them like normal pre-made bias tape.
What bias tape maker do you recommend? 1″ versions are a good size for quilt binding. Smaller sizes are better for dressmaking.
What is it? And what’s it used for? These temporarily hold fabrics together before you sew, particularly thick fabric layers. Clips are easier to attach than sewing pins. And you don’t need to worry about your pins bending as they get pushed through bulky layers. Quilters often use clips to hold their binding in place while they hand sew them to the back.
Which sewing clips do you recommend? Clover sells “Wonder Clips”, but they’re quite pricey ($50 for a pack of 50). I bought a cheap dupe from Amazon 2+ years ago and they do the job well. Clips aren’t a very complex item, they just need to hold layers of fabric together, so I think it’s safe to go cheap here.
What is it? And what’s it used for? When you hand sew, you need some pressure to push the needle through the fabric. A thimble will protect your fingers while you do this.
Which thimble do you recommend? You can get different designs in plastic, metal, and leather. It’s personal preference which design and material you prefer. Here are some tips to help you choose though. The plastic ones tend to give you sweaty fingers. The leather ones are thick but still let you feel the needle without pain. And the metal ones are strong but may feel less comfortable.
14″ – 20″ quilting hoop
What is it? And what’s it used for? Quilting hoops allow you to hand sew your quilt with an even tension. You place your quilt between the 2 hoops, tighten them, and then hand quilt with the hoop in your lap. If you have no interest in hand quilting, you don’t need this.
Which quilting hoops do you recommend? You want a hoop that’s thick and sturdy enough to hold bulky quilts inside. You also want a large hoop so that you can hand quilt a big section in one go. 14″ – 20″ is a good place to start. Watch out for cheap hoops. The wood isn’t always finished well and can feel “splintery”.
What is it? And what’s it used for? Hera markers mark quilt lines without drawing on fabric. They just use pressure to leave a crease that can easily be ironed out. The crease can be seen on both sides of the fabric. You don’t need to worry about your fabric pens accidentally staining your quilt.
What is it? And what’s it used for? When you make your “quilt sandwich” (quilt top, batting, and quilt back), you’ll need to temporarily join them together before sewing. This is to prevent the layers from shifting during quilting. There are different ways to baste your quilt sandwich: pinning, baste stitching by hand, or using a spray adhesive. Spray adhesives are a quick and easy option, but more costly.
Which spray baste do you recommend? Odif 505 is a popular spray baste that’s readily available.
Tips: lay down sheets of newspaper or old bedding before you start spraying. Otherwise, your work surface will get covered in the sticky spray.
Safety pin closer by Kwik Klip
What is it? And what’s it used for? it’s a “crayon-shaped” tool that closes safety pins for you. If you pin-baste your quilts, it may hurt after a while closing that many pins. This tool makes pin-basting much faster and safer. If you spray or hand baste your quilts instead, you won’t need this.
Here’s how it works:
Quilting guide for your walking foot
What is it? And what’s it used for? This is a curved bar that slots into your walking foot (there’s a hole at the back for it). Rather than marking every single quilt line, you can just mark one, and then use the bar to sew evenly spaced lines. It saves time and effort when you’re machine quilting.
I don’t always use it. Sometimes the bar doesn’t stay still. It can gradually rise as you quilt which can be annoying, as it’s no longer touching the fabric and guiding you. But when it behaves, it’s very useful!
What is it? And what’s it used for? Normally you sew your bias tape on one side, fold it over, and then sew it again on the back. A binding foot allows you to attach bias binding in one go. You slot your bias binding tape inside the (adjustable) guide, place your fabric between the folded tape, and just sew. Your sewing machine and foot will work together to sew both sides in one go. And they create a surprisingly neat finish. I was especially impressed at how neatly it sews binding around curves! If you machine sew your binding a lot, it may be worth using this foot to save time.
What is it? And what’s it used for? Quilting gloves have rubberized fingers that help you grip and precisely move your quilt sandwich through your sewing machine. This is especially helpful when free-motion quilting. They also protect your hands from the (many!) pins in your quilt. And they stop the sweat and oil on your hands from staining your new quilt.
Wool pressing mat
What is it? And what’s it used for? If you’re tired of setting up your ironing board constantly, or don’t have the space to put it next to your sewing machine, you may want a pressing mat. It lets you quickly press your seams right next to your sewing machine, saving you time and effort. Wool is a good material for mats because it can absorb heat and steam without melting or burning (source).
Other types of quilting rulers
What is it? And what’s it used for? You may want to invest in specialty rulers that speed up the cutting and trimming process. For example, a 60-degree triangle ruler if you do a lot of triangle piecing, or a Stripology ruler for cutting multiple strips, rectangles, and squares in one go.
Here’s what a Stripology ruler is if you’re curious:
Non-slip ruler stickers
What is it? And what’s it used for? If your ruler often slips whilst cutting fabric, these stickers will give your ruler more grip. Stick them on each corner of your ruler and in the middle. They make cutting and marking fabric more accurate.
Which ruler stickers do you recommend? You can get see-through silicone ones and grippy “sandpapery” ones. The “Slip ‘N Grips” by Dritz are “sandpapery”, but many reviewers have confirmed that this doesn’t snag or damage their fabric.
What to read next:
- 21 Sewing Tools for Cutting Explained (Names, Pics, Uses)
- 21 Types of Sewing Thread & When to Use Them (+ PDF Chart)
- 19 Measuring Rulers & Tools for Sewing (Names, Pics, Uses)
- Email correspondence with Wendy Chow on 25 June 2021.
- Betts, E. (2013) Beginner’s Guide to Quilting. Exeter: David and Charles.
- Chow, W. (2021) Urban Quilting. OR: Paige Tate & Co.