Being a self-taught quilter is both flattering and underwhelming all at the same time. There are many tools I didn't know about and so many terms I didn't understand when I taught myself to quilt. This post focuses on the top 7 tools I use daily, other than a sewing machine of course!
A Solid Cutting Mat
The first several mats I owned all came from a big box store. I had Fiskars mats and they did the job just fine except for when it came to cutting large things. I found my mats slid around on my table. I even tried to clamp the mats in place but the clamps would impede on my ability to cut long pieces of yardage. I also noticed that over time I would actually cut right through the mats.
However, I quilt full time and I'm constantly cutting things, so keep that in mind. I use my quilting office about 6 days a week on average. One of those days each week is for fun projects for myself/gifts or designing new things. The other 5 days I'm working on customer quilts or cutting/piecing sample quilts for my own quilt patterns.
I found that this heavy duty Quilters Select cutting mat doesn't slip around nearly as much and it will take me a long long time to cut through this sucker. It's "spendy" (AKA: expensive) but for me it's worth the cost to have something durable that will last a long time. The markings are clear, it's double sided, and it's heavy duty.
There are so many of these on the market right now. The major brands are Fiskars, Olfa, Quilter's Select, and Martelli. I have found that Fiskars works well for me. I started with the handled-style of cutter but I found that they couldn't withstand pressure when cutting through multiple layers of fabrics / t-shirts, etc. I switched to this "stick" version and I'm quite pleased with it.
Here's a free tip from someone who has been quilting for awhile ... at the first sign of struggle to cut through something, change your blade. Cutting accidents happen more frequently when the user is attempting to saw through fabrics instead of just gliding through them. Your cutter should glide through your fabrics. If you really aren't sure how to use a rotary cutter, YouTube will be your best friend. Just keep in mind there are a lot of opinions out there and you eventually just have to find and stick with what works best for you.
I didn't understand how crappy my pins were until I bought some good ones. The ones pictured here are from Missouri Star Quilt Company. The thing about a good pin is it will make you bleed. So there's that. They glide into fabric without pulling on or catching any of the fabric fibers. If your fabric pins are leaving holes in your fabric, you might want to consider an update and donate all your other pins.
Also worth noting, this adorable pin cushion was made by SawdustAndRuffles on Etsy. It fits PERFECTLY in front of my sewing machine. It's dainty and I love the colors. She has a knack for piecing tiny pieces of fabric together and her products are always so lovely!
Pins will hold fabric precisely, where as clips are more of a temporary hold in my opinion. They are great for clipping borders to quilts before you sew them on, clipping binding to your quilt instead of constantly being poked in the arms and legs by pins while sewing the binding to your quilt, etc. See above comment that good pins make you bleed, even your legs!
Here's the skinny on clips. Most of them are cheaply made. The only time I wished I had more than one set was when I was sewing rows of a large quilt together. Other than that 1 time, one set of clips has always been plenty. I got this huge set from Amazon.
Like rotary cutters, there are what seems like a million different cutting rulers out there. I have heard that you should always use the same brand of ruler as the brand of your mat. I have never followed that advice and I haven't had any issues.
I like my yellow Omnigrid ruler because the markings are so clear, easy to see, and I rarely make incorrect cuts due to not being able to understand the markings. However, this sucker is slick. It slides far too easily on fabric. You can see I tried to add little sticky circles to the ruler but that didn't help. I purchased a highly acclaimed Creative Grids ruler because it's not supposed to slide. Well, it definitely doesn't slide as much but I have made multiple incorrect cuts due to the markings on this ruler. There are little white dotted lines that often seem nearly impossible for me to see while cutting. So I only use this one when I'm making whole-inch or half-inch cuts. If I need quarter or eighth cuts I use the yellow Omnigrid ruler.
If you have the end-all-be-all 24" ruler, I would LOVE to hear about it!
Quarter-Inch Sewing Foot
This is by far the best invention for quilting. See that little arm on the right side of the foot? It's EXACTLY one-quarter inch away from where my needle hits the fabric. This ensures I always have quarter inch seams which are standard in every quilt I've ever made. Each sewing machine brand tends to have their own specialized feet. Look up your machine brand + "quarter inch foot" to find the correct one.
One thing I have recently learned about is something called a scant quarter-inch seam. This means that you don't take your fabric all the way over to the little arm on this foot. The reason a scant quarter-inch seam would be needed is because the more piecing in a quilt block, the more fabric that gets lost in the seams, especially while pressing. A scant quarter-inch seam allows for a tiny bit more fabric to be kept out of that pressed seam and it should help with ensuring your block size is correct when you're done sewing all the pieces together. I have not mastered the scant seam just yet. If I sew slowly and with laser focus I can nail it, but I certainly haven't mastered it just yet.
I don't have a photo for the best of the best iron because I have yet to find one. I bought 2 expensive irons several years ago and found they lasted just as long as the inexpensive ones I bought from Amazon. When looking at irons you want something that has adjustable steam, adjustable heat, auto off (because if you're like me you move onto laundry and cleaning and groceries and then remember you left your iron on!), and most importantly make sure you can clean the plate. I use this cleaner on a regular basis to ensure starch, interfacing, etc is not stuck to my plate because I certainly don't want that to melt onto a fabric!
I also have a knack for knocking my iron over and it lands on the floor with quite the thud. Having a less expensive iron means I don't cry nearly as hard when I break it. My sewing office is a whopping 10x10 space so my hips, elbows, etc tend to knock into my ironing board more often than I care to admit.
Overall, getting started in quilting can be overwhelming but it doesn't need to be! Start with a simple pattern that will teach you basic piecing skills. Lean into Google and YouTube to learn more about the words you don't understand while reading a pattern. Just like anything else, it will take time, errors, questions, and corrections but just about anyone can make a good quilt! I really believe that!