There are a few categories of people who get into a new hobby. There's the Go All In group who purchase every tool, magazine, subscription and fabric they see. There's the I'm Making One Thing group who swears they will only make this one craft, get everything they need for said project, and then they'll be done with the hobby. And there's the I Have No Idea What I'm Doing category which is self explanatory.
When I started quilting I was most definitely in the last group. Then when I got going I fell into the middle group. And I currently share attributes with the second group as I try my hardest not to buy fabric for future projects ... but let's get real, I have lots of beautiful fabric that's just waiting for the right project!
Hopefully these tips well help you get started well so that you don't feel overwhelmed, so that you don't spend your mortgage payment on supplies, and so you don't just walk away from this incredible community of creative and warm people.
Self Help VS Classes
YouTube has exploded over the past 10 years and videos can be found for just about anything you're wanting to learn. My husband and I have fixed our washing machine, replaced parts on a car, and even dabbled in some plumbing repairs all
with the empowerment of YouTube videos. In fact when I opened YouTube this morning this video was in my "watch later" queue. As it turns out, YouTube is exactly how I got started with quilting.
My searches began with "how to make a bobbin" and continued on with things like "why are my stitches a hot mess when I sew." It didn't even occur to me to look up things like "what is a quarter-inch seam" because I just didn't know what I didn't know. Self Help (YouTube, Blogs, Phoning a Friend) definitely have their place. I think I watched this binding tutorial at least 13-15 times before I was able to repeat what I saw without needing my seam ripper!
When deciding if you should take a class or cling to YouTube like Rose clings to the floating door in the movie Titanic, or if you should sign up for classes, it really comes down to a) the basic knowledge you already have about your sewing machine and quilting and b) your learning style. I SHOULD have taken a class or at least sat down with my mom to learn all the basic things about my sewing machine and even the basic things about quilting, like the terminology. I had pride issues that kept me from humbling myself and asking for help. Don't be like "2010 Ann." Sure, she figured it out but she could have done it a lot faster if she'd asked for help!
Here are some self-help videos I like on YouTube:
Missouri Star Quilt Company has an entire playlist on YouTube dedicated to quilting terminology. Not only that, but you can search for all kinds of helpful tutorials on their YouTube channel.
If you are interested in Paper Piecing, Sugaridoo is not only adorable but she makes everything extremely easy to reproduce at home.
Coriander Quilts always h
as very eye-pleasing patterns that are easy to replicate. She has a slew of helpful videos on her YouTube Channel.
Classes are extremely helpful for hands-on experience with someone who is knowledgeable enough about the topic to answer the slew of questions you will have. Search online for "quilting classes near me" or call your local quilt shops to ask who offers a beginner's course.
The newest trend in quilting is online classes with a way to ask the instructor questions. Here are a two I recommend for new quilters:
Craftsy is a subscription based website where you can browse their expansive list of online classes.
Quilt Addicts Anonymous has well edited videos and tutorials for just about everything quilt-related. They have a beginners course that's free.
A few basics that every quilter uses are:
Rotary Cutters: My favorite and affordable rotary cutter is the Fiskars 45mm stick. I tend to be a little ambidextrous when it comes to cutting and this cutter makes it easy to switch back and forth. Fiskars is also easy to find in big box stores so if you need a package of blades, it shouldn't be too hard to find. You can also find blades here.
Cutting Mats: Cutting mats are not all created equal but they will all get the job done when you're getting started. The general unwritten rule is to use the same brand for your mat and for your rulers, but I have found that mixing the brands up does not cause as much panic as one would be led to believe.
Fiskars Mat: I started with this mat because it was lightweight and affordable. It worked well for me for quite some time. As my business grew and I started buying fabric by the bolt I found that the lightweight quality I originally loved became quite frustrating for me because the mat would easily slide and lift as I manipulated large quantities of fabric right off the bolt.
Creative Grids: This company is ON IT with their templates / rulers / etc. This mat is a bit thicker and won't slide around as much but note there is a step up in price.
Quilters Select: This mat is my absolute favorite mat, but it's definitely more pricey than the others. It's thick, double sided, and I flip the mat over to light gray or dark gray depending on what I'm cutting so I can easily see the edges of my fabric.
Rulers & Templates: When I first started I thought I needed a template for everything. I thought I needed a plethora of templates for squares, triangles, and so on. This is actually not true. A beginner quilter only needs 2 basic rulers and then as your skills grow you can get into more specific rulers based on the blocks you're making.
Omni Grid 24" Ruler: I literally use this ruler every.single.time. I cut fabric for a project. I use it for every t-shirt quilt, memory quilt, traditional quilt, etc. I LOVE the neon coloring because you can actually read the numbers and see the tick marks clearly against fabric of every color. It's important to have a ruler long enough to reach all the way across your 24" tall mat. You'll need this for cutting strips of fabric from yardage, trimming off selvage, and so much more.
Omni Grid 12" Ruler: Bringing out your 24" long ruler for smaller tasks such as trimming up blocks is the equivalent of bringing out your dad's metal tape measure for basic science classes in 5th grade. It's a bit overkill and bulky for the smaller jobs. I don't even put away these two rulers because I use them both almost every day that I am in my office (which is about 6 out of 7 days a week).
Pins: Not all sewing pins are meant for quilting. I know that sounds so crazy but it's very true. You want pins that are so sharp that it feels like the finger prick test at the doctor every time you accidentally touch a tip. Pins should glide into quilting fabric. If you're having to push hard, you aren't using the right pins. The goal is to hold fabrics in place and not cause any damage to the weave of the fabric in the process. You also want glass head pins on the off-chance you ever need to iron your fabric with a pin in place. The last thing you want is melted plastic on your iron or on your project. Try to avoid cheap pins. They might work short term but in the long game this isn't an area where I would opt for the cheapest tool.
This is a big big topic and deserves its own blog post. But for the sake of helping out new quilters, here are the things I wish I had known from the beginning.
Big Box Store fabric isn't always the best for quilting, even if it says it's quilting fabric. I have used fabrics from big box stores that have melted, stretched, shredded, and have developed worn spots after only a handful of washes. There are some trusted brands tucked away in big box stores such as Kona solids, Riley Blake, and Moda, but overall I don't recommend building an entire quilt from big box stores if you want the quilt to truly last.
Local Quilt Shops are the best place to buy fabric because they know what quality looks like and it's typically all they carry. Yes, you're going to pay more for good quality quilting fabric but in the long run I would much rather a family member or friend receive a quilt from me that's going to last longer than 4 trips through the washing machine. Many local quilt shops also host shopping events on social media such as Box Car Quilts. You can find them on Facebook here where they are live every Tuesday and Thursday night.
Online Shops are popping up left and right and there are some tried and true big stores as well as some smaller stores that carry an incredible array of fabrics. I have been known to buy fabric from the following places.
MetroQuilt Company on Etsy
My best advice is to start small. Start building up the basic tools you'll need. Go to a local sewing machine dealer and let them teach you how to use your machine or guide you on what machine will be best for you. Steer clear of machines that do "all the things" in the beginning. Most sewists upgrade their machines once they get a feel for their niches. Find a beginner quilt pattern that speaks to you and buy only the fabric you need for that single quilt. Local Quilt shops are the best places for getting 1:1 help with a pattern choice as well as fabrics.
I have an easy beginner pattern available for FREE just by subscribing to my email list. It's called Ponder Pieces and it only requires 8 Fat Quarter cuts of non-directional fabric. The option to subscribe and receive the free pattern via email is at the bottom of this blog post. If you prefer not to subscribe, you can purchase the pattern for $6.50 for a limited time.
You can do this! Quilting is so much fun and the quilting communities on Instagram and Facebook are generally warm and welcoming. Happy Sewing!
Disclosure: Some of the links above are affiliate links. This means that, at zero cost to you, I will earn an affiliate commission if you click through the link and finalize a purchase.