©2007 Publications International, Ltd. The basic quilting tools include (from top to bottom): quilting hoop, see-through ruler. self-healing mat, rotary cutter, sharps, safety pins, darning foot, tenplate plastic, betweens, even-feed walking foot, scissors, and a thimble.

Before you embark on a quilting project, it's important to make sure you have all of the tools you'll need to create a lovely piece you can be proud to show off to friends and family. This article lists all of the quilting tool basics.

Cutting Tools

A sharp pair of scissors is essential for quilting. Ideally, set aside a pair of scissors to be used on fabric only. Paper and plastic quickly dull the cutting edges of scissors, so keep a separate pair for cutting out templates and other nonfabric items.

To cut fabric quickly and easily, invest in a rotary cutter, see-through ruler, and self-healing mat. These tools let you cut strips of fabric efficiently. If you become very involved with quilting, you may find that a collection of cutters, mats, and rulers of different sizes and shapes is valuable. A good starter set would include the large-size cutter, a mat at least 22 inches wide, and a 6 X 24-inch ruler.

Marking Tools

Most fabrics can be marked with a hard-lead pencil. Mechanical pencils are worthwhile investments because they are always sharp. A special fabric eraser can help remove light pencil markings. Other handy marking tools include colored pencils designed for marking on fabric and a fine-tip permanent pen for signing your finished quilt. Soapstone pencils make a light mark that is easy to brush off, but they lose their sharp point quickly and must be sharpened often. Tailor's chalk or chalk wheels are helpful for marking quilting patterns just before you quilt. The chalk brushes off fabric easily. Disappearing ink pens may be tempting because they make a mark that is easy to see, but heating fabric that contains residue from the ink can create a permanent stain. Leaving a work in progress in a hot car or in a sunny window can cause this to happen. Consider banning this risky product from your quilting basket.

Traditionally, templates were made of scrap cardboard. Cardboard is satisfactory, although if a template is going to be used many times, template plastic is better because it does not wear down. Template plastic is available as plain white sheets or transparent sheets printed with a grid.

Needles and Pins

The needles used for hand piecing and hand appliqué are called sharps. For hand quilting, use betweens (quilting needles). Generally, start with a size 8 and work toward using a size 10 or 12. Use the smallest needle you can to make the smallest stitches.

Always use a sharp needle on your sewing machine; a dull needle will tend to skip stitches and snag the threads of your fabric, creating puckers. Use size 9/70 or 11/80 for piecing and appliqué and size 11/80 (in most cases) or 14/90 (for a thick quilt) for machine quilting.

Use fine, sharp straight pins (such as silk pins) for piecing and holding appliqué pieces in place before basting or stitching. Long quilter's pins are used to hold the three layers (top, batting, and backing) before they are basted together or quilted. Have a large box of safety pins (size 2) on hand for basting for machine quilting.

Other Quilting Tools

If you plan to quilt by hand, you need some way of holding the area you are stitching smooth. Some people do this successfully with their hands, but most quilters prefer to use a quilting hoop or quilting frame. Quilting hoops are portable and inexpensive. A small area of the quilt is surrounded by the hoop, which keeps the fabric taut. For large bed quilts, many quilters prefer to use a quilting frame, which supports the entire quilt, with large areas available for quilting at any given time. However, quilting frames are a significant investment and require space. Consider using quilting hoops until you feel the need to work on a quilting frame. Experiment with different styles to see what feels most comfortable.

You will need a handy steam iron and ironing board. To streamline your workflow, place the ironing board at right angles to the sewing table and raise it to the same height. This arrangement will allow you to press seams after they are stitched without getting up.

Quilts can, of course, be made entirely by hand. Today, however, many quilters do all their piecing -- and some do all their quilting -- by machine. The machine does not have to make lots of fancy stitches. It does need to stitch an accurate 1/4-inch seam with an even tension.

Want more information? Try:
  • Learn about choosing the right fabric for your quilting projects on our Quilting with Fabric page.
  • Excited to quilt, but don't know where to begin? See Quilting Materials for a place to start.
  • Learn How to Quilt or brush up on the basics with our refresher course.