• Top Ten Quilting Tools

    I have seen several listings of the top ten this or that -- especially on late night television so I have decided to write the top ten quilting tools. Here is what I consider to be the top ten quilting tools. Check out this list and see if you are missing some of these items. You may find them useful for you in your quilting.

    Ten -- Flat Flower Pins And Magnetic Pin Catcher

    The magnetic pin catcher comes in several shapes and colors. There are square pin catchers and round ones. Some are even heart shaped. All are made of plastic having a strong magnet inside.

    Just throw the pins near the magnet and they will adhere to the plastic. It is also a very handy gadget for picking up pins that have been spread across the table or spilled on the floor.

    If you have a computerized machine -- check with your dealer before placing a pin magnet near your sewing machine. Some machines can withstand a pin magnet fairly close but you want to be sure before you use one near the machine.

    Flat flower pins are about two inches long with the head having a shape of a daisy like flower.

    They can be used to stack layers of fabric for cutting. Because they are flat you can place the rotary ruler on top and cut - be careful not to cut the pins with your rotary cutter as cutting through the pins will dull the blade. Flat flower head pins can be used for piecing and every other need for pins! They are long and thin so will cause less bulk when pinning a seam. Once you use these pins you may use them for all piecing and quilting and only use other pins for special uses.

    Nine -- Wooden Press Bar And Little Irons

    If you "finger press" while you are machine piecing you might want to invest in one of those little wooden pressing bars. They are very handy to have at the machine when piecing. If you use one of them instead of "finger pressing" you will save your fingernails. The wooden tools can be simply used right on your sewing table and helps crease the seam allowance to one side.

    Other options for pressing beside the sewing machine would be the "wand" type mini irons or a small travel iron. Many different mini irons are available at the fabric stores and any one of them would work to have beside your machine for pressing as you machine piece. You would need to make or buy a small ironing pad. A large purchased potholder would work well for a small pressing surface.

    There is one little craft iron that sells for about ten dollars that looks like a small bunny rabbit. It is very cute and although it only heats to one temperature, it is just the temperature you need to press cotton fabric. This little iron is small enough to go into a tote when traveling to a retreat or class.

    Eight -- Seam Ripper

    Buy yourself a "state of the art" seam ripper. No matter how carefully we machine stitch we will eventually have a place we wish to take out. Some quilters call it "reverse sewing". Some quilters call their tool for un-sewing "Jack the Ripper". Whatever you call it and however often you use it, replace your seam ripper regularly. Seam rippers will dull with use and need to be replaced. If you have poor vision, try one of the new rippers with a little battery operated light that shines right on your work.

    To properly rip out a seam -- turn your patches over so you are cutting the bobbin thread. Cut every third or fourth stitch. Then simply pull the top thread and the seam comes right out. Remove the few small lengths of bobbin thread that remain and you are ready to re-stitch. This method of ripping causes the least distortion of the fabric patches.

    If you do a lot of chain piecing try one of the seam rippers mounted in a base. They hold a seam ripper in an upright position to cut apart the threads between patches when chain piecing. Or make one yourself by placing a ripper in an empty thread spool glued to a small block of wood.

    Seven -- Multi Viewing Lens

    This multi-view lens is made from heavy plastic and is flat piece similar to a magnifying sheet. Rather than one magnifier this sheet has twenty five sections. Simply make one block and view it through the multi-view lens and see an entire quilt of twenty five blocks.

    Another item is a small plastic viewer with a lens that you place near the eye and view through it. Again you can view one block but see multiples through the viewer. Both these items are relatively inexpensive and are available at the quilt shop.

    Six -- Drafting Supplies

    A Quilter needs a supply of 1/4" and 1/8" graph paper. A nice flat ruler with a 1/8" grid, scissors and clear tape. You'll also need a supply of pencils, erasers, colored pencils and tracing paper.

    Draw your quilt blocks on graph paper first. Overlay your tracing paper to color with colored pencils. By placing a fresh piece of tracing paper you can do another color selection. Continue with different color selections until you are satisfied.

    If you are computer literate you might want to invest in one of the new quilt design software.

    While quilt design software shows great possibilities and can do many wonderful things you will find the hands on of graph paper and pencils to be equally useful.

    And sometimes it is just easier to grab a piece of graph paper and sketch something quickly.

    Freezer Paper

    Freezer paper has been around for a long time but it has been transferred from the kitchen to the sewing room. Freezer paper has some real possibilities.

    Make templates -- if you are piecing a small project you might want to make your templates from freezer paper. Simply cut them out with or without seam allowance added and press the shiny side to the fabric using a warm iron. Use a small acrylic ruler and add your quarter inch seam allowance or simply cut along the edge of the freezer paper depending on how your templates were prepared. For a sturdier template simply use two layers of freezer paper pressed together with a warm iron.

    There is a small acrylic ruler available that is called "Add-a-Quarter". It is usually used for paper piecing but works well for simply adding the quarter inch to freezer paper templates that were cut out without seam allowance.

    Appliqué -- many appliqué methods use freezer paper for a foundation to needle turn or use glue stick or liquid starch to turn under the seam allowance.

    Five -- 100% Cotton Fabric And Thread

    100% Cotton Fabric and 100% Cotton Sewing Thread

    Quilters have asked for good quality 100% cotton quilting fabric and the fabric manufacturers have supplied it to us in great variety and quantity. In the 1970's when quilting came back into popularity for the Bicentennial, very little 100% cotton fabric was available and many quilters had to settle for polyester blends just to get fabric to make quilts.

    Now there is so much fabric available it is almost overwhelming to today's quilter. Thanks to the fabric manufacturers for hearing our pleas we now have many fabrics, prints, solids, stripes, polka dots, vintage reproductions, and novelty fabrics available to make our quilts.

    Good quality sewing thread is very important to good piecing. If you use good quality 100% cotton sewing thread with your 100% cotton fabric your stitches will lay flat and there will be no small puckers from the thread pulling. If 100% cotton thread is unavailable use cotton covered polyester.

    Buy a spool of 100% cotton thread and try it with your next piecing and machine quilting project. You will see the difference in your stitches will be more even and your seams will not pucker.

    Four -- Laser Cut Acrylic Templates

    Several companies manufacture laser cut templates for specific blocks or an overall quilt. The templates for a specific block would include all pieces needed to make that block, and then you would add sashing or setting squares. Some templates available are one-patch charm templates to make the entire quilt of one shape, and some template sets are very extensive making an entire medallion quilt.

    Many sets are available in chain fabric stores or online and will be a great help to quick cutting your next project. Almost any block, charm or full size medallion quilt is available in laser cut templates. You might need to do a little shopping online by typing the name of the block you wish into a search engine followed by the word "template". Many laser cut templates are available and most are very reasonable priced.

    If you are interested in a specific block pattern template that is not commercially available there are individuals who will custom cut your acrylic templates for a reasonable price. Many who cut templates advertise in the classified section of national magazines or online.

    Three -- Acrylic Rulers

    Many different styles and sizes of acrylic rulers are available. The most common size is a 6" or 6 1/2" x 24". Acrylic rulers come in different sizes and shapes. And some of them are specially designed for strip cutting.

    Some acrylic rulers have a rough area that grips the fabric and keeps them from sliding or if you don't have that style there are plastic grippers that can be purchased. They will stick to the back of the ruler and keep it from sliding. If you wish you can also use small spots of sandpaper applied with double stick tape. Either way you want to keep your ruler from slipping when you are cutting

    There are many acrylic rulers each having a different purpose. If you only have a few rulers a 6" x 24" and a 6 1/2" x 13" are handy. A ruler with a 45 degree angle for mitering is also very useful. A 6 1/2" square and a 12 1/2" square ruler are very useful for cutting larger squares and for trimming blocks.

    Two -- Rotary Cutters And Mats.

    No list is complete without the rotary cutter. The rotary cutter brought quilting into the 21st century. We no longer have to cut a few pieces at a time with scissors or shears. We can cut multiple stacks of fabric with our rotary cutters and mats. Next to the sewing machine, the rotary cutter is probably a quilters most time saving piece of equipment.

    Rotary cutters come in four sizes the most common being the 45 mm size. Many brands are available and come in both straight handle and ergonomic handles. Ask to try them at your quilt store so you will know which brand and style fits your hand.

    When you purchase a rotary cutter be sure to purchase some extra blades so you will have them on hand when you need to change.

    There are several brands of cutting mats. I prefer the brand with a harder surface because it lasts longer and my blades stay sharper than some of the "self-healing" options.

    One -- Sewng Machine

    There are quilters that believe that a quilt must be entirely hand made to be "authentic". This is not historically correct. If you wish to piece and quilt by hand that is your choice and you may want to make a special heirloom quilt using hand methods.

    But sewing machines have been used to make quilts since their invention in the eighteen hundreds. Our foremothers were delighted to have a machine that helped them with the tedious task of making clothing, linens, and quilts and as soon as the machines were readily available they were being used to make everything. In fact when machines first were available it was a status symbol to own one and some even bought a machine on shares because it was too expensive for one person to own.

    Quilts have been found that date back before the Civil War and they were machine pieced and machine quilted -- without the benefit of a walking foot. While we think we have to have the latest gadget to sew with our foremothers had a very basic and simple treadle sewing machine and they made beautiful quilts.

    A basic sewing machine in good working order is all you need. Some options such as a walking or even feed foot would be nice but for piecing a simple straight stitch machine is all you need. Be sure to clean and oil it regularly. Your machine is your friend and you need to take care of it.

    Always buy the best tools you can afford and enjoy quilting!
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