Tips for Beginning Quilters (Part 1)

Note: This article is the first in a series of articles intended for beginning quilters.

You can’t help it: it’s in your genes!

Genetic science is postulating interesting theories these days concerning DNA as nature’s survival storage device.

  • For example, say an ancestor of yours saw her parents fall from a cliff while fleeing a sabre toothed tiger, and lived the rest of her life with an extreme fear of heights as a result. That survival memory may have been stored in her DNA and passed down to help her progeny survive, giving you a fear of heights even though you personally have no reason to be.
  • Or say you have a progenitor whose parents and siblings were attacked in the dark of night by deadly predators. Those shrieks, and the trauma of lifelong survival without family may have been stored in his DNA giving him, and you, a survival instinct that makes you afraid of the dark.

Most importantly though…

Think about the thousands of cold winters that many millions of mankind throughout the world have known over the ages. Now think about the survival memories stored in the DNA of countless children whose survival is due in large measure to what their mothers did to assure their warmth and protection.

In short, for thousands of years nature has been seeing to it that quilting would run deep in your DNA! If it were not so, then your family line would have been naturally selected to end long ago.

Consequently, the next time your husband objects to how much money you are spending on fabric, just “explain” to him that you can’t help it anymore than he can help going bald… it is in your genes!

Tips for Beginning Quilters – The Tools of the Trade


My sister-in-law has recently succumbed to her genetic call to quilt — either that or that new sewing machine she received for Christmas inspired her to try her hand at quilting. For this reason I have decided to do a couple of articles on quilting for beginners. This first article will focus on the tools of the trade: what every starting quilter should have.

Quilting is not a cheap hobby so you will need to collect your equipment over time.

1My first tip is to sign up for coupons at your local crafting store.  If you don’t live near a good crafting store then Joann’s online store has some good supplies and they regularly hold sales and will email coupons.

2While it is true that in many instances you can “make do” without many quilting tools, having good tools will save you time and money… and good tools improve the accuracy and quality of your work, which is no small deal. If quilting is too hard, or too time consuming, or the end result is too poor, a beginning quilter may needlessly get discouraged and not stick with quilting. Where possible, beginners should look to acquire the right tools.

3Sometimes beginners look for shortcuts or clever ways to circumvent conventional wisdom. There is an old and very wise saying that goes: “Never take a fence down until you know why it was put up in the first place.”

My advice is rather than look for shortcuts which could leave you lost and frustrated, get to know the beaten path first. Yes, it is very possible you may have found a better way to do something, so write it down and go ahead and learn quilting the way it is being taught to you. There is plenty of time for you to improve on it later when you have practiced skills and a better overall picture of what needs doing and how it can be done, and if your idea still looks good then all that experience will help you make your idea even better.

self healing cutting mat4Purchase a “self-healing” cutting mat. As mats come in a variety of sizes, I suggest that you get the largest one that you can accommodate.  I have a mat that is 57″ by 32″ and even that can feel small when I am working on large quilts.

Some of the brands that I love are OLFA and Omnigrid.  You can’t go wrong with these names.

As well as a large cutting mat, a 12×12 rotating mat is also handy when working with templates.

Grips5Purchase good measuring rulers and grips. Over time I have collected a number of rulers, but the one I use every day is my Omnigrid  6 x 23 clear ruler. In fact, I have two of these for when I am cutting larger pieces of fabric.  With each ruler that I have, I also purchase grips that go on the underside of each ruler to help prevent slipping.

6Purchase a good rotary cutter. I have tried several different brands of rotary cutters, but now I only buy Olfa. Specifically, for my day-to-day fabric cutting I use the Olfa® Deluxe Rotary Cutter-60mm. This cutter has a dual-action safety lock that locks the blade open for comfort and closed for safety, and it can also be used for both left- and right-handed users.

Other Olfa cutters I own are the 45mm and the 18mm cutters which I use for smaller projects.

7Invest in a good pair of scissorsMy sewing scissors are my sewing scissors and nothing else.  I have other scissors for my paper crafting and another for gift wrapping.  Your scissors for fabric should only be kept for fabric and nothing else. By the way, although I have several pairs of scissors, you will only see one brand name on my sewing table: Fiskars. 

8As a quilter you should be spending as much time with your iron and ironing board as you do with your sewing machine.  Seams need to be as accurate as possible, and you cannot assure yourself of this accuracy if you are working with unpressed fabric. You should be pressing after each stage of sewing.

In fact, if I were to give only two pieces of advice to a beginner quilter it would be..

  1. Keep seams as accurate as possible (at 1/4 inch).
  2. Set and press every seam.

9You will find yourself pinning a lot to get accurate seams, so although it is a small thing, you do start to appreciate the pins you work with.  I like to use the flat flower head pins.

10When it comes to marking tools, I have tried everything from chalk to special pencils. I have no idea how much I have spent over time on marking tools, but I have finally found love and am happy with FriXion pens. These pens come in various colors and nib sizes, and best of all they are fun to use. Fun? How so?

Well, a line drawn on fabric with a FriXion pen disappears when I iron the fabric! Piecing and ironing are much less tedious now; I like to piece just so that I can use my pen 🙂

I will stop this first article here at 10 tips.

If you are an experienced quilter reading this article, please feel free to leave tips of your own that could help beginner quilters.

Now on to Tips for Beginning Quilters – Part 2.

  1. CorinnaCorinna03-05-2013

    Ok, listen up everyone. Please pay ATTENTION TO TIP 8.

    This is a VERY good point. I learned this one the hard way haha. When my awesome sister in law told me to be a accurate as possible, I thought yeah yeah. As I was going along (obviously I am a beginner) I was thinking ‘that’s close enough’. BIG MISTAKE :(. Now I am at the point where I’m sewing my blocks together, they are not lining up AT ALL. I am having to re measure and trim any way I can to get the seams to meet.

    Lets just say, I will be more careful and I wish I had learned how to do it rather than how not to do it.

    Thanks for the tips. Very helpful for me 🙂

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