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1. Everything you'll need to start quilting

Hi folks!  Welcome to episode 1 of the Stop Scrolling, Start Sewing podcast.  I’m your host Nicole Gilbert.

On today’s episode we’re going to talk about all the tools you need to get started with sewing and quilting.  I can’t wait to dive in.

Today’s episode is sponsored by my Free Buyers Guide for choosing the perfect first sewing machine.  Head on over to to get your download today!

Now, on to the good stuff!

One of the things that I hear over and over again when I talk to my friends about sewing is that they love the idea but don’t even know where to start or what they’ll need.  Of course, I can help them with the how but they’re still going to have to get the tools required.  I think that most people think of these gorgeous Pinterest worthy craft rooms stocked with supplies and just assume that they need all that stuff just to get started.  I can totally see how intimidating that would seem for someone just thinking about sewing.

For those who take the thought process as far as a google search, Geez!  The information to be found can be so overwhelming.  There are so many schools of thought, guilds, and associations. Not to mention old ladies named Wendy hollering about pride in craftsmanship to make any newbie run for the hills.


At least, that’s what made me super hesitant to start quilting all those years ago.  I didn’t have a crafty mom or cool aunt to show me the ropes.  It felt like I needed to make some big philosophical decisions before I even began.  And like, I was just trying to keep my hands busy during reruns of Gossip Girl, ya know?

Now I know better.  The only thing you need to do, is start!  All those other things get figured out as you go.  The google box is not your friend on this one, peeps.

I wish I could say that you can whip up a quilt with whatever you have in your closet.  Heck, maybe you can and there is some bizarre version of Project Runway in the works as I record this.  But for those of you who aren’t Christian Siriano, you’re gunna have to do a little shopping.  But you don’t worry!  You don’t need all the things right away!  I’m going to run through the list of necessities in 2 groups.  The first group is things you’re going to need right off the bat and the second group is going to be what you’ll need once you’re ready to quilt and bind.  Grouping them this way will be especially helpful for those of you who don’t want to go all in yet or who are strapped for time or cash.

Don’t worry if you’re in the pick up line listening to this.  I’ll have a link to all my favorite items in the show notes at and I’ve even created a shopping list for you to download.  So girl, I got you covered.

Let’s get the most obvious one out of the way.  You’re gunna need a sewing machine.  If you’re just starting out, you don’t need a super expensive machine, you don’t even need a machine with 100s of stitches.  It was years before I moved on to a high-tech machine and I still don’t use it’s full capabilities.

There are so many ways to get high quality machines at a fraction of the cost.  I suggest checking Craigslist, Facebook marketplace and even throwing a post up on your newsfeed looking for one.  There are some great machines gathering dust in people’s attics.  They’re kind of like jogging strollers.  They were a must have item for a specific generation, but only 1/10 actually got used frequently.  Some brands to keep an eye out for are Pfaff (my personal favorite), Janome, Juki, Viking Husqvarna, Bernina and singer as long as it’s an older model, most of singer’s newer models aren’t worth the brand recognition that they still hold. Those big heavy metal machines are amazing and I’m making it my mission to collect them all. Don’t worry, Steve’s on board.

I totally understand if you just want to go to your local store and pick up a shiny new machine.  While I’m not a huge fan of Singer machines the Singer Heavy Duty is an excellent machine for the price.  You can find it in stock at most Jo-Ann fabric shops.  There are no bells or whistles and the line starts at $150 bux.  I’ll post a link to it in the show notes.

There are so many things to look for with a sewing machine that I would be doing you a disservice by trying to jam all the tips into this quick snippet.  I could make 5 whole episodes on machines and it would never be enough.  That’s why I created a free buyers guide to help you though the process.  Just head over to and you can download my free guide to choosing the right sewing machine for you.

Next up is Fabric.  I believe that you should start quilting by actually creating a quilt.  I like real world situational learning.  I suggest choosing a pattern that consists of large plain squares to learn with.  Once you’ve found a pattern you want to try out you’ll know how much fabric you need to buy.  I always suggest buying about a half a yard more than the pattern suggests for each fabric.  This will help you when you make mistakes and lets face it, we all want a bit of a fabric stash.  It’s part of why you get into quilting in the first place!  Fabric shops typically have quilting fabric in a plainly labelled section.  You’re looking for 100% cotton if you have to do your own hunting around.  The sky is the limit on this one.  Go nuts.  Fun fact, on my first 2 or 3 quilts I used a king sized sheet as the backing.  While it’s not something I would do now, it was so easy to work with when I was still figuring out all the things.

Since I’m trying to walk you through the process with this list, next up is cutting.  You’ll do most of your cutting with a rotary cutter. For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, it’s that thing that looks like a pizza cutter.  They come in 2 traditional sizes, 45mm and 60mm.  I have both but reach for the 45mm 99% of the time.  There are tons of brands out there but the 2 you’ll come across most often are Olfa and Fiskars.  Honestly, they’re both good.  All of mine are Fiskars brand because they’re the most inexpensive and I’ve had them for over a decade.  You can easily pick up replacement blades at any craft shop.

  Same goes for self-healing mats.  Definitely get a 36″ by 24″ mat.  You’ll be limited on what you’ll be able to cut with anything smaller than that.  Personally I think they’re all the same and tend to just buy whichever one comes in the prettiest color.  Make sure you never bend it and you’ll need to replace it periodically, depending on how much you use it.  I usually buy a new one ever 2 or so years, But that’s probably because the military movers thrash it in the moving trucks.

On the rare occasions that you’re not using your rotary cutter, you’ll reach for your fabric shears.  I’m only going to say this once so listen real close.  Fabric shears are for fabric only.  Period.  I can’t count the number of times I’ve threatened my husband for coming into my craft room looking for scissors.  Label them, hide them, whatever you gotta do.  But please, please, please, only use them on fabric.

All the same brands that make rotary cutters, make fabric shears.  In a bougie fit of passion I purchased a beautiful pair of Gingher shears that I’m obsessed with.  I oil them, get them sharpened, all the things.  But a plain old pair of orange Fiskars will do you just fine.  Especially because those Ginghers will set you back a pretty penny, considering they’re just scissors.  Plus as a quilter, you’re going to be using your rotary cutter WAY more. So there is no need to pay more than $15 for your scissors.

99% of the time that you’re cutting, you’ll be using an acrylic ruler.  There are so many shapes and sizes out there.  Don’t let yourself get overwhelmed.  I suggest purchasing a 6″ by 24″ ruler and leaving it at that for now.  Just make sure it’s clear and the markings are in a bright color.  It’ll make it much easier to see your numbers when you’re working with busy patterned fabrics.  When you’re ready for specialty shapes and weird sizes go for it, but you’re gunna have to add some more skills before you get there.  Omnigrid and June Tailor are probably the most prevalent brand of acrylic ruler out there but your selection may vary depending on what type of shop you’re at.

Most machines come with a 1/4” presser foot but it’s worth noting because it makes your life a heck of a lot easier.  Almost all quilt patterns allot for a ¼” seam allowance.  That means you’ll be stitching ¼” away from the edge of the fabric.  Before you buy your machine check if it comes with this foot and if not check and see if you can buy it on Amazon.  The same goes for a walking foot, but we’ll talk about that one in a little bit.

I’m hoping you already have an iron and ironing board lying around the house.  You can 100% use the same iron you press your blouses with for your quilting.  I did for many years until I got tired of my husband digging through my craft storage looking for it.  The name of the game here is to level up when it makes sense for you.  If you’d like to have your own dedicated ironing station I suggest grabbing a tv tray.  You know, the ones you set up in front of the couch?  I wrapped some batting and fabric around the top of a tv tray and secured it with a staple gun underneath.  Now I have an ironing board that I can set up next to my machine when I’ve got a ton of ironing of small pieces to do.  I’ll put a picture of it in the show notes and sometime soon I’ll do a quick tutorial on making one for yourself.  One of the best 10 minute projects I ever undertook.

If you buy a new machine it will come with a handful of needles but you should absolutely purchase a few more.  I had a knack for busting needles when I first started.  It’s probably because I always forgot to remove a straight pin or my seam nests stunk.  Anyway…Just grab a pack of universal needles.  You’re gunna use ‘em eventually.

For thread you should get 100% cotton thread that is complimentary to your fabric selection.  I usually piece together the top with either white, black, or navy blue thread depending on the shades of my fabric.  Then I buy really pretty upper level (aka more expensive) thread for the quilting since that’s the part people will see. Coats and Clark is a great quality of thread with a wide variety of colors available.  Sulky also has gorgeous colors, but it’s a little more silky than Coats and some people think it can be difficult to work with.  Whatever you do, avoid the big cones of thread that seem like a bargain.  Those are predominantly for sergers.  Some standard machines can hold them, but more likely than not your machine would take some modifying to make them work well.  In my opinion, it’s just not worth the energy when you’re first starting out.

Do you have a memory of your grandmother’s house where there was this little tomato stuck full of pins with colorful beads on the end?  Well you’re about to rekindle that tradition.  You’ll need a bunch of these when you’re holding pieces together to run through your machine.  Some people don’t use them but I highly suggest them when you’re starting out.  I like my little tomato to hold them, but you can also go for a magnetic dish.  It’s an age old digital vs analog type of thing.  I can’t believe I just said that, but it’s true.

The last thing you’re going to need to get started sewing your first quilt is a seam ripper.  I feel like I could write a love story starring my seam ripper.  I probably couldn’t get it published, though, too many cuss words (laugh).  You’re gunna want this thing near you at all times.  It’s basically your eraser.  When you make a mistake (notice my use of the word when) this is how you’ll remove that thread.  They are super inexpensive, like a dollar, and I suggest you purchase several of them and have them strategically placed around your house.

And that does it for what you’ll need to start piecing the top of your first quilt. 

Now on to what you’ll need to finish your quilt

You’ll use a walking presser foot to do the actual quilting.  If your sewing machine is designed specifically for quilting it may be built in like on my PFAFF creative vision.  But for most machines you’ll have to use a separate foot.  A walking foot allows your machine to smoothly move the top, batting, and backing under the needle at once.  It’s a lifesaver and if you’ve ever quilted without one, you know what I mean.

Speaking of batting…  Batting is the filler in your quilts.  You can go with cotton, polyester, poly/cotton blends, or even wool.  It’s a personal preference thing and you won’t really know what you prefer until you try it.  I personally prefer cotton batting.  It comes pressed into sheet form that is very easy to work with throughout the quilting process and the finished product is beautiful.  I personally can’t stand poly, but that’s mostly because after many washes it fluffs it’s way through the fabric and you end up with pills and fluff everywhere.  But that’ll also depend on how hard you use your quilts.  I have a hand-made quilt on most of the beds in my house and use them for picnics, soccer games, and hockey practice.  My quilts get loved.

Just like straight pins hold your pieces together when you’re sewing your quilt top, basting pins hold your sandwich of top, batting, and backing together while you quilt.  Basting pins are very similar to safety pins except they’re large and have a curve in them that makes it easy to pin through all 3 layers of your quilt.  You’ll be happy you decided to use them when you’re wrestling your quilt through your machine.

I’ve recently started to use basting spray and I gotta admit, I kinda love it.  It’s basically spray on glue.  I still don’t trust it for very large quilts or any project that requires a heavy amount of quilting.  Just some food for thought.  I use 505 brand basting spray and haven’t had any complaints yet.

I use a marking pen to draw lines on the quilt top that I plan to quilt along. I either quilt directly on the lines I’ve drawn or a ¼” to one side of the other or sometimes both if I’m feeling froggy.  There are tons of brands out there of fabric marking pens and chalk markers.  I don’t use any of them.  I use Pilot Frixion pens.  You can get them in any stationary aisle.  Most marking fabric pens disappear after a period of time and of course chalk smudges.  But not Frixion pens.  The marks only disappear under heat.  So they’ll be there all the way to the end until I iron my finished project.  Then voila, they’re gone.  I flipping love them.

You’ll use binding clips when it’s time to attach your binding tape around the edge of your quilt.  you place binding clips every 6-8 inches around the edge of your quilt to hold the binding in place.  They come in plastic and metal.  The different styles are a matter of preference and if you pick one over the other and don’t have any issues, I really don’t see a reason to try the other kind.

And that, folks, is a complete list of the items that you NEED in order to create a quilt.  There are tons of nice to haves out there, but this list will get you through your first project.  Head on over to the show notes at for links to all the products that I’ve mentioned.  There you’ll also find a checklist that you can download with a list of all these supplies.  It’ll be handy when you’re ready to stock up.

Congrats!  You’ve just finished another episode of the Stop Scrolling and start sewing podcast!  Thanks for hanging out with me.  Make sure you never miss an episode by hitting subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts.  Now stop scrolling and start sewing!

Quilt Love

Noelani T.

I worked with Nicole in a one on one environment on a large quilt. I have limited sewing experience and...

Noelani T.

The Modern Quilters Circle

Noelani T.

I worked with Nicole in a one on one environment on a large quilt. I have limited sewing experience and Nicole’s expertise was invaluable for this large project. Nicole is very patient and explained the different steps and their purposes clearly. She improved my original idea to better accomplish my overall goal. I highly recommend Nicole as an instructor and would personally have another session in a heartbeat!

Michelle L.

I seriously didn’t even know the names of parts of my sewing machine before I worked with Nicole. She walked...

Michelle L.

The Modern Quilters Circle

Michelle L.

I seriously didn’t even know the names of parts of my sewing machine before I worked with Nicole. She walked me through everything step by step. And it was amazing. She taught me the ins and outs of my machine and how to add each basic concept together. It was invaluable, because now I can figure things out and get creative without fearing the dreaded unravel!
The Modern Quilters Circle