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36. 3 Skills You Need Before You Learn to Quilt

Hi there. I’m Nicole Gilbert and you’ve joined the stop scrolling, start sewing podcast. Are you new to sewing and want to start quilting, but have no idea where to begin? Each Wednesday, Join me as I share the ins and outs of that quilt life. If you don’t have a sewing machine, have no idea how much fabric you need, or you’re just trying to figure out where the heck to stick that bobbin. This is the podcast for you.

Hey there! Nicole here. Welcome to episode 36 of the stop scrolling start sewing podcast. On today’s episode, we’re chatting about the basic skills you need before you learn to quilt. But first, a quick reminder, I want to make sure you guys know that the best sewing machine for quilting is also the machine You already have. To help you out. I’ve created a guide to help you get your sewing machine prepared for quilting. I go over how to clean your machine, what accessories you’ll need and what settings to use. So to grab your free guide, head on over to to download yours now. And I’ll have that link over in the show notes for today’s episode, which will be Okay, guys, let’s get sewing. So today’s episode is going to be a little bit shorter and that is for a very, very good reason.

You guys don’t need to know that much before you start quilting. That’s probably my favorite thing about quilting. I love sewing in general. Um, I’ve dabbled because I would like to think of myself as a maker. Yes. I’m a quilter by no means would I’d say like, if anybody was like, what is your thing? Quilting is my jam. However, I also, you know, refinish furniture doing the upcycle thing, I decopauge don’t even get me started on decopauge. Um, I do like all these rent I knit, I do so many random little like hobby craft kind of uh, things. Um, but when it comes to sewing, sewing is definitely my favorite quilting is absolutely my jam, but I have made garments. I’ve made, you know, bags, you know, I, I do a lot of making on my sewing machine, but there are skills you need for different types of sewing.

And I gotta say, I find quilting to be the easiest, like quick-start craft. Yes. You need a sewing, which honestly, I think is the biggest hurdle for most people. You need a sewing machine, but once you have a sewing machine, whew, watch it. Yeah. You could start quilting in LIGO, legitimately. You’re a quilter like the end of the day. Once you get your first sewing machine, if that’s what you choose to do. And I hope that’s what you choose to do, because like I’ve said like three times already . So let’s talk about the things you need to know before quilting. And this is nothing on this list is meaning they’re things that are quickly learned like in an hour quickly learned, not like mindblowing. I need to master this skill. Prerequisite kind of things. It’s like, yeah, you need to be able to do this in order to quilt, but you’re going to figure it out really, really quickly.

So first things on the list. I want you to know the basics of your sewing machine now, depending on how complex your sewing machine is, you may never know the ins and outs of your sewing machine. I’m telling you right now, the sewing machine I currently have. I’m sure it can do 1 million more things than I’m currently using it for. Um, because since I’m mostly a quilter, I could probably get away with a straight stitch machine. But instead I got this ginormous computerized guy, which I love, cause he’s super strong, but I don’t know the ins and outs of my machine. I know it very well, but I don’t know the ins and outs. I do however know all of the basics. And that’s what I want for you guys on your sewing machine, whether or not you’re on a top of the line Bernina or you’re on a brother sewing machine that you got for 150 bucks at Walmart, you can quilt on that machine first and foremost.

I don’t want you to think that you can’t, because I know that you’re in the forums. I know that you’re in the Facebook groups. And I know that you’ve heard that if it’s not a Bernina, it’s the w you know, it can’t be done. It can absolutely be done. Um, so I want you to knock that out of your head. You do not need to upgrade your machine. The machine you have is the machine you need. I’ve already gone into that into this episode. So I’m not going to beat that dead horse, but I do want you to know the basics of your sewing machine. So what do I mean, when I say the basics of your sewing machine, you need to know how to thread it because I’m telling you right now, you will have to thread it and rethread it. And rethread it several times.

Um, it just happens every once in a while, you’ll hit a hiccup. And the fastest quickest way to troubleshoot is to first rethread your machine. So we want to make sure we know how to properly thread our machine. And it’s not rocket science. I would say 99% of machines actually have the instructions for threading printed, right on top of the machine. So like, it’s like numbered, and it’s like, first you go through this loop. Then you go around here. Then you go around there. Then you go down and up and down, and then you get through this whole, like, if you can follow the numbers, you can threaten your machine. 99% of the time. For those of you using a hand-me-down machine. First of all, lucky you solid metal workhorse is what you’ve got in front of you, but you can easily find the manual online.

For some reason, the link is escaping me in my brain, but it will be in the show notes of this episode. Um, but there is a website that legitimately has every sewing machine manual you could possibly think of. And if it doesn’t have your exact match, it will have one of them the same, like generation of the same brand and most machines in a given line of brands. So like, if you’ve got a Kenmore, if you’ve got a singer, if you’ve got, you know, an old school know me or a white, um, you will use the same theories. So like the manual will work for now 85 to 90% of the things on your machine. So keep that in mind. Um, so that’s number one. I want you to know how to thread the machine. I want you to know how to change your needle.

And most needles change the same way. There’s a small screw right on, on your needle bar. You unskilled through it. You pull out the needle, you insert the needle flat side to the back and you tighten that screw. If you didn’t know, so how to change your needle. Now you do cause that’s like the whole of the, um, information that you need on that. But we want to be able to easily change our needles because we want to change our needles every day three to five, bobbins five is a stretch. I’m, I’m being lenient here. Cause I know you newbies are not changing your needles. And if I’m being quite honest, depending on where I’m at in a project, I’m not changing my needle either. And I’m changing it like a bad, bad quilter and waiting until I’m skipping stitches, which is not what you should be doing, or when I’m hearing that the funk sound, which is not what you should be doing, you should be changing your needles before. It’s an issue. So every three to five bobbins, same with cleaning out underneath your machine. So we want to be able to thread our machine. We want to be able to change our bobbin and we want to be able to change our needle and we want to be able to wind our bobbin. So that’s, that’s number three on our machine, learning how to wind our bobbin. Now most modern, that cost over a hundred dollars, have a built-in bobbin winder.

Now successfulness of them, very, some people cannot stay up and did there Bob and winder because they think they’re, they’re buying Bob and winder on their machine. Just doesn’t wind them tight enough or straight enough. Um, I personally have never had that issue and I have had machines that run the gamut from $99 brothers to, you know, $10,000 offs and everything in between. So I haven’t had that issue, but I know that there’s some out there who like swear by a separate Bob in winder. You can do that. But again, I don’t suggest it right out of the box. Like if you’re just using the Bob and wander on your machine, use it. Now, if your machine does not have a Bob and winder built in, absolutely get a separate pop in winder. Um, do not hand wind your bobbins, honestly, for the cost of a Bob and winder.

I want to say they’re like $15. I’ll link one in the show notes for this, but like $15. And it is probably the best $15 you’ve ever spent because winding a bobbin consistently evenly and tightly takes time, way too much time, especially when the alternative is $15. Honestly, the first Bob and wound on your, on your bobbin winder is probably worth 15 bucks as far as I’m concerned, but maybe I’m Lacey. You can let me know, but, um, the most popular bobbin winder out there it’s called a Sidewinder comes in cute little colors. It’s, you know, two or three inches thick, you know, four inches by six to eight inches. It’s not very big, but it does the job. And it works very similarly to how the Bob and winder on top of a machine works. You’ve got your thread, you put it through the guides, you’ve got your Bob and you wrap the end of the thread around the bobbin, push the little hook over and press a button.

Um, now some of your higher end machines for those of you out there who are fortunate enough to be starting on a high end machine, um, might have a separate motor, which is kind of nice. Um, some machines have it set up so that you can have your needle threaded and have another thread spool go just for winding your Bob. So you can do both things at once. So you can like wind up. Yeah. While you’re still sewing kind of cool, super Jetson ESC. Um, so machines have come a long, long way, especially in the last like 10 to 15 years. Like Holy cow, sewing machine explosion with the technology. It’s pretty cool. So, okay. So we’ve discussed threading your machine, changing your needle, winding a bobbin. And the last thing I want you to know for the basics of your machines is how to set them.

So some of you will have only a handful of stitches, which is perfect. Honestly, most quilters only use a straight stitch. You will see some amazing straight stitch machines out there running from like 600 to a thousand bucks when you’re like, Whoa. And it’s because they’re so fricking powerful because the only thing they do is a straight stitch. I’m thinking of a Juki there’s one brother out there also. Um, the Juki is a TL 2000. Okay. I want to say the baby lock is a baby lock accomplish. Um, and brother has another one and all three of those machines look like identical to each other work horses. That’s why they’re still several hundred dollars and they only do a straight stitch. They’re amazing, super strong machines, great machines. Um, but some of you will have a machine that has 200 stitches. And that’s great, especially if you’re like me and you’re a dabbler and you’re a maker and you just want to try some stuff out.

You’ll definitely get use of some of those decorative stitches. Um, but it’s kind of a, to each his own. And I don’t want any, I don’t want any of you to feel like, Oh my gosh, my machine has five stitches. I’m not going to be able to do this. You only need one stitch, you need a straight stitch. So when I’m saying, I want you to know the basis of your machines and I’m talking about settings. I want you to be able to set your style, which length, and I want you to be able to, Nope, you won’t even need to do that. Yep. I want you to be able to set your stitch length and know how to select your stitch. That’s it. Now some of it will be knobs for those of you with a more mechanical machine. Some of you will have, um, a computerization where you’re just pressing like an up and down arrow.

Some of you will have a full touch screen. They come in all shapes and sizes on sewing machines. I just want to make sure you know how to set your stitches. So we want to choose a straight stitch. I would suggest as a beginner, you go with a slightly larger stitch length, uh, like 2.2, 2.4. I know it sounds. Or maybe you don’t, it sounds a little bit long, but the, the benefit for a slightly longer stitch when you were first starting out, is that it will be easier to use your seat. I know, I know we don’t want to talk about the seam ripper, but you will use your seam ripper. I still use my seam ripper more than I wish that I did, but I do. Um, and so the longer your stitches, the easier it is to take out your, um, stitches, however, you don’t want to go too long because then your seam will not be as strong.

So I would say 2.2 is probably what I would suggest for you guys. Um, and that is just long enough to get that handy, dandy, little spike of the seam ripper underneath that stitch. Now I personally use a 1.8 for my stitch length. Um, especially now that I press my seams open. Um, but that is neither here nor there. That’s another conversation as you get more comfortable, you can shorten your stitch length is where I’m going with that. Okay? So there you have it. Number one, you need to know the basics of your machine. And that includes how to thread your machine, how to change your needle, how to wind a bobbin and how to choose your machine settings. Now, number two, you need to know what tools you really need. And I say this because I, when I started quilting, I did not know what tools I really needed. And honestly, I really wish there was somebody who had told me, cause I just didn’t know. So what you need is a sewing machine, sewing needles, bobbins thread, a self-healing cutting mat and acrylic ruler, preferably six inches by 24 inches and a rotary cutter. That is what you need and threads, nets and scissors, but you could probably just use the scissors. You’ve gotten the cabinet for right now, as far as cutting threads go, that’s what you need.

I did not know that. And I honestly hand cut five inch squares with a pair of scissors and I drew the grid onto the fabric. So like I legit, I didn’t, I don’t even think I drew a grid. Actually. I think I had fabric laid out. I cut, I took a lines and I drew a five inch square and I cut it out. And then I drew another five inch square and I cut it up. Obviously none of my five inch squares were five inch or square to be quite honest. Um, and it was just jenky, super janky, super janky, quilt, terrible quilt. One star would not recommend. However, it is also my favorite. My oldest son sleeps under it every single night. Um, we use it all the time. We take it with us everywhere. It’s great, but it’s awful. So that’s all you need though.

You will see, you know, waits for rulers. You’ll see rulers in every shape size, and what have you, you’ll see rotary cutters in every shape size and what have you. You will see, um, different types of grips and handles and you don’t need it all. You don’t. Um, actually you go to episode one of the podcast, you will hear my like absolute bare bones necessity list in all of my recommendations. Again, I will link to that in the show notes for this episode as well. But I said earlier, you know, the number one roadblock that people run into when they decide, they want to learn how to quilt is that they don’t have a sewing machine and it can be daunting because when you go into these forums, everybody will suggest, you know, a four or $5,000 Bernina. And it’s like, that’s great. I’m not there yet.

Um, the number two is that once you’re like, Oh, okay, I can, I can use the sewing machine. I’ve got, I can use a sewing machine from a big box store because I’m just learning. And I don’t want to make that kind of commitment. Those things are great. But then you’ll start to wander down the notions aisle and you’ll start to like do inventory. And you’re like, Holy cow, I’m going to spend as much on all of these little doodads and winnings as I will on the sewing machine. And that will be your next real stumbling block.

I am not trying to say that quilting is a inexpensive hobby because it is not obviously anything that you’re doing that has goods that are used at the end. Meaning you have to buy fabric, you cut it up, you sew it and then you’re done with it. And you need to replace that fabric. It’s expensive fabric adds up over time. You don’t need all of the extras when you’re just starting out. I’m not saying I don’t have the extras. I do. I’m looking at a wall full of acrylic rulers. I did not start with all the extras and thank goodness because I probably wouldn’t have learned to quilt. We were young. We weren’t even married yet. We lived in a teeny tiny apartment in not the greatest area of town. And there were a lot of other things that I could’ve spend our hard earned money on. So if I thought, Oh my gosh, just to do this, I’m going to need to have a thousand dollars in my pocket to get started. I would have never gotten started. So please, please, please, please. Don’t let the stuff stop you.

Okay. And if you want a list of all those episodes of all of those tools, go to the show notes for this episode, the modern culture six, and I will have links to everything, um, including, uh, it’s Christmas time. Amazon just dropped off another package. Sorry about that guys. Um, including a place where you can download like a list of all the tools, like a shopping list. Um, so I will have that available for you as well. And now the very last skill you need. I’m sure by now you’ve been like she hasn’t said anything about selling. Do I need sewing skills? Yes and no.

I hear all the time. I can’t learn how to quilt. I don’t know how to sew on a bobbin. So on a button mean either actually that’s a lie. I do know how to sew on a button. I’m not spectacular at it. And I don’t have much confidence in the buttons I do so on, but I do know how to, so like Chris, cross through the holes, do the circle around the STEM, how to, how to know in the back. I know, I know the basic steps, all of that to say it doesn’t matter because you don’t use that skill in quilting quilting for the most part, until you get a little bit more advanced and you’re starting to do like curves and kind of things like that. You just kind of be able to sew a straight line. That’s it? That is our only sewing prerequisite.

So a straight line and have that straight line maintain the same distance from the edge of the fabric. That’s it just a straight line. That’s all you need. And there’s a lot of ways to cheat it. So when I first started, so one I’ve seen like all the ads on Facebook for this like seam guide thing, it’s like this metal magnet that you can put down on top of your machine bed exactly where you want your edge, your fabric to hit and how wide of a seam allowance you want. And then you just bought your fabric right up against it. So that’s another one of those do dads that are kind of cool. Do you need it? Absolutely not. But that’s one way to go. What I did was I took painter’s tape and I put down a straight line exactly. That held a quarter inch from my needle.

Then I put another layer of painter’s tape on top and then another one and another and another until I had built up a nice little wall for my fabric to butt up against. And I just zoomed right along that for the longest time really. Um, and it was still on my machine up until I got rid of that, that little brother machine I had. Um, and it, and it did the trick. And honestly it trained me because then when I got the new machine right away, bam, perfect straight line sewing because I had done it so often, um, and used that little wall or, or dam for lack of a better word. Um, and it just trained me to do that straight line. And then all of a sudden I was like, Oh, I can sew a perfectly straight line because it was a skill that I hadn’t even trusted myself to do yet.

So in my head, I was still relying on that wall. Not necessary though. So I just want you to keep that in mind, but that’s all you need to start quilting. So I’m going to run back through that list. One, we want to know the basics of your sewing machine, and that includes how to thread your machine, how to change a needle, how to wind a bobbin and how to adjust your settings to what tools do you really need. And these are, I want you to take it down to the bare bones. What do you need for your sewing machine to function? What do you need to cut your fabric? That’s it? That’s all I want you to think about because that’s all you need right now. Okay. And then three, how to keep your fabric straight, how to sew a straight line on your machine.

That’s it? It’s not that it’s not this big mystery. And I love that so much about quilting. I wish that more people understood that. Um, recently I was giving my sister a tour of my sewing room. And so I do not come from a family of quilters. I am self-taught. I did not have anybody in my family who quilts, my grandmother sewed, but like, not like I, so she was a maker. I have like an aunt, that’s a maker, but nobody’s, so’s like I, so, um, but anyway, she came into my sewing room, shoot my sewing room and she’s looking at my machine and she’s looking at my pegboard full of like notions and rulers and all of this stuff. And she’s like, Holy cow, I wouldn’t even know where to begin with all this stuff. And I think when you don’t know about quilting or, or you don’t know, like the ins and outs of equity, it’s intimidating.

It seems like a lot. And it also seems so specialized and crazy. But when I look at it, I’m like, that’s a ruler. That’s a way to cut that thread. And I’m out. That’s like everything falls into that category on my pegboard. Now I have scissors. I have threads snips. I have a rotary cutter, but that all falls into the that’s. How you cut, you know how to cut? My six-year-old knows how to cut. You just gotta be shown how to cut in this certain way, but it’s not rocket science, same thing with rulers, a rulers, a ruler, mine just have funny markings and you know, quarter inches the rule of the world. But beside that, that’s it. And I want you guys all to realize that, because I think there are so many of you out there who are second guessing your own personal skills and you shouldn’t be, you really, really shouldn’t be. I want you guys to dive in. Okay guys, I’m gonna

Get off my soap box. Cause that was like a whole lot of time of me just saying, please start quilting. You’ve got all the tools we need, but you guys have finished another episode of the stop scrolling start sewing podcast. Thank you so much for hanging out with me and head on over to to listen to today’s episode and all past episodes. 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