Basics & Projects for Beginners FAQ
Following are a collection of projects and helpful hints for beginning
quilters. I hope that all of ideas and encouragement will challenge you to
launch into the wonderful world of quilting.
Supplies for beginners:
Sharpened #2 lead pencil, or white pencil for dark fabrics.
See-through ruler with fine, accurate markings for checking your seam
100% Cotton sewing thread--black and white to start (for dark or light
Sharps needles for sewing--the thinnest you are comfy with.
Thimble if you use one.
Pins -- Glass headed silk pins with extra fine shafts, for pinning
If not strip quilting, plastic or other stuff to cut templates from.
If you are doing strip quilting:
Large Rotary Cutter (if from JoAnn Fabrics get Dritz or Olfa, not
Large Cutting Mat (at least 18x24?) with grid markings, get the
Large Ruler for cutting (6 1/2 x 24) Quilter's Rule is a good brand.
My problem is that none of my pieces match very well. I was taught to use a
template and add 1/4 seam allowance. I trace the template and add the
allowance and I have a sewing line. I pin the pieces together and try to
sew on that line. I do fine when joining one piece to one piece, but when I
join one group to another it gets all out of line. My wall hanging is made
out of triangles.
If you are hand piecing, this is the correct approach. You should be able
to "adjust" the seams so the corners of your pieces meet. If you are
machine piecing, however, you'll never be able to sew on the pencil line
because you can't see what is happening with the piece underneath. You need
to add the 1/4 inch seam allowance to your template, and cut extremely
accurately (this is where a rotary cutter comes in handy). Then test your
sewing machine by sewing with your needle and no thread into a piece of
paper, until you figure out how to get a perfect 1/4 inch seam allowance.
This may mean you can use the edge of your presser foot, or you may need to
put a strip of tape on the bed of your machine to help you guide the fabric
(several strips will build up an edge you can hold the edge of the fabric
When you are piecing triangles, you're sure to have bias edges to sew
together. They like to stretch, so you have to be ultra-careful not to pull
on them when pinning them together or sewing. Put one pin where each seam
is supposed to meet (perpendicular to the direction you are sewing) and
don't remove it until you are nearly--but not quite--sewing over it.
What is paper piecing. Any help would be useful.
For paper piecing, you cut a paper template for every piece in your quilt.
You hand baste the fabric to the template, turning under a seam allowance.
It isn't necessary to cut the pieces so accurately since the template will
hold the fabric to the correct size. Then you sew the two edges together on
the wrong side with an overcasting stitch. This is not suitable for machine
This is really making me feel "stupid." What is a walking foot. I have a
Pfaff 1222E which I have had and been happy with for 17.5 years. It has a
quilting foot, but I do not seem to have the little screw "thingy" that
secures the bar into the foot. So...two questions: 1. Do I need a walking
foot, and what is it? 2. Can I replace just the "thingy" I am missing from
the q.foot? I would appreciate any help you all can give with these
probably elementary questions.
The "quilting foot" is probably just a guide that is supposed to help you
stitch rows of quilting stitches an even distance from each other. If you
want to sew grids on your quilt, it might be useful. But a walking foot is
entirely different. It is a big, hunky foot that entirely replaces your
regular presser foot. It has feed dogs that help feed the top layer of your
fabric through, the same way the feed dogs on your machine feed the bottom
layer through. If you want to do quilting in straight lines, it can be very
useful, helping you avoid accidental "pleats" of fabric on the top or
bottom. But first try quilting with your regular presser foot--just use a
longer stitch than normal, and practice on a scrap to see if you need to
adjust the tension in your top or bottom thread.
If you want to do curved lines of quilting, you need another foot called a
"free motion embroidery foot" or a "darning" foot. It also replaces your
regular presser foot and has a spring in it that allows it to bounce up and
down as you sew. You need to be able to lower the feed dogs of your machine
to use it, which may not be possible with your older machine. Then you feed
the fabric through with your hands. Since the feed dogs are not operating,
you can even feed it through sideways and backwards. it takes a bit of
practice to get even stitches, since the speed that you move the fabric
determines how big the stitches are. it's a lot of fun tho, I just used it
to do "free applique" on a quilt.
Clothilde's and Treadleart are two catalogs that sell nearly everything for
machine (and hand) sewing. I don't have the addresses with me but they are
mentioned frequently here so I'm sure others do.
Even when you have a published pattern with all the pieces beautifully
printed on slick paper, and showing seam allowances, DON'T TRUST IT!
Make a sample block first, using extra fabric or other scraps. All too
often one pattern piece will be just a tad the wrong size, or a diamond or
triangle will have an angle that's just a teensy scosh wrong--doesn't look
too bad till you sew all the pieces together, and get a tent or a block
with zigzag edges!
Millie -- a sadder but wiser gal :*(
Re: Rotary Cutting
I have noticed that the angle at which I place the fabric and the ruler
make a lot of difference. Because of somewhat limited shoulder mobility I
have to place the fabric and ruler angled toward the left (NWW on a
compass) so that I can get even pressure. The angle varies according to the
day's shoulder mobility. What is necessary is even pressure on the rotary
cutter downward NEXT TO the ruler, BUT NOT PUSHING AGAINST IT. The cutter
must be completely vertical, not angled towards either side.
Also, cutting too long a stroke, beyond a comfortable arm's reach can cause
the pressure downwards and sideways to vary and result in a moving ruler
and irregular fabric cuts. Better to cut 6 or 12 inches then carefully move
fabric and ruler, realigning cut edge accurately, than to try to cut 18 or
24 inches or more if it requires than you reach too far to maintain the
correct angle and pressure on the rotary cutter.
For me, at least, cutting fabric is not something to attempt when I am
tense or tired. It requires relaxed hands, flexible joints and close
attention. It is too easy to let your pressure vary as your mind wanders
away from the task at hand. I hate to waste even a 2 1/2 square of fabric,
so I pay close attention to what I am doing and change to another quilting
activity if I make two cutting errors or let the ruler slip twice.
It is also very important that your rotary blade be sharp. Dull blades,
like dull knives, are difficult and dangerous to use.
Personally, I would recommend taking a class to get started. And the class
would depend on what particular kind of quilting the individual is
interested in: applique, quilt in a day, sampler, etc.
best tips: forgive yourself for mistakes, we all make them
supplies: rotary cutter & mat
projects: personally, I think a quilt in a day is a good way to start. or a
wallhanging or pillow, something small. I started with a sampler and got
very disinterested with it, stopped quilting until someone recommended a
quilt in a day class. Maybe I would have kept with it if it had been
smaller. that's why I recommend a quilt in a day class or something small -
so you can finish something and feel good and then start something new.
I'm a beginner myself, but I've managed to complete one quilt -- all by
how to get started quilting
I took a class from a quilt store. It gave me much better feedback than
just reading a book. I also went to my local quilt store and asked
questions. Go during off-peak hours, because the salespeople will be much
better able to talk to you.
Decide how much time you have and what personality type you are. If you
don't have much time or aren't very patient, you might want to just go
straight to machine piecing and quilting. I'm glad that I did a complete
project by hand, because now I definitely know that I am better suited to
machine piecing (and maybe even machine quilting).
Be prepared to spend lots of money, because you will be hooked!
recommendations for supplies
Rotary cutter and mat! Much better than scissors!
projects that are easy or help develop skills
Sampler quilt with just a couple of blocks in it.
Potholders. That way you can practice on small blocks and you can finish
them very quickly. I'm practicing rotary cutting, machine piecing, and
machine quilting this way. Then I'll be ready to start a wallhanging, baby
quilt, or whatever with more confidence.
books that really help beginners
"The New Sampler Quilt" by Diane Leone
Marsha McCloskey's book about precise machine piecing.
My brother-in-law and I have just started through Roxanne Carter's
"Shortcuts Sampler" book. She refers to techniques described in Donna Lynn
Thomas' "Shortcuts-A Concise Guide to Rotary Cutting". What is so great
about these books is that although you are learning all the correct
techniques for rotary cutting, when you finish you have 12 blocks to
assemble into a sampler. Roxanne even covers the lattice and borders and
binding techniques. I would highly recommend this as a beginning project
for new quilters (It's helping a couple of not so new quilters improve
I've started learning to quilt by doing a baby quilt (log cabin design)
with machine quilting on the blocks (stitch in the ditch) and a small
amount of hand quilting (hearts) on the border. The book that I'm following
is published by That Patchwork Press, "Quilts for Baby Easy As ABC" by
Ursula Reikes. I remember reading on QuiltNet to not use anything with
triangles for my first project so I selected the log cabin design and I'm
glad I did.
I also just bought a book called "The Nine Patch Quilt" by Jean Wells,
published by C & T Publishing. It looks like an excellent beginner's book
and I plan on doing something from it next.
Good Luck!! :-)
Should I get a 24 x 3 ... or 24 x 6 Ruler
Go for the 24 x 6 inch width. Mine is actually 6 1/2 inch (6 inches
markings) and I love it, frequently cut things wider than 3 inches. Even a
piece which will finish up at 3 inches wide must be cut 3 1/2 inches.
Also, if you have a choice, get one of the rulers with RAISED markings on
the back of it. These don't slip around nearly as much as the flat type, so
it is easier to hold them in place when cutting strips
Regarding getting seams to match up: When you pick up your patches (squares
or rectangles) to sew them, sew the sides together that were selvage edges
first. Try tugging on these and you will see that (even with the selvege
trimmed off) they have NO give or elasticity at all. If you tug in the
crosswise direction, across the bolt the way the fabric is cut when you are
buying it, there is a slight amount of give to it.
Always try to sew the fabrics with the selvage or no-give edges together,
and do it first. THEN, when you go to sew one row of patches to the next,
you WILL have a bit of give, and can "cheat" the seams closer together and
get them to match up.
Also, as you lay them down to sew, "butt" the seams up against one another
and hold them in place as they go under the presser foot. Use a pin (thin)
if needed. Make sure your upper machine tension is not too tight, this
might push down on your fabric too hard and push the top fabric along a bit
faster than the bottom one - this could separate what you so carefully
If you are still haveing trouble, call your local quilt guild, they
probably would be delighted to give you a one-on-one lesson with a good,
accurate piecer who could spot your problem.
If you only buy one quilt book, buy Harriet Hargrave's Heirloom Machine
Quilting. I know the title doesn't sound like a beginning book, but she
does an excellent job of detailing what kind of supplies (including basic
things like scissors and sewing machines) and materials to use and why. It
is all done in a very readable, common sense format. I read it from cover
to cover after I had been quilting for 10 years. I refer to her pictures
for sewing on binding all the time. She goes over in detail how to back,
baste, and bind. And the beautiful work in the pictures is inspirational.
She includes tips she has learned from her students over the years. And she
is the best at machine quilting. I was having a problem with tension. went
back to the book and found the answer. Hope this helps
A couple of the things that helped me get started were:
1. the great collection of books at my local public library;
2. watching "the Great American Quilt" on PBS---the authors
of"Quilts,Quilts,Quilts" did the How-to segments on that program and took a
lot of the intimidation out of the idea of starting.
3. starting with a pattern made of squares, no rectangles or triangles!
4. also starting with a picnic-size quilt, 72"x72". The size was important
in 2 ways: it was big enough that I ended up with a real quilt and not a
wall piece which had dubious uses (in my mind, at least); but it was small
enough that it wasn't going to be years before I saw it finished.
5. and finally, it was tied and not quilted, so ditto on the "years before
I saw it finished".
When I started quilting I started with a book that taught quilting as a
planned exercise working from the simplest, most forgiving patterns to the
more difficult. There are several really good books out there; the one I
used was called Let's Make a Patchwork Quilt published by Farm Journal.
I started by making the simple patterns and made the blocks into pillows.
This way the projects were small in scope and I got to see a finished
project rather quickly. My first "real" quilt was a crib-sized quilt made
of 9 15" blocks and it only took 4 weeks from start to finish. We still
have all those pillows and even though they're frayed and lumpy and not
exactly works of art, they're old favorites.
Supplies: Good scissors, several marking pencils, rotary cutter and mat,
*spend the little extra to buy good thread*, graph paper and colored
pencils, join thousands in the search for the perfect thimble.
Can anyone reccomend some simple blocks suitable for a beginner to try?
Anything where the seams don't have to match. I saw a cute quilt yesterday
where the blocks were set in rows with sashing, but the blocks were "slid
over" a couple of inches in each row so the sashing strips didn't meet up.
It looked great! Many people start with a 9-patch, that is just 9 squares
sewn together in 3 rows (3 in a row of course).
I'd avoid anything with bias edges for the moment, that means triangles and
diamonds (altho there's a way to sew triangles BEFORE you cut the angle
that will help you avoid trouble). Place two squares together, sew from one
corner to the other, then snip off the triangles on one side of the seam.
Press open the seam and you magically have two triangles sewn together!