Make a Quilt: The Materials and the Essential Tools

The Materials and Tools You Need to Make a Quilt

How to Start with Quilting - Part 2

If you're a quilting novice eager to step into the world of fabric, quilt block patterns, and quilting stitches, you've come to the right place. In this blog, we'll unravel the realm of quilting for beginners, focusing on the essential tools and materials that will set you on the path to creating your first quilt.

Quilting is more than just a craft; it's a labor of love that combines tradition with modern creativity. Whether you're looking to craft a heirloom quilt for a loved one or simply want to explore the therapeutic nature of stitching, understanding the tools and materials is the first step toward turning your quilting dreams into reality.

This blog is the second part of our guide that consists of three articles that will help you take the first steps towards creating your very own quilt. We believe you can start to learn how to quilt on your own. The basics of quilting are not that difficult and making a quilt is totally doable. But making that intricate beautiful geometric king size quilt is not easy and learning how to master quilting and become an expert is a long road that can take years. That is exactly what makes this craft so exciting!

In this series, we explore:

Throughout all three articles, we’ll provide links to in-depth articles that will help you delve deeper into each aspect of this captivating craft.

This is a list of the necessary tools and materials you need to start your quilting journey. For those who were just looking for a little list of what to get when you want to make your first quilt. This is our list:

  • Quilting cotton in assorted colors
  • A spool of cotton thread and/or polyester thread
  • A box of sharp straight pins
  • A 45 mm rotary cutter, a cutting mat, and a cutting ruler
  • A temporary fabric marker
  • A sewing machine
  • A sewing machine needle
  • An iron and ironing board
  • Quilt batting
  • Quilt basting supplies
  • Optional: a ¼ inch quilting foot and a walking foot

Below we go over all these supplies in detail, so you know exactly what to get and what to look out for.

Quilting Fabrics

Quilters need fabrics for blocks, borders, binding and the backing of a quilt.

For your quilt top it is recommended that you choose 100% cotton fabric in various colors, prints and hues that are in line with your own design preferences. But matching the right fabrics can be very daunting and challenging when you first start. In this blog post about choosing colors and prints for quilting, Carole helps you on your way with some insights on color theory and some handy tips like how to distinguish light, medium and dark fabrics. Cathy wrote an article about the best fabrics for quilting. It answers the following questions: Is one type of cotton fabric better than another for quilting or can you just use anything? What fabric traits or fabrics should you stay away from when making your first quilts?  

You can also get precut bundles of assorted fabrics from a designer’s collection. A professional put these bundles together so you can be sure that they coordinate with each other. One type of precut quilting fabric set is called a jelly roll. Find out all about jelly rolls in quilting in this blog. Not only do precut bundles of fabric give you peace of mind that no wrong choices have been made, it is also a huge time saver because much of the cutting has already been done for you.

And if you still don’t know where to start, find a local fabric store and ask for help. I’m sure the shop owner of the little mom and pop quilt stores will be delighted to help you on your way.

When it comes to the type of fabric and the quality, good-quality quilting cotton is recommended. This type of cotton has a medium weight and plain weave that is more tightly woven than other cottons but not as tightly woven as bedding. 100% cotton is stable, durable and easy to sew with and it will hold up to washing. Of course, you can use other types of fabric like lightweight woven (linen) fabric, batik or flannel, but as a beginner I recommend you start with quilting cotton.

For the backing fabric the easiest is to use the same type of fabric as the quilt top, especially for washability. If you want to pair your quilting cotton with something cozy like flannel, fleece or minky, be aware that these fabrics stretch, which could be too much of a challenge for a beginner. As for the fabric size, it depends entirely on the size of your quilt. You can shop regular 44 inches wide yardage or choose a 108 inch wide fabric, if that is available. The 108” wideback is often more cost effective and saves you time. I read that long arm quilters love wide backings because they are strong, square and easy to load. If you choose a solid fabric as a backing, know that every stitch will show. When you use a print, the stitches will not show up as well, so mistakes will not be on display.

Quilting Threads

You will need thread for piecing and thread for quilting. Choose a top and bobbin thread that matches your fabrics. Use a contrasting thread if you want to highlight the quilting.

Cotton and polyester are the most common choices for quilting. Cotton has a more matte finish than polyester. In general, people say that cotton thread is great for piecing while polyester is better for quilting but you can use polyester thread for piecing as well. Polyester thread will not cut the fabric. That is a myth. Cotton thread can produce some lint while sewing and it will also shrink a bit when washed.

The most recommended thread weight for piecing is a 50 weight thread. A 50 weight is thinner than the 40 wt. It will produce a more accurate seam. Thread weights are a very complicated matter. Our product developper Cathy researched thread weights and thread qualities for MadamSew and wrote a guide about it. We also added a cotton thread set to our store recently and are very proud of the quality thread we can offer you at a competitive price.

If you want to know more about choosing threads for quilting, read this very interesting blog that Carole wrote. It is full of very valuable information!

Needles and Pins for Quilting

Quilting involves stitching through multiple layers of fabric and batting. What sewing machine needles you use for quilting depends on the fabrics and thread you are using. Quilters mainly use universal needles for piecing. For quilting you can opt for quilting needles and microtex needles because they are very sharp. Use topstitch needles when working with thicker thread and denim needles when working with heavy or dense fabrics. Read more about sewing machine needles in our sewing machine needle basics blog post.

The most common universal machine needle size used for piecing quilter’s cotton is 80/12 while a 90/14 needle can also be used. When using a quilting machine needle for piecing the most common size is 90/14. Machine needle size for the actual quilting will vary on the thickness of the thread you decide to use for your quilting.

Get sharp, straight pins to hold fabric together while piecing especially when matching seams. You can either use glass head pins or longer flower head pins. Use sewing clips to hold the binding or longer strips of fabric when sewing. Clips hold thick and tricky fabrics more easily than pins. Many quilters use safety pins to baste or hold the quilt sandwich in place when sewing through all layers (quilting).

More information about sewing pins and clips, can be found in this blog full of tips about sewing pins 

Marking Tools for Quilting

Using fabric markers isn't a step or a task in quilting in itself but you will see that a good fabric marker will be very helpful along the way, for different steps in the quilting process.

What is important when choosing a fabric marker, is that

  • it slides smoothly over your fabric,
  • it draws accurate and fine lines that you can see clearly,
  • the lines stay visible for as long as you need them to be, and most importantly,
  • it can be removed easily.

Quilters use fabric markers to draw helplines for both cutting and sewing. Always, always test your fabric marker on your new fabric. Even if your fabric marker was wiped out easily in the past on other fabrics, test. You don't want stains or ghost lines on your quilt, right? Fabrics react differently

More details about different types of fabric marking tools are in this blog post.

Cutting Tools for Quilting

Cutting is the first step in the long process of actually creating a quilt. You want your fabric pieces to be cut fast but accurately. When you are ready to cut the fabric, you need the right tools. Quilters use rotary cutters to cut fabrics. They cut a lot faster and more accurately than fabric scissors. Cutting your quilting pieces will take some time but remember that the result will be worth the extra time you spend.

As a beginner, get a 45 mm rotary cutter, a self-healing cutting mat (24 x 36 inches is a size many prefer), and a clear acrylic ruler (6 by 24 inches) for precise quilting fabric cutting. Roam through the cutting tools section on the Madam Sew webstore to see what other options are available.

Read the following Madam Sew blogs if you want to learn how to use your rotary cutter and get extra tips, if you wonder what size of rotary cutter to get, if you need more information about using a rotary cutter in quilting.

Of course, even with the whole rotary cutter set, you still need some good quality scissors for trimming fabrics and snipping threads.

Sewing Machines for Quilting

While you can also quilt by hand, at Madam Sew, we mainly cater to machine quilters. To piece a small quilt top, your sewing machine can be very basic. All you need in the beginning is a straight stitch. Also straight line quilting or even free motion quilting can be done with a household sewing machine if your quilt isn’t too big and bulky. So you don’t need to buy a longarm machine straight away to quilt. A small sized quilt can be quilted on a domestic sewing machine, just be prepared for some maneuvering.

You may want to get a couple of extra accessories to upgrade your machine a little, like a walking foot to handle the thick layers when straight line quilting or a free motion quilting foot to freely move while sewing meandering designs.

When you want to make larger and thicker quilts (lap size or bigger), you might want to go looking for a mid-size or larger throated sewing machine. That will make it a lot easier to maneuver your quilt through your sewing machine.

Long arm quilting machines are a good investment if you quilt a lot and have the space. They are expensive. With these you can move the machine over the quilt, rather than moving the quilt under the needle of a home machine. This speeds up the quilting process considerably.

Iron and Ironing Board

Pressing and ironing is very important for precise piecing. Flat fabrics result in crisp cutting and neatly sewn seams. If you press regularly in the making process, lining up seams will be a lot easier and the intersections will be more accurate. On the Madam Sew Blog, Carole goes over the right way to press seams and gives you a few tips on dealing with multiple seam intersections. Ana also wrote a blog about pressing basics.

To press all you need is an iron and a surface to iron on. This can be a regular household iron and an iron board. You probably already have these and they are what you need when you just start.

a women ironing seams with a hot iron

Because ironing is so important and quilters iron a lot, there are some specific ironing tools on the market to make pressing more efficient and pleasant.

An iron board and a regular iron take up a lot of space. For a quick press of a seam, some quilters prefer a finger presser or a rolling seam presser. You don’t need to get up, or need your iron on and it is a very fast way to press.

To get more crips seams, you can iron on a wool pressing mat instead of your ironing board. The wool of the mat holds the heat better than the fabric of your ironing board. It also takes up less space in your craft corner.

Another tool that makes seams more crisp is a wooden clapper, that is usually used in combination with a regular iron. You can also use a wooden rolling seam presser.

Presser Feet for Quilting

There are a number of specialty feet that can be used to help you when quilting, both for piecing and quilting. These feet are not a must when just starting to get your tools together for quilting, but when you are struggling, know that they are a big help! Technically you can make a quilt with just a standard presser foot. I think these three are the most relevant ones and they make things so much easier: the quarter inch quilting foot, the walking foot and the free motion quilting foot.

When piecing, it is important to get a perfect ¼ inch seam so your pieces will fit together correctly. Most sewing machine brands have a ¼ inch quilting foot with or without a guide. This foot helps you keep a consistent ¼ inch seam. The right front edge of the foot serves as the ¼ inch guide or there is an extra upstanding guide along the edge of the foot. In this blog Ana is using the quarter inch foot to join blocks.

Sewing a seam with a Quilting Foot without guide
Sewing a seam with a Quilting Foot with guide

If you are serious about quilting, you probably want to invest in a walking foot. This foot has built-in feed dogs that make sure all layers are fed through the machine evenly without shifting or puckering. Ana is showing how to use the walking foot in this very popular blog about quilting.

The free motion quilting foot is used when free motion quilting. You put the feed dogs of your sewing machine down when using this foot. This way you can quilt in multiple directions without having to twist the fabric. Free motion quilting takes a lot of practice to get the stitches uniform, so this is not really a beginner technique. But, if you are adventurous, start on a scrap. It is a lot of fun!

If you want to know if any of these presser feet will fit your sewing machine, read our blog about low and high shank sewing machines first.

Quilt Batting

Choose batting based on the desired thickness and warmth of your quilt. There are so many choices today for batting. While cotton is a fine choice for many quilts because it is soft, warm and easy to work with, there are many other fibers and types that you can use. Common options include bamboo, silk, polyester, a cotton blend and wool.

A disadvantage of cotton batting is that it will shrink when washed and could create a puckered look on dense quilting designs (but this is also a look many quilters are trying to achieve). Polyester doesn’t shrink. It dries quickly and is cheap but it does not wick moisture away like natural fibers would. Cotton is the heaviest material. Bamboo is a bit lighter. Wool and silk batting are the lightweight options. I think a 80/20 blend cotton/polyester is a great option for a beginner. It won’t break the bank, has the natural fiber advantages, doesn’t shrink too much and has a nice drape.

Besides the fiber, you also need to choose the loft, a fancy word for thickness. With high-loft batting your quilting lines will be more visible. Low-loft batting gives a flatter finish. With a domestic sewing machine, I would advise to start with a lower loft batting so you can squeeze your basted quilt through the neck of your sewing machine. For small quilting projects, you can also use fusible batting that can be ironed to the quilt top which will save you time basting.

Some batting has a thin layer of stabilizer called scrim. This gives additional strength to the batting and allows you to have more distance between the quilting stitches.

Learn more about batting in the Madam Sew Beginning Quilting - Choosing the Right Batting blog.

Quilt Basting Supplies

When you have your quilt top, the backing fabric and the batting, your next step will be to quilt the three layers together. To do this, these three layers will have to stay neatly together. So before you start sewing, you will “baste” these layers together. Basting is sewing or pinning or gluing fabric layers together temporarily, to be able to neatly stitch them together permanently. If you don’t baste, the layers will shift and you will end up with bumps and a very uneven quilt.

As mentioned before, you can use fusible batting and not use any extra tools to baste. You can also use basting spray which is a type of temporary fabric glue to hold the layers. Safety pins are the classic tool to hold quilt layers. You can buy curved ones that are easier to apply. In this blog Ana shows you her basting technique with curved pins.

Here is an overview of the topics we’ve touched on in this blog.

  • Quilting Fabrics
  • Quilting Threads
  • Needles and Pins for Quilting
  • Cutting Tools for Quilting
  • Sewing Machines for Quilting
  • Iron and Ironing Board
  • Presser Feet for Quilting
  • Quilt Batting
  • Quilt Basting Supplies

In the next blog in this series I’ll dive into the actual start of a quilt project. How do you start making a quilt for the first time?


Happy Quilting!


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1 comment

This is a very helpful article. Thanks!

Ade Twombly

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