With the rise of the modern quilt movement, quilting is currently one of the hottest hobbies in the crafting world. Not only is it a fun outlet for your creativity, it’s also the perfect way to create a large piece of art that you can actually use. But before you dive in, modern quilter Amy Garro shares the top 10 things you need to know now, which will save you time – and frustration – in the long run.
A Good Machine Is Worth Every Penny
Sewing machines are complex devices, and nothing is more frustrating than trying to sew with a machine that’s constantly breaking; cheap machines have frequent tension issues and breakdowns that can be difficult for a beginner to manage. We suggest finding a reputable sewing machine dealer (they will likely be connected with a quilting fabric shop) to help you find the right device. Plan on spending at least 30 minutes “test driving” machines and asking plenty of questions – it really is like buying a small car!
Use A Rotary Cutter, Not Just Scissors
A rotary cutter, self-healing cutting mat and clear acrylic ruler are indispensable when quilting. Not only will they make sewing easier because your cuts will always be accurate, but they will also making cutting go so much faster! Cutting hundreds of 10cm squares will take hours with scissors, but only minutes with a rotary cutter. After your machine and iron, these are the most important tools in your sewing room.
Your Iron Is Your Friend
Entire schools of thought exist regarding how a quilter should use their iron – crazy, I know! Pressing involves repeatedly lifting the iron off the ironing board and gently setting it down on the fabric, rather than sliding it. Ironing involves rubbing the iron back and forth across the fabric without lifting it. The traditional school of thought is that quilters should always press and never iron their piecing. However, this is one rule you can ignore without shame: much like the way you take your coffee, each sewer has their own ironing preferences. Experiment with pressing, ironing, starching and using steam and (water) spray mist until you find what works best for you and the project at hand.
Source Quality Education
We tend to consider sewing as a quaint and easy pastime, so we think we can teach ourselves! In reality, it’s a learned skill like any other, and taking classes will help you pick it up faster and make it enjoyable. Your sewing machine dealer should offer free classes on how to use your specific machine, and local quilt shops may offer technique and project-based classes. Look to Craftsy and Creative Bug for online courses that can teach you everything you need to know to become an amazing sewer. These courses have extensive videos, handouts and even opportunities to interact with the instructors.
Join A Quilting Guild
Quilting guilds are very much alive and thriving today, despite sounding like something out of the 16th century. Find out if your city has its own quilt guild, or look up a local chapter of The Modern Quilt Guild to join. These groups are active communities for quilters, often hosting classes, retreats, and sew-ins where you’ll be able to meet others who share your interests. They’ll also be able to connect you with local resources for beginning quilters.
From sewing through fingers, to slicing off your thumb, to swallowing pins – the list of possible quilting-related injuries is long. But we want this to be fun, not frightening, and if you take common-sense precautions, you should be fine. Don’t sew over pins (they can break, and broken parts may fly into your face); keep your scissors and rotary blades sharp (to prevent cuts caused by slipping); keep your fingers away from the moving needle; maintain a firm grip on your ruler before slicing; and just generally be mindful of what you’re doing. In 23 years of quilting, my only sewing injury resulted from putting my (very hot) iron on the floor to get it out of the way. Don’t do that, you’ll burn your foot.
Choose Your Fabrics Wisely
Big box stores everywhere are advertising “quilting fabric”, but these materials are frequently low in quality. They’re more likely to stretch, fade or bleed when washed, and will also break down more quickly. You’ll want to look specifically for quilting shops; they will sell quilting cotton, which is printed on a higher-quality base cotton with better dyes than box-store craft fabric. Even though it’s more expensive, it pays to invest in quality fabric.
[Quilt by Amy Garro]
Ignore The Quilt Police
You’re sewing and quilting for enjoyment. Sometimes we forget that this is a hobby, and it’s okay to do things “incorrectly”. There are many avid rule-following, long-time quilters who like to negatively comment on a beginner’s work and the mistakes they make. They’re often labeled the “quilt police”, but luckily they can’t actually put us in jail. No matter what they say, you aren’t required to “stitch in the ditch”, prewash, press seams to the side, or match your top and bobbin thread if you don’t want to.
Try New Techniques
A huge range of techniques fall under the “quilting” category. Hand-appliquéing a piece of curved fabric, that you turn under by hand with your needle, is a very different experience from piecing oversized squares and triangles on your machine. Try out a wide range of techniques as a beginner to make sure you don’t miss out on something you might love. I’m an avid machine paper-piecer, while my aunt is an award-winning hand-appliqué quilter. We are both quilters, and yet nearly every step of our process is different.
The Best Thread Is The One Your Machine Likes
You’ll find lots of heated discussions about what thread is best, and with all the products available, you’ll soon be overwhelmed with choice. But I’ll let you in on a secret: there isn’t one “best” thread. You’ll find that much of what makes a sewing product “good” is how nicely it works with your specific machine. A thread that works wonderfully for your friend, for example, may break horribly for you, and vice versa. Test all the waters and avoiding brand loyalty – at least when you first start – to find what fits you best.
Amy Garro is a modern quilter, pattern writer and the author of quilting guide Paper Pieced Modern: 13 Stunning Quilts. Sewing since age 7 and quilting for the past 6 years, Amy focuses her talents mainly on designing and creating quilts with a modern aesthetic: structured, striking, mathematical and geometric. In addition to writing patterns – both for self-publication and magazines – and hosting small quilt-alongs, Amy runs 13 Spools, a modern quilting blog where fellow quilters can find tutorials, patterns and inspiration for their own projects.
Learning a new skill can be as daunting as it is fun and exciting. Are you someone who reads all the how-to books first, or just dives right in?