Quilt Tools for Beginners

If you’ve ever been to the the quilting section of the fabric store, or even looked into the sewing room of a quilting friend, you may have been overwhelmed by all the tools – rulers, pizza cutter shaped rotary cutters, special pins, and things you have no idea what they are for.

I know whenever I start a new hobby I start to think I need EVERYTHING.

I promise you, you do not need to buy everything to make your first quilt. In fact, the simpler you keep your tools the easier it will be to work.

Just the basic quilting tools for beginners

Should you buy a quilting tool kit?

There are “all inclusive” kits of tools sold in stores and online for beginner quilters. It may seem that they are less expensive and certainly simpler than buying the tools separately. However, they often contain tools that are too small, cheap, or unnecessary for quilting. So please compare what comes in a kit with what I recommend below to make sure it’s really the best choice. There are really only a few basic tools needed to make your first quilt.

Basic tools for a beginner to start quilting

Why quilters need special tools to make quilts

Making a quilt is different from lots of other sewing because of the accuracy needed and the thickness of the layers in the final product.

There are two main steps in making a quilt that require different tools than garment sewing – piecing and quilting.


Piecing refers to sewing all the little pieces together to make the pattern on the front of the quilt. This step requires greater accuracy in cutting and sewing than most garment or home decor sewing and therefore some different tools.


Quilting is sewing lines of stitching through the top, batting and backing to hold all the warm layers together. This requires special tools to keep the layers from shifting and bunching while you stitch.

Let’s talk about piecing tools and then quilting tools since that’s the order that you make a quilt.

Tools to piece a quilt top

Quilting tools for piecing a quilt are all about making accuracy as easy as possible. The investment is well worth it not only for the final result of a beautiful quilt, but also for headaches avoided due to the speed and ease provided by special quilting tools.

Why accuracy is important in piecing

Quilt tops (the front of the quilt) are made from many small pieces of fabric. Sewing all these pieces together is called piecing. All those pieces need to fit together precisely – like doing a puzzle, but you are creating the puzzle pieces as well as fitting them together.

There are two parts of making the pieces fit:

  • cutting the pieces the right size
  • sewing an accurate seam allowance – the distance the seam is from the cut edge.

If the shapes are not cut and sewn just right they won’t fit into the puzzle.

Just imagine if a quilt is eight blocks wide, and each block is 1/8″ too big, over the whole width of the quilt it will add up to a whole inch too big.

Cutting tools for quilting

Part of an accurate seam allowance is having nice smooth edges on your pieces. To make these nice edges, and to cut really accurate pieces quickly, quilters use rotary cutters and acrylic rulers. 

Rotary cutter

A rotary cutter is a circular rolling utility knife.  It is very sharp and is designed to be rolled across the fabric on the line you want the fabric cut. 

Rotary cutters come in different sizes.  The size is measured by the diameter – the measurement across – the blade.  The best size of rotary cutter to start with for quilting is the 45mm.

Because it is so sharp, leaving the knife edge exposed when you are not using it is dangerous.  Not only to children, but also to your toes if it were to be knocked from the table, or your fingers if you were to accidentally brush against it while you are working. Because they are so sharp, most rotary cutters come with some sort of guard. 

I really like my newest rotary cutter because the guard automatically snaps into place when I set it down. Then when you hold the handle to cut it automatically exposes the blade. It’s well worth the extra peace of mind, especially if you have children around (or are just an absolute klutz like me).

A rotary cutter with an automatic guard really adds to its safety.

Self healing mat

Because the rotary cutter blade is so sharp, it will cut anything that is underneath your fabric as well as your fabric.  For this reason, you need to have some sort of protection for the table you are cutting on.  

Self healing mats are especially designed for use with rotary cutters.   They are made of material that will not dull the rotary cutter blade. They are called self healing because they actually do get cut by the blade, but close up again to a smooth surface. 

I recommend getting a mat at least 18” by 24”.  This allows enough space to cut your fabric without ending up going off the edge and cutting your table.

An 18′”x 24′” mat holds a 12″ by 12″ ruler nicely

Acrylic ruler

Quilters use special clear acrylic rulers as guides for the rotary cutter along to cut a straight and accurate line.  It is see through and has a ruler grid so you can line up the ruler with the fabric underneath and cut things precisely.

Using a clear ruler makes accurate cutting easier for quilting

I recommend that your first ruler be  12.5” by 12.5”.  This is the easiest to use on the 18 by 24 inch mat.  However there are many rotary cutter, ruler, and mat sets that come with a 6 by 24 inch ruler instead.  That is fine to buy as well.  If you do more quilting you will want that ruler as well and can sneak by with the 6 x 24 inch ruler to start.

Cut resistant glove (optional)

Remember, the rotary cutter is sharp.  Many times people accidentally cut the hand that holding the ruler when the ruler slips, or if they aren’t paying attention.  If you are concerned about this happening, you can get a cut resistant glove. 

If you get a cut resistant glove, make sure that it has grippy dots.  You will need to be able to hold the ruler firmly to keep it from slipping on the fabric while you are cutting.

Adding a cut resistant glove helps protect your ruler hand
Complete online course for beginner quilters
My beginner course has step by step videos to show you how to use a rotary cutter safely

Tools to sew a quilt top

Sewing machine needed to make your first quilt

You may have seen some pretty expensive sewing machines labeled as sewing machines for quilters.  And some of them have some pretty cool features.  But all you really need your sewing machine to do is a simple straight stitch. 

The only stitch your sewing machine needs to make a quilt is a simple straight stitch.

This is the most basic stitch of all on a sewing machine, and every domestic sewing machine can do it. 

I even made a complete quilt start to finish on this sewing machine.

I made a complete quilt on this treadle sewing machine

Tools for sewing accurate quarter inch seams

After you’ve cut all those pieces accurately with your rotary cutter you will want to sew your pieces together with accurate seam allowances. Quilters use 1/4 inch seams rather than the 5/8″ or 1/2″ seams used by garment sewers. This means that you will want your needle to be exactly a 1/4 inch away from the edge of the fabric. This can seem a little daunting, but there are lots of tools available to help.

Easiest and cheapest tool for accurate 1/4 inch seams

The easiest and cheapest method to get an accurate quarter inch seam is to mark a line exactly 1/4″ away from the needle on your machine with washi tape or painter’s masking tape. These two tapes won’t leave a sticky residue when you take it off the machine. Just line your ruler up on the machine with the needle at a quarter inch.

Use your ruler to add a perfectly straight piece of tape to guide your fabric

You want to make sure the ruler is nice and straight and lined up with any lines on your machine.  Then put a piece of tape along it.  Don’t cover the feed dogs with the tape because the tape might gum up your machine.

When you sew, just line up the edge of the fabric along the piece of tape. 

Using tape as a guide allows to to sew straighter

This method is good for beginner sewers because it keeps your eye from fixating on the needle.  You want to be guiding the fabric well before you get to the needle, because once it’s at the needle you can’t suddenly fix it or you won’t have a straight seam.

Seam Guide

If you don’t like the idea of tape on your machine, you can buy a magnetic guide to stick to the bed of your machine. You set them up the same way by aligning them to the edge of a ruler you’ve lined up with your needle.

This particular guide comes with a nifty ruler that has holes for your needle at different distances from the edge.  Once you’ve got your ruler there,  slide the magnetic guide up to the ruler.  The magnet is pretty strong so it shouldn’t move while you are piecing.  And again, you just line the fabric up with the guide as you sew.

Piecing foot

You might have with your machine accessories something called a piecing or ¼ inch foot.  If you don’t, all the major manufacturers make them, so you should be able to buy one designed for your machine.

Piecing presser feet are designed to help you sew an accurate 1/4 inch seam. Some have a guide attached to the foot to make that 1/4 inch seam really easy. If you are a more experienced sewer and can line up the edge of your fabric with the edge of the foot, you can use one that is just 1/4 inch wide.

Sewing machine needles for quilting

If you are not already in the habit of changing your machine needle with every project, you should fix that.  An old dull needle can truly affect how well your machine sews. 

For the piecing work, you can use a universal needle in your sewing machine. A size 80/12 or 90/14 will work well. For quilting through all the layers you will want a strong needle (90/14) with a sharp point. This can be a special quilting needle or just a Jeans needle.

I like to use Schmetz quilting needles as they are designed for both piecing and quilting. I never need to worry about changing the needle for a certain part of my project.

My favorite needles – designed for both piecing and quilting.

Pins for piecing a quilt

You will need just a few pins for piecing as you have much shorter seams than in garment sewing.

I always recommend glass headed pins.  Pins with heads are easier to grasp.  I remember as a kid using regular straight pins, and then my aunt giving me some glass headed pins and I was thrilled!

You want glass headed pins rather than plastic headed pins because the plastic may melt under your iron and make a mess.  

Iron for quilting

Having an iron to press your seams as you make your quilt is absolutely crucial to getting a nice neat finished quilt top. However, for your first quilt you do not need one of those giant ironing boards, or special wool pressing mats you may have seen quilters using.

Just a basic iron is all you need. I got my iron at Walmart and it works great with just a basic iron board.

Tools to quilt a quilt

There are two reasons to sew the layers of a quilt together”

  • To secure the layers together so they don’t shift and bunch
  • To add an additional design element

But before you start the quilting process you need to temporarily secure the layers so they don’t shift while you do the quilting.

Not sure you’re up to quilting on your sewing machine?

If you just want to secure the layers together as quickly as possible, you may want to choose a different method than machine quilting on your own sewing machine. I have a whole post about different ways to ‘quilt’ your quilt and some are a lot easier and faster than struggling with your quilt layers on your sewing machine.

Tools to baste the quilt sandwich

If you were to just slap the top you just made on to some batting and a backing and start quilting there’s a good chance you would be very unhappy with the result. The layers would bunch and shift and you would get wrinkles and tucks on the front and back.

To prevent all that mess, you will need to take the time to baste the layers together. Basting just means to temporarily fasten something together. Quilters usually pick either pin basting or spray basting. You will only need the tools for one.

Pin basting

Pin basting just means that you use special safety pins, called basting pins, to hold the layers together. Because they are safety pins they won’t stick you as you are doing the quilting. They are different from regular safety pins because they have a little curve to make it easier to insert them through the layers.

I like Dritz nickel plated brass pins for two reasons. One, they are brass.  That means if you end up leaving your pins in the quilt for a long time they won’t rust and make stains on your quilt. And two, they are sharp!.  I’ve tried other pins and these are noticeably easier to pin through the layers.

Pin basting tools that make the process much easier.

The Kwik Klip tool is a life saver.  When you are pinning your quilt for basting you will need to close all those safety pins.  It’s a little difficult.  But this tool has little ridges in the end to hold the pin still and makes closing them a snap! 

Spray basting

You can also use a special spray adhesive to stick the layers together. The spray is placed on both sides of the batting so that the top and the backing stick to the batting while you do the quilting.

I personally don’t use basting spray, but 505 spray seems the most popular and is designed not to harm the fibers in your fabrics.

Tools to quilt on your machine

Once the quilt is basted and ready to be quilted you will need a special foot for your machine and some good sharp sturdy machine needles to sew through all those layers.

Walking Foot

Walking feet generally look like this.  Your machine may already have come with a walking foot, sometimes called dual feed feet.

A walking foot keeps the layers from shifting when quilting your quilt or attaching the binding.

I explain much more about why you need a walking foot and where to find one for your machine in this post – Do you need a walking foot to quilt?


For the quilting, you should get a quilting needle for your machine.  This needle is stronger and sharper than the universal needle to make it easier for your sewing machine to push through all the layers.  If you cannot find a quilting needle in the store, you can use a jeans needle for the quilting.

These needles are designed for both piecing and quilting.

Step by step videos to make your first quilt

If the the list of tools seems daunting, never mind learning how to use all these tools, you should check out my beginner quilting course. It’s especially for new quilters who would like step by step video instructions from how to negotiate the fabric store and buy your fabric to exactly how to use all these quilting tools.

Complete online course for beginner quilters
Video step by step quilting course

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