Quilting Basics: What tools do I need to start quilting?

While there are millions and billions of quilting tools, templates, and doohickeys out there, there are only a few you really need to get started. The rest you will acquire with time, I’m sure. Here are the basics.

Sewing machine:

You can quilt with just about any sewing machine out there, because really, all you need is a straight stitch. If you’re new to quilting, but want to get into machine applique, you’ll probably want a machine that does decorative stitches as well. These days, even the most basic machines have at least a straight and zig-zag stitch.


You’ll read all kinds of information out there about which thread is better, discussions on cotton thread vs. polyester thread, and especially information on why you should never use one or the other. Here’s what I have to say: don’t stress it. Unless you’re planning on making quilts that will last centuries (I’m not), just choose the thread that matches best and go with it. I generally try to use cotton thread with cotton fabric and polyester with synthetics, but I don’t freak out if they occasionally mix it up. Here’s why: I use my quits. Every day. I fully intend that they’ll be reduced to shreds at some point, and that’s alright. Some people will tell you that if you mix cotton and polyester your seams will be stronger than your fabric, or vis versa. Quite frankly, my quilt will probably be trashed by the goobers long before it can fall apart on its own. If, however, you’re wanting to make quilts that last for-EV-er, you may want to read up on the thread controversy and come to your own conclusion. For the record, I use Gutermann 100% cotton thread almost exclusively, it’s a high quality thread that doesn’t lint up my machine as badly as the cheap threads.


Both sewing machine and hand sewing needles. In general, a universal needle will do you just fine. Be sure to stock up, you’ll want to change needles after about 8 hours of sewing with it. You’ll want little “straw needles” for applique and binding too, I use size 11.

Flat surface for cutting:

A desk, a floor, a counter top…the possibilities are endless.

Scissors and/or rotary cutter, mat, and ruler:

Some good sharp scissors will of course be helpful, as will a basic rotary set. It takes a bit to get good at rotary cutting, but it saves SO. MUCH. TIME. A rotary cutter is a circular blade that you roll along a ruler to cut through multiple layers of fabric at a time.

Iron & Ironing Board:

Nothing too fancy here, just a good, clean iron. It will help if it has a steam setting, but it’s not necessary. Make sure your ironing board cover is clean, too.


Get some quilters pins with a flat head, rather than a little ball or bead at the end. These will help you get things lined up just right. Also, you’ll want some curved safety pins, for basting.

There you have it! Really, most of this stuff you probably already have. If you watch for sales and discounts, you should be able to get a basic rotary set and some pins for under $30.

Happy quilting!

| Filed under Quilt School

8 thoughts on “Quilting Basics: What tools do I need to start quilting?

  1. While I know all of that is what you need, I guess I’ve taken it for granted since we’ve always had those items. Starting for scratch those one of these days will take a little bit of planning I’m thinkin :)

  2. I have been using the same needle for the past 8 months… since I started quilting 8 months ago with a new machine I received for my MA graduation. Why is it bad to keep using the same needle? I dont see any difference in my project… am I missing something or hurting my machine? (Don’t less Misses Stitches know that (aka my machine)!! :))

    1. Tiffany–
      Using the same needle for a long time will dull the end of the needle, and in some cases, start snagging your material. The stitch quality can decline (stitches can become uneven, or crooked) and you can start having problems with your thread tangling. Lucky you, you haven’t had these problems :) I’d bet, though, that you’ll notice your machine runs more smoothly with a new needle in.

  3. What’s the difference between using the flat head quilting pins and the regular ball head pins I always use?

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