New quilters often receive a lot of advice from seasoned veterans, and just like new parents, sometimes you are looking for advice and sometimes you want to figure it out on your own. Here are some great tips to help you get started on your personal quilting journey.
1. Quilting should be fun!
If you find yourself feeling stressed, take a break and walk away for a little while, it’s going to be okay. Have you ever tried a new skill and been perfect the first time? Of course not, so give yourself permission to make mistakes and learn from them. Take a deep breathe and enjoy the process.
2. Having the right tools will make everything easier.
Check out our list of suggested essentials in our Complete Guide to Basic Quilting Supplies. It even has a printable quilter shopping list!
3. Quality matters.
If you are expecting quality results, start with quality materials. Thread isn’t like a fine wine, it isn’t meant to age, so don’t dig out vintage thread from your grandmother’s old sewing basket for this. Use a good quality thread, usually a 50 weight for piecing, that is made from long staple cotton for reduced lint. Now is the time to buy quality fabric so that you have a great experience and a good finished product that will last.
4. Get comfortable with sewing a straight ¼” seam allowance.
You may want to invest in a ¼” foot for your sewing machine to help you with this, but you will still want to check your seams on a regular basis. When you are starting a new project, always re-check your seam allowance. This will come up again when we talk about test blocks!
5. Start slow and simple.
Now is not the time to start a king size Double Wedding Ring quilt! Start out with a smaller size project like a table runner, wall hanging or lap quilt. The GO! Tumbler 6 ½” (55020) is a great die for a first quilting project.
6. Take advantage of technology.
Quilting videos and blog posts (like this one) are abundant, sample several and find ones that make sense to you. If you find quilters and designers you like, follow their social media accounts for more information and inspiration. Start with our GO! Getters.
7. Pressing is important.
Just like the parenting advice, every quilter has their own opinion on pressing. You will find that some always press seams open, some always press “to the dark side”, and some vary by project. Some press every step along the way and some don’t press until the entire block is sewn together.
Often patterns will give you specific pressing directions, which should always be followed. The bottom line is to be sure you are “pressing” and not “ironing” (as in back and forth) to avoid distorting the fabric, which will affect the finished project. Moving forward, you will be amazed at how much pressing you do. A quilt designer once said that she knew she was really a quilter when she started looking at the ping pong table as the perfect spot for a giant pressing station.
8. Read the pattern before you get started.
Even experienced quilters will fall into the trap of not reading carefully and making mistakes because of it. Reading patterns will become easier the more projects you make, and it’s great background for striking out and designing your own projects.
9. Make a test block for each new project.
This means both cutting and sewing together a test block, and it’s a great use for fabric that you don’t love. This is where you find out if you read the directions correctly. Many a quilter have wasted time and fabric by skipping this step only to discover their mistake when it is too late and a whole project is cut incorrectly.
10. Measure, Measure, Measure
Once your test block is done, cut and sew one block using the project fabric. This is where you will want to carefully follow the directions and measure, measure, measure. Lay your sewn block down and place your clear acrylic ruler on top for the most accurate measurement. If your block is off, now is the time to diagnose the problem, not after they are all sewn together.
Don’t forget to breathe – now is a good time for a reminder of tip #1.
12. Buy enough fabric the first time.
This is a great tip any time, but especially when you are just getting started. Why? If you need more down the road, the fabric may no longer be available leaving you in a bind. These days, there are so many fabric lines launching that the print you fall in love with may sell out and the store wouldn’t be able to get more, or the die lots could be different and not a perfect match. A great rule of thumb is to buy ¼ yard more than the pattern asks for be cause the worse thing that can happen is having some left over, and that’s a great way to start a healthy fabric “collection”.
While you're at it, give GO! Quilt a try too! GO! Quilt is our free pattern customizer that will give you a safe place to shop fabric options, upload your own stash and test color ways and combinations without making a cut.
Also give these blogs a look for more advice on choosing fabrics:
- How to Choose the Best Quilt Fabric
- The Art of Picking Quilt Fabric: 5 Tips for Magazine-worthy Projects
13. Be sure to take care of your machine.
There is a reason why your sewing machine came with a little brush! Be sure to use it to remove dust and lint. Follow the directions for your machine here. Depending on how much you use your machine, you should treat it to a spa day every year or two for cleaning and tune up from your machine dealer.
14. Don’t forget to change your needle.
It will wear and not perform as well, possibly causing issues with the machine.
15. If you are having machine problems, refer to tip #1.
After that deep breath, try re-threading your machine and changing the needle out as well as taking the bobbin out and replacing it. If you are still having issues after troubleshooting your sewing machine, refer to your manual and dealer. It may be time for a spa day.
There are so many tips that you will learn along the way on your quilting journey, but also lots of resources to help you! Quilting can be a wonderful way to express your creativity and share with others. Before you know it, you will be sharing your tips with others.