Whether you are an experienced quilter or just beginning, there are things that you should do before you start a quilting project to make your experience more enjoyable. At least these are the things I like to do. There is nothing worse than starting on a project and then having to stop to fix things! If you have some routine things you do before starting a project that you would like to share, feel free in the comments below. Let’s get started.
A good place to start is the pattern. This seems like something that everyone would know, but reading the pattern through prior to starting a project is the best advice I can give a beginner. We experienced quilters often skip this step, but we should not either. Here’s an example of one of my patterns:
I like to put all my cutting instructions for all the fabrics right up front. Including for the binding. This way, you know you have enough fabric before beginning or, if you run out, you can get more before it sells out. Now all patterns are not like this, that’s why it’s a good idea to read it through. This leads to tip #2.
When you are buying fabric, I recommend adding at least 1/8 yard to what is stated in the pattern, especially if you are a pre-washer. I already add extra in my fabric requirements on my patterns but not every designer does. This also saves you if you make a cutting error or if you lose some fabric in squaring it up. That extra 1/8 yard can be cut into strips and stashed if you end up not needing it for the current project. We all like to build a stash, right?
Make sure your machine is ready. After every project completed, I will clean out the bobbin area and under the throat-plate. That handy little brush that came with your machine works great! Also, oil the parts of your machine that your owner’s manual dictates. Trust me.. your machine will love you for that!
Cleaning will keep your stitches smooth and even. And you won’t get clumps of lint interfering. Finally, definitely take your machine into your local service shop or the shop you bought it from for a yearly maintenance check and deep cleaning. It’s worth the money spent for the headaches it will save.
Check the accuracy of your 1/4″ seam before beginning the project, even if you have a 1/4″ quilting foot. There are things such as needle position or thickness of thread used that can effect the 1/4″ seam that most patterns require. Before you start sewing the pieces for your project, sew a seam on a scrap piece of fabric and measure it.
If you don’t have a 1/4″ quilting foot, you can use markings on your throat plate and some painter’s tape and give yourself a guide. Here’s the mark on my throat plate and how you can line up your fabric:
If this mark is too difficult for you to see as you are chain-piecing, add a piece of tape to extend this guide using a tape measure and masking or painter’s tape. Start by laying the measuring tape under your needle at the “0” line. This will also help you to measure if the marking on your throat plate is accurate if you have one. (See my little white arrow in the photo above.) Lower the needle by hand to make sure the needle matches up with the “0” line. Then, find the 1/4″ line on the measuring tape. Use this as a guide to place a piece of tape (or determine the accuracy of the mark) on your throat plate.
Now the left edge of the tape (photo on the right) is an extended guide for the edge of the pieces you are stitching. Test this on scrap fabric before you start sewing your project.
This applies to your cutting tools. You can’t cut your project’s pieces if your cutting tools aren’t in tip top shape. And one of those tools is the cutting mat. You should keep your cutting mat clean to avoid cutting mistakes. If your mat has debris on it from precious projects, it can cause your rotary blade to skip and cut your piece wrong. Here’s some easy cleaning tips:
You can remove bits of fabric fiber that get caught in cuts in your mat by rubbing a gum eraser (artist’s eraser) over sections you have just used to cut. You can also use a soft toothbrush. Another way to remove bits of fiber or lint from the surface is by wrapping your hand in packing tape and lightly running it over the mat. Or use a lint roller that you usually use to remove pet hair from clothing.
Finally, when you are using your mat, try not to continuously cut in the same place when you are cutting fabric. Yes, these mats are self-healing but they do wear out. To get your mat to last as long as possible rotate your mat often to avoid cutting in the same place. Some mats are even double sided so if yours is, flip it occasionally and use the other side. Taking care of your self-healing mat will make it last for years longer than expected. Try to keep your mat from direct sunlight or extreme temperature changes and definitely never iron on your cutting mat.
Finally, organization helps to create a relaxing quilting experience. I like to label my stacks of pattern pieces with a small piece of tape with the letter shown in the pattern so I know which piece I need instantly. I also like to stack individual pieces or block units to make chain piecing quicker and easier.
Well, I think these six tips are a good start for making sure you are ready to sit and sew an afternoon away! Comment below with some of your favorite tips. Also, if there is a subject you’d like me to blog about in the future, perhaps a tip or technique, let me know as well.
I will draw a name from commenters below and you will win a copy of my newest pattern, Strips & Stars!
The drawing will be on Monday, November 28th. Good luck! **We have a winner! Congrats, Joan!**
Charlene Spurlock says
Go through your collection of thread and toss the old stuff. Then treat yourself to some new spools.
Great tip. Threads do get old!
Donna S says
All good tips! Thanks
Shirley Stille says
Great tips! Thanks for sharing.
I’ve been sewing some Christmas gifts out of minky, you really need to take everything apart frequently to clean…I’ve been using my vacuum attachments for cleaning my computer keyboard…these small tools hook to my regular vacuum after opening up my suction level controller to least suction and work great in cleaning my sewing machine also!
I do English Paper Piecing and use my old thread for basting my pieces onto the paper.