Last week, we talked about building a scrap fabric stash from either yardage or pre-cuts. I hope you got some inspiration from that post. Since this post will appear the week of Thanksgiving, I thought I would do a post on caring for and maintaining your quilting tools. Perhaps through the long holiday weekend, you’ll find time to do this so you can continue to create beautiful quilted items for years to come! Now these are just my tips on things I do, you may have other things you do. Feel free to share those in the comments below. Let’s get started.
Of course, the main “tool” is your sewing machine. Keeping this in top running order is something I have talked about a lot in past posts. Here’s my top tips here:
- Annual checkup: This is something that will keep your machine running for years. The quilt shop that services your machine can get into places you can’t (and shouldn’t) for cleaning and they will check for any other areas of concern.
- Periodic Oiling & Cleaning: This is something you can do. The areas you need to concentrate on are under the throat plate (left, below) and the bobbin compartment (right, below).
Sweeping out these areas each time you replace a bobbin will keep excess lint from accumulating and getting pushed deeper into the machine. Use the brush that came with your machine or a small make-up brush. This is also a good time to oil the areas of your machine recommended by the manufacturer.
- Treat your Machine Right: During the sewing and quilting process, treat your machine right by keeping the needles fresh so they don’t break. Sometimes a broken needle can fall through the throat plate and imbed itself inside the machine… then it’s time for a visit to the repair shop.
- You can also avoid broken needles by not sewing over pins, even if they are very lightweight pins. I did this once and the timing of my machine was thrown off. Then I needed, you guessed it, a visit to the repair shop.
- To avoid tension problems, when unthreading your machine, do not snip and pull the thread out from the top. The thread runs through your machine going down towards the needle, so pulling it out from the top through the tension disc (below, left photo) can throw off the tension.
Instead, snip the thread up top and then pull the thread down and out from the needle area (above, right photo). This keeps the thread going in the direction it’s meant to and should not effect tension.
This important tool is one that often gets overlooked for maintenance. Yet, if your iron is not in tip top shape, you can ruin a block or quilt top you are working on when you’re pressing it. The main thing is to keep it clean. First, if you are a quilter who put water in your iron, use distilled water only. Regular tap water will cause mineral buildup and can permanently damage your iron. I personally do not put water in my iron. I use a spray bottle of water for a light spritz to work out fabric wrinkles.
The bottle on the left has water and the one on the right has Best Press starch, if I need it when pressing seams flat.
Now to cleaning. You can buy cleaning sheets or other items at the quilt shop to clean your iron, or you can easily DIY it like I do. Here’s the supplies needed: distilled water, white vinegar, small bowl, clean cloth and q-tips.
Here is how my iron looks before cleaning. You can see the build up on the soleplate “leg” and on the soleplate:
It’s a little hard to see the lint-like buildup on the soleplate from the photo alone, but it’s there. To clean the iron, mix equal parts vinegar and water into a small bowl and use the soft cloth to clean the soleplate. The q-tips can be used to get to hard to reach areas. Just dip one in the water/vinegar solution.
Once done, get another soft cloth and dampen with distilled water only and wipe down the areas where you used the vinegar/water solution. This serves to dry the soleplate and wipe away any trace remains of vinegar. The whole iron cleaning process took me all of 5 minutes!!! And here’s my clean iron:
Cutting Table and Mat Tips
- This is my tip for a back saver. Cut your projects out on a cutting table that is elevated. In my studio, I was able to use old kitchen cabinets for a cutting surface so I do not have to bend over when cutting.
If you don’t have a dedicated area where you can have a raised table, sit at a table where you can have your cutting mat at a height so you are not bending over to cut. This is also a good tip for those quilters who are unable to stand for long periods of time.
- Keep your mat clean so your rotary cutter will run smoothly when cutting. Between cutting out projects, use a lint roller or even a piece of packing tape to pick up fabric threads on the mat.
Both of these items will pick up stray threads and lint from previous cutting.
- Avoid cutting in the same place on the mat each time you cut out a project. Even though these mats are self-healing, continuously cutting in the same area can cause deep grooves that won’t heal. If your mat is reversible, consider flipping it periodically to use the other side.
Scissors & Rotary Cutter
- Your best fabric scissors also need to be maintained. Aside from chasing the family away from using them, or course! As a general rule, you should have your scissors sharpened every year. Sharp scissors help you to avoid hand and wrist strain because they will cut much easier than dull scissors. This also extends the lifespan of your scissors. Most quilt shops offer scissor sharpening services. You can also check with your local hardware store.
- Rotary cutters need to have the blade replaced to avoid damaging your fabric and also to avoid injuries to you. Safety first! The rotary cutter has a very sharp blade, as we know. Make sure you have a fresh blade. The blade might look good to the naked eye, but if you feel like you have to press down hard to cut through all the layers of fabric, it’s time to change the blade. Also, if you notice “skips” in the cutting, that’s another sign that your blade is dulling. Once you change the blade, store the used one in an empty rotary blade container marked “used blades”. Once it’s full, you can safely toss it away.
Finally, your rulers need to be maintained and stored properly to keep them in tip top shape. Here’s some tips for that:
- Clean your rulers periodically by dusting with a soft cloth. Do not use anything abrasive, like paper towels, that can scratch the ruler surface and make the markings harder to read. Also don’t use any cleaning solution with bleach or ammonia. If you need to use a cleaning solution, use those that are meant for plexiglass.
- Store your rulers, like your cutting mat, away from direct sunlight and not in areas of your home with extreme temperature changes.
- Finally, make sure to store your rulers securely. If you drop them or they fall from a storage area, they will chip or break. I hang my rulers on a peg board that you can find at any hardware store. Mine was meant for a garage, but it works in my sewing room.
So that’s my advice for keeping these important tools in tip top shape so they are ready to use when you want to quilt. This will also extend the life of these tools. Last thing you want to do is have to buy new tools because you neglected the ones you already had.
Leave your tips in the comments below and maybe we’ll all learn something! Happy Thanksgiving for those who celebrate!