Whether you are a beginner or an experienced quilter, it’s always a great idea to be prepared when you start a quilting project. The purpose of this post is to provide you with my checklist of things I think are important to make sure my quilting experience is enjoyable. I’ve done some of these lists over the years and they do evolve. I’ve added some things to the top of the list and other things, while still important, are a bit further down. Of course, this is just what I think are the most important tips. Share yours with me in the comments and perhaps we’ll all learn something new!
Tip #1 Machine Maintenance– The first and most important thing is having your sewing machine prepared for the project. To start, make sure it is cleaned and oiled (according to manufacturer’s directions). I like to clean it every time I change a bobbin. Don’t forget to clean under the throat plate.
Tip #2 Needles and Seam Allowance – Related to machine maintenance, check to make sure your needle is fresh and your seam allowance is an accurate 1/4″.
A good rule of thumb is to put in a new needle after every completed project, especially if you have just completed a large one. If you have just made a table runner, you can probably get away with keeping the needle for your next project. Another way to know when to change a needle would be after you’ve gone through 3 bobbins.
Damage to a needle is not visible to the naked eye but under a microscope, you will see burrs and cracks. Click here to see what a damaged needle looks like. It can also be bent. Here are some ways you can tell you need to change your needle:
- If you hear a “punching” sound as your needle enters the fabric.
- Your top thread keeps breaking.
- You see snags develop in the fabric where the needle enters when you are stitching.
- You can see the holes where the needle entered.
Using a 1/4″ foot helps with an accurate 1/4″ seam but make sure to do a test seam if this is your first time using the 1/4″ foot. Sew 2 scrap squares together, then measure the seam.
You can repeat this test until you know exactly where to position the pieces you are stitching to get the exact 1/4″. This measurement is important because virtually all quilt patterns require this seam measurement when you are piecing the top. If you don’t have an accurate seam, your blocks will not measure correctly and your quilt top will be difficult to piece.
Tip #3 The Pattern and Fabric –
So the machine is ready and you have your 1/4″ seam measured out. Now it’s time to read through the pattern thoroughly. Not all patterns are written in the same format unless you are working on a pattern by the same designer as your previous project. The most important tip I have, is cut all your pieces from the fabrics in the beginning, whether the pattern calls for it or not, to make sure you have the correct amount of fabric. It’s easier to store all your cut pieces in a tub for later than going back to cut some and realizing you don’t have enough fabric!
I always advise you to buy more than is listed in the pattern, especially if you pre-wash fabric or are prone to cutting errors (like me!). Also since fabric must be squared up before you cut, you can lose some inches during that process. Here’s my mini video tutorial on squaring fabric:
If you have fabric left over, no problem! Cut it into squares or strips and store for future projects.
Tip # 4 – Cutting and Rulers – Have a clean cutting surface whether you have a dedicated space or you have to set up your mat on the dining room table.
Now I confess that my cutting area does not always look this clean, but I strive for this. If there is a lot of fabric, scraps or rulers in the way while you are laying out a piece of fabric, that can add to inaccurate cutting. I also recommend using the same brand of ruler for cutting pieces for a project. Markings on rulers can be slightly different from brand to brand.
Tip #5 – Be Organized and Prepared – Organization and being prepared keeps you sewing!
Tools, Threads and Spools:
I like to keep threads & spools stocked and tools close by. I have a small container that was made for the shower attached to my table to keep everything I need close by. I attached it with a Command strip to my table so it can be easily removed in the future.
Besides my scissors for clipping threads, I keep a small ruler to measure seams on units and blocks and a pressing stick to press seams so I can keep stitching.
Be sure to have enough thread in the color you have chosen for your project, especially if it’s a large quilt top. Also, wind several bobbins ahead of time so you do not have to stop and wind when one runs out. Simply pop out the empty bobbin, clean out the lint from your machine and pop in the new bobbin.
Finally, organization is the key to happiness when quilting. This sort of ties into cutting everything out in the beginning. I have all the pieces cut for all the blocks, sashing and borders and I separate them by those categories. The pieces for the blocks are stacked and labeled (as per the pattern) so I can quickly grab a stack and start stitching.
Everything else is stored until I need it in a tub like the one below, labeled with the project name (removable tape) and with a copy of the pattern.
So those are my top five tips, at least for now. Share with me the tips you think are the most important to you. I will draw a name from those of you who comment and the winner will receive a copy of my new pattern, Trinkets!
The drawing will be on Monday, October 18th. **We have a winner! Congrats, Beverly Lawler!***
Good luck and Happy Quilting!