Learn to Quilt Series – Notions Part 1: Sewing machines and basic supplies

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I’m so happy and excited to host this tutorial series! I hope to convert at least a few more people into professional fabric hoarders! Over the next couple of months, we will be sewing this disappearing nine patch quilt together, starting from square one. As in – what do you need to sew a quilt?! What is sewing even?! (Jokes…they don’t get any better.)

Best part – the tutorials will be around for.ev.er. So if you can’t join the quilt-along this spring, these tutorials will live right here for you to visit later. A never ending virtual sew-along!

Now – let’s talk about what you need to get started. There is an overwhelming amount of tools and supplies (called notions) at every price point you can imagine. In two posts, we will go through what you need to make this quilt, where to get it, and if you’re on a shoestring budget – what you should prioritize. A $10 spool of thread will make a nicer quilt than a $30 cutting mat. Most of my notions come from Walmart or Amazon, but don’t forget to browse your local quilt shop if you’re lucky enough to have one!

Part 1 of this week will cover sewing machines and thread. Part 2 will cover cutting and pressing supplies. Not the most exciting, but my goal is to give you enough time to shop around for your supplies before diving into fabric selection. (The best part!) A full schedule is located at the end of the post.

Alright – take a deep breath…

Ready?

Let’s do this!!

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Sewing machines

This is the thing I get asked about the most, by far. I’m going to assume most of you don’t have one and have already googled “best sewing machine for beginners” and want to gouge your eyes out in frustration.

Oh, believe me. I’ve been there.

I’ve owned four sewing machines, and have pieced quilts on three of them. There is an overwhelming amount of options and a huge price spread on machines, and you’ll find everything from basic mechanical machines to crazy fancy computerized gadgets with 100,388,232,398 types of stitches that embroider and free motion quilt and do your laundry for you.

Oofta.

One thing to remember – to make a quilt, you only need to sew a straight line. That’s all. Nothing fancy required. In general – you get what you pay for and the cheapest machines will not perform as well as a pricier machine, regardless of the feature list.

Here’s how I found my dream machine, and what I recommend to others: borrow if you can, or buy an inexpensive machine, until you know a) that you’re going to keep sewing and b) what you want in a machine. There’s no good substitute for personal experience, and you’ll find 20 different quilters that happily sew on 20 different machines.

If you’re curious – here’s a list of sewing machines I’ve used with approximate prices:

  • Singer Promise II ($100 at Walmart) – I can’t in good conscience recommend this machine. I sewed my first three quilts with it, but I threatened to toss it out the window more than once. It skipped, bumped, clattered, and broke my thread every six inches, but we managed. I promptly upgraded once I was hooked.
  • Janome New Home 2030 DC (found for $200 on Craigslist, retails for ~$500) – Sewed well with only a few minor hiccups.  I still use this machine for non-straight stitch projects and recommend it with a few notable drawbacks. Contact me if you’re interested in a full review of this machine and I’m happy to help you out!
  • Juki TL-2000 ($650 on Amazon) – A straight-stitch-only machine designed for specifically for quilters. Wicked fast and extremely reliable – she’s my workhorse and one true love. I don’t recommend this for your first sewing machine, but happy to provide a full review of this machine upon request as well.

Bottom line:

  • If you’re just dipping your toes in, see if you can borrow a machine.
  • Check Craigslist or similar places for used machines. Lots of people buy a high-end sewing machine only to find they don’t care for sewing. Take advantage of a steal if you can find it!
  • Get the best you can afford within reason, but if all you can afford is a $40 machine from Walmart, it will sew. You may threaten it with hellfire and fury, but it will sew.
  • Don’t be afraid to go in a sewing/quilting store and ask for recommendations!

Let me know if you have specific questions – I can’t possibly know everything about every machine, but I will try to help out as much as I can!

The cast of characters in my sewing room – Jukester and Ms. Janome.


Sewing notions

Okay, once you’ve secured a machine to use for a couple of months you’ll need a few miscellaneous “sewing” supplies to go with it. Most importantly – a 1/4″ quilting foot. Also called a 1/4″ piecing foot. Or simply a 1/4″ presser foot. It measures just shy of 1/4″ from the needle to the edge of the foot – quilting patterns use a 1/4″ seam, so this is a must-have to sew accurate blocks!

You can buy one with a guide or without – personally I found the guide to be a nuisance. Presser feet are machine specific and a 1/4″ foot rarely comes supplied with a new machine. Your best bet? Google “<your machine make/model> 1/4 inch presser foot” or go into a quilting store and ask for help finding one that fits your machine.

I found my 1/4″ Juki foot at www.sewingpartsonline.com and the Janome and Singer feet on Amazon.

You’ll also need: 

  • Bobbins – these should come with your machine, but double check you have them. If you don’t, pick up a pack of either plastic or metal. As long as they fit your bobbin case, you’re good to go.
  • Small sharp scissors for snipping thread
  • Seam ripper (trust me, you’ll use it)
  • Straight pins (pack of 20+)
  • Pincushion
  • Sewing machine needle – “universal” or “quilting” needles, size 80/12 or 75/11. (The two numbers are simply different sizing models – like US vs. European shoes.) I use Schmetz quilting needles size 75/11, available at Walmart or Amazon
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Nuts and bolts of a sewing room

Thread

Talk to those same 20 quilters, and chances are you’ll find varying opinions on thread choices. I exclusively use Aurifil 50 wt. cotton thread to thread my machines. Why? Because that’s what my mentor uses and recommended, and it’s always worked beautifully for me.

I prefer to use cotton thread with cotton fabric – you’ll find folks adamant that using polyester thread will eventually wear holes in your cotton fabric due to differences in fiber strength. I haven’t had a quilt long enough to tell – but just in case, I use cotton.

My recommendation: 

  • Aurifil 50 wt. cotton thread (I use white – color 2024). 1422 yards is more than enough to make an entire quilt. Not available in most stores – I buy it on Amazon.

If you’re on a budget: 

I haven’t quilted with a budget brand of thread and therefore can’t recommend any. Aurifil will be $10 well spent but if you can’t afford it, ask your local quilt store for recommendations!


Whew – that was a lot of shop talk! If you’re still hanging on, take a couple of days to digest it and shop around if you need a sewing machine. Shoot me your questions or comments – next up will be cutting and pressing (ironing) and then we talk fabric while you gather supplies!

-Rebecca

Shopping list:

  • Sewing machine
  • 1/4″ presser foot
  • Bobbins
  • Small sharp scissors
  • Seam ripper
  • Straight pins
  • Pincushion
  • Sewing machine needles, size 80/12 or 75/11
  • Cotton thread
  • Will will add a rotary cutting set and iron to the list tomorrow! Until then – happy browsing!
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Learn to Quilt Series: Tutorial links

  1. Notions Part 1 – Sewing machine and basic supplies
  2. Notions Part 2 – Cutting and pressing supplies
  3. All about fabric!
  4. Basic cutting, sewing, and pressing
  5. Making your blocks!
  6. Tips for staying organized and sewing blocks into a quilt top
  7. How to attach borders and piece backing
  8. To quilt or not to quilt – professional long-arm services vs. quilting at home, plus a basting tutorial
  9. Quilt at home – machine quilting yourself
  10. Binding your finished quilt and quilt care
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10 Comments on “Learn to Quilt Series – Notions Part 1: Sewing machines and basic supplies

  1. Pingback: Beginner Quilt-a-long – Introduction! – RebaLeigh Handmade

  2. Pingback: Beginner Quilt-a-long: Notions Part 2 – Cutting and pressing supplies – RebaLeigh Handmade

  3. Pingback: Beginner Quilt-along – Fabric! – RebaLeigh Handmade

  4. Pingback: Beginner Quilt-along: Getting started! Basic cutting, sewing, and pressing. – RebaLeigh Handmade

  5. Pingback: Beginner Quilt-along: Making your blocks – RebaLeigh Handmade

  6. Pingback: Beginner Quilt-a-long: Sewing blocks into a quilt top! – RebaLeigh Handmade

  7. Pingback: Beginner Quilt-along: Borders and backing (and block catch up!) – RebaLeigh Handmade

  8. Pingback: Beginner Quilt-along: Long-arm vs. home quilting and basting tutorial – RebaLeigh Handmade

  9. Pingback: Beginner Quilt-along: Machine quilting – RebaLeigh Handmade

  10. Pingback: Beginner Quilt-along: Binding and finishing your quilt – RebaLeigh Handmade

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