6 Must Haves for the Beginner Quilter

Quilting is overwhelming. I have been quilting for a couple years now and I still get thoroughly overwhelmed in my local quilt shop or when shopping online. Let's not forget that many of the rulers, gadgets, mats, irons, thread, needles... are not cheap. And they definitely are not cheap if you are like me and on a budget. So let's cut through all those extras and find the 6 things you must have to start quilting, or at least must have to make quilting enjoyable.

1. Quality cutting mat

You can easily go buy a cheap cutting board at most any craft supply store. But let me tell you from experience those don't last long and can dull the blade on your rotary cutter fast. Large ones can be expensive, so if you are a new quilter and on a budget get a smaller size, but a higher quality cutting mat. I have been using a Fiskars brand 18 in. x 24 in. cutting mat for the past year while we have been in transition during the Pandemic. My preference is to have a little bit larger cutting mat. But, I knew this would be a temporary one for me while we are traveling so I bought a more budget friendly mat. If space is an issue for you then this is also a great size. You can easily tuck it behind a book case and put it on the table or counter when it's in use.

I found this Creative Grids Mat which is the same size as the one I am currently using. I like how this one has measurements of yardage marked on it. It's also double sided which means if one side starts getting worn out just flip it over. 

2. Rotary Cutter

This really could go with #1 because they go together. A good rotary cutter with a nice sharp blade makes all the difference when cutting fabric for a quilt. I use the most common size (45 mm). Mine has a blade cover which is great since sometimes little hands get a hold of it when I'm not watching. I pretty much always put the cover on after every cut. Here is a link to an Olfa which is very similar to mine. If remembering to place the safety back on might be a problem for you, then this Olfa Deluxe might be the rotary cutter for you. It has a dual lock and doesn't actually work until you squeeze the handle to release the blade.  Both are great rotary cutters and you can use generic blades as replacements. Make sure to have some extra blades on hand as well.


3. Quality Thread

I learned the hard way with this one. When I first started quilting I worked at a quilt shop where I bought my thread. They sold only the highest quality thread and I got a discount on it so I didn't even look for anything different. However, later I saw different people on Instagram peddling different brands of way cheaper thread. So I bought up several spools. At this time I had been having some issues with my machine, so when my thread started breaking regularly I thought it had to do with my machine. After much frustration and hours of breaking threads I decided to try a spool of Aurifil, and guess what?! All my thread breaking nightmares when away. Since then I have only used Aurifil. It is more expensive that other brands but worth the investment and the last thing you want as a beginner quilter is extra frustration.

4. Quilting Ruler

If you stop in at any quilting store or look at one online you will see so, so, so many rulers for quilting. Quite frankly it's overwhelming. Stores like to sell patterns which require a special ruler because then it gives them a way to make more money on the sale. And with the way quilt shops are going out of business who can blame them.

I have a couple different rulers I use regularly. But when you are starting out you can sew most basic patterns with one ruler. In fact, I just had one ruler for a while when I was a beginning quilter. I didn't want to waste money on rulers I wouldn't use. So I asked my quilter friends what they suggested and waited a bit to see what sizes I wished I had when quilting.

I suggest starting off with a large ruler. This way you can cut yardage in straight lines, but also measure and cut blocks. It just might be cumbersome when trimming smaller pieces. I am currently using a 18" x 6 1/2" ruler to do most my cutting with. I bought this when we came to visit the states for a couple months, now 1 & 1/2 years later (thanks Coronavirus) I am still using this. I wish I had bought an 8 1/2" x 24 1/2" ruler instead (I have this size at home and it's perfect for cutting yardage).  Either size works great and if you can only afford one ruler, the larger is the size to go with.

5. All the Pins and Needles

This is a cheap one. Make sure you have all the straight pins that are the correct size for quilting. Some pins are made for smaller projects, I like using pins for piecing that are 1 1/2 inches. You can find these at almost any major store in their sewing section (Target, Walmart, Bimart...). No need to buy anything fancy or from a specialty shop. If you want to be a little fancy I suggest buying a magnetic pin cushion. It makes keeping those pins off the floor much easier.

Basting Pins are also important but again no need to buy anything special. I have bought cheap basting pins in bulk before and they have worked great. When I was low on basting pins I bought some of the curved ones which claim you can baste your quilt with one hand. Some people may find these easier to use. However, I haven't loved them and sometimes because of their shape I don't get all three layers in the pin. So I suggest sticking with the straight, inexpensive, yet sturdy basting pins.


6. Iron and Ironing Board

So I guess technically this is two things, but they go together so I am counting them as one. Good news on this one gals, if you are on a budget this is the area you can save some money. I know some people swear by expensive irons, and my mom has one that glides like butta' baby. But really this is not necessary. Because we are frequently traveling or moving or in transition I buy a new iron wherever we are so I don't have to pack one. I have thought of buying a nice one that other quilters recommend but then I would have to have a converter when we are at home (we usually don't live in the US). Plus, I don't know if it's operational error or just bad luck but irons seem to break on me quite often. I'm afraid to lay down some serious cash if I'm just going to break it in 6 months. I  go to the local store, wherever we are, and buy a cheap iron that is the size and has the features I want. I usually don't even use the steam, just a squirt bottle.

My space is limited for an ironing board. So generally my ironing board is based off of what size will fit well in our current living situation. Or I use whatever ironing board is available. There are some nice wool pressing mats that quilters love, but when you are beginning, just use what you have. Later you might realize you want a wider board for ironing larger pieces of fabric, or a smaller one to better fit in your space.

I hope this list helps any beginner quilters looking for supplies. If you have any suggestions feel free to list them in comments. In the end, I would say quilting supplies are to make the quilting process more enjoyable. If you are getting frustrated by the supplies you have or they aren't working for you it might be time to save up and start looking for something that fits your need better.

Happy quilting friends!


Just for kicks I thought I would share a couple pictures of the guy who irons my clothes when we are home in Asia. He uses an iron with hot coals inside and works on the corner in a metal shed no matter the weather.


He charges about 20 cents for a shirt and 30 cents for the pleated billowy pants women wear.

I have held his iron before and it is super heavy!

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