Top 10 Tools for Beginners Patchwork

The Top 10 Tools for Beginners Patchwork from Angie Wilson at Everything you need to purchase to be able to patchwork like a ninja!

I get asked a lot about what a beginner should buy or what tools are essential for quilting and I’m going to provide you with my Top 10 Tools for Beginners Patchwork. Now, patchwork is different from quilting, although both skills fall under the general term “quilting”, and so while the tools will cross over there’s some specific tools for quilting that will not be included in this list.

Here’s how I think about patchwork and quilting: Patchwork is the act of piecing different pieces of fabric together to form the quilt top and Quilting is the act of joining three layers (quilt top, batting/wadding and quilt back) together by stitching through the layers.

This is my list of essential tools and I’m sure there’s others out there that wouldn’t have some of these items on their lists or would say my list is missing crucial items. The beauty of handcrafting is that you can choose what works for you and what doesn’t but if you’re looking for a place to start this should help you.

The one thing that I want to say for all of these items is that where possible you should buy the best that you can afford. While you can get cheap items, you’ll go through them quickly and you’ll end up having accuracy issues in the long run.

I’ve included some links to help you get an idea of what products I use and would recommend – but like everything, you need to get what will work for you so be sure to go to your local quilting or sewing supply store and test drive where you can and talk to the experts in the store. Having a good relationship with your local store can be worth more than it’s weight in gold, especially when things go pear shaped and you need hands on help.

Top 10 Tools for Beginners Patchwork

1. Cutting Mat

Cutting mats come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colours. I like to use a large cutting mat on the end of my sewing table for all my cutting. Having a cutting mat that’s wide enough to put a width of fabric from the bolt (folded in half like it comes off the bolt) is very handy.

Cutting mats need some love and care if you want to get the most out of your money. Here’s some tips for keeping them in pristine shape:

  • Do not leave it in direct sunlight.
  • Do not leave it in a hot car.
  • Do not iron on your mat.
  • Wipe your mat down regularly to remove lint and threads.
  • Always store flat and never on it’s side.
  • Do not put hot foods or drinks on your mat.

What I use: Olaf 24″ x 36″ Double-sided Rotary Mat

2. Rotary Cutter

I can highly recommend test driving rotary cutters if possible. I use a 45mm rotary cutter for all of my cutting. I’ve tried a smaller blade and at this point in my sewing journey it just doesn’t work for me. When you’re buying a rotary cutter be sure to price out how much replacement blades are so you’ll know what to expect. I always keep at least 1 blade spare in my stash so I can change it without having to go out and trying to find one.

What I use: Olaf 45mm Straight Handle Rotary Cutter & 60 x 45mm Straight Blades (I buy them in bulk!)

3. Ruler

Rulers, like cutting mats, come in many shapes and sizes as well. I use 2 sizes of rule predominantly for all my cutting; a 24″ x 8″ and a 12″ x 8″. Rulers are one of those things that you’ll start to acquire more of us your sewing adventure progresses. Make sure, where possible, you buy rulers from the same manufacturer as their markings should be the same. If you compare markings on rulers you’ll notice that there’s slight differences between them all.

I have a number of other rulers in my stash, but these are the two I love and use the most.

What I use: Creative Grids 24.5″ x 8.5″ and Matilda’s Own 12″ x 8″

4. Iron

You will do more ironing once you start working with fabric as it’s essential to have a good quality iron. If you can get an iron with a pointed nose you’ll find it much easier to iron seams open. You’ll need an iron that you can turn the steam on and off.

What I use: Phillips Azur Performer Plus Steam Iron

5. Ironing Board

The harder you can get an ironing surface the better your results. There’s some great tutorials out there on how to make your own pressing surface, but a standard ironing board will work wonders just make sure your ironing board cover isn’t too plush.

Example: Ironing Board

The Top 10 Tools for Beginners Patchwork from Angie Wilson at Everything you need to purchase to be able to patchwork like a ninja!

6. Starch

I cannot under sell the use of starch to get your fabric smooth and stiff to make sure that your cutting is accurate. You can use starch that you buy from a grocery store, there’s tutorials for how to make your own starch or you can buy a starch specific to patchwork and sewing.

What I use: Flatter by Soak in Yuzu 248ml

7. Scissors – Fabric and Thread

You’ll finally get a chance to yell “Not with the good scissors!”. You’ll need at least 2 pairs of scissors – one for cutting fabric and one for cutting thread. I love thread cutters that have a sharp point to them so you can get into tighter places (like snipping a thread nest out of your bobbin case in your sewing machine) or making small little snips into fabrics. You’ll also need fabric scissors that cut sharp each and every time. You don’t want to be losing valuable fabric due to mangling the edge of your fabrics while cutting.

What I use: Fabric: Fiskar’s Classic Professional Scissors 25cm Thread: Fiskar’s Softouch Spring Action Micro-tip Scissors

8. Sewing Machine & Quarter Inch Foot & Machine Needles

This is a big ticket item, although sewing machines have some along way and you can get a lot of bang for your buck these days. I started sewing on a basic Janome machine that was gifted to me by my wonderful Nana. I’ve sewn on both a Pfaff and a Brother and I love them both.

If you’re looking for a machine to start with though I can’t recommend the Brother NS55 enough. And I know you’re all probably thinking, “Of course you’d say that you work with Brother”, but there’s a reason I work with Brother – they make great machines for really good prices! The NS55 has some great features, including a well lit work space and the ability to handle a lot of layers at once.  But like everything you should go and test drive and talk to the experts.

If you’re going to do a lot of patchwork piecing investing in a quarter inch foot for your machine is a great investment. You’ll find most machine either come with one or it can be purchased really easily from the dealer. If you can get one with a guide on it even better!

Machine needles are also a great thing to buy in bulk. I use a 70/10 needle to help with piecing accuracy. If you can buy them in bulk I highly recommend it, you’ll be thankful when you don’t have to stop what you’re doing to rush to a store to buy more.

You should change your sewing needle regularly to ensure good results.

What I use: Machine: Brother NQ3500D Foot: Quarter Inch Foot with Guide Machine Needles: Schmetz 70/10 Bulk Needles

9. Threads

Did you know that thread can make a difference to your accuracy? I didn’t either when I started and I wished someone had told me so I’m sharing this gem with you now. Threads have varying thicknesses and this can impact on your piecing. It’s not a lot, but over the span of a quilt it can all add up. So, I use a 50wt thread for piecing. You can also use a 40wt, but this is a bit thicker.

I like to have a stash of core colours for patchwork. Depending on what you’re working on you can get away with using the one colour thread for all of your piecing. You should try to match your thread to the predominant colour in your patchwork, however if you’re going for a scrappy look a neutral colour is often best.

What I use: Aurifil in #2000 (Sand), #2600 (Dove Grey) and #2021 (Natural White).

10. Pins

If you can afford it buy glass headed pins because you can iron them and they won’t melt. I like them extra long because I use them to line up seams and points (they’ll also pass through bulky items if you’re going to be sewing bags and homewares.)

What I use: Matilda’s Own Extra Long Yellow Pins

Bonus Tool: Clover Wonder Clips

As much as I love pinning I much prefer to use Clover Wonder Clips. The work a treat on keeping lots of layers together and the slide on your machine plate really well. If you’re working with small piecing they keep the seams lined up really well which helps when it comes to making those pesky points meet! They’re also great for binding, English Paper Piecing (EPP) and for bag making.

What I use: Clover Wonder Clips 50pk

What are your top tools for beginners patchwork? Have I missed anything? Is there any words of wisdom you’d share with someone looking to start patchworking?

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase those items through my links I will earn a very small commission. You will not pay more when buying a product through my link, in fact in some cases I can offer you a better price via an affiliate link. I will not recommend something that I do not use myself. These commissions help me keep being able to provide you with great content for free. Thank you, in advance for your support!

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  1. Something that I love to have is binder clips used in most offices. I got a large bucket for about $10.00 at Walmart and it has a variety of sizes. I use them for everything with the process of piecing and compiling the quilt.

  2. A great list… I’d add….With aging hands, I find it tough to hold a ruler down with enough force to keep the ruler from slipping (and I’ve tried them all!). I use the Omnigrid rulers, with the yellow and black lines… easily seen with any color fabric, dark to light. My secret “stay put” tool is a roll of 3M NexCare Waterproof first aid tape. I put 6-8 1/4 inch squares of tape on the underside. It’s got a bit of a tacky surface, but not too much to make it hard to slide, and means absolutely NO slipping of rulers once you have them where you want them. I also cut a fingertip sized piece for my needle holding finger to make it easy to pull the needls quickly and without pain when piecing…!
    – Karen in Austin, Texas

  3. Thanks, Angie! You are always so helpful with your posts! I am agonizing over the decision of which iron to purchase right now. It’s my birthday present to finally get rid of old Spitter, haha! If anyone has a passion for an iron, I would love to hear about it. My add on advice that I am passionate about is the Martelli Rotarry cutter. I bought it at first because of the ergonomic design. I’m handicapped and have to sit to cut my fabrics. WOW! I had been using the known name brands of cutters and just thought it was me when I kept having to cut again. Nope! I would strongly suggest everyone to try this rotary cutter. I can slice through stacked fabríc like butter! And let me tell you, use their blades, too. You will not believe the increase of quality and ease of cutting. You don’t have to be handicapped to use them. And, no, I don’t work for them. I just want everybody to put down those other brands and see what I mean. The difference is huge!

  4. Lovely! These are definitely the basics, and I totally agree with “Why didn’t anybody TELL me that thread weight would make a difference in seam allowance?!?!?”

    I’d also add – get the highest quality tools you can afford. It’s tempting to buy cheap things and figure you can upgrade later. But if they’re frustrating to use, you might think it’s YOU and stop quilting altogether! I have a box of pins I got from a big box store that are so dull, they’re almost unusable, even though they’re glass head. I invested in a box of Little House pins and they’re SO much easier to use.

    Also – some sort of pin-containment system. Preferably magnetic, for the sake of all the feet in your house.

  5. For left-handed sewers, check that any rulers you are buying include left handed markings. Many rulers don’t and because lots of them have an extra half inch on them (eg 8.5 x 24 is quite common) you’ll waste so much time (and invariable fabric through miscuts if you’re anything like me) trying to calculate measurements backwards – particularly when there are 5/8″ measurements involved.

    I also highly recommend trying to find a Gingher left-handed rotary cutter. Unfortunately, if like me, you live outside of the States, they’re hard to find but check etsy – I lucked into someone who’d bought a left handed one by mistake and was selling it cheap. I know that most rotary cutters are meant to be for either hand but in reality they’re not always ergonomically easy to use for lefties. I am not sure what the physics are involved but I always used to have to use a put a lot of pressure with my right hand to avoid knocking the ruler as I cut with all my previous cutters and couldn’t make a straight cut on long cuts. I don’t have that issue at all with my gingher and cut for longer with no aching musles. So totally worth the price for me.

  6. Good suggestions. I would add having a good seam ripper is a must and to buy a new one occasionally. I didn’t know they could get dull until I lost my old one and had to buy a new one. It was so much easier to use because it was sharp. My mamma always said “If you don’t like ripping it out, you shouldn’t be sewing.”

    • Oh Karen, I could have bonked my head on my desk! YES! A seam ripper! I’m going to amend the post to include the little devil. I swear I forgot all about it because I refuse to look at mine at the moment – we’ve been spending too much time together! Thanks for the reminder!!!! 🙂

  7. Great post. I use the same thread snippers as in your photo and I love them! I also use then for unpicking. I love the fine points on them and the spring loading.

    • Thanks Katharine! I do the same thing – they’re the best scissors and I tell everyone to buy them if they can. I have a couple of pairs that I keep around the house for various things. They’re just so sharp and that micro tip is so handy!