What do I need to make a quilt?

New to quilting? Good news! With just a few pieces of fabric, scissors, thread, pins and a sewing machine you can pretty much get going! Here’s a beginner's guide to a few other handy tools to help you on your way

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Basic quilting supplies for beginners

Chances are, if you’ve dabbled in a bit of home sewing or textile crafts before, you’ll already have a lot of the bits and bobs you need for quilting. But, there are a few extra tools that’ll really help to get your projects off to a flying start. Here’s what you need…

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The basics: for complete beginners

  • Sewing machine
  • Steam iron
  • Fabric!
  • Wadding or batting
  • Pins
  • Needles
  • Threads
  • Tape measure or ruler

Add these to your kit to up your game

  • Rotary cutter
  • Cutting mat
  • Quilter’s ruler
  • Fabric scissors
  • Seam ripper
  • Fabric markers
  • Fabric glue
  • Safety pins
  • Thin card or plastic
  • Freezer paper
  • Fusible web
Sewing machine

Sewing machine

You’ll need a sewing machine for most projects, or they’ll soon become very time-consuming! Nearly all standard sewing machines are suitable for quilting, appliqué and patchwork. The most useful types offer a variety of stitch lengths and can do zigzag stitch too. See our guide to How to use a sewing machine   to get started, or if you’re a bit shy of investing in a machine before you’ve made your first quilt, you can hand piece patchwork and hand-quilt your quilts too.

Threads

Cotton thread is widely available and is suitable for piecing and quilting. Most cotton thread is ideal for machine and hand quilting, but you shouldn’t use thread that’s specifically intended for hand quilting on a sewing machine (it’s coated in a glaze to protect it against the wear of being passed through the fabric, and this can cause a build-up of residue on a sewing machine). Where possible, if you’re using 100% cotton fabric you should aim to use 100% cotton thread too.

Polyester thread is stronger than cotton and doesn’t wear with washing and use, but because of this you might find that it cuts into less robust fabrics. Polyester threads are colourfast, so you won’t need to worry about them fading. Nylon and rayon threads are ideal for appliqué and decorative stitching: nylon because it’s very fine so the stitches don’t show around the edge of an appliquéd shape, rayon because it has a slight sheen.  Lightweight silk thread is also good for appliqué as it blends into the shapes being sewn on, but thicker silks will make embroidery stitches look really beautiful. Stranded silks and cottons (shown below) are the best choice for hand embroidering your quilt top.

Wadding or batting

As with fabric and threads, your choice of batting can be broadly divided into cotton or polyester. Think about how thick you want your quilt to be, as you can choose between a low (thin) or high (thick) loft. For most projects, low loft is fine – high loft batting can be harder to quilt.

Cotton batting stays cool in summer but warm in winter, so is ideal for bedding. It’s generally low loft but this doesn’t affect its ability to keep you warm. Polyester batting is lighter than cotton and can withstand regular washing, but you might find you overheat under a quilt made with 100% polyester batting. Polycotton blend batting is a great way to get the natural properties of cotton with the durability of polyester. 

Aside from these popular options, other speciality battings are available. Heat-proof batting is great if you want to make oven gloves or a case for hair straighteners. Bamboo/cotton blend batting is eco-friendly and naturally anti-bacterial. Silk batting is very soft – perfect for a quilt top made from silk or any other delicate fabric. Wool batting has similar properties to cotton, although you might find it is a little more expensive. And then there is bonded or fusible batting which has a very thin layer of adhesive applied to the surface to help it keep its shape and stop the fibres (or ‘bearding’) poking through your material. 

If you’re making items that require heat resistance, such as potholders, look out for batting that has been designed  specifically for this purpose like Insul-Bright as it will reflect either the heat or cold back to its source.

Steam iron

It’s a good idea to iron fabrics before you work with them, and finished projects will benefit from being pressed.

Rotary cutter

Used along with a cutting mat, a rotary cutter is the quickest and easiest way to cut precise pieces of fabric. The blade is extremely sharp so you’ll need to be careful when using one, but the finish is much neater than using scissors. They come in a variety of sizes, but a 45mm diameter blade will be most useful when you’re starting out.

Cutting mat

Whether you’re working at the kitchen table or on a dedicated craft desk, you’ll want to protect it against the blade of your rotary cutter. Buy the largest cutting mat you can afford, as this will enable you to make longer continuous cuts of fabric using a rotary cutter.

Cutting matt

Quilter’s ruler

Made from acrylic, quilter’s rulers are tough enough to withstand the blade of a rotary cutter. They’re available in many shapes and sizes, but if you’re starting out, opt for a 6½in x 24½in or 3in x 18in version. You may also find it handy to buy a 6½in or 12½in square ruler for squaring up patchwork blocks and quilts.

Quilting rulers

Tape measure

Accurate measuring is essential when quilting, so make sure your tape measure is easy to read. If you’re planning a large project, such as a bedspread, then treat yourself to a long tape measure!

Scissors

Two pairs of scissors may come in handy in your quilting arsenal:

  • Dressmaking scissors for cutting fabric
  • A separate pair of general household scissors for cutting paper, card and thin plastic.  Don’t use dressmaking scissors for cutting paper as this will quickly blunt the blades.
  • A small pair of embroidery scissors are often useful too, as are pinking shears – these create a zigzag edge as they cut fabric and can stop your patchwork pieces fraying. When you’re shopping for any scissors, look for steel blades and comfy-to-hold handles.

Quilting tools

Seam ripper

If you need to unpick a seam or small area of stitching, this tool is more precise and much quicker than scissors.

Fabric markers

Lines and patterns can be marked out on fabric with various tools. Tailor’s chalk is best on dark fabric, while pencils come in a range of colours and can be used on most materials. You can also use water-soluble (washable) or air-erasable marker pens.

Fabric glue

Adhesives are useful for holding fabric in place before or during stitching, and can be bought in liquid, stick or spray form. Many quilters glue baste English Paper Pieces.

Pins

You’ll need to pin fabric together while quilting, so make sure you have plenty of pins. Choose ones that aren’t too thick, and, if possible, have a selection of heads: flat ones that can be passed under a sewing machine, and heat-resistant ones for when you’re pressing your fabric.

Needles

As well as needles for hand sewing, you’ll need to make sure your sewing machine has the right needle for quilting. ‘Sharps’ and ‘betweens’ are best for hand sewing, while a ‘universal’ needle should do the trick in your sewing machine.

Safety pins

Safety pins are useful when making your ‘quilt sandwich’, securing the top, batting and backing in place before you sew them together. Special curved safety pins for quilting are available.

Thin card or template plastic

If you’re wanting to work with appliqué or irregular shapes or curves in your quilt, you’ll need sheets of card or thin plastic for templates for your patchwork shapes.

Freezer paper

It might have been created for wrapping up food before it’s frozen, but freezer paper is also ideal for templates and appliqué. One side of the paper is slightly waxy, so it can be ironed onto fabric where it will stick temporarily, then peels off without leaving any waxy residue.

Fusible web

A bit like double-sided sticky tape for quilters, fusible web makes appliqué really simple. You simply draw your shape onto the papery side of the web, cut it out and iron it onto the wrong side of your fabric. You can then accurately cut out your fabric around the web and fuse the shape to your backing fabric by pressing it in place with an iron before sewing your appliqué stitches around the edge.

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As with interfacing, fusible web is available in different weights, so choose the one that most closely matches the thickness of the fabric you’re working with.