Tonight is the night! Our very first post of my very first Sew Along is here. I have planned this for so long in my head, and see it as such a monumental step in my quilting journey – fingers crossed at the end of this we all have a quilted Pillow Sham to show for it, having had a lot of fun along the way.
My Facebook group Piccolo Pattern Studio is the place to be while the Sew Along is running for extra help, answers to questions, support and general merriment – I would love to see everyone there offering knowledge and support where needed. The aim of this Sew Along is not to create a technically perfect sham, but to have fun, learn new skills and to develop a genuine love of quilting. Like anything, it takes a lot of practice but there is always beauty in the journey.
Now apologies in advance because this post is very information heavy, it is going to be a long read, but I promise the pretty pictures are coming next week as we start cutting and piecing our tops.
So lets dive right in with our first topic – Quilting Tools.
Part 1: Quilting Tools
I have put together a list of all the tools I use and recommend divided into 3 sections – what you need, what helps and what makes it all easier. Total disclaimer: I have added pics mainly of the brands I use because they are what I know – it does not mean they are the best of only alternative. I am not sponsored or paid by any of the brands listed, I am solely speaking from my own knowledge base.
1. What you Need:
Reality is you don’t need a lot to create a beautiful quilt. We can have all the bells and whistles that make our job easier but it doesn’t mean that some of the most stunning pieced aren’t created on $200 machines with a $10 pair of scissors. I have kept it simple because that is exactly how I started.
- Safety Pins: These are a staple in the quilting world and it best to invest in the best quality ones you can afford. You can use regular pins but you only need to be stabbed a certain amount of times before you invest.
- Sewing Machine: Now obviously we don’t all need a $2000 sewing machine when we start out on our quilting journey. In fact my very first baby was a $300 Elna from my local Spotlight. Buy the best machine you can afford and upgrade as needed. For me an automatic thread cutter and needle threader are absolute necessities but that is because I am spoilt. I chose my current machine because of its size and the fact it was made specifically for quilting, that was 5 years into my development as a quilter and when I knew I was going to definitely be doing this as a job.
- Wadding: I love 100% cotton wadding. It always washes well and has a good weight to it. Plus it is breathable which for me is really important. I am a huge fan of natural fibres over anything and rarely work with anything else. For affordability and ease of use, cotton will always be my favourite.
- Iron and Ironing board: A quilter’s best friend. When we move to our piecing post I will show you how I set my iron up when I am working, it is a lifesaver. The finish of your product will be improved 1000% if you keep your fabrics ironed before you start and throughout the whole process.
- Tape Measure: If you are in Australia a tape measure that shows both inches and cm is a lifesaver. Much of the quilting world exists in inches and this makes a quick reference point. My recommendation is that you get used to working in inches, it saves so much time in the end and makes using patterns and tools so much easier.
- Sewing Scissors: Get the very best you can afford. Seriously. I love using Shears for sewing because they glide so well but it will always be personal preference. Try a few styles out, find what you love to use and then invest well. They will last you for years.
- Fabric: and yes I know that goes without saying. Again I will always recommend you work with 100% quilting cottons especially as a beginner. As you get more experienced you can add other types in but these are what will usually give you the best result and hold up well to cutting, piecing and quilting. At the end of this post I will put up an exact fabric list for the pillow shams so you can prepare for our next step which is cutting.
2. What Helps:
As you learn to enjoy quilting you may decide to add to your tools, these will make your job easier and create a better quality finish in a shorter period of time. Again these are not necessary straight away but if you think quilting will be a regular part of your sewing repertoire then I do strongly recommend you invest in these.
- Quilting Ruler: These make cutting large strips of fabric accurately a godsend. They are an integral part of a quilters toolkit and come in a variety of shapes and sizes. I love my long one and use it multiple times a day for everything from cutting squares to preparing binding.
- Walking foot: A lot of modern domestic machines come with a walking foot as part of their package. They are fantastic for creating a better quality finish as they evenly feed the fabric through. They have multiple uses aside from quilting too, including top stitching. Machines like mine have an acufeed foot which is built in – if you haven’t tried it yet then I beg you to use it for this challenge. You will never look back!
- Rotary Cutter: Possibly my very best friend. My quilting life genuinely changed for the better once I took the plunge and taught myself how to use a rotary cutter. Again there are many different styles out there, and brands too. If you have little interested fingers around then definitely find one with a locking mechanism as they are SHARP. You do need new blades often so they are an investment in your sewing. For years I had all my templates made in cardboard and I would use scissors to cut all my blocks. This is still a really viable alternative and you can create any quilt this way. If you want to make a LOT of quilts though I would definitely look at your options.
- Cutting Mat: No rotary cutter or ruler is complete without one. Get the biggest you can afford and/or be able to store flat and make it self-healing if possible. If you look after them they will last for years and years.
- Starch: Everything I make is starched at some point in the process. I love the stuff and fear my lungs may be lined with it these days. You can buy all the fancy quilting brands if you like but I am fine with the super basic home brand version, it does a great job and leaves barely any residue behind.
3. What Makes It all Easier:
We are getting all fancy now with these last few things but oh my they are so worth it I promise. It can be the absolute difference between frustration and relief in some cases.
- Quilting Extension Table: Best. Thing. Ever! I never remove mine from my machine as I love working on a large flat surface. Again many machines come with one so if you haven’t every pulled yours out of the box go and do it right now. I will wait right here. You can write a long comment thanking me profusely later.
- Curved Pins: Normal safety pins are fine but if you are pinning a large quilt these babies make all the difference on your wrists. Again get the best you can afford, I usually buy mine in large lots from online quilting shops on Ebay or similar. You want them strong and sharp so they don’t tear at the fabric while you are basting your quilt sandwich.
- Quarter Inch Piecing Foot: Most often patterns in quilting are created using a 1/4″ seam. This machine foot automatically gives you an even seam when you line the edge of your fabric up to the black edge of the foot. It means a more accurate seam and in turn a more accurate quilt. Most modern machines automatically have one in their accessories but if not it is a great investment as a sewer for very little outlay.
So there we have part one of our post done and dusted! I am sure there are many other things I could have added in but reality is these are the things I use every single day in my job. If you can think of anything I have missed out or you think should be added please feel free to add it in the comments for everyone to see and decide on – you may teach me something!
Now onto my favourite part – Fabric Selection.
Part 2: Selecting your Fabrics
There is no right or wrong way to select fabrics for quilting – if you go with your own tastes and loves then chances are you will create something beautiful for you. We all have completely different tastes and styles, learning yours is an integral part of the process. Over the years I have learnt I am happiest playing with bright clear colours like pink and turquoise and if it is a large-scale floral even better! They are the prints that make me smile and I am automatically switched on creatively when I see them. I have created a wee guide for how I select my fabrics – something we can discuss over the next few days in my Facebook group as I share the fabrics I am working with and how I chose them.
- Always start with one main print. That will be your building block for the rest of your fabric selections. I recommend using a favourite one, that will always make you happy when you look it.
- Once you have your main print have a good look at it – what colors are in or go with it to make it sing? Audition your other fabrics along side it and be discerning. Do they do it justice but still look great on their own? I am a huge fan of selecting within ranges as you can rarely go wrong, the designer has done all the hard work for you. That said I am NOT a fan of fabrics being there for the sake of it and rarely choose the blender prints unless I like them, I love my fabrics to all be interesting and willing to show off. It is part of my personal style. It may however not be yours, choose based on how you feel and you will rarely produce something you dislike.
- Add different patterns and print scales for interest – quilting was never meant to be boring. Interestingly it is sometimes the prints you think will look weird together that look the best – be brave.
- Now you have auditioned your final fabrics have a look at them all together. Are you in love? Is one annoying you or does it feel wrong. Take it out and pick another. If you trust your gut you will know when you have got it right.
And my friends I think that is a wrap for tonight – so many words from me! I hope you have found them all useful. I look forward to seeing you all in my group sharing your fabric selections. Need help or advice – you only have to ask!
As for me I will leave you with the main print I am starting with for my first – Bee. She is part of the Sugar Beach range by Jennifer Paganelli and I cant wait to play with her. I cant wait to cut in and see her shine.
Oooh before I forget we need an actual materials list for our sham – this is what you will need to complete your beauty.
5-6 different fabrics for the front (fat quarter size or larger)
One piece of wadding 65 x 85cm (25″ x 33″)
3/4m (3/4 yard) coordinating fabric for the back of your sham.
I am so looking forward to our next post where we chat about Cutting and Piecing our fabrics – that will be shared on Wednesday 8 August.
The Patchwork Pillow Sham tutorial runs over 3 weeks and I will update links here as I post them.
Sunday 5 August ~ Tools for quilting and Fabric Selections
Wednesday 8 August ~ Cutting and laying out your top
Sunday 12 August ~ Piecing your quilt top
Wednesday 15 August ~ Pinning and Quilting your top
Sunday 18 August ~ Finishing off your quilted sham