Equipment recommendation for a new quilter
November 29, 2020 12:59 PM   Subscribe

My wife has recently taken up a hobby of quilting, and has told me she needs some high quality scissors, rotary cutter and a (self-healing???) cutting mat. A few more details inside, but I'm generally just looking for recommendations of some high quality equipment to buy for her.

The set of those she has are fine but are relatively low quality and causing some frustrations with her current projects. She does a ton of knitting and crochet as well, but my understanding is that those require a little less precision than quilting does and she's been able to get away with what she has at present (scissors wise at least, I think the rotary cutter and mat are just for the quilting). She's not the type to usually buy herself nice stuff, so I'd love to get her some equipment that is a joy to use and will last a long time, even if they're a bit more expensive, but I have no idea what brands to look at or what price range is reasonable for some high quality tools.
posted by noneuclidean to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (32 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: For scissors, I can vouch for Ginghers. My very serious quilter MIL has gifted me a couple pairs (tiny ones for knitting and then bigger ones for sewing).
posted by damayanti at 1:12 PM on November 29, 2020 [11 favorites]

Best answer: Yes, seconding Gingher for scissors! And make sure they're used just for cutting fabric so they don't dull.

I'd go with OLFA for the mat and rotary cutter. They're what I've always used and my cutters and mat have lasted a long time (she will need to replace the cutter blades regularly, it's fairly easy to feel when they start to dull). She'll probably also want at least one large quilter's ruler like this one. You can get into all sorts of weird little rulers too, but the large one is the most multipurpose one to start. JoAnn's usually has some sales/coupons going if you download their app - I almost never buy anything there at full price and they carry OLFA, Ginger, and quite a few other brands if you'd like to get all of this in one order.
posted by augustimagination at 1:20 PM on November 29, 2020 [3 favorites]

Best answer: A self-healing cutting mat is a piece of plastic that seals up tiny cuts with no intervention, so you can use the same mat for hundreds of cuts before needing a new one. Brands are pretty much the same IMHO but Olfa is the premier mid-tier brand if you are label conscious. Brand is less important that size and markings. It must be smaller than the table you place it on, but large enough to hold the fabric (for quilts this can be a 36 x 48 rectangle). It's nice to have lines (vertical, horizontal, diagonal at different angles) that allow you to visualize and keep straight cuts for all sizes and shapes of pieces.
posted by holyrood at 1:24 PM on November 29, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Seconding the recommendation for OLFA rotary cutters. They last forever.
posted by velebita at 1:27 PM on November 29, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I really like titanium blades for the rotary cutter. They last so much longer.

I also got a foot like this with my new sewing machine, and it's really helped me to sew a very accurate 1/4" seam, quilting quarter inch presser foot.

We also like quilting clips rather than pins.
posted by advicepig at 1:54 PM on November 29, 2020 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Thirding Gingher shears and Olfa mats and rotary cutters. If you buy the mat and rotary cutters, she's going to need a large ruler. I have this one. It's also nice to have embroidery scissors or some thread snips.

For quilting, my most used items are a large OLFA mat, OLFA 45mm rotary cutters, 5-inch Gingher scissors, (I have two pair of their large dressmaker shears and I use them a lot for fashion sewing. I rarely use them when quilting. I use the rotary blades and rulers for accurate cuts and I use the 5-inch scissors to trim after I sew and press. I also use the 5-inch scissors to snip threads and I will also use embroidery scissors at my machine to snip threads. The big 8-inch shears are definitely nice to have but they are not necessary unless she wants to use them to cut large portions of fabric. Gingher can be sent to company headquarters to sharpen for a fee. Instructions are on their website.

Another quality scissor company is Kai. These straight scissors are ideal to trim seams.

And she has to have a seam ripper.
posted by loveandhappiness at 2:05 PM on November 29, 2020 [1 favorite]

That purple thang makes a good stocking stuffer. Way more useful than you think it will be.
posted by BoscosMom at 2:12 PM on November 29, 2020 [1 favorite]

Thread snips are enormously useful. I inherited my mother's snips, and now I don't know how I ever got along without them.
posted by DrGail at 2:36 PM on November 29, 2020 [1 favorite]

Quilter adjacent, so no brand recommendations, but: agree rotary cutter, quilter's ruler and a mat make a big difference.

What kind of fabric storage do you have? Something to sort the different colours is good.

Also, my dear amazing (not-really-related) quilting aunt used a door peephole (the ones you use to see if it's the pizza guy or an axe murderer) to look at her quilts in progress to see how the colours worked. Could be a quirky stocking stuffer.
posted by freethefeet at 2:49 PM on November 29, 2020

On the cutting mat, ask her what size she wants. Too small is really hard to use, and if it's much larger than the surface she plans to use it on it becomes unwieldy or impossible to use.
posted by Lyn Never at 2:51 PM on November 29, 2020 [1 favorite]

There are cutting mats that sit on lazy susans/ turntables. I found them useful so that I didn't distort fabric if I had to pick them up while cutting.
posted by tipsyBumblebee at 2:54 PM on November 29, 2020 [2 favorites]

Aw snap. I totally know how you WIN this xmas.
The request for the cutting mat means she probably doesn't know that electric rotary cutters exist. (Link is to amazon search page but you can find them elsewhere. The Hercules model (3rd on 1st row) is the kind I'm most familiar with. The mini model (1st on 2nd row) is probably perfect for quilting fabrics. The heavy duty and 100mm blade models are for leather and upholstery fabric and will be way too much. Pick up an extra blade if you can.)
Everyone here has it 100% right about the olfa blade and healing mat, but the electric cutter is a pro tool that most people don't know about and it is amazing. Everyone I've seen try one goes 'Oh! Oh, this is awesome!' Trust me. (Also they will cut multiple layers at once so they go So. Much. Faster. This $60 model will cut through 16(!) layers of cotton fabric at once!)
Also, it's not that much more money. An olfa blade blade and some refills will run $20+ and a cutting mat $25 or more for a big one...with the electric cutter you don't need a cutting mat at all. (The fabric goes between the cutting wheel and that little metal tab at the bottom that protects your work surface.)
Trust me on this will so totally win the holidays.
posted by sexyrobot at 3:01 PM on November 29, 2020 [2 favorites]

(The mini model I mentioned is actually way big compared to the one I specifically linked's really more heavy duty than mini. The one I linked to should be perfect, esp. for quilting, where you're cutting out a lot of the same shape.)
posted by sexyrobot at 3:04 PM on November 29, 2020

If you have the space, a nice big sturdy table and good chair are also awesome for quilting. I do not have any of these so cannot recommend specifics but maybe some other people here will?
posted by Tandem Affinity at 3:06 PM on November 29, 2020 [3 favorites]

Quilting takes a SURPRISING amount of ironing. How's your iron looking? I also have a handy little inexpensive sprayer bottle for ironing because it's so much easier to refill.
posted by mochapickle at 3:06 PM on November 29, 2020 [16 favorites]

Yes- to ironing! A great mini iron that gets super hot is the Oliso Mini Project Iron. Another good ironing item is a wool mat. That mat is from Nancy's Notions- a great site to get lots of good items. Another good site for quilting supplies is Fat Quarter Shop.
posted by momochan at 3:55 PM on November 29, 2020 [4 favorites]

I love this seam ripper, my Kai scissors, and this Harbor Fright tool holder for pins.

I also think
posted by vespabelle at 4:20 PM on November 29, 2020

If you end up buying things at Jo-Ann stores, it's worth downloading the app for the coupons.
posted by Duffington at 5:14 PM on November 29, 2020 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you all for the recommendations! This will make finding the right stuff so much easier, and I really appreciate all the extra tips and tidbits as well.
posted by noneuclidean at 5:38 PM on November 29, 2020

Quilting is a puzzle. You can make a LeMoyne Star out of eight polygons, or you can do it the easy way out of a four-by-four block of right triangles.

Cut accurately. Sew accurately. Tiny differences in cutting and sewing expand into major problems at the other end of a queen-size quilt.
If you can make a master template and partial templates out of non-stretch material, that is good for judging what you have done before sewing the finished block.
Nobody messes with the sewing scissors.

Ironing sets the work and makes it easier to judge the accuracy.
You can iron your work on a small portable ironing board. You can iron on a folded towel. Have a stable location for the iron and the ironing surface.
Iron by patting both seams to one side, not pushing. Usually iron both seams to the darker fabric. Study the pattern to find the correct direction for the seam. It's okay to iron one end of the seam one way and the other the opposite if it works for the pattern. Try to avoid having a thick stack of seams on one side (see the center of the LeMoyne Star, above).
Be careful about ironing over pins, needles, fabric markers, etc.
You can finger-press seams.

Many fabrics like cotton have a stretch, or bias, on the diagonal. Note the selvage edge (sides) and trim them off. Note the cut ends of fabric. Arrange pieces so that major seams are not along the bias. Be very careful that ironing does not stretch the fabric on the bias.

Assembly-line sewing the pieces together and ironing as you go works. PBS shows like Quilting Arts, Fons and Porter's Love of Quilting, and Sewing with Nancy show how it is done.
If you can get your hands on Lap Quilting with Georgia Bonesteel, this is an excellent resource.
posted by TrishaU at 6:04 PM on November 29, 2020 [1 favorite]

An electric rotary cutter doesn't look like it can be used with a ruler. It works well for cutting out fabric if you draw the line on it, but most quilters use rulers to cut squares and strips. If you go with the electric, a mat and manual cutter aren't much more, so get those as well.
posted by soelo at 6:05 PM on November 29, 2020 [2 favorites]

If you give a rotary cutter as a gift, you GOTTA give a knife-proof glove with it. Like the kind you use with a kitchen mandolin. Ask me and the tip of my ring finger how we know!

To expand on the last answer about rulers, the way you use the rotary cutter is you hold down the ruler over the cloth, line the edge of it up where you want to make a cut, and then drag the cutter pressed along the edge. Picture drawing with a pencil pushing up against an edge to make a crisp line, except with knives.

Both hands are in on the action, but the non-cutting hand holding the ruler/stabilizing the fabric is the one that needs a glove.

Get some cutproof gloves.
posted by heyforfour at 6:21 PM on November 29, 2020 [8 favorites]

I love these clips instead of pins. So much faster and easier to work with. (I have no brand loyalty; a different brand is probably fine.)
posted by The corpse in the library at 6:33 PM on November 29, 2020 [2 favorites]

Oh, and here's another vote for Ginghers. I've had Fiskars for years and thought they were fine; then I was given some Ginghers and oh my lord, it's like a knife through soft butter.
posted by The corpse in the library at 6:35 PM on November 29, 2020 [1 favorite]

Have heard good things about Ginghers, also here to throw my hat in for Kai shears (I'm left-handed and the left-handed options were better if that's relevant). Also yes to Olfa rotary cutters and mat. Get the biggest mat that will fit on your cutting surface! Big quilting rulers with grids on them are also great, I think they sell rectangle, square, and triangle rulers...
posted by sparkling at 6:39 PM on November 29, 2020 [1 favorite]

Another vote for Kai shears. And check out Martelli for rotary cutters - left- and right-hand versions and the blades are MUCH sharper than Olfa. A 1/4" presser foot to make precise seams.
posted by XtineHutch at 6:58 PM on November 29, 2020

Gingher devotee for 20 years. Still have my first pair, still in service!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:27 PM on November 29, 2020 [2 favorites]

If you want an extravagant present that apparently she will adore, here's a $70 ruler! I haven't tried one yet (it's on my wishlist) but they come up in every thread of tools quilters love.

I second the 6 x 24 quilting ruler, but be sure to get the OmniGRIP version. It's made by OmniGRID but it's the non-slip model and that is a nice thing.

Wool pressing mat, magic clips, rotary cutter and extra blades, 1/4" foot with the little guide on it, all these things that people have mentioned already will make her a happy, productive quilter.
posted by bink at 12:11 AM on November 30, 2020 [1 favorite]

I find rotary cutters with bigger discs work better. And one more vote for Gingher scissors for fabric cutting, and a smaller pair of scissors or snips for trimming ends.

I found a huge mat from Amazon, this one. The only problem I have with it is that you can't easily match up lines because they're half an inch apart and all the same thickness. You may want smaller depending on available table space, that said, but bear in mind you want at least 24in in one direction to cut standard width fabric folded in half. The mat I bought is oddly cheap for the size, and it hasn't shown any signs of wear.

I use that mat with a cheap 48in aluminium ruler from Harbor Freight for long cuts, and that works for me, though I also have quilting rulers for shorter cuts. I strongly recommend a 16x3 (or thereabouts) ruler to begin with - by far the most useful size - but ultimately you will collect a few more sizes as well.

As for irons I just picked up a $30 steam one from the local supermarket and that's been fine. I use it with a little portable tabletop ironing board.

Do check out Joann. Buy stuff now, as they have a ton of offers on for Thanksgiving. Never, ever, pay list price, they always have both cut price offers and discounts going on (typically a 20% voucher off of full price items, and it's rare that fabric is ever at full price, but their current vouchers should get you 20% off sale items which is more than usual). The phone app deals with working out what vouchers will work on a given day, and sales staff will typically scan everything you have on you and leave the register to settle on what works and what doesn't.

One day, if she takes it that far, spend about $500-$1000 on a specialised sewing machine, ideally one that runs at >1500 stitches/min and has a thread cutting button (and likely does nothing but straight stitch), but that is not a purchase for a beginner.
posted by How much is that froggie in the window at 2:07 AM on November 30, 2020 [1 favorite]

Big scissors aren’t terribly useful for quilting in my experience. 90% of my cutting is done with a rotary cutter. But it’s still nice to have a nice pair of scissors like Ginghers for that 10% of the time.

For rotary cutters, I personally like the Olfa ergonomic 45mm. I just replaced mine after many years of service with a higher-end cutter from Quilter’s Select because I heard it was easier on the wrists, but I haven’t found it to be too superior to the Olfa. Don’t forget extra blades!

Spring for a name-brand cutting mat like Olfa. I wouldn’t trust that the lines were accurately marked on a cheap no-name mat.

I use the Omnigrip 6”x24” ruler more than any other — it’s a really useful size.

Thread snips are awesome. So much easier than a pair of little scissors for trimming threads.
posted by liet at 10:40 AM on November 30, 2020 [2 favorites]

Oh yeah, and a good iron is invaluable. I replaced a broken Rowenta with a CHI (model 1301 on Amazon — sorry, no link because I’m on mobile). SO GOOD.

If you’re feeling handy and have the space, a pressing station is a lot better than an ironing board, especially for pressing yardage (i.e. big pieces of fabric). I made one from IKEA Kallax units and a piece of plywood covered with quilt batting and a cover. SO GOOD.
Like this:
posted by liet at 10:47 AM on November 30, 2020 [2 favorites]

If you're up for a shopping project, vintage Ginghers are even better although the current ones are still quite good. They can be sharpened.

I use my grandma's Olfa cutters (with fresh blades), but I see that there are now rotary cutters where the blade automatically retracts, and that sounds awesome. They are so sharp, and it's so easy to set them down with the blade still out and start rearranging fabric...
posted by momus_window at 2:04 PM on November 30, 2020

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