Sewing Advice for Quilters by a Quilter

Sewing-Advice-for-Quilters

Whether you’re a newbie quilter or someone who has been sewing for decades, there’s always something new to learn – be it a time-saving tip or a new handy notion.

I am made aware of my knowledge...and lack of knowledge every time I get an email from a fellow quilter asking about specific sewing techniques.

Before responding to those emails or blog comments, I sit back in my chair and think, “OK Suzy. This is it. The fate of this person’s success or failure rests solely in your hands. If this advice isn’t well articulated and absolutely accurate, the world may lose a quilter due to unnecessary frustration at trying to follow your poor advice. Suzy. This is serious. Whatever you do. Don’t. Mess. This. Up.”

You think I’m kidding? I take sewing advice very seriously. When it comes to knowing one’s sewing shortcomings, I am extremely aware – mostly because aside from straight stitching and sewing machine basics, I am a self-taught quilter and pattern writer.

Once, when asked about thread tension on a sewing machine, I did 45 minutes of research before panicking and glibly responding, “That’s a great question for your sewing machine dealer. Good luck!”

I’m sure the person thought I didn’t want to take the time, but the embarrassing truth was, I was taking TOO much time. Too much time to overthink what the “right” answer was, that I ended up giving no answer and offering no help.

This post is my way of getting over the fact that I am not the best sewer. I’m not the best quilter. And I most definitely do not know what’s wrong with your sewing machine (so please oh please don’t ask me!). However, I’ve learned a few things over the last 15 years that may help. If you’ve been quilting for a while, this may be old news. But, hopefully, you’ll walk away with some tidbit of helpful advice.

For my own organization, I’m going to list things by category (That way you can skim easier too. haha!).

Oh, and before I forget, if you would like a list of quilting terms, tools and supplies, visit this blog post.

Sewing-Advice-Needles

Needles, Rulers & Rotary Cutters

  • Needles: I like to use a regular universal 70/10 needle in my sewing machine when piecing quilt blocks. When I machine quilt the three layer quilt sandwich, I switch needles to a 90/14 because they punch through multiple layers of fabric with more ease.
  • Needles: If I’m being honest, and I’m trying really hard to be, I usually only change my needle when it breaks...and I break a shocking amount of needles because, uhum...I sew over my pins. Yes, yes, it’s true. I don’t do fancy glue basting and I don’t pull out my pins. It’s a good day if I even slow down when sewing over pins. However, you should do as I say and not as I do. I would encourage you to change your needle every time you finish a quilt or every 20 hours of sewing – whichever comes first. It is crazy how you can tell a difference between a new needle and an old one.
  • Rulers: The longer you quilt, the more rulers you will acquire. If you’re new, I suggest starting with a 6” x 24” Omnigrid or Omnigrip. For more info on common ruler sizes, check out this blog post.
  • Rulers: If your ruler does not come with grippy pads on it, buy some and stick them on your ruler. That will save your wrist from having to force all of your body weight onto the ruler to keep it from shifting while you cut.
  • Rulers: I’ve never regretted a ruler purchase. So, if you have a quilt pattern that would be made easier with a specifically sized ruler, my advice? Treat yo self. It will make the process more fun and probably more accurate. An example of this is my Kris Kross quilt pattern. The unfinished blocks are 6 ½” x 6 ½”. The quilt can definitely be made without a 6 ½” square ruler, but having one makes the job go 4xs faster. And who doesn’t want that??
  • Rotary Cutters: Fact: quilters are frugal...kinda. Let me explain. Our quilty heritage was birthed out of necessity and economy. Historically, we quilters would make patchwork quilts from whatever was leftover – the scraps. I think that mindset still seeps into our point of view today. So I know what I’m about to say goes against that – try not to use a dull rotary blade. Yes, they are expensive and yes, I have been guilty of straining my shoulder and repeatedly running over the same cut because I don’t want to waste a single blade. But, I really don't recommend that. A dull blade is a dangerous blade (this is coming from a girl who has sliced part of a finger off and spent the night in an ER) Here’s my solution – get a rotary blade sharpener. It’s loud, makes a terrible noise and will probably scare the dog, but it will drastically expand the life of your rotary blades. Yeah!!
Sewing-Advice-Fabric

Fabric & Batting

  • Fabric: If you’re a quilter, I would suggest sticking with 100% cotton. Quilt-weight cotton usually comes on a bolt with a width of 42”. What that means is if you purchase a yard of fabric off the bolt, you will get a piece that is 42” x 36”.
  • Fabric: I know Joann Fabrics is easy and probably pretty convenient, but most of the fabric sold there is a low thread count and of low quality. There are some high quality fabrics there, but the prices have been jacked up so high it isn’t worth buying them. I suggest finding a local quilt shop (LQS) or buying your fabric online. If you are an online fabric shop owner, or if you have a favorite online fabric shop, please leave the info in the comments so we can visit! 🙂
  • Fabric: Pre-washing v. NOT pre-washing. First off, do not pre-wash pre-cuts (What are pre-cuts? Visit here) of fabric. Washing and drying cotton fabric causes 5-8% shrinkage and could throw off a quilt pattern if you do not have the exact amount of fabric as the pre-cut bundle says. Aside from pre-cuts, feel free to pre-wash. Because the fabric shrinks before you piece it, once your quilt is washed, it’s overall look will not drastically change. However, if you do not pre-wash your fabric, once you wash your quilt that first time, it will pucker and shrink, causing a more vintage look. I am not a patient person, so I almost never pre-wash….simply because I get reeeeal excited and like to hack into my fabric ASAP 🙂
  • Batting: This is where you may want to experiment a little. I prefer 100% cotton batting because I like a flatter, denser quilt. However, if you would like a light, puffier quilt, try polyester batting or a cotton-poly blend.
Sewing-Advice-Ironing

Irons & Starch

  • Irons: Before ironing, light fabric especially, double check the metal plate of your iron to make sure there is no gunk. I have accidentally marked up fabric because of a dirty iron. Try to avoid doing that at all costs...cause it super sucks. Rather than throwing your dirty iron off your third floor balcony, try cleaning it! I use this iron cleaner and so far so good.
  • Irons: I’ve owned expensive irons, and without fail, they all spit and sputter water when I try to use the steam function. So my conclusion? Get a spray bottle and never fill the water tank on your iron. Probably if I spent over $100 on an iron it wouldn’t do that, but since I’m never going to spend that much on an iron, the spray bottle works just fine.
  • Irons: Before ironing your seam to the side (which I waaaaay prefer to ironing seams open), set your seam. What this means is pressing the iron onto the flat seam so the fibers in the fabric set around the sewn seam. This makes for crisper, flatter looking seams.
  • Starch: (For an in depth article on starch, visit this post.) I only use starch if I absolutely have to because starch and water can stretch fabric. Situations when I would use starch would be: sewing curves and sewing intricate blocks that need to lay flat for accuracy. Also, I would suggest only using water/steam when ironing fabric (not seams). When you use water/steam on a seam, there is a chance you could stretch and distort it.

Leave a comment if you have any sewing advice you'd like to add! xo

Suzy Quilts

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18 thoughts on “Sewing Advice for Quilters by a Quilter

  1. Alysha says:

    Love these tips and products! Thank you for sharing. My favorite fabric store is Material Chaos on Etsy! I love it because it’s in my house, and run by a handsome guy. 🙂 We are a new shop, but stocking up quickly with more modern and bright prints.

    • Suzy says:

      Sounds awesome! I’m compiling a list of online fabric stores and I will be sure to add yours to it. Let me know if you have a blurb you want me to add to the shop description.

  2. Jody says:

    Olie and Evie is a great etsy shop for moda precuts and yardage. Great prices and customer service. Ladybelle fabric is another awesome moda shop. Both carry a little c+s, and art gallery but, for those manufacturers, my favorite shop is llama fabrics in NY (also in etsy). 90% of my fabric purchases are made at this 3 shops. All have awesome owners, service, shipping and prices! ????

  3. Sophie says:

    Love Bloomerie Fabrics! They have primo cotton yardage, solids, pre-cuts, FQs, organics. Nothing but cool sewing stuff. And they ship super-fast with freebies to boot.

  4. Teresa says:

    I really enjoyed your blog post, especially since my quilting and sewing experience aren’t at the top either. But like you, I am always researching.

    My favorite shop is mine – Sew Organic Fabric – an online modern, organic fabric shop.

    We specialize in quilt kits and are just starting to curate bundles. We are pretty new but with help from my awesome quilter mom the website is starting to look amazing. Thanks for the opportunity to be on your list.

  5. Kim says:

    I’ve been sewing bags for several years, but just got the itch to try a quilt. My plan is to start with a super simple design and maybe work my way up to more complex. My grandma was a huge quilter and did them all by hand! Thanks for this post!

  6. JulieAnn says:

    I also use Hawthorne Threads. I really want to try their in-house fabrics, but at $13.00 a yard they are just not in my price range. (And never on sale!) The rest of their fabrics are reasonably priced. They also have a great newsletter.

    Does anyone else use the digitally-printed fabrics?

  7. Jade Brunet says:

    Thank you for providing this sewing advice for quilters. It is interesting to learn that you like to use the regular universal 70/10 needle for stitching quilt blocks. Something else to consider would be to refer to the manual with other questions if they arise.

  8. Dara says:

    What a wonderful site and IG feed! You are very generous with this great help. I’m a grandma but a beginner quilter. Having lots of fun!

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