I’ve written blogs for a pretty long time now. And in these blogs, I’ve discussed different quilting notions, what works for me and what doesn’t, as well as those which are worth the money and those that are more hype than substance. As a result of these blogs, I’ve been asked (several times by several different people) what are my favorite quilting notions. A few months ago, I started making a list of those items I used regularly. And by regularly, I mean every time I sit down to quilt. These tools are the subjects of this week’s blog, but before we take a deep dive into Sherri’s Favorite Notions and Gadgets, let me throw in two disclaimers: First, these are the notions which work best for me. They may not work for you. However, I’ve quilted a long time
over thirty years, but who’s counting and I think my opinions are worth some consideration. Two, I am not nor have I ever been employed by any of these companies, nor do I receive any “freebies” from them as a result of my endorsements. The quilting tools which made this list are here because in my unadulterated opinion, they are simply great notions to have in your quilt studio.
One final item to remember – these items are used primarily for piecing, not applique, although some may be used in both quilting techniques. I am planning a blog on my favorite applique tools
which is getting so long it’s embarrassing.
- Faultless Niagara Spray Starch
I’ve said it before many times, but it bears repeating: I like spray starch better than Best Press. Yes, I have Best Press in my studio and use it on occasion, however, I like the crisp, sharp, flat edge which regular starch gives. Best Press doesn’t equal starch in appearance. And before anyone complains about the “all those flakes starch leaves behind when you press fabric,” if the starch leaves a white residue, you’re not using it correctly. Spray lightly, let the starch sink in the fabric, and then press. You don’t want to soak the material. If you need your fabric a bit stiffer, starch it twice. One additional tidbit of starchy information – purchase your spray starch at a grocery or drug store. The cans sold at dollar establishments are second runs and have a higher water content.
- Clover Seam Ripper
All seam rippers are not created equal. The Clover Seam Ripper is easy to hold onto and the “hook” part is thinner, allowing you to get it under stitches easily and cleanly.
- Wooden Clapper
This is one of those tools left over from the days when I made most of my clothes and all of my children’s. After you press the seam, you run the Clapper firmly over it. This forces the heat to dispel quickly and flattens bulky seams out nicely. So, if you’re making a quilt block which has a lot of seams which join together at one point (such as in a Pinwheel Block), using a clapper will help tamp down all the bulk.
- Karen Kay Buckley Scissors
I’ve mentioned these scissors quite a few times in my blogs. These wonderful tools have tiny, serrated edges. When you must use scissors to cut quilting templates, these are great! The serrated edges act like tiny pinking shears, which means your quilting cotton fabrics won’t fray badly. I have a pair of small KKB scissors in my on-the-go quilting bag, and a larger pair which stay near my sewing machine. Two words of caution: First, when you take these scissors to be sharpened, make sure the person doing the sharpening is aware the of the serrated edges (the teeth are so tiny). Second, occasionally there will be a copycat pair advertised on social media. Don’t be fooled by the knockoffs. They’re nowhere near as good as the real thing.
- A Round Rotary Mat
I love these round mats for two reasons. First, they sit on a base, which makes it super easy to get to the area you need to trim or cut – just rotate the mat until it’s right in front of you. Second, the mat comes off the base and they both are easily packed up to take with you on a retreat or vacation. Standard rules apply for these mat as for other mats – store flat and keep away from heat.
- Wool Mat
I’m always a little skeptical when a new quilting tool hits the market and proclaims itself as the “best quilting tool ever!” Maybe I’m just old-school or maybe I’ve quilted so long, and I’ve heard this line so many times I have a hard time believing any new product is just that good. Let me tell you, wool mats proved me wrong. While a bit on the pricey side, they are well worth the money. Seams lie flat, and they’re wonderful for freezer paper applique. If they made a wool mat large enough to fit my entire ironing board surface, I would save my pennies and purchase one. I have a small one for my hand sewing kit and a medium-sized one next to my sewing machine for quick presses. I’ve even given them as gifts to my closest and bestest quilting friends.
- Pincushion/Thread Catcher Combo
This may be one notion you have to make yourself or purchase at a quilt show. Either way, this tool has a thread catcher with a pin cushion on top. The pincushion on mine is attached with Velcro, so I can remove it and move it to my long arm if I need to. I just think it’s super-handy to have them both together right by my machine – I don’t have to reach very far for pins or to dispose of small snips of fabric or thread.
- Ott Light
Good lighting is essential with any type of crafting. I’ve tried many brands, but I keep coming back to Ott. The light is clear and bright, and Ott has designed their lamps in nearly anyway imaginable. They have everything from the large floor lights to the tiny ones with clips you can attach to a book for reading or your sewing machine. Their customer service is stellar, and the bulbs last a long time.
- Glass Head and/or Silk Pins
Many quilters use the long, thin pins with a flat head. I have a couple hundred of these, but primarily use them to pin my quilt backs to my leaders on my long arm. I also use them to hold stacks of block units together. However, for pinning my pieces together before putting them under my needle, I prefer silk or glass head pins. They’re sharper and thinner than the other kinds, and the glass head pins hold up to the heat of an iron without melting.
- Cordless Iron
I was a little skeptical of cordless irons when they hit the quilting market a few years ago. I had owned cordless vacuums and sweepers and it seemed after a period of time, they lost their power and didn’t perform as well as their counterparts with a cord. However, after a couple of my friends brought this cordless iron to quilt retreat and allowed me to test drive it, I changed my mind pretty quickly. This iron is great for ironing rows or tops – there’s no cord to get in the way. It holds it heat well for several minutes before you have to put it back on the charger. It reheats super-quick, so there’s no time lost. And the fact it has points on both ends means you can use it in either hand.
- Creative Grids Rulers
I’ve sung the praises of Creative Grids Rulers for years. This company has any ruler, in any width or length, you could possibly want. They also have an impressive line of specialty rulers as well as the acrylic templates for ruler work on a long arm or domestic machine. What makes them wonderful to me are the grippers built in the rulers and the fact they’re reasonably priced.
- Frixion Pens
Remember what I said in my blog about freezer paper: Quilters are known for using items in their quilting which aren’t technically made for quilting. Frixion Pens are in that group of nonquilting quilting tools. These pens are made for writing and the heat from the friction of an eraser makes the ink go away. Quilters were quick to pick up on this and use the heat of an iron to make the ink disappear. The downside to this is the ink technically never permanently disappears. It fades, but if the object is subjected to cold temperatures, the ink reappears. For that reason, I wouldn’t mark a quilt top with it, but as far as marking dots for Y-seams or tracing templates, I love these pens. They have fine points and work well for marking the parts of the quilt which will be covered by other fabric or trimmed off.
- Good Thread
I admit it, I am a self-professed thread-snob. But in my opinion, I have never seen the value in plunking down a lot of cash for fabric, notions, and a pattern and then skimp on the thread. Cheap thread can be bad for your quilt and equally bad for your machine. I like the long-staple, cotton thread in a 50-to-60 weight for piecing. I do have a new blog in the works dealing with thread. It will publish in a few weeks.
- Quilter’s FabriCalc
This handy-dandy fabric calculator is simply wonderful. I love it mainly for two reasons. I do a great deal of math when I design my own quilts – even though I have EQ 8. When I work with Quilter’s Cake or the Golden Ratio, I always work with decimals (chalk it up to teaching chemistry and physics for too many years). However, I have to convert the decimals to fractions, inches, and yardage when dealing with fabric. The FabriCalc performs this conversion with a click of a button. It also gives you quilt yardage, block yardage, square yardage, border yardage, drop, and about a hundred other measurements quilters need at one time or another. I know there are phone apps out there which tout they can do the same thing. And I’ve tried quite a few of those. However, they fall short of the FabriCalc and all it can do. This is one of those tools I use literally every week.
- My iPad
I have a great laptop and my EQ 8 lives there. However, my iPad lives right next to my sewing machine so I can binge watch Netflix, Disney, Hulu, YouTube, or PureFlix while I burn the midnight oil quilting. During the COVID pandemic, I developed a new appreciation for the device. I took so many great Zoom classes and it was so wonderful to have the iPad right by my sewing machine. I didn’t have to keep standing up from my machine to walk over to my laptop. I could stay right there with Big Red and keep working while I listened to my teachers.
- A Quilt Planner
I have to write things down. I don’t think my memory is that bad, I just have a lot to remember! Before I go to bed, I write down what I need to get done the next day. I’ve learned that this list takes a lot of pressure off of me. I don’t have to try to remember what I need to do; I just have to consult the list. A quilt planner works in a similar way. I list the quilts currently under my needle and then check off what stage they’re in, if I have a deadline, and who (if anyone) it will be gifted to. It’s nice way to make sure everything gets done and it gives me a feeling of accomplishment and makes me feel that progress is really being made.
- Quilting Clips
These little items are worth their weight in gold. They can hold all the units of a block together until you can sew them, or they can hold long edges together (like the border to the side of the quilt). They’re primarily used to hold binding down as it’s sewn to the quilt, but they have so many more uses. I’m teaching my grand darlings how to sew and put these in their sewing kit instead of pins. Almost anything you can use a pin for, you can substitute a clip for instead. And dropped clips are so much easier to find than dropped pins.
- Small Rotary Cutter
My favorite brand of rotary cutter is the Martelli line, because they are so ergonomically outfitted for your hand, wrist, and arm. Since the handle is on the side of the blade, it takes a lot of stress off the wrist – which is important if you’re like me and have some Carpel Tunnel in your wrist. I have the large, medium, and small cutter and out of those three I use and love the smallest one the most. The 28 mm blade allows for accurate cutting of block units and gives you the ability to cut around templates. I like the control I have with the small cutter. I use the larger ones to cut multiple layers of fabric, but for everything else, I reach for the small one. If I can take only one cutter to class or retreat, this is the one which goes in my travel bag.
- Design Area
This area can either be large or small, depending on what you need and the room you have. If you have a wall with nothing on it, this will make a great design area. Purchase a vinyl tablecloth with a flannel back. Hang it on the wall with the flannel side out. The flannel will hold your blocks in place as you decide how you want to lay out your quilt. LeeAnne the Long Arm takes up too much room in my studio for me to have a design wall, but I do have this:
Which really comes in handy. If I have a complicated block, I can use this to lay out the units in the correct order and then sew them together.
- Eleanor Burns Triangle Square-Up Ruler
In this blog I’m taking for granted everyone has their favorite rulers they use for cutting squares, rectangles, and strips. And I want to add it’s extremely rare I get attached to a specialty ruler. However, I make an exception for the Triangle Square-Up Ruler. I’ve sung the praises of this ruler before, so I won’t go into a lot of detail here. But let’s just say half-square triangles make their way into a lot of quilts – and they can get wonky because of bias. With this ruler, you square up your HST while it’s still in triangle form. It’s quick. It’s oh-so-accurate. It’s easy. I don’t care if I’m only making one HST – this ruler comes out. It stays on my cutting mat at all times, so I don’t have to go looking for it. It’s just that good.
- My Sewing Machine
At this point, let me remind you I’m not employed by any company, nor do I receive any type of “freebies” for mentioning brands and names. I have sewed on several brands of machines (including Bernina), but my favorite is Janome. You can’t beat them. They’re work horses. While some of the models are heavily computerized, they won’t drain your bank account like other brands. They’re user friendly. My first “serious” sewing machine was a Janome and I really haven’t strayed too much from the brand. For me, having a dependable sewing machine in my studio is the best quilting tool available. If the machine is fussy or finicky, all the joy can be sucked right out of quilting. Yes, I’ve had minor issues with them, but I can say with complete candor those are issues I’ve been able to resolve myself. Aside from basic cleaning and oiling, none of my Janomes have been in the repair shop for a major overhaul.
And now it’s time to introduce you to the newest Janome in my studio – the M7 Continental.
Her name is Dolly (as in Hello Dolly….I saved my pennies for a couple of years to bring you home). She’s amazing and has a prettier straight stitch than Marilyn, my Featherweight. We’re still getting acquainted, but man, does she come loaded with a lot of great stuff – including an even bigger harp than Big Red.
For those of you wondering if I’ve given Big Red the boot, I have not. She’s now in semi-retirement. We plan to purchase a vacation home in the very near future, and she will go to live there, waiting for me to spend time with her then. This means I’ll have a great machine at both houses and won’t have to drag one back and forth. But for right now, she’s still in my studio and I still sew on her every few days to make sure she and I keep our established relationship going strong.
These are my favorite piecing notions. Please remember, I’ve quilted a long time and acquired all of these over a period of years, which means I not only spread out the cost, but also (through trial and error) discovered what worked for me and what did not. If you’re a beginner quilter, you’ll go through a similar process. If you’ve quilted longer than I have, I’m sure I’ve missed some items which you may really love. No matter what, I’m sure my list is probably a little different than yours.
Now a bit of a housekeeping issue. Several of you have asked how my brother, Eric, is progressing with his Multiple Myeloma treatments. He began chemotherapy on April 27. He has the treatments on Tuesdays, which involves a steroid, an infusion of a bone-strengthening medication, an injection in the abdomen of the chemo, and a pill. All of this is done in the pharmacy – he doesn’t have to go into the chemo unit at the hospital at all. And while he has ample drugs to combat any nausea, so far, he hasn’t had to use them. I’m thankful the doctors caught this disease early and it’s treatable – even curable. Continue to keep him in your thoughts and prayers and I’ll keep you up to date with what’s happening. Depending on his blood counts, he’s looking at stem cell replacement in the fall. If the chemo works faster than expected, late summer. Thanks to everyone who’s told me they’re praying for us. I appreciate your concern – I appreciate your prayers even more.
Until next week, Quilt On!
Love and Stitches,
Sherri and Sam