Home quilting 5 pieces of advice for new quilters…

5 pieces of advice for new quilters…

by Clare Mansell
5 pieces of advice for new quilters…

There are lots of things I have learned since I first started quilting 5 years ago. Here is my personal list of the five things I wish I had known at the beginning. I’m sure everyone will have their own ideas about advice for new quilters (and probably completely disagree with mine!) so please feel free to add your suggestions via the comments at the bottom of the post!

wash your wadding not your fabric
Most beginners quilting articles I have read usually prescribe pre-washing fabric, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that I have never pre-washed fabric and I have never had any problems as a result.
Somewhere once I did read something that said modern cotton fabrics no-longer needed to be pre-washed, but that’s the only contradictory view I have read. Far more important to me is to pre-wash your cotton wadding, and yet I hardly ever see that advised.
Yes, some people love the wrinkled antique look, but I’m sure I’m not alone in being disappointed when I found the intended look of a quilt altered after first wash. I now pre-wash for shrinkage every time.
buy decent thread


I’ve lived in some pretty remote places and my thread supply has been quite unreliable at times, so I’ve often had to resort to whatever I can lay my hands on. I learned the hard way that cheap thread breaks or splits causing knots or repeated re-threading of your needle. I now make a rule to only use Gütermann thread and I have purged my thread stocks and removed everything else.
buy a 1/4 inch foot and use it


This sounds kind of obvious, yet most new quilters roll their eyes when you tell them they need to buy another presser foot (what another expense?) and the truth is you can get away with using the standard foot for quite a long time on simple designs, until you use a more complicated pattern. Then suddenly the small difference in seam allowance is enough to mean a design won’t match up. Another one I learned the hard way when I made the assumption my standard foot was 1/4 inch (it isn’t!)

The most common cry for help I have from friends who have recently taken up quilting is that they are having trouble joining the ends of their binding. It seems to me that 9 times out of 10 the root of the problem is that they have begun attaching it at a corner. Marci Baker of Alicia’s Attic explains in this video how to seamlessly and easily join the ends of your binding if you start in the middle of a side, and there’s an even easier way to do it if you buy a binding tool, as the Missouri Star Quilt Company demonstrate in this video.

This is actually worth repeating a few times till it sinks in, because when I first learned to quilt I actually ended up a little terrified about making mistakes. Quilts are handmade (whether with the aid of a machine or not) they are not mass-produced items. Do your best, and of course unpick if you make mistakes, but don’t get hung up if things end up a little wonky, it’s part of the charm.

So now it’s over to you! I’m sure you probably disagree with at LEAST one of those points, so what advice would you give to first time quilters?


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pennydog August 20, 2013 - 11:15 am

The last point is pretty interesting, as I got the worst mark possible for my piecing of the Wallander quilt at Festival of Quilts and I thought it was pretty good!

Ruby Mole August 20, 2013 - 5:10 pm

Thanks a lot for these tips. I’m planning on entering the world of quilting next year. It’s on my to do list for 2014. I’m sure it’ll soon turn into another obsession 🙂

Clare Mansell August 21, 2013 - 7:30 pm

You must be pretty organised to have a “to do” list for 2014 already! 🙂

poppyinstitches August 20, 2013 - 6:54 pm

great advice, especially the last tip. One I find do difficult, as I do expect perfection!

moira August 20, 2013 - 9:34 pm

I never pre wash my fabric but I don’t my wadding either *ponders that thought*

Clare Mansell August 21, 2013 - 7:26 pm

Interesting and have you had any shrinkage after washing? I think it matters less if you densely quilt, but if you stitch in the ditch or leave a large feature at the centre unquilted the shrinkage is really noticeable

Clare Mansell August 21, 2013 - 7:29 pm

Oh and Red Pepper Quilts washes her wadding “for larger quilts” I noticed… http://www.redpepperquilts.com/2009/04/frequently-asked-questions.html

Nancy August 21, 2013 - 12:08 pm

Well I just finished a quilt where I didn’t wash the batting – hand quilted baby quilt that took 6 mos. Ooops. My advice is taking time to cut the fabric accurately. Sometimes for pieced squares (especially those on the bias)I make them slightly big and then trim to fit. Much nicer result. And keep that rotary cutter sharp! But watch the fingers – blood doesn’t look good on quilt fabric.

Clare Mansell August 21, 2013 - 7:27 pm

Yes I do the slightly bigger thing too sometimes, but I think that’s something for more experienced (and fussy – Ha!) quilters?

Diane-crewe August 21, 2013 - 5:03 pm

x good advice all round .. I never wash fabric and never have problems xx think maybe RELAX … and BREATH..is one of the best pieces of advice I was ever given xx

Clare Mansell August 21, 2013 - 7:27 pm

It’s interesting that no one seems to wash fabric and yet they still advise people to!

Nancy August 21, 2013 - 7:48 pm

I know you sent a slab to Edmonton for the Calgary quilts. Her last count was 1900 that she has received. Here is an update on her blog. I saw one of my quilt slabs – so cool. And I do wash my fabric (cuz they told me to). I will start washing my cotton wadding too. http://www.naptimequilter.blogspot.ca/

Clare Mansell August 21, 2013 - 8:03 pm

Nancy, I can’t respond to you directly cause of the way your blogger account is set up, but thank you SO much for pointing the post out to me as I would have missed it otherwise – the quilts (and the response!) are amazing. Didn’t see my slab, but very proud to be part of it all.

Nancy August 21, 2013 - 8:11 pm

You are probably in the BIG stash. It will take them awhile to get them all put together. Fun to be a part of something so meaningful. We emailed awhile back. When I get a chance I will send you an update. Life has been chaotic.

Quilting Dee September 5, 2013 - 9:47 pm

When I went to my first quilting class I bought good fabric from my local quilt shop, washed it all. When I went to cut my blocks I ran out of fabric and needed to add more. Just not quite enough for the last blocks! I have never again washed fabric or batting and had no probs. lol.

Quilting Dee September 5, 2013 - 9:53 pm

I washed good fabric before my first quilting lesson and ended up with not enough fabric for the last blocks! Never washed fabric prior to using again, have used colour catcher x 2 for the first wash of a completed quilt

Quilting Dee September 5, 2013 - 9:57 pm

Once washed fabric in a kit and due to small shrinkage did not have enough to cut final block! Lol! Never washed fabric again! I use colour catcher sheets in the first wash. Never had another problem.


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