Like most quilters, I am always open to a new technique or a gadget that will help me to quilt better, or more easily. All the same, I notice that I have certain tools that I return to again and again, and that I would no longer wish to be without. So to start the year in fine quilting fettle, hereby ten tools that I use all the time, in the hope that you might find that some of them could answer a need for you!
I deliberately haven’t listed my sewing machine, or my rotary cutter and mat or other large items in this Terrific Ten; this time round these are smaller notions. So, in no particular order…
1: I have several brands of quilting ruler, but I like Creative Grids the best: they grip, they are clearly marked with thin lines in black and white, and the Turnaround type, such as the small ruler shown here, allow you to easily cut seam allowances, and to see what you are doing. They take a little bit of getting used to, but I found the effort more than worthwhile. They also have a huge selection of specialty rulers if you want or need to cut weird shapes. Their series of squares in all the standard sizes (with seam allowances) also mean they are great for trimming blocks.
2: A good seam ripper is of course a must, and I find Clover rippers to be very good: sturdy, nice to hold (not to thin as to make your fingers cramp-up) and most important really sharp. So good that I have two of these: one at my pressing station and one next to my sewing machine.
3: Another great Clover product is the Thread Snip: ideal for snipping off thread ends or loose or fraying threads. Sharp and small, I use these to separate chain-pieced blocks and to tidy up the back of pieced work before layering and quilting. No good for cutting: it’s snipping only.
4: I don’t know who Uncle Bill is, but I am very thankful for his invention: the Silver Gripper is, in my opinion, the Rolls Royce of tweezers. I have never found a better tool for removing tear-away stabiliser after applique or embroidery. Because they are short, one has a lot of control over position and movement, the tips are sharp, and it doesn’t need a lot of finger pressure to close them.
5: Sometimes, sharp isn’t want you want: this is my favourite awl, a short rounded-tip one from Prym. I use this for feeding complicated things under my presser-foot, and because it isn’t a stiletto, it never gets caught in the fabric (it doesn’t penetrate into the weave) or scratch the top of my machine, but is does hold things nicely and feed them where my fingers shouldn’t go! Also useful for turning out corners.
6: On the subject of protecting one’s fingers: hooray for Thermal Thimbles! I use these when I am pressing seams and applique shapes and anytime that I need to manipulate fabric close to my iron. They are made of silicone and protect your fingers from heat and steam, whilst still allowing sufficient dexterity for manipulating the fabric. Also easier to get on and off than a glove.
7: I use Thread Heaven Thread Conditioner for hand-sewing-on bindings and labels. You run the thread through the block, and the thread becomes less twisty and less static, and less inclined to form knots, but most importantly, if it does, you can get them undone. It looks gooey, but it doesn’t make the thread feel gooey and it doesn’t leave a residue. I have only used it for hand sewing, but you can also buy it for use with your sewing machine.
8: I really don’t know how I functioned without Wonder Clips anymore: I use them for so many things, but most especially for holding the binding down when I am sewing the binding on to the quilt back by hand. No more being pricked by pins for me!
9: I never use pens/ink to mark my fabrics, only pencils. I have several different sorts, but do like Fons and Porter’s Pencils: I have them in White and in Grey. To get rid of the marks, I use a Fabric Eraser (as you can see!). This one, from Sew Easy works really well. Obviously, testing first on any fabric is advisable, but I have never had a problem with this eraser damaging the surface or removing the fabric colour as well as the pencil.
10: I love pincushions, and have small selection, but my favourites are this sort: flat bottomed with a sturdy, tightly packed, rounded top, about 3 1/2″ in diameter and covered with a tapestry fabric that means that even thin pins can be easily pinned in without bending. The only problem is, I don’t know exactly who makes them: the sticker underneath only says ‘Hand made in Cornwall’ (the English County). These pincushions are sold in the shops attached to several of the big Cathedrals in England (the one in the picture was my first, and came from Westminster Abbey in London, but I also purchased a couple at York Minster and one at Canterbury Cathedral). So if you are in England any time, and near a Cathedral: at the very least check out the shop! For piecing I use Clover Extra Fine Patchwork Pins, they are really narrow, so don’t distort the fabric and have a glass head, so if you get them with your iron, they don’t melt.
Well, that rounds up my Ten Terrific Tools for Patchwork and Quilting. With the exception of the pincushion, all these tools are widely available from Quilt Shops but also over the internet from suppliers such as Keepsake Quilting, Nancy’s Notions, Fat Quarter Shop, E-Quilter and Quilting Books, Patterns and Notions.
Whether you use the same tools or completely different ones; Happy Sewing from Ice Bear Quilts!