Words of Advice for Beginner Quilters

There’s so much ‘new’ when you first begin to sew. Here’s how to master beginning techniques.


Quiet the jitters until you become more comfortable with the process of quilt making with some words of advice. After you get a few projects under your needle, you’ll be surprised at how confident you feel.


Good quality fabric, thread, pins, cutting tools, and sewing machine needles are essential. Quilting patterns usually call for 100% cotton fabric but review your pattern for the best results. For piecing, many quilters choose neutral colored thread in cream, light tan, light gray, or darker gray. Wind extra bobbins of your color choice so you can continue sewing without interruption. And keep a package or two of sewing machine needles on hand. It’s a good idea to change your needle to avoid it breaking in your machine.


Choose the best cutting tools you can afford. You’ll need a rotary cutter, cutting mat, and a ruler. OLFA has a variety of sizes, shapes and colors for you to choose from, with a range of pricing to match every budget. Look through our catalogue to discover all of the cutting tools we have available. Purchase a package or two of blades to have as a backup.


Use a sharp blade. Changing your rotary cutter blade after you’ve cut a number of projects will help you get accurate cuts. Once you notice that it’s getting dull, by skipping threads or having to recut the same piece, it’s time to put on a new blade. Use this handy guide to show you how to change the blade for your style of cutter. Here’s a tip – write the date of your blade change on a new blade with a permanent marker.


Photo: Daisi Toegel


Understand your sewing machine. If your machine is new to you, or you haven’t used it in a while, keep your manual close by. You should be able to find everything you need in it – from threading the machine and winding a bobbin, to changing the feet and stitch length. The troubleshooting section is full of helpful hints, too! If you purchased from a sewing machine dealer, take advantage of their classes to learn how to use all of the features included. It’s important to frequently brush out the bobbin area of your machine, too.


Quilting usually uses a ¼’ seam allowance. Invest in a quarter-inch stitching guide foot and replace your regular foot with it. Your seams will be more accurate. If you don’t have this foot, you can mark the quarter inch with a piece of washi or painters’ tape on the machine bed.


Photo: Daisi Toegel

When it comes to pressing your quilt units, remember to use an up and down motion instead of a sliding one. Save that for larger pieces of fabric. Lifting the iron and putting it back down will keep your pieces from stretching.  Pressing units of a block as you sew keeps your blocks accurate.


When you’re behind your machine or rotary cutter, slow down! Sure, it’s fun to get to the next step but if you miscut or have to rip a seam, the fun stops. Measure twice and cut once isn’t just a recommendation for building a house, it applies to fabric, too. Behind the machine, your block will come out better if you sew slowly and straight while maintaining a ¼” seam allowance. 


Photo: Daisi Toegel

Gain confidence by taking quilting classes at your local shop or community ed. Not only will you learn valuable lessons, you’ll discover a whole quilting community that you can become part of.


Finally, don’t fret over errors. If a block doesn’t come out the right size, troubleshoot why and then remake it. If your points are a bit wonky, not to worry. By the time you have it assembled, quilted, and bound, you won’t even notice. Plus, you’ll only get better with experience. The important thing is to have fun and enjoy your new hobby.