The Learning Center - Hosted by Pat Sloan

Hi everyone! It’s Michele here for today’s Learning Center post with info on some basic quilting tools to get you started, a few reference books, a couple of inexpensive tool ideas and links to standard quilt sizes. As we explore the various techniques of quilting in upcoming posts this year, we’ll share tools and recommendations specifically related to those types of quilting.

Later this month, I’m also putting together a blog post with reader recommendations for “not so basic tools”. I’ve received several great ideas already. If you have a tool that you’d like to recommend, send me an email, a photo of the tool and/or a link to where it can be purchased and a couple of sentences why you like the tool. Don’t forget to include your name and a link to your own blog, if you have one.

Photos included below are for illustration purposes and not meant to represent me recommending one brand over another. That’s not the purpose of this post.

Basic Quilting Tools

Let’s face it, quilting can be expensive. If you’re just starting out it’ll be overwhelming the huge number of products available to us. Remember quilters of previous generations had a very small selection of tools and they produced such beautiful results. Some lovely fabric scraps, needle, thread, cardboard templates and scissors is all they had in their day.

Start small and build up your collection of tools as you need them. Buy the best quality you can afford at the time. Go to quilt shows to see the latest tools available and to try them out before buying. I try to avoid impulse buying and instead will watch a tool demo, walk away, and if I’m still thinking about it later, it’s time to back to the booth and get it. :)

Here’s what the quilter of our time will want in his/her toolbox:

  • Rotary cutter – the best time saving tool ever created
  • Self-healing cutting mat – must have to use the cutter
  • Rulers – to use with the above
  • Scissors
  • Seam ripper – yes unsewing is a part of the quilter’s life
  • Gorgeous fabric, threads, needles, sewing machine and an iron

The last item on my list we’ll explore later in March and April.

Rotary Cutters

Rotary cutters
I had a funny email exchange with Carrie Nelson last month when she shared with us her studio organization tips. She said …

As a friend likes to point out — you need multiple rotary cutters because one is always missing, one is always under the fabric, one is always in the “travel bag”, and one is always in the drawer where it is supposed to be. And that doesn’t include the one that needs its blade changed, or the one that always seems to turn up in the oddest place you can think of. That right there is six rotary cutters!

I called her the Queen of rotary cutters and asked her to send me a photo of her stash of cutters. Here’s what she had to say …

The frightening thing is these aren’t even ALL of my rotary cutters!

Please tell me you know how it is… even though it is a style or configuration you don’t use, no self-respecting quilter would get rid of a rotary cutter that still works! If nothing else, it might yield the last almost-sharp blade in the house! So I have the old ones I used all the time… all the collector Olfa’s that I either bought or was given… and then the quick-change cutters that are my favorite. I love those because of the shape of the handle ~ so comfortable.

By the way, you’ll probably notice that I tie ribbons to my rotary cutters. Just whatever is handy. I started doing that eons ago when I would take tools to class as a quick way to identify my rotary cutter in a sea of similar tools. I got used to seeing it so they look kind of nekkid when they don’t have a ribbon… but I’ve also found that the ribbon often makes the cutter easier to spot when it is under/partially covered by fabric or other stuff. So when the ribbon gets a little old and ratty-looking, I just switch it out without something new.

Rotary cutters come in several different sizes (18mm, 28mm, 45mm and 60mm), shapes, colours and configurations. Many companies make cutters including Olfa, Fiskars, Clover, June Tailor, Gingher and others. Some like the Grace Company make cutters that are meant to be more ergonomic and less stressful on the body, such as this one, My Comfort Cutter:

comfort cutters

For the beginner, I’d suggest getting the 45mm one, it’s the one you’ll use the most. If you can, try them out at a quilt store or show to pick one that feels nice in your hand. Cutters have come a long way over the years. In my stash, I have three cutters: two 45mm ones an old style and a newer style and a 28mm one. The old 45mm one is used strictly for batting or paper and always has a dull blade that I’ve transferred from the fabric cutting one. Don’t forget to pick up a pack of extra blades.

If you’re left-handed, you’ll definitely want to try out the cutter you’re thinking to buy or be sure to purchase one that states is if for left-handed users, such as this one from Olfa:

Self-healing Cutting Mats


Like rotary cutters, cutting mats come in a wide variety of styles, configurations and sizes. The most important thing to remember when buying a cutting mat is to purchase one that is “self-healing”. I made the mistake when I first started out of getting one that wasn’t and it didn’t last long at all.

What size you choose will also depend on how much space you have available in your sewing room. I have two 24″x36″ mats (one for batting/paper only), a rotating mat (shown below), a mat ironing board combo (also shown) and a couple of tiny ones that are handy beside my sewing machine when paper-piecing. I covet one of the larger mats if only I had the space for one.





To go with your newly acquired mat and rotary cutter, you’ll need some rulers. Once again there are numerous companies that make rulers and many fabulous speciality rulers too. Best advice I can give when purchasing a ruler is to make sure that you can easily read the lines on the ruler. I have purchased a few that are impossible to read on any fabric colour. For the beginner, I’d suggest three basic sizes: 6.5″ square, 12″ square and a 6.5″x24.5″ long ruler.

Shown above is the 12.5″ square The Cutting Edge ruler that Pat Sloan designed and was developed by Sullivans. We’re giving away two 6.5″x24.5” rulers, see below for details.


Even with a rotary cutter, you’ll still need some scissors. There are many to choose from and specialty scissors galore. Buy what you can afford for the task you are doing. I’d recommend a good pair for cutting fabrics, a pair for cutting paper, and a small pair for cutting threads.

I’m not sure how many I own, but I do have a nice collection. :) I found this Scissors Challenge on Flickr, and was surprised to see that it was something Pat did a couple of years ago. Yes, my collection is similar to these!


1. From Elise Fare, 2. IMG_1822, 3. IMG_1807, 4. scissors collection, 5. 43 Pairs of Scissors, 6. DSCN6995, 7. My Scissors, 8. A flower from Scissors, 9. my scissors collection

Seam Ripper

The seam ripper will be your best friend. Choose a good quality one with a small point at the end. You’ll be thankful for it.


Reference Books

Here are a few reference books that you might want to add to your library:

Encyclopedia of quilting



Quilter's Academy

Mz Tool Lady

Pat’s friend Stevii Graves shares a few of her clever and inexpensive tool ideas. I’ll definitely be using the emery board trick real soon… why didn’t I think of that!

It is always fun to find quilty uses for non-quilty items.

Treat yourself to a pedicure. Dream about quilt designs as they massage your feet. To keep nail polish from getting on your toes a little foam separator is placed between your toes. Once the polish is dry the foam thing-a-ma-jig is removed. If anyone tries to throw away the foam thing, hit ’em with your purse! Instead of your toes, put wound bobbins in the foam thing. The bobbins will be held tight and will not unwind. Its a great way to transport bobbins to a class or retreat.

Stevii tool 5

Deli paper can be found is big box stores, like Costco, and it’s intended use is to wrap sandwiches. Smart quilters know that it has better uses. It can be used to draw and trace patterns and as a stabilizer when sewing decorative stitches. It is also a perfect thing to protect your ironing board when fusing small pieces. Its not release paper, but can be a great protector for ironing board and iron. If you insist on using the deli paper for food, I’d recommend wrapping chocolate!

stevii tool 1

Drawing a diagonal line onto fabric and then sewing a 1/4″ seam allowance on either side of the line is a fabulous way to make half square triangles units. Instead of using a slippery ruler, use an emery board. It provides a straight edge to draw against and it will never slip around on the fabric.

emery board

Pin cushions are so much fun to make as gifts. To fill the pin cushions, take a trip to the pet supply store and buy a bag of reptile bedding to use as the filler. Reptile bedding is ground walnut shells, which machinists use in tumblers to polish metal. Your pins and needles will love being stuck in a pin cushion filled with reptile bedding. Use a kitchen funnel to pour the shells into the pin cushion.

reptile bedding

stevii pin cushion

Standard Quilt Sizes

American Patchwork and Quilting bed quilt

Our friends at American Patchwork & Quilting have an article about determining a quilt size
and a PDF document of the standard quilt and batting sizes. More info on sizes including table toppers is available at the Sewing/Needlework web site.


Long post … are you still with me?


The good folks at Sullivans are giving away two 6.5″x24.5″ The Cutting Edge rulers. See them in action YouTube videos. You can buy them in your local quilt shops or at Joann’s or Keepsake Quilting online.

To enter the give-away, in the comments below answer “What are your favourite ruler sizes?”. Two winners will be randomly selected March 15th.

Congratulations to the winners. Check your inbox for an email from me.

#6 Sandy A
#76 Dawn

Getting Started: Basic Quilting Tools, Reference Books and Standard Quilt Sizes

119 thoughts on “Getting Started: Basic Quilting Tools, Reference Books and Standard Quilt Sizes

  • March 8, 2012 at 12:25 pm

    Oh, my favorites are 6.5×24.5 and 3.5×18. Thanks for the opportunity!!

  • March 8, 2012 at 12:28 pm

    These are great tips!
    My favorite ruler size is actually 6.5″ x 13?” because I have a smaller mat, only 12″x18″. I hear ya on the space constraints. But I would love one a longer one so I can cut along the long direction of the mat.

  • March 8, 2012 at 12:39 pm

    I use my 6×24 whenever I need to cut the length of the fabric, but otherwise the ones that I use the most are my 4.5×18 and my 4.5 sq.

  • March 8, 2012 at 12:41 pm

    The one I use the most right now is my 4.5″ square. I’m working on a BOM and am doing a lot of HST in different sizes. My 6.5×24.5 gets a lot of use too!

  • March 8, 2012 at 12:54 pm

    Favorite ruler sizes….6.5 x 24.5… How else do you cut wof? And 2.5 x 12. Kudos to the 7/8″ rulers it makes hsts a breeze, but can be a desaster if you pick it up by accident.

    Tool tip – zip loc baggies. Sandwich sized are great for holding pieces when working on a big project. The largest food ones are perfect for whole projects.

  • March 8, 2012 at 12:56 pm

    Thanks for all the good information! Love seeing all the different versions there are of tools.

    My favorite rulers are a 6″ square up ruler (Can’t live without it!) and my long 6 X 24 straight edge ruler.


  • March 8, 2012 at 1:16 pm

    My favorite is a 6×12. It fits in a tote to travel, easier for me to keep steady. I use it ALL THE TIME. Second favorite would be a 6×6. Although I have used my friend’s 6 1/2 by 12 1/2 and was impressed, but I haven’t bought one yet.

    Thanks for the pet supply store for walnut shells…Those little bags in the quilt stores are so expensive – when you can find them! Can’t wait to go shopping!

  • March 8, 2012 at 1:28 pm

    My favourite ruler is my 15″ square and I have a 3.5″x24″ but find it too narrow.

  • March 8, 2012 at 1:38 pm

    I have a lot of rulers but mostly I use 3 of them, 4 1/2 square, 3 x 18, and a 6 1/2 x 24. I also love my 12 1/2 square for of course squaring up block. I wwould love one of Pats new rulers.

  • March 8, 2012 at 1:44 pm

    I use my 6 x 24 the most (both because of its size and because it is the only one I’ve bothered to put the little “grippy” sticky things on so it stays put). I also use 6.5 x 6.5 and have about a half dozen others that I use more sporadically. Would love to win one of these slightly bigger ones; thanks for the chance!

  • March 8, 2012 at 1:56 pm

    Great info on this post. Since I had been away from sewing for so many years, it is nice to see what is new and, I was also never sure what to put in a pin cushion. Using deli paper for tracing patterns is another idea I will keep somewhere in the corners of my brain. Thanks!

  • March 8, 2012 at 2:09 pm

    I love my 6.5″ X 24″ ruler Love my little squaring up ruler although I would like it better with more measurement marks on it. It is 3.5″ suqre – I think – and most of it has the log and the clear space given to that area to make the log clearer. But really my favorite ruler is the one I can find the fastest on my work table!

  • March 8, 2012 at 2:32 pm

    5″ x 24″ ruler, but it depends on what I’m doing. Thanks for the giveaway!

  • March 8, 2012 at 2:33 pm

    This is a great summary of tools. Besides the sizes you mentioned, I love my 4×18″ ruler for cutting HST in half after sewing them, or for cutting individual piecies for BOM or sampler blocks.

  • March 8, 2012 at 2:41 pm

    My favorite ruler is my 12.5″ square. Most blocks seem to end up that size, so it is perfect for squaring up blocks. Thanks for the chance to win!

  • March 8, 2012 at 2:51 pm

    Thanks for the book recommendations. I’m going to check them out. I’ve wanted the Quilter’s Academy for a long time. Now that it’s been recommended it’s less of a leap of faith.
    Being new, I don’t have any favorite ruler sizes. Right now I just have a 4.5 and an 8.5 ruler.

  • March 8, 2012 at 2:53 pm

    The ruler I use the most is 6×24, but I have a host of others that I use when they are called for.

  • March 8, 2012 at 3:11 pm

    I use two the most: a 6×24 and a 6×12. I have a lot of specialty rulers, but rarely use them. Thanks for the chance to win the Cutting Edge ruler.

  • March 8, 2012 at 3:22 pm

    I love my 6.5 X 24.5 ruler. Reach for my 1 x 6.5 second most often.

  • March 8, 2012 at 3:38 pm

    My favorite and most used is the 6 1/2″x 24 1/2″ ruler. Love that extra half inch!

  • March 8, 2012 at 3:46 pm

    I use my 6 1/2 inch square a lot.

  • March 8, 2012 at 3:48 pm

    Gee, my favorite ruler sizes are 6″x24″, and 12.5″x12.5″. I also like a shorter ruler that I can use in tight places, like 4″x12″. I’ve been wanting to try out one of these ‘sharpening’ rulers, but, I haven’t seen one in my area. I love rulers!!!!

  • March 8, 2012 at 4:26 pm

    My two favorite sizes are 6.5 x 24 and 12.5 x 12.5 – the long narrow ruler is perfect for making long cuts and the square up ruler can be used for blocks and 45 degree angles. I also like the 4.5 x 4.5 with the 45 and 30 degree angles for squaring hst and small piecework. Thanks for the chance.

  • March 8, 2012 at 4:32 pm

    Just depends on the project but mostly my 6 1/2 x 24 1/2 and my 12 1/2 x 12 1/2. But I usually take my 6 1/2 x 12 1/2 to classes since it is easier to pack. :)

  • March 8, 2012 at 4:38 pm

    I love my 6.5″ square. I love to work with 1/2 square triangles and it’s fab for squaring up. I use my 6.5 by 24″ all the time. What would you do without one? I have to cut all my strips for my blocks with it.

  • March 8, 2012 at 4:42 pm

    Of course I couldn’t be without my 6 x 24, but you asked what were my favourites. They are definately my 4″ x 12″ and my 12.5 x 12.5″ and my Westalee 6.5 x 18″

    I like to fold my fabic in 4 to cut. That stops me slipping when cutting long strips, and for smaller pieces I just find them less cumbersome. Thanks for all the giveaways Michelle! Love your site :) Hugs Paula

  • March 8, 2012 at 4:56 pm

    My favorite rulers are the 6×24, 6×12 and my 6 1/2 square up ruler. Good infor shared here. Thanks so much!

  • March 8, 2012 at 5:21 pm

    My favourite ruler is 60×16 cm. I’m from Norway, and we use cm instead of inch. But certainly I use inch too, and my favourite there is 4×4″. Thank you for the giveaway!

  • March 8, 2012 at 5:38 pm

    my favorite is 6×24 and my 6.5 square. thanks for great information!

  • March 8, 2012 at 5:39 pm

    Hi Michele

    Simply just a lovely post here, you wrote to us all.
    About the cost of our quilting pleasure

    – I believe here in my little corner of the house – the amount spend on things just for me and my quilting life is well over 15.000 Dollar. All the things taking in mind!

    Wow that is a whole lot money -how did I spend that much??
    Well my favorite ruler are these 2
    9½ ” x 9½ ”

    and 6½ ” x 6½”

  • March 8, 2012 at 6:20 pm

    I use my 6×6, and 6×24 the most and next 12×12, hope to win.

  • March 8, 2012 at 6:37 pm

    I have 2 favorites – my 12.5″ square and my 6.5″ square (non-slip)

  • March 8, 2012 at 6:48 pm

    Great tips! I especially like the emery board, pedicure thingees, and the reptile bedding. Helpful suggestions.

    I like my 4×4 ruler and my 6×12 the best. Between the two of those I can cut pretty much anything I need!

  • March 8, 2012 at 6:57 pm

    Love all you ideas and plan to use the pedicure foam holders on my next outing! I have planned to make some pin cushions for gifts….great idea to use ground walnut shells. My all time favorite rulers are the 6×12 and the 8 1/2 x 24 for basic quilt cutting. Thanks!

  • March 8, 2012 at 7:03 pm

    This is great information!!! My favorite ruler is the 6.5 x 24

  • March 8, 2012 at 7:13 pm

    Love my 6 by 24 ruler the most, use it all the time first to get a straight cut on the material, and next to it is almost always a square one, either 6, or 6.5, or my 12″ square. They all are really handy to have!

  • March 8, 2012 at 7:43 pm

    I have a 6.5 inch square ruler which is so handy and two 6.5 by 24 inch rulers. One is a Westalee adjustable ruler which is the best ruler out,so handy to use.
    Thanks for the opportunity to win some new rulers.
    Happy days.

  • March 8, 2012 at 7:58 pm

    My favs are the 6″x12″ and the 9.5″ square. They are the right size to take with me to classes and are long enough to use to cut up strips or scraps to make blocks. And I love the tip about the reptile bedding…been looking for something to use in my pincushions!

  • March 8, 2012 at 9:47 pm

    Lve the post today! Favorite ruler is a 4 by 12. Perfect for small cuts.

  • March 8, 2012 at 10:07 pm

    Great post! I’m just piecing my first quilt!
    My favorite ruler is 6 x 24.
    Thanks for a chance to win! :)

  • March 8, 2012 at 10:54 pm

    My favorites are my 6 inch square and 6×24. I’d love to have a 6.5×24.5. Those extra 1/2 inches make all the difference.

  • March 8, 2012 at 11:40 pm

    My favorite rulers are the 6.5 x 24.5 and the 6.5 x 6.5. I would really like a new ruler.

  • March 8, 2012 at 11:47 pm

    Since I found this site a few weeks ago I check it every day. I even checked out all the past blogs and many of the guests blogs. I have learned something each time and picked up many new ideas and tips. Thank you Theresa.

  • March 9, 2012 at 12:10 am

    My favorite ruler that I grab most often is the 6 1/2″ by 12 or 14 inches. Thanks for the chance to win the cool Cutting Edge ruler.

  • March 9, 2012 at 12:22 am

    My favorites are the 2 1/2 x 18 and the 5×12

  • March 9, 2012 at 1:35 am

    6 1/2″ square… I really would like a 6 1/2″ x 24 1/2″ or a 12 1/2″ square….

    I have my 6″x 24″ which is good too. An I really like my metric rulers (very hard to find in North America) for using with clothing patterns from Europe

  • March 9, 2012 at 6:20 am

    I love my 6×24, would be lost without it! Thanks for the chance at the giveaway! :)

  • March 9, 2012 at 7:06 am

    The ones I use most are 6×12 and 5×24. But I also use my 15×15 alot and 4×36 quite a bit too. Thanks for the chance to win!

Comments are closed.