Open Line Friday – The Essential Quilting Skills

Vintage Sewing Notions


One of the reasons most of us enjoy quilting so much is the never-ending challenge of new skills to learn and new techniques to try.  A quilter can never master all the possible quilt techniques, but we can add skills with each quilt we make.  As part of our ongoing series, The Quilt Notebook, we are discussing how to steadily improve as a quilter by using a “Skills Inventory”— a list of quilting skills we’ve mastered and a list of techniques we’d like to try.


While no one can learn all the possible quilt skills, there are a few “Essential Skills” that every quilter must learn.  Today, on Open Line Friday, I would like your help creating the Essentials List.     The “Essential Ten”-(more or less) should include all the skills necessary to create the most basic quilt, and include techniques that will save time and frustration later (like stitching a 1/4 inch seam accurately).   We will use this list in our Quilt Notebooks as a starting point for our Skills Inventory and I hope to create a tutorial for each of the basic skills.

Vintage Sewing Notions


A few essential skills I would include on the list are:

  • Stitch an accurate and consistent 1/4 inch seam.
  • Use a rotary cutter properly to accurately cut straight lines.
  • Memorize three crock pot meals for all-day quilt-a-thons.

Vintage Sewing NotionsLET’S BRAINSTORM 

After we create our “Essentials” list, we will dive into the “The Next Ten” list–but we’ll save that for another day…For today…What do YOU think are the skills that every quilter must learn…I’d love to hear!


You might also like:  The Quilt Notebook – The Skills Inventory

The Quilt Notebook – Setting Priorities


73 thoughts on “Open Line Friday – The Essential Quilting Skills

  1. Know your machine……how to clean it thoroughly, tension (bobbin/top), settings, “personality”/quirks. Chair at the appropriate height to prevent undo body part aches.

    • The advantage of quilting in metric – the only fractions are 0.5 cm (a bit smaller than 1/4 inch), and 0.25 cm. Seams are 0.75 cm (a bit bigger than 1/2 inch), but two seams on a block sum to 1.5 cm, so easy peasy.

    • There is a great way of doing that, when you are the binding width from the end of the piece (meaning if your binding will be 3/8″ wide then stop at 3/8″ from the end of the seam, pivot to a 45 degree angle and sew off the corner. Cut threads and make your normal corner, the sewn down 45 degree angle makes a perfect 45 degree corner.

  2. Pressing those seams so that pieced blocks are not too “lumpy” for quilting. Usually seams are pressed to one side for simple blocks and pieced to the next block properly, one pair to each side of the seam. Sometimes the seams are pressed open, especially when the piecing is more complicated, to achieve the flattest results.

    • An important skill for a beginner is to believe she can quilt; to tell herself “I can to this!” when she’s quilting, to accept any awkwardness, knowing she’ll improve with experience, to ignore the frustrations of points on curves, and curves instead of points, as well as at some point, “just do it”.

  3. Good Morning I know from learning myself that I think one of the important tools of the trade is to know how to cut with your ruler. I was quilting for about 6 years when I went to a guild function where we were preparing fabric for cuddle quilts and I was assigned to the cutting table with a few others and realized that I had been using my ruler the wrong way. I always measured my fabric according to the cutting mat and not according to the ruler and a few of us do but when Denise said, “Sharon you will get a more accurate cut if you use your ruler for those 2.5″ strips and not go according to your mat”. Well low and behold it might have only been about an 1/8th of an inch off but enough when you are talking using allot of 2.5″ strips for a quilt. Just a thought…….

    • I hope you don’t mind me chiming in here but I agree on the ruler cutting…it seems no brainer enough but it can be amazing how those two or three little threads off consistantly can throw you off…I read a tips thing recently just snooping around on Bonnie Hunter’s blog and even getting to the nitty gritty of put the whole line on the fabric and not split the measure line with the cut edge of fabric will give you a couple threads to press the seam over and save time on all the trimming up later…I was busy making easy nine patches but seemed to have to square up some and this has improved my piecing quite a bit. I don’t like having to cut a second time!!

      • Not quite understanding what you are talking self taught and likely have a numbernof bad habbits andnit looks like cutting is one of them.

      • not sur ethis is going to reply in the right spot but to bon jo e: After getting my first straight edge to cut off of…say I’m cutting 2.5″ strips, BH says to put the 2.5″ line of the ruler all the way on the fabric. I used to split the line with my fabric edge…using the breaks in my line to peek at the fabric…tedious! did that clear things up a little? Putting the whole line on the fabric gave me a thread or two on the cutting side.

      • I always include the width of the line when cutting, but I’ve found that including it creates a problem when you sub-cut a block. Not so noticeable when you sub-cut once, but very noticeable when you sub-cut 2 times, as in a delectable mountains block where you make an HST & cut twice. The remaining section will be 2 widths of the line narrower-about 1/8″. And if you sub-cut the HST 3 times, the remaining section will be almost 1/4″ narrower.

      • ok now I no why someone mention lessons in short forms…boy I need them.
        I don t do as much cutting as I used to …strips for boarders and the sometimes look stretched which is bothersome…I purchased a accugo die cutter a year ago because I was cutting more than sew and my hands and shoulders were paying the price. has made a huge difference for me. I not understanding when some of u r talking about threads and strip cutting and not bing the same accross guess in need to check out Bonnie s blog and see what she is saying..and remember to bring a book with me for notes as well.
        thank you for explaining to me . I guess ik a visual person and learn by watching and doing…

    • Joyce: so do you split the line with the edge of the fabric when cutting? I did something like that with a MSQC block and my little blocks were off a bit. My 1/4″ seam is marked dead on so know it was my cutting.

      • Joyce when sub cutting I meant….here we go with the except when’s LOL! I’m self learning too but loving it!!

      • One more thought on rulers, I have found that rulers are not made exactly the same so if you are switching back and forth between rulers when cutting pieces for a quilt, you will have inaccurate cuts. Always stick with 1 ruler or if you have to use two use the same rulers for the same cuts.

    • Glue! Match those points using a pin, then use a glue that will wash out-just a tiny tot of it. The seam easily opens after sewing.

  4. When I teach quilting at the store I impress most, cutting properly and accurately, sewing accurate 1/4″ seams and proper pressing. Another thing if they are following a pattern, how to read it. Some students just want to be shown, but I want them to be able to read and follow along so when they have another pattern they have some idea how to read it.

  5. Great post Lori… The other ladies have awesome input and I would add…
    1. Learning to press vs iron
    2. Setting your seams first, then pressing open
    3. To go along with your accurate scant 1/4 Inch seam actually testing for that by sewing 3 one and 1/2 inch blocks together, pressing and measuring to ensure the middle block is 1 inch finished size.
    4. Tension checking on your machine

    These are just a few that jump to mind. Have a wonderful weekend. Karen

    • After moving my needle to match up with my quilting foot to achieve a scant 1/4″ width and the stitch length I prefer, I saved the stitch on my computerized sewing machine so that each time I turn the machine on I can easily select that same stitch. I also chain stitch my piecing to save time and keep edges from unraveling. A thread or two of distance on your fabric add up to throw your design off in no time!

  6. There are lots of machine things, someone mentioned cleaning and tension before but knowing what foot to use, aligning your 1/4 seam allowance foot with your fabric, threading your machine properly and knowing when to change your needle, knowing what to do when you have a thread nest on the bottom of your work.

  7. Lining up the edges of the fabric before the first cut is made, then placing the widest ruler you have along the fold so a crossways line lays exactly all along the fold, before the rough end is trimmed off.

  8. If you are a hand quilter (which I sometimes am)….one MUST learn to quilt at a frame forwards and backwards! I love machine quilting too, and practicing with a pencil and paper in order to quilt is a MUST.

  9. How to take the three point measurement of your quilt to determine the length of the border you are adding. A must to keeping your quilt square.

  10. Everyone has terrific recommendations. I agree. The only thing I could add is how to bind a quilt easily so quilts get finished. This kept me paralyzed for a long time. When I learned the glue basting method on YouTube, my quilts started to get done quick. Not a hand sewer and this worked to propel me on.

  11. Before cutting pieces for your project, straighten the cutting end of your fabric and check every few cuts. Trim again when necessary to avoid wavy strips. Checking fabric for colorfastness may be on the next ten list, but you’ll never forget to do this if you had an entire quilt ruined.

    • I agree with Kate. Not everyone squares up the fabric before cutting it, and if you don’t, you get pieces cut that aren’t “square” with the fabric and an edge with a little bias to it.

  12. Great comments, to add to these, line up your squares, triangles, points, whatever and learn to make these come out even, these should never be ” squared up”. Also know your machine, how to adjust tension, adjust stitch length, especially cleaning and oiling. Correct use of Rulers a must, if you are right handed place the ruler on the fabric and slide it left till you can no longer see the left edge, then cut, this would be the on the right edge if your left handed.

  13. For a beginning quilter, three essentials would be learning to cut fabric accurately, whether using a ruler or fussy cutting, learning to sew a 1/4″ seam, whether it’s by machine or hand, and proper pressing technique.

  14. Learing how, where and how often to oil your machine is huge. It c an be the difference nothing seams to sew right to it working like a top.

  15. Im a self taught quilter and all this would be great to no. It would be nice to no if im doing things correctly and what I need to change. Im starting to teach a bit and would rather not teach them bad habbits. Thank you so much.

  16. Needles and threads make a difference more than I thought…I learned this from you Lori….My artsy fartsy brain doesn’t like to get technical but like anything else if you want good results you need to have some knowledge of the notions you are using. I used to teach painting and I would tell my peeps that using the right brush, paint, paper. etc. and the quality of each will have an affect on the finished piece. So use the best you can afford. And learn how to use them. You will like the artsy fartsy results better.

    • Lori I forgot to tell you I have that same needle booklet from my Grandma’s sewing stuff…I love it along with a lot of wooden spools, buttons and other sewing notions she kept. Little pieces of lace, floss etc. that were wound on bits of cardboard….waste not want not. I have her patterns too and love the notes she made on them. All vintage stuff now but love looking at them. I’m getting hung up on the sewing on the vintage machine craze…got her machine out…it needs some wiring replaced but DH said he’d help.

  17. Thank you so much for this blog. Since I started reading it, I have begun to make bed quilts again. For years I made only art quilts, and it’s nice to go back to big ones. After 7 or 8 years, my family’s bedrooms needed new quilts, and you have inspired me to make them.

  18. What was the out come of the discussion on “signing” quilt? How best to protect our quilts from theft and be able to reclaim them successfully?

  19. My input, among all of the great comments above. Sandwiching a quilt. I would say that would be in the top 10 skills to master for sure.

    What a great post!

  20. Everyone else’s suggestions are great. I would add that learning to properly layer and baste the quilt is an essential basic skill, and one that doesn’t get enough attention. One that I still struggle with, too — why oh why must EVERY one of my quilts end up with pleats quilted into the backing?!

    Which brings to mind another essential quilting skill that I do not yet possess: How to remove and fix machine quilting boo boos so they don’t have to stay in your quilt and mock you for all of eternity. I have heard quilters mention ripping out lines of machine quilting to do over, but I don’t understand how to do that safely without risking a hole in the quilt, or how to secure the broken threads at the beginning and end of the ripped out section properly. So if you feel like doing a tutorial on this, feel free to enlighten me! 🙂

  21. I am a longarm quilter and the thing that causes me the most headaches is a border that is attached incorrectly. The quilt can be pieced perfectly, but if the border is attached improperly, it causes problems throughout the whole quilt.

  22. My best advice for quilt essentials is having fun. Once you have the basic skills down, don’t sweat it, but enjoy playing with fabric and needle and thread. I agree its good to have the basics down, but let’s not forget to relax and have fun and not stress out about a point cut off here or there.

    • Great point, Brenda. When I find myself tense or ticked off because I have to “unsew” a seam I remind myself to take a deep breath and remember I’m doing something I love. No one but me notices an imperfect point or a slightly mismatched seam, unless you are entering a quilt in a judged show. As far as making sure you have enough fabric for a project, it’s really freeing to dive into your fabric and find something that works if you run short. It’s surprising how much fun that can be and how much more interesting you can make your project. Learn the basics and just sew and have fun!

  23. The cutting accurately discussion gave me pause. As a beginner I am still not sure about the ” sharing the cut line” . Possible to have photos on this? Also on ” squaring up”. Of the small quilts that I have finished so far I noticed that one or more sides goes off at an angle. How do you determine where you went wonky when piecing? Thank you Lori for your posts and the comments provided by others.

  24. I agree with Brenda. Sometimes we get all uptight about all the particulars of making sure everything is exact and correctly done that we forget to relax and enjoy the process! I’m trying to not take myself so seriously and “enjoy the ride” of each quilting project. I’m continually learning!

  25. To get accuracy with my piecing I use fine 80 or 100 weight thread. The Wonderfil brand Invisafil is an example, but any brand of fine weight poly thread will be OK. I also reduce my stitch length to slightly less than my machines preset length. There is now no bulkly seams as the thread has become part of the fabric, the seam will press to the side much flatter and if pressed open the seam can be virtually invisible.

    • I have read that the thread doens t have to be 100% cotton to match the fabric as I once thought. I concern especially when doing a baby ir child s quilt it will the thread stand up to more washing. Also I take it that poly blend threads don t wear on the cotton fibers…

  26. the 1/4″ seam marking on one machine is not always the same as the 1/4″ seam marking on another. Not being aware of this fact messed up my postage stamp quilt! I’ve reduced it to a lap quilt and am picking apart the rest of the blocks as a take along while you wait project. I refuse to pitch it! I love the colours and I’ll remake them into 4 patches & combine with white to make an old fashioned looking cottage quilt.

      • Hi Linda
        I have been using fine poly threads with my piecing for years without any problems, I also use them when I longarm customers quilts usually in the bobbin only, and to date no thread issues at all.

  27. Along with all the comments here, do not try to be super fast using the sewing machine or rotary cutter. Accuracy is more important than speed. Also, I have learned that trying to work too fast I end up sewing through fingernails and cutting my finger (deeply). Nobody wants blood on their quilt!

    Another thing I don’t see mentioned is making sure you get enough fabric to complete your quilt because you may not be able to find the same fabric or dye lot again.

    • I agree mzdaisee.I was working on a quilt that was ordered and thought I had it figures out with not a lot to spare. I ve sinced.relized that no one person cuts or tears your fabric with the same amount each time. That some fabric shrinks at different rates and you may have more waist cutting as well.

  28. as I’m at the stage of “quilting” my quilt tops that are piling up in my cupboard I’ve discovered that squaring up the quilt after the quilting and before sewing on the binding is a skill that I need ! any advice on how to do that properly would be very handy !!

  29. I got a real hoot out of your 3rd suggestion about the crock-pot meals! That’s not a bad idea – quilting or not!! FMQ is a great skill but I think knowing how to stitch-in-the-ditch and do straight-line quilting are also essential skills.

  30. If you are short just a small amount of a specific fabric, why not use your scanner to copy a piece of the fabric, and then print it onto plain fabric,, something like Printed Treasures, or matching weight white/cream fabric with freezer wrap.

  31. Proper pressing techniques and how to handle bias are some. So many if the fast quilting techniques end up with fabric on the bias and there is usually no mention of how to handle it.

  32. Answering a previous make borders that FIT, measure through the quilt center, and along both sides. The average of those three measurements is the length you cut your border pieces. Accordingly, after the side pieces are sew on, do the same for the top and bottom, measuring through the just added borders.
    When you sew the border to your quilt, pin the ends, the center, and several places in between. It will be perfect.
    If you just cut a strip of fabric and sew it from one end to the other, you have the potential for a wonky, wavy,wiggly, un-square quilt. Hope this helps.

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