Twelve Essential Skills Every Quilter Must Know


Quilt Notebook, Sulky Thread


In our last episode of The Quilt Notebook see HERE, we started with this premise:    In order to constantly improve and develop our skills, we must try new techniques and be methodical in our efforts.

To this end,  we created two lists in our Quilt Notebooks:

  • Techniques to Try
  • Mastered Techniques

We also discussed how to systematically improve our skills by working on one or two new techniques in every quilt.

While there are a myriad of quilting techniques to try,  there are several basic skills that every quilter must master first.   Once these skills are learned, the entire quilting process will be more enjoyable and then the truly creative process will be possible.

Twelve Essential Skills for QuiltersTHE ESSENTIAL TWELVE

After consulting with over 4000 of my colleagues (Read more HERE), I have  THE LIST:  Twelve Essential Skills Every Quilter Must Learn  in order to create a quilt from start to finish.

  1. Sewing Machine Knowledge–Every quilter must learn the basics of using their own sewing machines.  Necessary skills include oiling, threading, changing a needle,  adjusting stitch length and adjusting tension.
  2. Read a Pattern-The quilter must have a basic understanding  of terminology, abbreviations, cutting and sewing instructions.
  3. Cut accurately with a rotary cutter-This skill includes how to read a ruler, how to square the fabric, where to cut.
  4. Stitch an accurate 1/4 inch seam consistently-This is a skill that must be learned and rechecked periodically.  Inaccurate seam allowances cause distortion (and headaches)  when piecing any block or quilt.
  5. Chain Piece – This method allows for increased quilting efficiency and accuracy. Using “leaders and enders” is helpful here as well.
  6. Pressing Techniques-The Quilter must understand how to press (not iron) to avoid distorting the quilt block.  This skill also includes understanding which way to press each seam and why.
  7. Square-Fabric, blocks and quilt tops  all require “squaring” before cutting to prevent distortion of the entire quilt.
  8. Add Borders-The quilter must learn to cut and stitch borders correctly in order to prevent distortion of the quilt.
  9. Create the Quilt Sandwich-layering techniques to prevent folds and ripples
  10. Straight line quilt–Basic quilting using straight line quilting with feed dogs engaged. (What? no Free Motion Quilting?–While I consider FMQ “Essential”–it is possible to create a beautiful quilt using only straight line stitching!)
  11. Bind a quilt– The finishing touch to any quilt.  Should include a mitered corner.
  12. Label-The quilt isn’t finished until it’s labeled!

And I guess we could make it a Baker’s Dozen:

13.  Five crock pot recipes to get you through a week of non-stop quilting!

These 12 skills are all that’s needed to create a lovely, prize winning quilt.  Once we have mastered these techniques, we can be more creative and break the rules or Gild the Lily with techniques such as applique, embroidery, embellishments, curved piecing, free motion quilting……..(We’ll discuss THE NEXT TWELVE later in the year!)

We will be reviewing all of these techniques in great detail this year with tutorials, reference materials, and online examples.


For now…Add a new list to your Quilt Notebook:  The Essential Twelve…

Then ask yourself:  (Grade yourself if you like–and date the report card to check progress over the year.)

  • How do you rate in each of the twelve categories?
  • Are you confident in each of the skills?
  • Do you need to do a little remediation here and there?
  • When is the last time you checked your 1/4 inch seam allowance
  • Do you avoid any of these techniques because you aren’t quite sure of your skill?
  • Do you need to increase your efficiency of any of The Essential Twelve?
  • Do you know the skills well enough to be able to teach another quilter?

Make these twelve skills a priority for your Big Three quilts on which you are currently working.

Remember:  In order to constantly improve and develop our skills, we must try new techniques and be methodical in our efforts.  THE ESSENTIAL TWELVE FIRST!

Quilt Notebook, Sulky ThreadIf anyone knows of any great tutorials for The Essential Twelve, please let us know.  I’d like to start a list of reference material.  Also, if anyone would like to write a Guest Post on any of The Essential Twelve, I’d be happy to link to your blog…

Gordon B. Hinckley

“Do your best, and be a little better than you are.”
― Gordon B. Hinckley
Happy stitching,
PS…All images, tutorials and information are the property of Lori Kennedy at The Inbox Jaunt and are intended for personal use only.  Please feel free to Pin and Re-blog with attribution to The Inbox Jaunt.  For all other purposes, please contact me at  Thanks!

68 thoughts on “Twelve Essential Skills Every Quilter Must Know

  1. Right on! However, I am very guilty about not labeling my quilts…….one place where I could definitely improve. By the time I reach that stage I am too anxious to get on to the next project. Love your blog!

  2. Love your Gordon B. Hinkley thought! I should probably work in my straight line quilting. I use a long arm to quilt and straight quilting is very difficult. I also don’t label my quilts until they go to a show or leave my possession to live with someone else.

  3. Love your list. It covers essential areas for every quilter, experienced or new, to review, practice, and improve. I can’t wait for your tutorial on the quilt sandwich. I’ve been quilting for many, many years, think I’m doing a great job basting my tops together and then when it comes time to machine quilt I’m always disappointed with some wrinkles and puckers. I know there’s something I’m not doing right but I just don’t know what. BTW, the snow is starting to melt in northern WI. I think we may see grass by June and the ice may be out by the Fourth.

  4. Great Post Lori! I need to get back in the bit of practice mode every day on my FMQ…still get in a little bit of a panic when it comes time to quilt. It would help if I weren’t always racing the clock for some reason on my projects. Same reason why my labeling gets a bit short. I need to come up with a generic label I can make a pile of and then add what I need to when a quilt is done…maybe that would help. 🙂
    Snowing and blowing this morning here in WY too…hunker down Lori…know it’s heading your way. I don’t mind it so much…gives me guilt free sew time. 🙂

  5. Hi Lori,
    Sounds like this year is going to be so interesting. I like learning new tips and techniques. My favorite technique for joining binding ends comes from Marci Baker of Alicia’s Attic. She has a short YouTube video demonstrating it. There are two points that stand out for me. Don’t press the binding in half, and don’t cut the binding to length until after it’s sewn and you know it’s going to lie flat. It’s a no-fail method.

  6. Though I agree with the list I will say I have made hundreds of quilts now without the slightest idea of how to read a patten- I design my own quilts and have from the start, so pattern reading knowledge is only essential if you don’t have a design in mind already….

  7. Great list Lori and really covers it! We tend to focus on the bells and whistles of the “special techniques” (y-seams and such) but it’s these basics that are the linchpins from the beginning of your project to the end of it.

  8. Those 12 certainly are a great framework/springboard for anyone looking to begin, or in the early days of, their quilting journey/adventure!!! No list is exhaustive and there are always those things each of us could add that we’ve encountered. That’s why a notebook is so important…..cuz, if a body doesn’t learn from past ‘mistakes’ they are going to be repeated!!!! Hugs…………………….

  9. Great list, Lori. I’ve always said I don’t know what I do worst, cutting, sewing, or pressing. And I agree with Mary Z about labeling. I prefer sewing on the binding to making a label.

  10. My favorite crock pot method is called SpouseMan… since he retired he enjoys playing with the crockpot, bread machine, dutch oven, and his new deep frying pan which he uses for sauteeing..He also makes a great pot of soup and the guild is always asking me to bring it when we have a sew-all-day. This is a blessing I never saw coming in the earlier years… will be 48 this year. BTW I am working on 6, 7, 8, and 9 above…Why, oh, why, do blocks measured alike, cut alike and sewed alike, come out different sizes ? LOL !!

  11. Love reading this blog everyday . I also enjoy all the great comments l. And I am just fascinated by the machine quilting, I still meander, and I have for years, because that is what I’m good at. Practice makes perfect, and we are talking 20 years of meandering for practice , I’m starting to try these wonderful quilting ideas and I hope practice makes perfect again! Thank you …

  12. Found you on Pinterest. I have several tutorials on my blog on putting on quilt borders, mitering printed borders, binding (a four part series) plus some others. Like most of us, I am still learning too!! Will be following you on Bloglovin!

  13. Lori, I know I’m late to reply because I’m working through your archives, but I’m curious about some of these. (and after commenting I’ll start googling) First, how do you check your 1/4″ seam for accuracy? If I’m stitching on the edge of my 1/4″ presser foot, that should do it, right? I’m wondering how I could tell if I was off. I’m also wondering about your comment on pressing and “understanding which way to press seams and why” since I thought I saw that you prefer to press yours open. Or are you referring to pressing them so they lock together when you assemble the blocks? I feel confident in my skills, but isn’t that the danger? That I’m confident but still doing it wrong! lol! Thanks, as always, for your wonderful inspiration.

    • Hi Britiney,
      I really haven’t covered any of those topics I would look to google…
      I think the best way to check the 1/4 is to cut to pieces of fabric and sew them together. Once they are stitched, check to make sure they are exactly 1/2 inch smaller. If you are even a small amount off, make corrections to your stitching. Also, make sure you are accurate the entire length of the stitching. Sometimes we trial off at the end. I will be doing tutorials and adding references throughout the year.

      • Thanks, Lori. I started doodling tonight. So hard! I have lots of practice ahead of me but am so inspired by your blog. Thanks for the tip on how to check my 1/4″. I’ll definitely see what I can find on google for the rest. Love your blog!

  14. Just discovered you Lori and joined your following of want to be better quilters. Trying to learn free motion. Have completed my first free motion quilt – did straight line and paisleys. Saw your article in quilting magazine on daisy like flower and want to learn it as it can fill in the block spaces nicely. Also purchased a Pfaff embroidery machine which works great for the free motion. Also got the 5 D embroidery software, but have almost no knowledge on that yet. Ordered Tim Frost’s (Mr. Patience) book to help learn the software. Do you also enjoy machine embroidery?

  15. Hi, Dear Lori! I’m a quilter teacher from Brazil. I found your precious blog today, and simply can’t stop reading, take notes and say: WOW! How many treasures I’ve found here! Thank you, thank you! Next month I’ll start with 2015 classes (we are on summer vacations now), and I will gift my students with… Quilt Notebooks! I have a blog, will repost (translating the special parts) the sonner the better. Thank you, thank you again, can wait to read all the FMQ parts 🙂 And your “method” to extermine UFO’s will help me so much. Six years after, I had started to do an EPP project, a king-size quilt for my sister’s wedding. Hexagons with 3 cm . I need to sew just 4 Grandmother’s Flowers to complete the top. I can’t stand hand sewing, injuried my hand. Procrastinated a lot, thinking about quinting this MOTHER of all the UFOs. You restored my courage. Thank you, again! Sorry for the bad english!

  16. whatever happened to making a quilt by hand – no sewing machine involved – I have made quite a few quilts with never touching a sewing machine – including the binding – where as your list is pretty good – knowing how to use a sewing machine isn’t necessarily the first thing to be on a list – there are quite a few of us quilters that actually still make our quilts by hand although most of us do use the sewing machine to attach our binding – there is a facebook group that has over 7,000 members and all of them quilt by hand and a good share of them make their quilts by hand as well

  17. Hello Marsha,
    My name is Teresa and I read as well as look through Lori’s blogs and drooling all over my kindle at the beautiful work she does and so kindly shares with us. I also have a secret passion to become a seamstress however I don’t know where to begin. I have googled, tried you tube, read books and recorded programs that cover sewing, reading patterns, how to take measurements and the list goes on and on. If you have any advice that you could share with me to help me to get started would be greatly appreciated. Of course anything you share with me will not affect my quilting efforts as Lori has been and will continue to be my go to on anything quilting related. As we all know Lori is a wonderful teacher and has her special way of inspiring us, giving us direction, always treating everyone with respect and kindness and really gets us excited about the craft of quilting. That’s why it is so difficult to leave her site. When I get the pop up that my battery is going to die, I know I have to leave to recharge.
    So dear Marsha, any suggestions you feel comfortable sharing with me relating to becoming a seamstress would be truly appreciated. Thank you for your time and consideration. T. HEINTZ
    VOTE FOR THE JAUNT…woohoo!!!!

  18. Hey! Im a quilter for sure! I leave my ironing board up all the time and I dont iron clothes. Actually I have 2 irons going all the time. 2 sewing machines, 1 midarm on my table and 1 longarm on my frame. LOVE QUILTING to the max. BUT…. only guilty of not labeling my quilts. The only ones I did for my grandchildren.

  19. Nice list, I would add close you rotary cutter before letting go of it. One labeling trick is to make the label early, before the quilting even. I’ve attached a few before the quilting and some before the binding.

  20. Nice list… just wondering why you didn’t mention learning about fabric. The best quilters know about fabric; new quilters don’t have a clue. I learned the hard way many years ago when I had to tear out and replace bad fabric after the quilt was completed.

  21. bought your tutorial at Craftsy for my new years present. Going to watch it tonight. Did and EQ quilt I am going to try that has simpler quilting. first making a runner and placemats to practice on to see how it goes. Unfortunately all quilts I make are queen or bigger so it may not work out.

    happy new year – looking forward to the new ideas that will come

    • Hi Lavonne, Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on the Craftsy video–please leave a review on the Craftsy platform and post pictures of your work.
      It’s great to start with smaller items to work out a motif before working on the big quilts. Have fun!

  22. I found you through the The Quilt Show.. I must disagree with your 12 thing list ! I have been quilting for 34 yrs and only 3 or 4 items on your list are totally a necessity to make a quilt ! There are people like Jinny Beyer, Linda Franz and myself who dont need a sewing machine to make a quilt at all !
    Also , I began with a cardboard template drawn by hand with pencil on which I used to trace all 200 triangles on my fabric which I then proceeded to hand cut and hand sew , put my sandwich together and quilted by hand !
    My tools are , needle ,thread, scissors , ruler , and pencil . I dont even use a thimble , as I use my thumb nail to quilt away from myself… Just saying , quilters and or the industry which wants us to buy all the gadget junk out there, and “patterns” which are free mostly or anyone can figure out how to copy a pattern , is not whom you take quilting advice from..

    • a purist! thimbles have been in use for almost 2500 years! the modern gadgets aren’t all bad and certainly can make quilting more enjoyable and efficient. As they say “to each, his own!”

  23. Dear IMR, Please remember those of us who are afflicted with arthritis and other handicaps in our hands and /or shoulders. We need advice from any one who knows something we don’t. I used to use cardboard from cereal boxes for patterns and scissors for the fabric. My grandmothers and great aunts used their hands to quilt around a frame let down from the ceiling. My quilts made with my wonderful helpful gadgets now, do not reveal the myriad secrets of how they were made. However, I would love to hear anything else you have learned in your 34 years. Tips? Hints? Experiences?

    • I think you are right to think of people who are afflicted with physical problems and to provide them with tools that will give them the ability to make a quilt is a wonderful thing!! However, I did make a point to say that it is “possible” to make a quilt with simple tools next to nothing . Having said that , you are a very few of quilters who wishes to make quilting life better for others. Most of the quilt industry I see has become no better or different than just a ” merchant” wanting to make a profit . The quilters I knew were so different than what I see today. We use to “share” our patterns , we use to give pointers for free with out having to pay for them . We talked and shared our gifts and abilities as would the knitting circle ! We use to be like neighbors once were, sharing an old recipe from her grandmother .

      To enter into a place where all things are now paid for , it is almost as if Im looked at as a bad player for sharing for free because I just took away someones income , I feel as if i cant give tips because instead I ought to point you to buy a book that I am aware is insufficient but it is part of the selling thing more than what I knew as the quilting thing ! I dont have much else to say though I will gladly give information for free. I do have a short story of what I am talking about !

      In the 80s I went to a quilt store after going to my public library to get a book on patchwork. I took my purchasing list to the lady at the quilt store and said I need everything on this list ! She said OH! Dear no you don’t !!!! I said I wish to do this right please give me all I need, she said you dont need all that stuff ! We argued back and forth until she said “Honey “, you dont need all those supplies cause I wrote the book !!! I know she had to follow protocol in her book but she was willing to give me the basics and she knew I was only 24 yrs old and could not afford everything including a wooden quilt frame !! She was a dear quilter who passed on, her name was Jessie MacDonald , she wrote Lets make a Patchwork Quilt !! It is still in print and she like Jinny Beyer gives a quilter the basic tools to make everything you need , not just one quilt or one method where we need to keep going back to get more info we pay for..

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