Best Quilting Gadgets 2021 – Secret Hacks & Essentials For Your Sewing Room


Quilters FabriCalc

Using this convenient little tool, you will never again need to be some kind of math whiz or guess how much fabric to buy, how many strips to cut, how wide to cut your strips or how much your fabric will cost.

This calculator is so smart, it will:

* store information for up to 6 different fabrics in your quilt * convert from inches to metrics and back again — now that’s something great for our overseas quilters * tell you how many blocks you can get from a specific piece of fabric * determine the yardage for corner and side triangles * estimate the cost for your fabric * and much more

From the simple to the complex, the FabriCalc takes all of the guesswork out of figuring out how much fabric you need for your quilt.

You save money, you save time, and you save the aggravation of running out of fabric.

Freezer Paper

Stabilizing Fabric with Freezer Paper – Do those bias edges on your patches stretch as you sew, like mine do?

Here’s a suggestion –

Cut freezer paper templates the size of your finished patch. Iron them onto the back of the patch, and then sew the patches together – with the freezer paper still attached.

freezer paper for quilting
Plain ole’ freezer paper can help keep the seam allowances tucked in and prevent your bias edges from stretching out of shape.

Not only will this give you a great, straight stitching line that will guarantee an accurate seam allowance, it will stabilize the bias edges and keep your fabric from stretching out of shape.

And, sewing circles and curves will be a breeze using this freezer paper secret. Just iron the freezer paper onto the back of the circle or curved piece you are attaching to your quilt top.

Merrily stitch around the curve, and then cut a little slice in the fabric behind the freezer paper to remove it.

I admit the first time I cut into a quilt top of mine in this way, I held my breath, and almost closed my eyes. It just seemed wrong.

After that quilt was finished, I ran across a book that suggested cutting out the entire area behind the appliqued piece, and trimming it back to the seam allowance, removing a lot of the bulk in the quilt.

That was the technique I used when I made the quilt pictured below. For each of the animal shapes, I cut a freezer paper template and ironed it onto the back of the fabric. In this case, I hand stitched each animal and plant onto the background fabric. Once the piece was sewn, I trimmed the background piece back to the 1/4 inch seam allowance and removed the freezer paper.

Yes, it’s all a little extra work, but I have found the extra work is worth keeping the shape of my bias pieces.

giraffe applique quilt
This quilt was made using the freezer paper technique described above. Each piece was added, and then the background fabric was trimmed away to remove the paper. This is still one of my favorite quilts.

Moustache Trimmer

Moustache Trimmer!? Did I read that correctly?

True… it sounds crazy, but once you have tried it, you will be hooked forever and will no longer have any more little secrets. The buzz of this beauty will let everyone in the room know you are ripping seams.

At a quilt retreat, we took about 45 minutes for a short road trip (in beautiful weather) and ventured to a new (to us) quilt shop in the vicinity of the retreat. One demonstration of how to use this amazing non-quilting related item and we were all sold. We bought so many, the shop generously gave us a nice discount.

The item is simple — a Wahl Travel Moustache Trimmer (available in most discount department stores and/or pharmacies and in some quilt shops). This little gem of a time saver is worth its’ weight in gold! No, we’re not selling them on our website — we just want you to discover a great quilting (or general sewing) aid and be as pleasantly surprised as we were.

The Basics are:

When a seam needs to be ripped, start to open the seam with an actual seam ripper — just a few stitches will do. If you’ve back-tacked, you’ll have to get through that section completely. Some points where multiple corners come together may have to be manually ripped also.

Place the fabric, either side down, on a flat surface. With the trimmer in your right hand (the Wahl name toward you and upright), your right thumb will be near the name. Hold down the fabric with the outside of your hand (similar to picking up a glass or small bottle). The trimmer guards/blades should be facing down.

If you’re left handed, the Wahl name should be facing away from you, still upright and the outside of your left hand will be down on the bottom fabric (similar to picking up that glass or small bottle).

The opposite hand will be gently pulling the fabric up and away from the bottom fabric as you effortlessly buzz the seam.

A few words of caution and they are IMPORTANT words — you CAN snip the fabric if you get in too much of a hurry. Two women in our guild became a bit over zealous and nicked the fabric. One mistake was minimal in a small block which could easily be redone.

The other person however, (my sister-in-law) gasped when she nicked what is lovingly referred to (by the four women who are working on this particular pattern) as the quilt from…..heaven. Well, not exactly.

This spectacular quilt was a Shop Hop pattern a few years ago. The pattern is not for the faint of heart — it’s twelve, 12-inch finished blocks (all quite different). EACH 12-inch block has 36, 2-inch blocks (laid out 6×6) that have to be created individually. I don’t think any of them are identical.

The center of the quilt has a huge, 17-inch section which is intended for embroidery. More embroidery details are in other areas of the quilt, too. My sister’s quilt is beautiful; her embroidery centering and workmanship are pristine (her first time using an embroidery machine). It’s a gorgeous quilt, but it’s not on my To-Do List any time soon and it won’t be — it’s on the INGTGS List (It’s Never Going to Get Started) List.

Unfortunately, the section of the quilt my sister-in-law practiced her nicking technique on was approximately 18 inches long, an inset triangle in the border. As we watched the color drain from her face, she had to be reminded to breathe. She was holding the section up to her face and wasn’t letting go for anyone to see.

Once the disaster was revealed, the comments, suggestions and questions started to roll in. Couldn’t you just stitch over it and use Fray Check (a product to keep seams from raveling)? No one will even notice that little cut. The wisest question (in my opinion) was…. Do you have more of that fabric?

Fortunately, she did and the buzzing began again (this time more slowly), the replacement section was cut out again and pieced in place. My thought is…..

…..If I was going to invest all of this time and do all of this work on a beautiful piece of artwork, I wouldn’t want that nick to be all I thought about when I looked at my quilt. As time passes, I’m sure we’ll all be laughing about the catastrophe, but at the time it wasn’t too funny.

I hope you try this new idea, but please remember to respect that little tool and keep it in good shape. “No, you can’t trim your moustache, beard, hair or the dog with my trimmer” would be a good sentence to begin practicing.

Slow and steady will be the best approach to opening seams. I hold the top fabric up and as far away from the bottom piece as I can. For now, that seems to work.

The Moustache Trimmer kit comes with a blade guard, a tiny brush for cleaning and a small bottle of oil. It’s wise to follow the package directions for maintaining the trimmer, but I would be especially diligent about running the trimmer through some old scraps of fabric to remove any excess oil before using it on one of my creations.

Even experienced quilters (with 25-30 years of experience) make mistakes. Consider mistakes as learning experiences and try not to keep making the same ones over and over; we learn more from the new mistakes. Our learning is also facilitated by asking questions — and no question is a stupid one.

Keep learning, practicing (just don’t practice the nicking technique) and enjoy what you are doing. There is such great satisfaction at standing back and looking at a quilt top on a design board. There’s an even more incredible satisfaction and feeling when the piece becomes a quilt and is being used to comfort someone with hand-made love. Pamper yourself and have fun quilting!

Dritz Needle Threader

Dritz makes an upscale version of a traditional wire needle threader. This one has a more substantial handle and a metal plate to protect the wire and to guide the thread through the wire and ensure that the needle ends up being threaded. I have often wondered whether the wire would be too big to go through the eye of a Between – since Betweens are so small. The answer to the question is “Yes, the wire does go through the needle and the needle will get threaded.” However, it doesn’t glide easily through; mostly because of the small size. 

Push the wire loop through the eye of the needle
Push the wire loop through the eye of the needle

The first step is to push the wire loop through the eye of the needle, and glide it along the wire until it is next to the handle and past the opening in the metal plate. For some reason, the wire kept wanting to twist itself around. It didn’t make any difference in the threader’s ability to perform, it was just rather interesting. The next step is to run your thread through the hole in the metal plate, making sure that it comes up through the center of the wire loop. It doesn’t appear to matter whether you string your thread from the bottom up or the top down – just get it through. There is also no need at this point to cut your thread, although it wouldn’t hurt if you did. I left my uncut, still on the spool (less likely to get lost). 

Run your thread through the hole in the metal plate inside the wire.
Run your thread through the hole in the metal plate inside the wire.

Now slide the needle back across the wire loop, pulling the thread through the eye of the needle. This might take some effort – but not too much – if you are threading a needle with a small eye. I think there is a reason that this type of needle threader has been around for years. It is very easy to use, and works every time (as long as the thread and needle are in the right position). This model will last longer than the less expensive ones with thin handles and no guard around the wire loop. 

Pull the needle across the wire loop, and your needle will be threaded.
Pull the needle across the wire loop, and your needle will be threaded.

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