Remember when playing with a big box was more fun than some expensive toy? Well, we quilty/stitchy/crafty people use that same genome for resourcefulness when it comes to stocking our sewing spaces. We find plenty of I-had-this-hanging-around-the-house ways to get done what needs doing. That’s why you’ll often find everyday items hanging out with our rotary cutters and other New Sewing Age tools. Our motto: If it works, it belongs!
So, we tapped some high-profile quilters and asked them to share about their go-to tools that might be more at home in the garage or office. Gold mine! (Can we just say that if you don’t have blue painter’s tape or chopsticks in your sewing room, you are so out of the loop.) Here’s what we learned:
Freelance writer/translator/quilter Elisabeth Fuchs of France, loves sandpaper for its grippy-ness, placing it under her fabric when she’s tracing around templates to keep the fabric from moving.
She also keeps a cork handy for safely holding bent needles and pins. “When it looks like a little ‘hedgehog,’ I throw it away without worrying that the garbage men will risk pricking themselves!” she says.
Bari Ackerman of Bari J, (and her new site, We Love French Knots) San Ramon, California, swears by hemostats for turning tubes and other narrow elements. Scott Murkin of Asheboro, North Carolina, loves ‘em too, but for pulling through stubborn needles when hand quilting or for getting into any tight spot where his fat fingers won’t fit. (His words, not ours.)
And Scott also loves his Craftsman tool chest for storing tools. “The drawers are different sizes to hold notions, threads, drafting materials, class materials, etc. And they are on sliders to slide all the way out so you can easily get to the stuff at the very back,” he says.
Weeks Ringle, co-owner of FunQuilts, Oak Park, Illinois, just won’t sew without school chalk for numbering blocks or rows of fabric. “It’s cheap, and it washes out completely,” she says.
Gardening gloves from the hardware store are quilter Elaine Wong Haselhuhn’s choice for an everyday tool that goes quilty. She sometimes uses those for protection when she’s pin basting. But this Milwaukee, Wisconsin, gal has also found other great tools among the nails, nuts and bolts, including webbing and different fasteners and balsa wood, which she uses to hang her wall quilts.
Try a dental tool, like Sue Laughton of Walnut, California. This self-proclaimed Goddess of Quilting (Hey, wait a minute…that’s us!) uses the pick end to guide fabric under the foot of her machine, and the spade-shaped end for pushing out corners.
Sci-fi quilter/sculptor Jimmy McBride of Brooklyn, New York, finds his opaque projector totally indispensable in pattern-making for his space-themed quilted art. (In fact, he just blogged about it a few days ago.)
GenQ’s own Scott Hansen (well, okay, you might know him from Blue Nickel Studios, too) covets the unused cleaning brush from an electric shaver that died (um, could there be a clue here about why the shaver died?) to clean out the bobbin case in his sewing machine.
And Scott’s wife, Linda Hansen—an artist in her own right, showcasing her designs under the name Miss Mabel Studio— loves magnetic auto mechanics’ bowls made to hold bolts and nuts while working on a car. She uses them for pins, instead.
Jacquie Gering of Tallgrass Prairie Studio (which is relocating to Chicago in about, oh, six days) adores a 48″ metal wallpaper ruler and a good old-fashioned carpenter’s square.
“I use the first for measuring and cutting long blocks or when multiple blocks have been joined together as I’m improvising,” she says, “and the carpenter’s square is great for squaring just about anything…tops, backs, any old corner.”
Quilt and fabric designer Michele Scott of The Pieceful Quilter in Deptford, New Jersey, considers her computer her best tool for almost everything related to generating patterns, templates and such. And here’s her best-kept secret: she always uses her Illustrator app to put on lettering.
For quilter/blogger Candi Weinrick of Raccoon Quilts in Logan Township, New Jersey, a well-stocked sewing room must have white glue. She waters down the glue and uses a small paint brush to glue-baste fabric for appliqué.
Sewist/artist/designer/mama/blogger Carrie Bloomston of SUCH Designs in Phoenix, really digs black office clips instead of pins to hold bulky things taut and in place for stitching.
And she’s a big fan of 3M’s ScotchBlue blue painter’s tape for customizing sewing guide lines on her sewing machine.
Julie Herman of Jaybird Quilts (who just relocated to San Marcos, California) loves herself a roll of the blue, too. She loves it for marking lines for quilting, keeping boxes of pins closed, temporarily holding fabric together, marking right side/wrong side when working with batiks and more.
We can’t leave designer Heather Jones of Olive & Ollie out of the blue tape line-up; she uses this gentle tape for marking quilting lines. (Its barely-there tack leaves no adhesive on the quilt top.) Plus, she uses metal washers from Home Depot as weights to hold down pattern pieces when she’s cutting out stuff.
Now, a chopstick might win the award for the most-mentioned everyday tool that has sewing appeal:
- Scarlett Burroughs of Little Rock, Arkansas (and Quilt Mistress/blogger for CraftGossip.com ) uses a bamboo chopstick to push out pillow corners or similar sewn items.
- Heather Jones of Olive & Ollie favors a plastic IKEA version for pushing out the seams on the baby bib she frequently sews.
- Gailen Runge, Oakland, California-based quilter and creative director of C & T Publishing, uses a mate-less Japanese chopstick with a tapered tip and little ridges for turning and smoothing seams. (And it has sentimental value, too. Her best friend in college gave her the chopstick long ago.)
(CraftGossip’s Scarlett also offers this tip about how to save money on quilty tools: Don’t look in the “Quilting” section for them, she advises.
“Sometimes manufacturers mark up the price for quilting supplies as opposed to sewing ones when there is no difference in the product but the label,” she says. “Yesterday, I bought a pack of Dritz size 20 Sharps for about fifty cents less than the very same needles (marked) ‘Quilting Needles.’ I looked at them side-by-side and there was no difference in the size or quantity of the needles.”)
All great tips—every one of them!—and hugs to all our q-celebs who took time to bare their sewing souls. But the Totally Smart Quilter award just has to go to Candi Weinrick, who has found a quilty use for….cornstarch! She makes her own spray starch using plain ol’ cornstarch and water in a spray bottle. Here’s her technique: Use 1 tablespoon of cornstarch to 16 ounces of warm water. (The warm water helps it dissolve well.) Just shake it each time before spraying to make sure it’s mixed well, she says. So smart!
Now, Q-bies, what about you? If you’ve got an everyday tool that holds pride of place in your sewing area, give!