Discover Vintage America - APRIL 2019

Cutting-edge quilting gadgets you can't live without

Quilters love sewing tools and gadgets also known as notions. Some are essential must-haves, others are nice to have, while others are trendy distractions. That list can be very personal and depend on the individual quilter. The must-have group may also depend on whether one is hand sewing or machine sewing. The following are tools that most quilters feel make their sewing easier and more efficient.

Several of my rotary cutters, rulers, cutting mats and seam rippers.
Sandra Starley Collection


Rotary cutter

This gadget with a circular blade is often mistaken by non-quilters for a pizza cutter. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the invention of this essential tool in 1979 by the Olfa Company. The rotary cutter is the tool that has most revolutionized the quilting industry in the last century. Instead of having to mark yardage and cardboard templates and tediously and slowly cut with scissors or shears, the cutter allows you to cut quickly and accurately.

Cutters have different safety features; some have blades that automatically retract when you release your hand or have ergonomic or comfort handles. Some people also swear by special gloves that will protect your hand (the one not holding the cutter) in case your hand slips or you get distracted. Rotary cutters are really round knife or saw blades and must be treated with respect.

The cutter is paired with acrylic plastic rulers to guide the blade along the desired cutting line.
The other necessary component is the cutting surface: a special self-healing cutting mat which protects your cutter as well as your counter or sewing table. The rotary cutters come in a couple of sizes as do the mats. You can purchase fancy collector or designer models or simple workhorses.

Rulers come in a mind-boggling number of different shapes and sizes. It is important to have at least a few sizes: a small square, a large square, and a long rectangle. There are myriad models of rulers including many designed for cutting a specific pattern, especially flying geese blocks.

A couple of pairs of sewing scissors (shears, embroidery scissors, etc.) Sandra Starley Collection



There are specially designed scissors for almost any quilting project or task that you can imagine. Appliqué scissors, small embroidery scissors, curved scissors, etc. And many of them are decorated in a variety of designs/patterns to match any sewing room décor or personal preference. Scissors can cost a dollar or two or up to $100 or more for imported models, especially in larger dress-making style shears.

One could go absolutely crazy with collecting all the different decorator, designer, or sew-celebrity patterned versions which then come in several sizes as well. There are animal prints, floral patterns, space-age titanium models, and so much more. The most essential thing is to have at least one medium sized good quality pair of scissors that is dedicated solely for cutting fabric.

Similarly, you need to have a more generic pair that is for cutting paper (paper patterns, freezer paper, templates, etc.). A good pair of fabric scissors is an investment and cutting paper with fabric scissors will dull them, so be sure everyone knows how to tell them apart.


Seam ripper

This handy little tool is a mini-bladed gadget designed to help you get into your tiny sewing stitches and remove the ones that have gone astray. Whether you have mistakenly sewn the wrong pieces together, missed the point/intersection of a seam, changed your mind, or some other sewing mishap, a seam ripper is an essential assistant. Yes, seam rippers too come in a variety of models and colors, though not close to the range of scissors. You can get a good quality model for about $15 that should last you for quite a while. You can also get a cheap one for a few dollars, but they tend to break more easily. One can also purchase glamorous, custom models with special exotic wood handles.

Sandra Starley is nationally certified quilt appraiser, quilt historian, and avid antique quilt collector. She travels throughout the U.S. presenting talks on antique quilt history, fabric dating classes and trunk shows as well as quilting classes. Learn more at Send your comments and quilt questions to

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