Saturday, 30 June 2012

When to spend money

And what to spend it on....

A beginners guide to quilting.

I am an admitted cheapskate, if I don't have to buy things from department stores I won't. If I don't have to spend money on something that I can make from what I have on hand, I won't do that either. Even better is hitting second hand shops and yard sales and finding what you need at a steal there, saving yourself time as well as money and reducing waste, why not re-purpose at a fraction of the cost of new? 
All ranting aside, I've learned a few things in the last few months about what a person like me should spend money on and where to cut corners. First is machine needles, do not scrimp on your machine needles! Buying the cheaper variety needles may work for light weight projects but they will not work very well for quilting, as a matter of fact you will end up spending more money on the cheaper needles since you have to replace them so often. I buy the titanium type, they last longer and are stronger than general needles. I tend to yank and reef more than I should, I broke 3 general quilting needles in a row because I bent them while moving my quilt around the sewing machine. The titanium ones give a little but don't bend and will snap back into shape if you pull a little harder than you should, they also won't break if you have a particularly bad seam join like an average needle will. 

Secondly is thread, I personally will scrimp on the thread when I can but I always make sure it is a quality, strong thread made for quilting. I do not recommend anyone who is unfamiliar with thread to try and save money by buying a cheaper spools, especially cheap wal-mart or dollar store thread. Those threads are not made for quality and will break, ravel, knot, fray and bleed. When in doubt... buy quality and recognizable name brands and speak to a person whom you know is experienced with sewing or quilting, or ask at a quilt shop attendant (they may try to upsell you though, I would try the experienced seamstress first). 
The different types of thread are confusing too, my general rule of thumb is if you are hand sewing use cottons or silks (silk is difficult to use in a sewing machine, if it is not label for machine use, don't try it), if you are machine sewing use polyester or poly blends. Cottons, even cottons specifically made for machine quilting will break frequently unless they are top quality, even then they still break more often than a polyester thread.  Polyester threads are strong and durable, colorfast and have a nice sheen to them, the only time I have ever had poly threads break on a sewing machine is when I used really cheap brands for quick garb piecing and I didn't care if the garb fell apart after a few washing's. 

Also know the weight of your thread, if it's too heavy it will pull your fabric, and not sit well on your piece, lighter thread is better. The higher the weight the lighter the thread, 30weight, 40weight and 50 weight .. etc, also too are the ply's some threads are 2 ply and some are 3 ply, so a 50/2 will be lighter than a 50/3.
Determining what weight and type of thread you are going to use will ultimately be a personal choice, so try out a few different types and see what works best for you, I use only poly threads in a heavier weight than most quilters will use but it works for me. 
Oh and before I forget to mention it: Do NOT buy second hand thread unless you are positive it is coming from a reliable and trusted source. 2nd hand threads may be very old or dyed improperly and you really don't want the hassle of the lint build up in your sewing machine or having the thread break after a couple of washing's.

Third on my list is rulers and rotary cutters, I put these together because usually if you have one, you'll have the other. Kind of like a peanut butter and jam sandwich, you can have one or the other but it just isn't the same without them together. You can scrimp on rulers, buy them secondhand or at a yard sale as long as they are in decent condition and have good markings on them (preferably black lines or black and yellow), orange or red rulers are good too but require really good lighting to use and they can blend in with your fabric so black or black and yellow is preferable. I also recommend trying to buy a large 12" square and long ruler of the same brand if possible, because different brands mark their rulers differently you can end up with a slight wobble when trying to square up a quilt until you are more experienced with rotary cutting. Using youtube is a good way to educate yourself on how to properly square up and cut your fabric & quilt. The specialty rulers and shapes don't have to be the same brands at all since you will be using them individually to make the particular shape, do purchase ones in good condition with no breaks apparent secondhand if you can find them.

Do NOT scrimp on your rotary cutter blades! I would buy a rotary cutter secondhand as long as it is universal and takes all different brands of blades, but the blades themselves are the key to a smooth and even cut and they do wear out quite quickly, I did invest in a rotary blade sharpener which helps prolong the life of the blade but even then I still change out frequently. Now to qualify not scrimping on the blades, I don't mean to buy the most expensive brand possible, I mean buy them often and change them often. If your blade isn't cutting through your fabric properly then it is time to change or sharpen the blade. Sometimes you can get blades still packaged in second hand and charity stores or at yard sales, check the package for tampering and the blade for wear before buying.
While we are speaking of rotary cutters and blades, lets not forget the mat. You don't have to buy the most expensive self healing mat on the market and some are pretty pricey, I do however recommend that you buy the largest one you can afford and lets be clear it MUST be self healing, if it is not you'll end up with your blades dulling twice as fast and you'll have little scrapes, cut lines and holes that can ruin your cut and more than likely will catch on the back of your fabric, possibly ruining it. Yes you can buy self healing mats secondhand, but be sure to test the surface by running your hand over it and make sure it is smooth. If there are gouges or cut lines, its "life" has been used up. A good use for a mat that is no longer good to cut on is as a sewing machine mat, just put it under your sewing machine, it will lessen vibrations and prevent your machine from sliding on a table surface, very handy if you plan on using your machine to quilt quilts and don't have the drop down sewing tables.

My fourth bit of advice is about batting, now I would match the purpose of your quilt to the style of batting. The cheap brands can be very.. very.. bad, one of the worst I had seen pulled apart like cotton balls. Definitely not what you want to put in a quilt! If you are going to make a quilt for your kid who is going to drag it into God knows what and treat it like it's a mountain, super cape, railroad tracks, or whatever else a kids imagination is going to come up with. I would not bother with a expensive batting at all, chances are it will get abused just as badly. If anything I would buy an inexpensive but decent polyester batting from Wal-mart and use that or if you have flannelette sheets kicking about that are not being used, you can use 2 layers of flannelette and get a nice weight to the quilt, one layer if you want a summer weight. I would recommend pinning and thread basting or ditch stitching before you fold this up, flannelette will slide until it's moored well.

On the other hand, if your project is for a baby or a show quilt, or a quilt for your own bed, I prefer cotton or bamboo batting against polyester, it is obviously more expensive but a much nicer quality and if you want a good winter weight you should double up the batt since neither cotton or bamboo are good insulators. I haven't had access to wool batting personally but the grapevine at my guild says it is good to work with. 
You can also zigzag together batting out of your left overs, it is not optimal for important projects but it will do in a pinch and does work rather well for heavy fabrics since the seam will not show up.
Last but not least, something I am very passionate about... Fabric! Even before I started quilting I was an avid collector of fabric, quilting has just given me the excuse to acquire even more! This is where scavenging, hitting sales, yard sales, barter and trading will save you loads of money. On average (in Canada at any rate) a metre of good quality cotton is about $15 per, now you think that you are buying a minimum of 4 metres of fabric per quilt (always good to have extra) that's 60$ per quilt.. OUCH!!! When you get into buying precuts like fat quarters, charm squares and the like the price will increase. If you are like me with a large family and on a budgeted income, that is not something you can afford. 
So... here is where recycling, repurposing and remaking all play their large roles, if the fabric is good enough quality and the right type it doesn't matter if it is originally a shirt, blanket, dress, jeans, or whatever. You can make some amazing things just from scraps. If you want new fabric, hit the sale racks FIRST also ask if the store has a bargain bin and bolt ends to look through. This does take a bit of time since there is usually quite a bit of unwanted bits in there, however getting the deal plus extra fabric for less than what it would have cost you to buy a few metres directly off the rack is worth it.
One of my favorite places to hit are charity stores and donation stores, I've bought thousands of dollars worth of fabric for less than $200 that way. Our local charity shop sorts fabrics by colors, fills a large bag with them and sells the lot for 10$. Just the other day I ended up with  $50 worth of good quality cottons from one bag plus scrap bits I can use for a crazy quilt or an awesome 9 patch. Keep your eyes open and ears to the ground, the more people who know what you are doing means the more fabric you will end up with for free!

A final word about the gadgets and fun toys out there for quilters today, just because it looks like a good idea, doesn't mean it is a good idea for you. Some of the things I am thinking of that have tossed around by everyone who quilts and their dogs are things like pinmoors (really great idea but holy moley expensive!), machingers which are nylon gloves with grippy bits on them to help with gripping your quilt, not as pricey as the pinmoors but they could be out of budget range. Other things include binding clips, special needle threaders, needles painted with all sorts of different alloys to make them "better" etc.. etc.. etc... Just because it's shiny and new doesn't mean it's for you! (that makes me laugh hah!) 
You can substitute other things around your home or from a dollar store that will do the same thing that many of these products claim to do, for example: Pinmoors can be replaced with any type of condensed sponge that "self heals", look for a substitute in your local hardware store or dollar store. (I am using foam water noodles squished into vinyl tubing, keeps the foam packed and encourages "gripping" of the pin). 

For machingers go to your dollar store or gardening center and buy a pair of nylon gloves coated with nitrile, they will look like the palms of the glove and fingers were dipped in a plasticky looking paint, once you've brought them home to use, wear them on the wrong hands, the nitrile should be on top of your hands. The reason for wearing them on the opposite hand is the nitrile is very grippy, the whole hand will actually hinder your quilting process and there is just enough on the finger ends to give you the proper amount of grip. Of course it will feel weird at first, that's why I specified nylon. It will take a few wears for the gloves to conform to your hands but they will and it's not nearly as uncomfortable as trying to wear a cotton glove on the wrong hand, the nylon will flex with your hand, the stretching period is for the nitrile.

For the binding clips, try using hair clips, the ones that flex and snap. All the binding clips do is keep your binding straight and anchored to your quilt which is very handy but not necessary to spend that much money on something that looks like a clothespin (which will also work but they slip a bit). 

As for needles and needle threaders your answer to that lies in self-threading needles, I got my stash at the dollar store for a buck for 20 of various sizes. I do recommend having special quilting needles, the short, very sharp ones, you'll need them if you plan on hand sewing your bindings or doing hand piecing or hand applique, just don't fall for all the marketing nonsense. If they are cared for properly one set of the regular plain jane good quality ones will last for quite a few years. 

Hope this read helps you manage your quilting budget a bit:)

Passion in Creation.

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