Then, I went to my first quilting show. Oh my. Oh my. I saw so many tools, I ended up more confused than ever. There were so many goodies, I was paralyzed with indecision and didn't buy anything! Yup, that was me, this country gal staring at 400 vendor booths cram-packed with great stuff and I couldn't decide!!!
Five years later, after talking to a lot of other quilters, taking a few classes, buying way too many gadgets I have winnowed it down to my favorites.
Disclaimer: these lists and products are certainly not exhaustive, only those that I have used and I am not associated with any of these companies, just a satisfied customer.
If I had to chose one single tool it would be my Itty Bitty from Off the Edge Quilting
I have used this on every custom quilt I have ever done. In fact, I bought a second one just in case I lost or broke this one. I keep it on top of my machine. That way, it is always right there when I need it!
In addition to all my stitch in the ditch, both curved sides work well for continuous curve like these baby blocks.
Here I used all 4 sides: the straight for the ditching, the small curve for the squares, and the longer side for the triangles.
Here is a set of 8.5, 6.5, and 4.5 inch circles that seem to take care of lots of other curves. I rarely use them for a "circle", but use the edge to stitch a deep curve.
I used the edge of the 8.5 inch circle in this block.
These are the other 2 rulers I use the most. They are made by The Gadget Girls.
I like rulers that have grid marks so you can stitch a line, move the ruler a 1/4 inch, 1/2 inch or more and then echo your original stitch.
Here is an example of using the large curve in this manner for 1/4 " crosshatching.
Spacing them an inch apart gives you this look with the same ruler.
These brown borders were also done with this ruler.
For an even larger arc, I love Deloa's Boomerangs. I have the 20 inch.
I used it here for these large arcs . . .
. . . and for the large arcs on this quilt.
The wavy ruler is my go-to tool when I need to mark a border with even, undulating curves.
School chalk is my favorite tool to mark my quilts--if possible. Here is an example of a border marked with the smaller, deeper side. Once marked with chalk, then I put the ruler away and freehand the design evenly all the way around the border.
This green border is marked with the larger, more shallow side then filled with feathers in groups of three.
You must have an extended base for to make these rulers work. Mine is a Hartly. Each brand of machine has different extended bases that fit.
Hartly Extended Base
As you can see, any of the rulers, even the Itty Bitty, is almost impossible to use without the extra support the extension offers. This is going to wobble and be very unstable.
With the base you have complete support for your rulers 360 degrees around your hopping foot.
Pantographs: I found a lady in Oregon that was selling all her pantos and getting a computerized machine. I bought all her pantographs for half price. Some I have never used, some I have used a lot. Four years later, I find that the ones I use the most are kids, masculine and patriotic.
Three I would not want to be without are:
"Allegiance" by Kristin Hoftyzer
"Square Spiral" by Keryn Emmerson
"Hurricane" by Kristin Hoftyzer
Here are a few sites I have ordered pantographs from in the past:
I rarely use stencils. They are very time consuming, and very few customers want that kind of detail on their quilts.
I find I can use a star, a horse or other misc. piece of a stencil for certain blocks on my quilts. But I rarely use the whole stencil. Stencils are sized to fit in certain sized blocks and I they just hardly ever fit in the quilts that come my way. Here is an example of a long horn I used from a western stencil. Then I just put a freehand "lasso" above the horns.
I like to use the purple Marvy Erasable Farbric Markers to mark the stencil pattern on the fabric. These are air-dry markers that simply disappear after about 24-48 hours here in Idaho. With more humidity, they will probably disappear sooner.
There, that's probably more than you wanted to know! A friend of mine asked, and I would have loved to have some one take the time to share this with me when I was just learning to quilt. Keep in mind, what I know would fit in a teacup compared to all the wonderful information that is available. YouTube has a lot of how-to quilting videos that will demonstrate tools and techniques.
Last, but not least: Our minds and our own creativity are the best tools any of us will ever have.