If you asked Santa for a longarm quilting machine this year, you’d better start getting prepared. You know Santa always comes through! To help you, I’m sharing my quilter’s essential toolbox so you’ll have everything you need to get started finishing all those quilt tops that are waiting. Note : the items with an * are included with your machine, all others are optional.

Mary Beth Krapil tool tray

This is an aerial view of my Handi Quilter tool tray. It sits on a shelf that is right next to my HQ Gallery frame. Since I’ve been quilting for a LONG time, it is the old style of tool tray with fixed compartments. The new HQ Tool Tray 2 has customizable compartments that you can arrange to fit your favorite tools. Maybe I should write to Santa and ask for one of those?

I keep the things I use most, while quilting, in this tray so that they are right there at hand.

Zinger and Scissors

MBK Zinger

My zinger with small scissors is clipped to the end of the tray. I clip it to my shirt while quilting so I can easily trim threads as I go. The little sock on the scissor point is a tool borrowed from the knitting world. It is meant to go on the point of a knitting needle to keep your stitches from falling off. On my scissors, it keeps the point from poking me.

Measuring tapes, USB, and tools

MBK measure and tools

I have two kinds of tape measure, a metal carpenter’s tape measure and a cloth retractable tape measure. They are used to measure my tops and backing before loading. I also need to measure and cut the proper size batting. Another tape measure I use is a quilter’s zero center measuring tape mounted with command strips on my leveler bar. More about that in another blog post. Stay tuned!

The USB stick holds my Pro-Stitcher designs.

There is a small jewelers screw driver* for adjusting bobbin tension. Also a small pink flat head screwdriver for removing the sole plate when cleaning. The black handled tool is a 2.5mm hex wrench* for changing needles and feet. If you look closely you can see an old fashioned wire needle threader. I seldom use this, but it’s there just in case.

Seam ripper and Versa tool

MBK seam ripper

Sadly, everyone needs a seam ripper. Nothing else needs to be said.

The Versa Tool is a great go-to template/ruler for those times when you just need a bit of a straight line or a nice smooth curve. It has 4 pieces of Handi Grip on the back to prevent slipping. I have a bunch more rulers and keep them in a couple of different places. The ones I use most are in a slotted wooden holder that my sweet hubby made for me. It sits on a low shelf at the other end of my frame. The rest are in plastic storage containers.

Marking tools, Oil, and batting squares

MBK marking

I keep a few marking tools close at hand. A water soluble pen, a Panda pencil, a white ceramic mechanical pencil, a piece of school chalk and a FriXion pen. Each of these gets used in different situations. I’ll write a post on marking tools soon. In the meantime, just remember: follow the manufacturer’s instructions and TEST to make sure the marks will come out.

There’s my oil – one drop on the bobbin race, after cleaning the lint, with each bobbin change. And some squares of batting to clean tracks and wheels before I start a new project.

Sure foot and Glide foot

MBK feet

These are the two feet I use the most. The Sure foot is a foot with an extra high side profile that offers extra insurance when using rulers. I never want to hit a ruler with my needle! My Sure foot combined with keeping good control of my ruler as I quilt will prevent that from happening.

The Glide foot is a curved bowl-like foot that will glide over open seams, extra thick seam allowances and never flip the edge of my quilt if I stitch off the edge and then back on again. It is perfect for pantograph work or stitching with Pro-Stitcher. I love using all the other accessory feet too. The Couching feet, the Echo feet, the Square feet, the open toe foot* are all great and have special uses. Check out my HQ Live presentation for more ideas about the optional feet.  I keep my other feet in a drawer next to my frame.

Batting scissors and a ruler

My HQ batting scissors are my go-to for cutting batting off the roll. I also trim excess batting away and square up my quilt backs using the batting scissors. The off-set handles are perfect for these tasks.

I keep a 12 inch ruler handy for measuring and marking guidelines. It helps keep my designs evenly spaced and perfectly aligned. It’s more handy to grab than my measuring tapes for smaller jobs.

Brushes and carriage tool

I like to use small inexpensive paint brushes for cleaning lint from the bobbin area. Since I have an Infinity, there are wires and such in the area, so I want to be precise and careful in my cleaning. I purchase in big sets at the dollar store and when they get yucky, I throw them away.

That funny looking black tool is used to manually release the carriage from Pro-Stitcher if needed in situations like a power outage. I have never used it in 5 years. Maybe I can stash that in a drawer?

Needles and bobbins and spare bobbin case

MBK bobbins

I have an assortment of needle* sizes since I use all kinds of different threads and you should always use the correct size needle for the thread you are using. “A new needle for every quilt” is my motto. The white container is for used needles. When it gets full, I tape it shut and toss it; then start a new one.

I have a few pre-wound bobbins and some empty metal bobbins* at the ready. My pre-wound of choice is Super Bobs from Superior Threads. They contain a ton of Bottom Line #60 polyester thread, so much thread, they last a long time! The rest of my bobbins are stored in HQ Bobbin Boxes. We have a new bobbin storage tool that was introduced at Houston, the HQ bobbin tree. I think I need to add one of those to my letter to Santa!

bobbin sign

Everyone needs a spare bobbin case. If the bobbin case gets damaged, dropped, out of round, loses the backlash spring, you can no longer quilt. I never want to be up against a deadline and find myself needing a new bobbin case.  So I have a spare. It’s a great insurance policy.

Towa Guage

Speaking of bobbins, I check each and every bobbin for proper tension with a TOWA bobbin tension gauge. This is not a necessity, but it sure takes the guesswork out of adjusting bobbin tension. I bought mine from Superior Threads, they have a great price!

Mirror, magnifying glass, lint brush and flashlight

MBK mirror

The mirror and flashlight lets me see the stitches on the back of the quilt without crawling on the floor. I go to the back of the frame, hold the mirror slightly under the quilt, shine the light on the mirror which reflects up onto the back of the quilt, and I can check on the stitches.

The magnifying glass helps me check my stitches when I’m adjusting tension. It is especially helpful if I am quilting with white thread on white fabric or black on black. I can really see what is happening with the stitches. Sometimes the flashlight gets put into play for this as well.

Quilting is a dirty business. Lint and threads everywhere! and can be cleaned up with a swipe of this handy lint brush. I can also remove chalk efficiently with this brush.

Machine cover and super clamps

MBK toaster cover

You may have noticed the long white things next to my tool tray. These are super clamps. I can quickly attach or take off a practice piece using these clamps. Originally designed for the Littlefoot frame, they fit around the poles of my frame and hold a quilt sandwich in place. I always like to have a practice piece on my frame when I am not quilting a quilt so that I can perfect new designs or just get in a little stitching time whenever I want. They are available in 2 sizes for the Studio(2) frame and the Gallery(2) frame. These are a must have for a beginner. Practice is the way you will become a good quilter. Practice every day!

And folded on my frame at the end, is my machine cover. I made a cover to go over my machine when it’s not in use. I travel and teach quite a bit so my machine stays cozy and dust free while I’m gone.

One thing that I don’t have in my tool tray is channel locks. I use the channel locks built in on my Pro-Stitcher. If you are not a Pro-Stitcher quilter, you will want a set of channel locks to be able to quilt perfect straight lines, e.g. the plumb line stitched across backing and batting to line up your quilt top perfectly straight.

So there you have it. My quilter’s essential toolbox kept all neat and right at hand in my tool tray. I hope this gives you some idea of the tools that are used by longarm quilters so you can be ready when Santa shows up to set up your new machine. Happy Holidays!

Hey, experienced longarm quilters! What are your favorite tools? Please share in the comments.


by Mary Beth Krapil