Lots of people will give you their list of essential quilting tools. This post is different. This is my list of things to not waste your money on.
I have found, that there's a lot of tools out there that sound great on paper, but fall a little flat when you actually purchase them. Nothing sucks more than paying good money for something only to get it home and realize it's junk. Hopefully, you can learn from my blunders and save your money for the good stuff!
Rotary blade sharpener
These things sound super attractive on face value. Take your dull rotary blade and place it in this device to bring it back to maximum sharpness prolonging the life of the blade. You can do it with your kitchen knives after all, why not your rotary blades?
The way they're supposed to work is that you remove the rotary blade from your cutter handle, place it in between the two grinding discs with a few drops of water, and then rotate it back and forth to polish the blade.
Maybe the idea would work in theory, but in execution; major fail! I think it actually made my rotary blade duller rather than sharper, in addition to chipping the edges making it unusable. Do yourself a favor and just pay the $1-2 to replace your rotary blade when it starts to get dull.
Template plastic, it's thin, flexible sheets of plastic onto which pattern pieces can be transferred and cut out. The idea is that it makes it easier to cut non-standard shapes because you have a more substantial edge to trace your pattern pieces from.
While it's not a replacement for an acrylic ruler (you can still accidentally cut through it with your rotary cutter), it does provide an edge to cut or trace against. But for the price, ~$1-5/sheet, it's not worth it. Most irregular shapes can be cut in other ways. If the shape has straight edges, this technique works really well with rulers you already have. If the shape has curves, cardstock is a much cheaper alternative if you don't want to just cut with paper pattern pieces and a 28 mm rotary cutter.
Specialty seam guide tape
There's lots of versions of this on the market. Almost all of them are different variations of printed washi tape. The idea is that you put this onto the bed of your machine aligned with the needle position and that allows you to sew diagonal seams without marking.
They work great, but at the end of the day, it's just a bit of expensive masking tape. Just use the stuff from the hardware store instead.
Fancy seam rippers
Nobody loves seam ripping, so the thought of a device that makes that process easier sounds great! There are so many different renditions of seam rippers available on the market, including these little electric seam rippers.
They all work, but none is so much better than the standard seam ripper that it's worth the extra money. If you struggle with a standard seam ripper, try a cheap, disposable eyebrow trimmer instead. They only cost about $1 and will keep you from accidentally poking through our cutting your fabric if that tends to happen a lot with a traditional seam ripper.
Rotating cutting mats
These things are sold as a necessity if you're trimming HSTs or other shapes. They're basically just a regular cutting mat equipped with a rotating base so you can spin the cutting mat around without having to pick up your fabric piece. The idea is that you don't have to align your fabric and ruler twice for every piece trimmed making the process faster and more accurate.
In reality, that's only true if you have a ruler perfectly sized to the piece you're trimming. So you can either buy a ruler in every size of square (no thanks), or you have to pick up and realign your ruler even with a rotating cutting mat anyway (dumb). They're stupidly expensive ($30-40) and just not that much of a time saver. I've used mine twice, but mostly it just sits in my basement collecting dust.
If you really want to save time on trimming, switch to using the HST by the strip method instead. It requires no trimming . . . and no expensive additional cutting mat.
Computerized sewing machines
I could go on for hours about the features you need in a sewing machine, but when it comes to quilting, the requirements are actually very simple because all we do is sew straight stitches. There are hundreds of machines on the market ranging from $60 pieces of junk to $10,000 sewing and embroidery machines equipped with lasers, software, and Bluetooth.
If you do other kinds of sewing beyond quilting, some of those features may be worthwhile to you, but if all you want is a reliable machine to piece and free-motion quilt, you don't actually need a computerized machine with 150 different stitches. All you need is a decent-quality mechanical machine that sews a reliable straight stitch. Don't let the sales clerk talk you into something fancier. You can pick up a high-quality machine that will last for about $250. Contrast that with most equivalent quality computerized machines that will cost you at least $600!
Mechanical machines have the advantage of being much easier to maintain and much more durable to tolerate the use and abuse we pedal-to-the-metal quilters put them through.
Most specialty rulers
The quilting industry has a problem with rulers. There are literally thousands on the market and many of them only really have one use or a couple of uses, if you're lucky. That means that quilters end up collecting acrylic rulers like the Tupperware cabinet collects orphan lids.
Don't get me wrong, some of these rulers are super useful, but many of them are not. The rule I have for all my rulers echoes that of Alton Brown, the "Good Eats" chaotic genius (I know, I'm dating myself).
Every ruler I buy needs to be usable for many uses and many different kinds of projects. If it's project or shape-specific, it's not worth it. I will not spend $20-30 bucks on rulers I'm going to use for one quilt project and then sit in my basement collecting dust or cluttering up my sewing room.
Here are a few of the multitasking rulers that are allowed in my sewing room. All others stay out!
Standard 6 1/2" x 24 1/2" ruler with 30, 60, and 45 degree line markings - for cutting yardage down.
Standard 12 1/2" square ruler with diagonal markings - for cutting larger blocks without the cumbersomeness of a long ruler.
Standard 6 1/2" x 12 1/2" ruler - for cutting and trimming smaller pieces.
Stripology XL - I use this at the beginning of pretty much every project.
60 degree shape ruler - For cutting hexagons, gems, equilateral triangles, and half recs. (I sew enough of these designs to make it worthwhile.)
Circle Savvy - for cutting circles of all dimensions. This thing is useful for almost any pattern with curves.
Add a Quarter - a must if you do FPP for trimming up the seam allowance as you sew fabric to your templates. Worth it if you do a lot of FPP.
With that set of rulers, I can tackle pretty much any project I'm interested in.