Last week’s blog post concentrated on wool fabric. How to pick it out, wash it and use it in a project… among other things. This week, it’s time to talk about cotton quilting fabric that I use to do my wool projects, my fabric appliqué projects and, of course, regular pieced only quilt projects. I will go through things like amount to buy, picking out fabrics (including background fabrics) and pre-washing, fabrics and more! So, let’s get started on the tips.
When you Go to Buy the Fabric
Tip #1: Have your pattern with you if you already purchased it elsewhere. If you pick the pattern up at the store, most quilt patterns will have the fabric requirements on the back. You don’t want to guess what you need, then get home and not have enough. Here’s how the back of one of my patterns looks:
This is convenient so you can walk around the store looking for fabric without opening the pattern.
Always buy a bit more fabric than required. Unless a pattern specifies that the fabric amounts listed already include extra, add about 10% to the amount you buy. For example, if a pattern calls for 1/8 yard, I’ll buy 1/6 of a yard. If it calls for 1/4 yard, I’ll buy 3/8 yard. It never hurts to have a bit extra and you can always use the leftovers to build your stash! Here’s a few reasons why I do this:
- When squaring up the fabric, it’s possible to lose some of the length if the fabric was wound a bit wonky onto the bolt.
- Or if you pre-wash my fabric, there could be shrinkage.
- Finally …. Cutting errors. We all have them!
Tip #2: It’s best to have an idea of what you want your quilt to look like. Do you want it to look exactly like the picture on the pattern or do you want to go your own way? One word of caution… do not expect to find the exact fabric in the quilt shop, unless it’s a very new pattern from a new line or it’s a pattern from some very popular lines that have been re-printed. Many lines are only printed once, so it’s a good idea to search for fabrics based on prints and colors similar to those used for the original quilt. If you are worried about matching fabrics, here’s a fun tip: pick out a fabric you love and definitely want in the quilt and look at the selvage.
See those marks in the selvage? Those are the colors that went into dying this red print fabric. Find fabrics that match those marks and you will find fabrics that coordinate nicely!
Tip #3: Background fabrics are fun to play with because they can change the look of a quilt completely.
Appliqué Quilts: I like to play with backgrounds mostly on quilts with fabric appliqué (like my wool appliqué last week) depending on how I want the fabrics to stand out.
Notice also that for the quilt on the right with the black background fabric, I chose fabrics for the appliqué that are brighter and will contrast more.
Pieced Quilts: The background fabric shouldn’t be an afterthought here either because it’s usually the largest amount of fabric used in the quilt. You also should choose this based on how you want it to contrast with your block fabric. Here’s an example with a darker background and two sets of color prints:
The color prints on the left are a bit darker and will fade into the background more than those on the right. So, you choose the shades of your coordinating fabrics based on how quiet or bold you want your blocks.
Now let’s look at pattern on the background. I chose the following color prints with large prints for this demo:
Now I paired them with 3 different backgrounds of various print size:
The background on the left has a large, bold print that I feel will clash with the prints in the color print fabrics. If you want to use this background, I recommend choosing color prints with less prominent prints. Recognize that the background fabric will be the “star” in your quilt with such a bold print so make sure that is your intention.
The middle photo has background fabric that is a little better with a more subtle and blended print and, finally, the background fabric in the last photo has a smaller print that’s more subtle so it does not clash with the large prints of the color fabrics.
Tip #4: Pre-washing fabric. Is it a required step? That’s entirely up to you the quilter. I do not pre-wash my fabrics because that is my preference. However, here are some pros and cons to think about in your decision making:
• All the fabrics that are going to shrink will shrink so the finished quilt pattern is not ruined by fabrics shrinking differently if you like to wash finished quilts.
• Certain fabrics might bleed, like purples and reds, and transfer to other parts of a quilt when the finished item is washed.
• Chemicals used in the processing of the fabric are removed in pre-washing. Some people are allergic to these chemicals so this is a benefit to them.
• It takes time. The extra steps of washing and ironing adds time to the prep when getting ready to make a quilt.
• It washes out the sizing. Some quilters like this sizing which tends to make the fabric easier to cut. I like the “stiffer” fabric that, for me, seems to cut easier.
• Most of the quality fabrics today do not shrink much and the fabric dyes are much more stable to prevent bleeding. There’s also laundry products, like Shout® Color Catchers, that prevent color transfer.
• Fabric edges fray which can distort the fabric. This will require you to waste more fabric when squaring up.
If you decide to pre-wash your fabric, you can prevent most of the fraying by cutting a corner off the fabric or cutting the non-selvedge edges with pinking shears.
This also works well for fat quarters and fat eighths. For these smaller pieces of fabric, in addition to above, I put them in lingerie bags. This keeps them from getting tangled up with each other.
Be sure to separate lights from darks and wash on a gentle cycle in cold water. I toss the fabrics in the dryer on “air fluff” only for about 10 minutes and then hang the pieces on a drying rack to finish the drying. This cuts down on the wrinkles a bit, that way you can save ironing for when you are ready to cut.
Well, that’s it for this week! Next week, I will talk about some more fabric facts along with cutting tips. Leave me questions or comments below and you will be entered into a drawing for my new pattern, Bountiful.
The drawing will be on Monday, February 14th, so you will have this week and next week to enter! ***We have a winner! Congrats, Shirley!***
Sarah Parks says
Great tips I read them all you can always learn something new you never know it all or I do not
Lisa Alden says
I printed all this info out to keep in my quilting how to file. Thanks for the great tips!
Terri Karasch says
Really enjoyed the tips on choosing background fabric to complement the other fabrics, or vice versa!
Thanks for all the wonderful tips, I struggle with colors, always have…this really helps me. I don’t like to prewash, but have bought vintage pieces that needed prewashing and like your tips to help prevent fraying,
Janice cook says
Good refresher on to wash or not to wash
Donna S says
Thanks for for sharing all your tips.
I have always struggled choosing fabrics… That’s just not something that comes easy to me so I appreciate your visual examples. They help me to see what you mean.
Very informative. Looked up your site because you will be coming to Omaha Quilters Guild in the spring. Great patterns! Hope to see you then.
Brenda in Iowa says
I always enjoy your blog posts. They are so helpful and relevant.
It’s amazing to me the number of people who do not know what the colors are for located on the selvage. I just pointed it out to someone who had been a sewist for a long time – she didn’t know!
Thanks again for your great blog.