Among the questions I get from quilters, these come up often: what is a directional print fabric and how do I use them? Directional fabrics do present a challenge and, many times, quilters will shy away from using them. But don’t be afraid of using these types of fabric. It can actually be fun to play with directional prints. Either to have them all go in the same direction or not, generally done in a scrap quilt. In this post I will show you how to use these prints when making units with straight seams and also making units with bias seams, like half-square triangle (HST) squares and flying geese. This week I’ll talk about the straight seams and the HSTs. Next week, I’ll cover flying geese. So, let’s get started!
What is a Directional Print Fabric
Let’s start by defining this. A fabric has a directional print, sometimes referred to as a “one-way” print, when there is a clear up or down to the pattern on the fabric. Here are a couple of examples of that.
As you can see above, the pattern goes in one direction. It’s especially evident in the fabric on the left. Compare these fabrics to the ones below.
The design on the above fabrics are considered not directional because which ever way you turn the fabric, it looks the same. You can see it clearly in the fabric on the right. The “starburst” design is symmetrical and looks the same no matter which direction you turn it.
There can be one-way, two-way, three-way and even four-way directional designs. If I use a directional fabric and want the design to all go in the same direction within the block, I try to stick with a directional fabric that isn’t too complicated.
Using Directional Fabrics
Using these fabrics takes planning when you are cutting the pieces for your unit or block. The first example I will show you is a unit made up of a square and bordering strips. This the easiest to do because you are working with straight seams. Here’s the fabric I chose for this example:
As you can see, the solid lines with stars runs in one directions. If I were just to cut all the pieces to frame the center square (see below), from the same 1 1/2″ strip, here’s how it would look:
Notice with the strips on the sides the print runs vertically and with the strips on the top and bottom the print runs horizontally. In a scrap quilt, with a lot of different units made from different fabrics, this unit would be just fine. In fact, scrap quilts are usually what I like to call a “chaos” of fabrics and prints and this would add to the fun.
However, if you want the print to go all in the same direction, here’s what you do. Cut the longer side rectangles from the 1 1/2″ strip – in this case, the rectangles need to be 1 1/2 x 4 1/2″. As you can see in the first photo, the print is vertical. To get the top and bottom rectangles, which each measure 1 1/2 x 2 1/2″, to have the print vertical, cut a strip from your fabric for these pieces 2 1/2″ wide and then cut 1 1/2″ segments for 1 1/2 x 2 1/2″ rectangles. (see the last two photos below)
So now when you lay the pieces out around the square, the stripe of the fabric is all running in the same direction.
Below are the pieces to make 4 HSTs. Lay them out as shown and then lay the tan print face down on the color print. Stitch diagonally a scant 1/4″ on each side of the diagonal center from the same direction on both square sets (see where my finger is pointing).
Once you cut the units apart and press open, you will get 4 HSTs where, no matter how they are arranged, the directional tan print will not go in the same direction. As you can see, the print on the blue fabric is also a directional and I can use the same steps to make sure that design goes all in the same direction.
Now, repeat the above step but stitch one set of squares diagonally in the opposite direction of the other:
Here’s the seam stitched and the result.
As you can see, both directional fabrics are going in the same direction in the above pinwheel.
Now, use these two examples to make a churn dash block, which has straight seams and bias seams, where the directional prints are all going in the same direction.
I hope the above examples gives you a bit more confidence when working with directional prints. Yes it does add an extra step in creative cutting or stitching, but if you are someone who wants prints to flow in the same directions I think it’s worth the time.
Leave a comment below and be in the drawing for my pattern, Country Dance, which can give you a lot of practice with directional prints if you choose!
The drawing will be on Monday, March 29th so you have two weeks to enter! **We have a winner… Congrats, June!**
Chris Day says
Great info. I feel every blog gives new or better info!
Love reading your blogs. They are very helpful.
I’ve always stayed away from directional fabrics, but this helps. Thanks!
Terri W says
This wiill come in handy next time I use a stripe! Thanks for sharing your knowledge!
Gail S says
Directional fabrics can be a fun challenge. Thanks for your tips and ideas.
Donna Hanneman says
Thanks for all the great information!
Debbie Forsberg says
I’ve always cut directional fabrics scrappy. I’ll be giving this a try soon! Many thanks!
Great information! Thanks for sharing all of your helpful tips on working with directional prints!
June Alton says
Very helpful information. Thanks for the helpful tips.
Beryl BC says
Thanks for the information. I’m getting ready to start working on a churn dash quilt so this will come in handy.
Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom of sewing!