Do you know the difference between straight of grain and bias when it comes to fabric? Right side and wrong side of fabric? Why pre-wash fabric or not? I’m sure most of you know, but it doesn’t hurt to have a refresher. Here’s some things about fabric you should be familiar with as a quilter.
Selvages are the finished edges of the fabric. Fabrics are woven with threads going lengthwise and crosswise. This is called the grain of the fabric. Fabric has two selvages and measuring from selvage to selvage is referred to as “width of fabric”. The selvages are often marked on one side with the name of the fabric company, designer and other information about the fabric:
And the other side is often blank but still noticeable by the thickness or texture:
When figuring fabric yardage for a project, make sure you consider how much of your fabric width is unusable because of it’s selvage. For my patterns, I assume a usable width of 40″ although a fabric may say it’s 42″ wide. That way, you’re assured to have enough fabric for the project.
2. Grain of the Fabric
The lengthwise grain (warp) of the fabric is parallel to the selvage. This is where the fabric is most stable.
The crosswise grain (weft) is perpendicular to the selvages. It is a little less stable than the lengthwise grain.
It’s important to know this because some patterns will tell you to cut certain pieces on the lengthwise or crosswise grain.
Before rotary cutting became as common as it is today, it was very important to know this because quilt pattern templates were often marked with arrows for placement on the correct grain for cutting. Now, we generally cut all pieces out with a rotary cutter starting with strips cut from the lengthwise or crosswise grain.
Bias of the fabric is at a 45 degree angle from the selvages of a piece of fabric.
On the bias, the fabric is the least stable and has the most stretch to it. That’s why binding cut on the bias is used for quilt tops with scalloped edges or for a circular quilt. Also, any seam sewn on the bias (like in half-square triangle squares) must be handled with care when pressing or ripping out a seam so the fabric is not stretched out of shape. Once fabric is stretched on the bias, it usually stays a bit distorted.
See how stretchy it is on the bias?
I like to cut strips on the bias to make stems for applique projects because I can shape them into curves unlike straight strip stems.
Test it yourself at home on a piece of fabric from your stash.
4. Right Side vs Wrong Side
This is generally easy to determine. The wrong side of the fabric usually has no design on it or it is very faded so you may be able to see a shadow of the design. The wrong side of the fabric is where you will draw sewing lines and other markings required by the pattern.
An exception to this is batik fabrics because they are dyed all the way through. The design on one side may be a little more pronounced that the other, but both sides can be used and often are.
Both sides of solid color fabrics may also be used interchangeably, although one side may have a slight difference in the finish.
For traditional needle-turn applique, you trace template shapes on the right side of the fabric. The traced line is used as a guide as you are turning under the seam to stitch the shape.
5. Pre-wash or not?
The decision to pre-wash your fabric or not is a personal preference. Washing removes excess dye and sizing from the fabric. However, many quilters like to cut unwashed fabric because the sizing creates more stability. Also, fabric dyes over the years have improved to a point where there is not much that bleeds out. If you are unsure if the fabrics you have chose for your quilt will “play nice” once in the quilt top, you may want to pre-wash them all. Reds, purples and dark blues are often the ones you have to worry about.
If you are pre-washing, make sure to separate lights and darks like you do with clothes. Also, if pre-washing a pre-cut like a fat quarter, pink the edges or cut corners off the edges to minimize fraying.
I personally do not pre-wash fabrics. If I want to wash a quilt after it is quilted, I throw it in a cold wash (with soap made for washing quilts) with several color catchers. To date, I have had no problems. But, like I said earlier, if color bleeding is something you worry about, go ahead and pre-wash. Within a project it’s best not to combine pre-washed and not pre-washed fabrics.
6. How much fabric to buy?
Patterns will tell you how much fabric to buy with a list on the cover. Unless the designer lets you know that a bit extra has been added in, it’s a good idea to buy 1/8 to 1/4 yard more, depending on the size of pieces being cut from it. Here’s the back of one of my patterns:
I recommend buying more to allow for cutting errors, fabric shrinkage if you pre-wash or if the fabric you choose has a smaller width than the fabric the designer used in the pattern.
When I write a pattern, I assume 40″ of usable fabric width and I do add in a bit of extra fabric in the amount required. Hopefully with my patterns, you won’t run out of fabric!
That’s it for now. I’d love to hear your thoughts on fabric in the comments below.
Even though I am not a new quilter, I love the hints and tidbits that you provide to quilters. A lot of quilters have no clue! Enjoy reviewing them all the time.
I am getting back to sewing through quilting. My foundational lessons are weak, but this article is a good reminder.
If an average fabric vendor states that a fabric is x” wide, is there an industry standard which means this signifies the *net* fabric (less selvage), or instead the whole thing, *including* selvage? Being new to the world of fabrics, this detail is confusing.
When the fabric company gives you the width, for example 44″ wide, it does include the selvage. That’s why you’ll see width requested by the pattern often referred to as “usable width”. That is also why I assume 40″ usable width when I am figuring how much fabric is needed for my patterns to make sure you as the pattern purchaser has enough fabric, even if you pre-wash it.