Since I covered how I cut up my fabrics and store them in previous blog posts, I thought I would talk more about fabrics this week. What to look for when you are shopping for fabric, what to do with it once you are home from the quilt shop and other useful (I think!) information. Hopefully this post doesn’t seem too random, but sometimes that’s how my mind works… I’ll be working on something and it’ll inspire me to share tips! So here we go…
Picking Out Fabric
When you purchase a pattern, you can choose the fabric that you see on the pattern cover. Often a pattern is featured in a shop with a new line of fabric, so it’s all there for you to buy. But, what happens if you come across that pattern once the original fabric is gone? That’s what my tips are for!
Tip #1: Choose fabric for the quilt based on the color instead of sticking to a particular line. If the pattern uses a particular fabric, but it’s no longer there, look for one that is the same shade of that color (or close to it) and with the same scale of print. Here’s an example:
Imagine that the orange print used in the quilt block on the left is no longer available in the quilt shop. The orange fabric on the right, would make a good substitution. The scale of the print is close in size and the shade of orange is close to the original also. Compare it to these other pieces of fabric:
These orange fabrics are a darker shade of orange than the one in the block and the prints are of a larger scale, so I probably wouldn’t choose these as a substitute. I’m not saying you can’t use one of these, you can. It will just change the look of your block a little more than the first fabric I suggested.
Tip #2: All your fabric choices do not have to be from the same line of fabric. Of course there’s nothing wrong with making a quilt using the fabrics from the same line. If you are a beginner staying within one line is actually a good way to pick out fabric. But if you want to be adventurous, you can venture out and choose color prints from several different fabric lines while staying in the same genre (1800 reproductions, 30s fabrics, Batiks, etc) and still have a harmonious quilt. To match fabrics, consider using the color guide on the selvage on your favorite fabric for your project.
If your piece of fabric doesn’t have this on the selvage, look at the colors in the print itself and use that as a guide to find a match.
Tip #3: Always buy more fabric than stated on the pattern. If I am buying yardage from the bolt, I generally buy 1/8 to 1/4 yard more than I need to allow for squaring the fabric and possible cutting errors. It’s also a good idea to have extra if you are a fabric pre-washer.
Tip #4: Venture out from the typical background to have some fun. If your quilt calls for 2 yards of a tan print for background of blocks, consider buying 4 half yards or 8 quarter yards of coordinating tans to make up that 2 yards. Then you can use different backgrounds with the variety of color print pairings for blocks to make a scrappy background. That’s what I did in my quilt, Seaside Cottage:
It will take a little math, but it’s worth it for the effect! Here’s the whole quilt:
As you can see from the whole quilt, there’s an added dimension with the scrappy backgrounds. You can also go in an entirely new direction by doing a dark background for a pattern that has a light one originally. I tried this out on my pattern, Bloomin’ Days:
If you are going to switch from a light to a dark background, be sure your color prints have enough contrast from the darker background to stand out.
Once You’re at Home
Once you are at home with your fabric, it’s time to decide if you will pre-wash it or not. There are pros and cons for pre-washing. I personally am not a pre-washer, but you can decide for yourself what you’d like to do.
• 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.
Pre-washing is easier with yardage from the bolt, less chance of fraying. If you are wanting to pre-wash fat quarters or fat eighths, you can prevent fraying and unraveling by cutting a snip off the corners or cutting the edges with pinking shears.
Also, I recommend putting these pre-cuts in lingerie bags to help reduce the chances of fraying.
If you pre-wash, I recommend pressing those fabrics prior to folding for storing to cut down on the amount of pressing you will need to do when it’s time to use them.
So that’s all I have for this week. I hope you are inspired to go shopping for your next quilt and feel like you can be creative in picking out fabrics. Remember, there are no quilt police… there are no hard and fast rules for fabrics used in your quilt. If a piece of fabric “speaks” to you and plays well with the other fabrics you’ve chosen, that’s all that matters. We’re artists, right?
Leave a comment or ask questions below and I will enter you into a drawing for my quilt pattern, Seaside Cottage (as seen above). The drawing will be on Monday, May 8th. Good Luck! **We have a winner! Congrats, Marilyn!**
As always, great info. Thx.
Thank you for your tips! I learned the hard way to always buy extra fabric. That also lets me make a trial block. I then use those blocks to make another quilt. With different blocks I in the quilt I can see all the quilts I have made.
Debbie Keno says
Thanks for the tips! I very much like the suggestion of mixing the background fabrics for a scrapper look.
All your tips are worth their weight in gold. Makes for more accurate cutting and piecing. Thanks
Mary Markert says
Thank you for all the great info!
Great tips! I’ve washed yardage in the past and all I can remember is a tangled, stringy mess. 😅 Spent wasted time cutting off all those strings and then ironing. Now I starch my fabric. I love using a scrappy background. Adds alot of interest.
Julie DeBower says
All excellent tips for any quilter beginner to advanced!
Debbie Miller says
I really appreciate all the tips, my favorite being the scrappy background one. I too always buy extra fabric when following pattern requirements(just in case). I am not usually a pre washer either but my tip for washing small scraps, especially gifted ones that might have smoke or pet odors is to wash by hand in the sink. I sort by color and fill the sink with hot water and a little detergent. I let soak for a few minutes and then swish around, drain and rinse well-don’t wring out. I usually just place on a towel until damp dry and then starch and iron completely dry.
Very good tip on washing fabrics that are already cut and are gifted to you. They definitely need to be handled carefully to preserve the amount of usable fabric.
Donna S says
I’m not a pre-washer of fabrics but great tips. New one for me was clipping the corner off.
Gail S says
I don’t usually prewash my fabrics, but I do like the idea of clipping the corners. I appreciate your tips on choosing fabric. I tend to forget to keep a similar scale when switching out fabrics in a pattern. Thanks for the reminder.
Karla Larkin says
I don’t prewash either. I appreciate all the ideas. Look forward to your emails.
Jenedel Wilcox says
I don’t prewash new fabric, but a few years ago a friend gave me some vintage fabric that had been in an attic and was full of dirt. I used a salad spinner to wash these small pieces of fabric. Worked great. I pressed them while damp.
Wow! Interesting idea. Definitely there is a need to be careful with vintage fabric. I think you found a good solution.
Ann Roberson says
I rarely think to buy extra yardage. Do you ever starch before cutting?
Because I don’t pre-wash, I do not starch before cutting as a rule. If I am pressing a large piece of fabric prior to cutting I sometimes use some Best Press. Starching before cutting does add a bit more stability to the fabric though for easier cutting, especially if you pre-wash and remove the manufacturer’s sizing.
Brenda Russo says
All good information to know, especially about color.
I just learned the hard way not to pre wash pre cuts. I gently washed a layer cake and it shrunk 1/2 in one direction only. I needed to cut 5″squares so had to purchase a new layer cake. Beautiful fabric though, so I won’t mind using the smaller pieces in another project.
I would definitely be careful washing pre-cuts if you need the whole length and width of the piece. Pre-washing fabric works better with yardage when you have a bit extra.
Great tips. I used to pre-wash but what a pain. I haven’t in a long time but appreciate all the tips on pre-washing hand me down fabric.