Since fabric is essential to quilting, I wanted to talk about things like choosing fabric, caring for fabric and cutting tips. I talk about this and other fabric facts in this post. Since fabric is so expensive, you want to make sure you have the right fabric for your project and that you know how to care for it while it’s in your stash. There are things to do before you shop and after you shop. So let’s get started!
Before Heading to the Quilt Shop
I don’t get a chance to head to a quilt shop more than 3 to 4 times a year, so before I go I like to have an idea of what I am after. Here’s good tip: inventory your stash before you go to the shop. There have been times where I have returned from the quilt shop with a piece of fabric already in my stash. I guess I really liked it!
If you have a project you are planning to get fabric for, I suggest making “test” blocks from scrap fabric in your stash.
In the above photo, you can see I have a block that was in a project I was planning. I pulled scraps from my stash to audition color choice. If you don’t want to make your quilt project in the same colors as the designer, this is a good way to decide on your color scheme prior to heading out to the shop. You can then use these blocks to make mini quilt gifts for friends or family. Candle mats, oven mitts, whatever!
At the Quilt Shop
One question that I am asked often is: “Should I buy more fabric than is noted on the pattern?” The answer is not 100% yes. Here’s my advice. If the project you are shopping for is from a designer who’s patterns you have made often and you have never run out of fabric, then trust the fabric amounts they list on the pattern. If the pattern and designer are new to you and you are not sure they figure extra fabric into their fabric requirements, add a little extra if it makes you comfortable. Here are the reasons you may need extra fabric:
- 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 like to pre-wash your the fabric, there could be shrinkage.
- Finally …. cutting errors. We all have them!
After deciding how much fabric you need, stack bolts of fabric (or precuts) in a well lit area of the shop to see if the fabrics “play well” together. If you are not sure about what colors look good together here’s a tip. Once you pick out a bolt you like, look at the selvage:
Those little icons printed on the fabric are the different colors use in the printing of this fabric. Use those to find additional bolts of fabric in those colors for coordination. They don’t have to be from the same line of fabric either!
Finally, if you really like a piece of fabric and think you will use it in other projects, get it now. Fabric companies turn over lines of fabric constantly and don’t often reprint a line unless it is super popular. Also, even if a fabric is reprinted, your favorite shop may not choose to carry it again if they decide to buy newer lines.
When You Get Home
Pre-wash or not?
I fall in the “not” category. I find that the fabric is easier to cut without washing because the fabric retains the sizing it came with. I also like that “antique” look when the quilt is washed after quilting. So, here’s some pros and cons below to ponder in making your decision. Keep in mind this is not a complete list, just things I consider the most important when making my decision.
- Pre-washing Pros:
• All the fabrics that are going to shrink will shrink so the finished quilt and pattern will not be ruined by fabrics shrinking differently.
• 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.
- Pre-washing Cons:
• 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 want to pre-wash fabric and are worried about fraying here’s a tip: you can prevent most of the fraying by cutting a corner off the fabric or cutting the non-selvedge edges with pinking shears.
When You Are Ready to Cut
Finally, before you cut your pieces from the fabric, here are a few tips.
First: Read the pattern and find all the pieces that need to be cut from each fabric and plan your cutting. In my patterns, the pieces to be cut from each fabric are all listed at the beginning of the pattern and listed from largest piece to smallest:
Some patterns do not list everything at the beginning of the pattern, so that’s why I recommend you read the pattern first before you begin to cut.
Second: Be sure to square up the piece of fabric prior to cutting. Squaring up your piece of fabric is a very important step that should not be skipped. Especially if you are cutting long strips that you will sub-cut into smaller pieces. If you start with a distorted strip, all the pieces you cut from that strip can be off in their measurements. These is even more important if you are making strip sets and sub-cutting those. You need to square up fabric because when it is rolled onto the bolt by the manufacturer, the fabric is folded and the selvage ends of the fabric can shift in the process. In the photo below the strip on the left was cut from the fabric before it was squared (note how it bows away from the line on the cutting mat) and the strip on the right was cut after.
If you do not know how to square up your fabric, I have a mini tutorial video showing the process here:
I hope that video was useful to you! Now you are ready to start cutting your fabric and getting to work on your newest quilt project. Let me know if you have any questions or comments. I will draw a name from those of you who comment to win a copy of my newest pattern, Trinkets.
Just about all the pieces in this pattern are cut from strips and strip sets that require your fabric to be squared, so you will get a lot of practice! The drawing will be on Monday August 16th. Good luck! ***We have a winner! Congrats, Susan!***
Thank you for the quilt tips. The vido was helpful to show me how to square up my fabric. I will definitely try it with my next project.
Charlene Spurlock says
The suggestion to make a test block is something I’m going to start doing.
Thanks for all of your suggestions. I look forward to your blog. I am just finishing your stacked sheep pattern and can’t wait to get it hung. I have to figure out how to quilt it first….not my strong point.
Hi! I’m glad you’re enjoying making the Stack O’ Sheep pattern. I’ve quilted a lot of my wool appliqué by hand with a big primitive stitch using Perle cotton.
Thanks so much for all the great suggestions. Very helpful. And I really like new Trinkets pattern!
Tammy Earl says
Thanks for the pros and cons on prewashing. I’m not a pre-washer either. And it sounds like fabric manufacturers are trying to help us save time with your con #3.
PS – I just found your site and am looking forward to more of your tips, ideas and patterns! I also just love the addition of applique to a pieced quilt.
Beautiful new pattern! The shout Color Catchers do work well. I prefer not to prewash but didn’t know the tip about clipping the corner to keep from fraying.
Gayle Shumaker says
Thanks for all the tips and tutorials. Even though I’ve been quilting for years I have found new information in your posts.
Carol Porter says
Your posts are very helpful, even after quilting for 10 years! Thank you!
Cathy B says
At the quilt store I always waiver on how much to buy. More is better leaves me with a stash getting bigger and bigger. Thanks for the good advice and ideas
Regina Bohannon says
These are great tips. I’m a fairly experienced seamstress (no one uses that term anymore, do they?) but a beginner quilter, so I appreciate anything that keeps me from forming bad habits from the start. Thank you!! I love your designs!
Maria Zook says
I have just found your blog and really appreciate the tips and videos. The reminder on how to hold the rotary cutter caught my attention. It is so easy to get carelss and I had never really thought about how much it matters.
Gayle Wigley says
Just found your blog, I do the squaring up the same way you do, nice to see confirmation of my method!