Last week we talked about how much fabric to buy and the pros and cons of washing fabric. If you missed that installment, find it here: Quilt Fabric Talk – Tips and Such. This week I’ll continue with some “fabric 101″… things all quilters should know about the fabric they’ve chosen for their project.
Remember last week when we talked about how much fabric to buy? To make sure you get the appropriate amount, you need to understand what the fabric selvage is and how it effects how much usable fabric you have
A selvage is the finished edge 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 typically blank but still noticeable by a difference in texture or thickness:
The fabric between the selvages is often referred to as “usable width of fabric” by many designers, including me. When figuring fabric yardage for a project, make sure you consider how much your chosen fabric width is unusable because of the selvages. Since many fabrics can vary in usable width from manufacturer to manufacturer, I assume 40″ of usable fabric when I design my patterns. This is a safe number because I have yet to find a fabric that has less than 40″ of usable width. Some fabrics will have 42″ and some may have 44″ so by assuming only 40″ usable width when you are shopping, you are assured to have enough fabric.
Grain and Bias of Fabric
It’s a good idea to understand the grain of the fabric and bias so you know how a fabric will behave in a unit or block you are creating. Even if you are an experienced quilter or sewer, it doesn’t hurt to review this. Here we go!
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.
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 distorted.
See how stretchy it is on the bias?
I also cut strips on the bias of the fabric when I need to make stems for applique. The stems I make from these strips are more pliable so I can achieve prettier curves in my applique motif. Here’s an example of using bias strips for stems:
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 a faded version of the design on the front. The wrong side of the fabric is where you will draw sewing lines and other markings required by the pattern, except when tracing applique templates for traditional hand needle-turn applique. Those are traced on the right side of the fabric.
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.
Here is what most fabric looks like right side and wrong side:
And here is an example of a Batik fabric. Both sides are basically the same.
Both sides of solid color fabrics may also be used interchangeably, although one side may have a slight difference in the finish.
So now you either know more than you ever wanted to about fabric or you have learned something you didn’t know. Whatever it is for you, I hope this helps you in your quilting.
There’s still time to enter the drawing for my pattern Seaside Cottage!
Leave a comment below on today’s topic and you’ll be entered in the drawing for the pattern! The drawing will be on Monday, July 6th.