Starting A Quilt Project: Fabric Prep

Posted by Jenna Guest on

I am very excited to be publishing my very first blog post containing tips and tricks that I've learned, or picked up from fellow quilters.  This post will cover some basics around fabric prep and getting your fabric ready to cut for the purpose of making a quilt, or a smaller quilted item like a pillow.  So, here we go!

When choosing fabrics for a quilt, there are really no rules.  You can pick any variety of fabrics, such as quilting cotton, flannel, cotton muslin, linen and more.  Experienced quilters can often mix and match fabric composition with excellent results.  I personally choose to stick with one type of fabric for each quilt that I make, which in my case is usually quilting cotton, and the fabric type I will be using as an example for the purpose of this blog post.  Many fabric manufacturers today provide a quality product that is soft, well-made and adheres to strict QC policies that ensure that their fabrics are free of toxins and safe for human use.  (Chemicals and other toxic ingredients that are harmful to humans and the environment have been known to be used in fabric production.  More on that in another post!)

If you're new to the hobby that is collecting fabric to be used "later", AKA the "STASH", welcome to the club!  It's a wonderful place to be.  My stash is much larger than I'll admit to, but it's always where I start my shopping for my next project.  I like to try to work with what I have first, and shop either at a local fabric store or online for the final pieces to make the quilt.  If you're going shopping, bring swatches of what you have already chosen.  It's the best way to ensure that you'll have a great match to your current colors and patterns.  Once I have assembled my lineup, it's time for the next step!  

This next step is a personal preference: to wash or not to wash?  Cotton fabric shrinks after washing.  Most manufacturers state that their fabrics can be expected to shrink between 1-3%.  So, you have two choices.  First, you can prewash your fabrics in cold water, followed by a tumble dry with NO fabric softener, and then iron the fabric flat again before you cut.  Second, you can choose to make the completed quilt, which includes the batting, backing and binding, and wash for the first time after the quilt is complete, in cold water, gentle cycle, tumble dry low or line dry.  The main difference will be in the way the quilt will wear over time.  Many quilters enjoy the deep "crinkles" that waiting to wash the quilt will give you.  My personal preference is to prewash the fabrics.  I like that the finished project will look more predictable, especially after I've put many hours into the quilt blocks and quilting.  I still get a nice "crinkle" after the second wash as well, but not as substantial as with a quilt that has not been pre washed.  

So, we've picked our pattern, chosen our fabrics, decided if we are going to prewash the fabric or not, and now, the next decision to be made is whether or not to starch your fabrics.  Again, this is a personal preference step.  Giving your fabrics a soak in diluted liquid starch, or using a spray starch while you're ironing, can give your fabric extra stability when you are sewing your quilt top together.  If you're working on a pattern with a lot of pieces cut on the bias of the fabric (like triangles), which tend to easily stretch, starching may be a great option for you in order to keep your quilt blocks neat and even (and save your sanity!).  Some people starch their fabric for every quilt project.  My personal preference is not to starch before cutting.  I have considered it in the past, but pinning at small intervals on those particularly challenging pieces has allowed me to get by without it.  It's a risk I take to save some time, but I can definitely see the merit behind taking this step seriously.

Lastly, before you go into cutting, make sure you read your ENTIRE pattern.  Many times, the fabric requirements they give you do not include a lot of extra for mistakes when you're cutting.  Sometimes, the pattern will give you instructions on a specific way to cut your pieces, or if you are using a directional print, like checks or stripes, you might choose to cut those pieces a certain way in order to make them consistent throughout your project.  

Phew!  An entire blog post just on getting your fabric to the "ready to cut" stage.  If you're a beginner, I hope this post helps to familiarize you with the early stages of the quilt making process and answers some of your questions.  If you have a question that is not answered above, please leave a comment and I will do my best to answer it for you.  If you're an experienced quilter, please share your favorite fabric prep methods in the comments.  I'd love to hear from you!





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