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Your Fabric Questions Answered

Written by Mary Nelson Zadrozny
© 2007-2011 Just Imagine Design & Publications
"What kind of fabric should I purchase for quilting?"
The first consideration in choosing fabric for a quilt project is will this quilt ever be washed? The general rule is if you will be washing the quilt, it is best to use 100% cotton fabrics. Combining similar weight and type of fabrics in one project will wash and wear better. If you are making a wall quilt, art quilt or other project that you are sure you will never want to wash, then you can use just about any type of fabric. Keep in mind that if you use a water soluble pen or pencil to mark your quilting guidelines, you will need to rinse your quilt to remove those lines afterwards. (Follow the manufacturer's directions for the product you use.)

The second consideration is the quality of the fabric. Using the best quality fabrics you can afford will make your quilt last longer and once you've put a lot of time and effort into a project, you don't want it falling apart. Using good quality fabrics will also make your quilting project go much smoother. I've had students in classes bring fabric in that was so crooked and warped that it was very frustrating for them to work with. Local quilt shops and reputable on-line stores are the best place to purchase good quality fabrics. Keep in mind you may see fabrics that look very similar in discount fabric stores, however they can be different in their thread count, dye process or may be "seconds" containing flaws.

The third point in purchasing quilting fabric is ease of handling. Beginning quilters will have a much easier time starting out with cotton fabrics until they get some experience. Silks, poly-blends, velvets and other fabrics have special considerations and can be more difficult to work with. Thick fabrics like those used for home decorating and upholstery should be avoided especially if you plan on hand quilting.

Quilt stores have expert salespeople who can help you pick out supplies and fabric for your projects. To find a local quilt shop in your area, check your telephone directory under "Quilt Shops" or "Fabric Stores" or try some of these store locators:
Google Maps You can search for "quilt shops" near any location. This is also a great tool for locating shops when you travel.
Quilt Shop Directory Quilt Shop Guide by State
Quilt Shop Locator Quilt Woman Store Locator
Quilt Shop Locator Quilt Professionals Quilt Shop Directory

Before heading out to a new store, be sure to call first in case they have closed or changed their hours of operation.

"How much fabric should I buy?"
That depends on the situation. When purchasing fabric for a specific project, I try to buy a little extra than what the pattern calls for. This is to make sure I have enough if it was cut crooked or if I make a cutting error. It is much better to have leftover fabric then to run out of fabric that is no longer available. Many fabrics are produced in limited production; what you see one week may be gone the next. Often you will hear quilters say "The best time to buy fabric is when you see it." Another point to keep in mind is when buying one-way directional prints, always purchase additional yardage to accommodate any special cutting steps you may need to do so that your fabric is going in the right direction. You can see an example of this in the peace & love fabric used in Peace of Your Heart Quilt Version #1. I had to specially cut the border fabric so that the peace signs, words and doves were all going in the same direction.

When purchasing fabric with no particular project in mind, it depends on your budget, what size projects you normally work on, and the possible use of the fabric. For a fabric that you think would make a great backing, purchase enough yardage for a backing in the size quilt you normally make. If you enjoy making scrappy looking quilts with lots of different fabrics or miniature quilts, then purchasing small amounts such as fat quarters would be best for you.

"What is a Fat Quarter?"
For normal 44" wide fabrics, if you were to cut a regular 1/4 yard, you would end up with a long narrow strip 9" x 44". For some quilting projects, that may be perfect for your needs. But many quilters prefer a fat quarter which is a half yard of fabric cut on the fold to get a piece measuring 18" x 22". It is still a quarter of a yard, but it is cut in a different way.

Another great thing about Fat Quarters is that stores and quilt show vendors will often have an assortment of them precut so you can quickly pick out the ones you want without waiting in line for them to be cut.

"What do Jelly Rolls, Bali Pops, Layer Cakes and Honey Buns have to do with quilting?"
Sorry for anyone who thought food was required for quilting but as delicious as these sound, they refer to non-edible fabric terms. The good news is that they have NO calories! Actually, in recent years several of the fabric companies have come out with different precut fabric strips with these catchy names to promote their various collections. Layer Cakes, for example, are Moda's 10" squares. For a comprehensive list, QuiltBug has great listing see Jelly Roll et al.

"How do I prepare fabric to use in a quilt project?"
When I first started quilting 25 years ago, the general rule was to prewash all fabrics before beginning a quilt. The purposes of prewashing are; to preshrink the fabric, remove any sizing or stiffness and to check for the possibility of color "bleeding" (dyes that are not set that continue to release and can discolor your quilt). When I purchase a new fabric, before I bring it into my studio I put it in a bucket of cool water to test it first. If the water remains clear after 20 minutes, I rinse it out and put it in the dryer. If the water is no longer clear and shows that the fabric is "bleeding", I dry the fabric but then put it in a separate "bleeder" basket in my studio so that I know not to use that fabric in quilts that will need to be washed. Red fabrics tend to be the most notorious "bleeders", but any fabric has the potential to run, especially inexpensive brands. Light colored fabrics that have no possibility of bleeding issues I usually throw in with my regular laundry to prewash.

Things have changed over the last 25 years and although I prefer to prewash my fabric, there are different schools of thought on this topic now, so you will have to think about how your quilts will be used to determine your preference. Some quilters like to keep the sizing in their fabrics and also some people prefer the look of their finished quilt after it has been washed when the fabric does shrink up. One thing to keep in mind is that if you are going to be doing any fusible applique work, some fusible materials do not work well with fabric that has sizing still in it. You can test a sample of your fabric and fusible product to see how it works.

Check out this article about whether or not you should prewash "To Prewash Fabrics or Not to Prewash? A Quilting Forum Discussion".

"Besides traditional fabric, what other items can I make quilts out of?"
Clothing, linens, tea towels, feedsacks and men's ties are just some of the items that can be used in quilts. This technique dates back to traditional quilts made generations ago when purchased fabric was at a premium. Most quiltmakers had to use every leftover scrap of clothing in their quilts. I think it is a great way to work in fabrics that bring back memories or a way to utilize items that would normally just be sitting in a closet. For example, a quilt can be made out of a child's clothing he/she has grown out of, or that is unwearable because of stains. Cut away stained areas and use the fabric that is left. I often use tableclothes, doilies, and napkins that were my grandmothers. Most were too stained for normal use, but when I cut away the stained areas, I have beautiful memory-filled pieces to work with. See my article "Recycled Materials for Quilts, Art and Craft Projects" for more information.

"How do I find fabric that I ran out of?"
Visit Missing Fabrics website to locate hard to find fabrics.
Do a search of over 200 online fabric stores all at one time by visiting Quiltshops.com
Check Ebay auctions.

"How do I prevent fabrics from fading?"
Keep your fabric stash out of direct sunlight at all times. Even just a couple of weeks can cause major damage. Also keep finished quilts and wall hangings out of direct sunlight.

For more information on proper care, storage and display of quilts, see the Textile Museum Guidelines at www.textilemuseum.org/care/brochures/guidelines.htm#proper.

Check out these websites that have additional fabric storage and textile conservation information:

And for fabric tips from quilters around the world check out this site:

For all kinds of fabric related information including articles and tips on fabric types and care, check out this site:

For a nice history timeline of Fabrics and Fibers, visit this site:

For more information about quilting see our Links for Quilters page.

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