Quilting Basics: Fabric

If you’re new to quilting, you may have some questions about fabric, and what type to choose for quilting. Here’s the deal, if you’re going to do quilting, you’re going to want to use 100% cotton fabric. Yep, I know, there’s all sorts of other types of fabric out there, polyesters, this that the other thing, and maybe someday you want to use those in a quilt, but for the most part, cotton is the way to go. It is so much easier to use, especially as a beginner.

Fabric Quality

An important thing to note is that not all fabric is created equal.

Yep, you’re going to go over there to that general store and you’re going to see a a bolt of fabric and it’s $6.99/yd, then you’re going to go across the street to your quilt store and you’re going to find it $10.99/yd. It appears to be the exact same fabric from the same manufacturer and you’re going thinking “what the heck, why would I not want to buy it for $6.99?” Well, because you’re going to get what you pay for, and quality fabric matters.

If you’re investing all of this time in your quilt or whatever project you’re working on, you want that fabric to last and not have problems with it. So the key thing to know is the manufacturing process, the creation of that fabric, is different for different stores that buy it. Lower end stores that want to have fabric at a lower price point, tell the manufacturer, “I want you to stop here, when it comes to the processing.” So maybe extras don’t go into the fabric that would minimize shrinkage, minimize bleeding, etc. The higher end fabric stores, they do a lot more processing to get you a better quality fabric. So be aware you are getting what you pay for.

You really want to look at the two things, 1) your budget, because you know what, if you are on a budget, I would much rather you buy a lower quality fabric that you can afford that will allow you to quilt than to not quilt at all., and 2) quality of it related to what the quilt is going to be used for. For example, if you’re making a baby quilt you really want it to last and have it stay together wash after wash. You want good quality fabric that’s going to maintain its strength, and maintain its color and vibrancy and everything else that goes with it. Because if you’re making a baby quilt, you really love somebody, and you want that to last! So think about those things as you choose your fabric.

If you’re like me, I have a lot of fabric that has gotten handed down over the years, some that I used when I was sewing clothes in high school, others are from my mom, oh my gosh, things from my grandma! I have bins of that fabric!! Okay, back in those days, um, they weren’t necessarily working with 100% cotton fabric, especially if it was for clothing. So an easy way to tell whether some fabric in your collection is actually 100% cotton or not, is fill a sink with some water and then get a match or a lighter and cut a small piece of fabric off the end and then light it holding it over the sink with the water. If it melts, um, that’s not 100% cotton fabric, and you probably don’t want to be working with it, at least not for a quilt. If it turns into ash, you’re golden! You’re good to go to use that fabric in a quilt.

Prewash or not?

Okay, pre-wash or not pre-wash. That is a question that’s been going on for years. Personally, for the most part, I don’t. If you’re like me, I go to the fabric store, I get what I want, I come home and I’m ready to quilt NOW. I don’t want to have to wait, throw it in the wash, then wait for the dryer and oh yeah after it’s out of the dryer I now have to iron it before it’s ready to actually be used. Don’t have time for that in my life!

The important thing to note is that it’s all or nothing. You either pre-wash all of your fabric, and I mean ALL of it, including binding and backing, or you don’t pre-wash ANY of it. You do NOT want a mix of both in your project. If you mix pre-wash and non pre-washed in one project once it’s washed things will shrink differently and seams could tug and stretch oddly.

I don’t pre-wash, so once my quilt is 100% done I put it in the washing machine and it will shrink up about 2-3%. It has this nice, like kind of a crinkly look to it. It’s not crisp, and starch. Personally, I like that it makes it look a little old fashioned, and handmade a little bit. So I like that look. If you don’t, you may want to pre- wash.

Shout Color Catcher

Non pre-washed fabric also handles better. It has a firmness and crispness to it because there are things in the fabric for that reason. As a new quilter, a lot of times that’s good to have that in there. With that said, if you’re not going to pre-wash your fabrics then I would highly recommend when you wash it for the first time, or second or more, it all depends on the colors of fabric in your quilt, to wash them in cold water and throw in a Shout ColorCatcher. It’s a sheet that’s meant to grab the colors, I guess out of the water or whatever. Then your ColorCatcher piece has all the color in it instead of ending up on other pieces of fabric in your quilt. Personally, I would make sure that you do that a couple times, especially if you’ve got dark blues, reds, those really rich vibrant colors. Do that a few times until that sheet comes up with a lot less color in it. A lot of times when I’m giving quilts, I make sure I give them some of those with a note on washing instructions.

Now, maybe you decide “Oh man, I’m not going to do that. I’m really worried about my fabrics, I would feel a lot better knowing they were pre-washed ahead of time.” Great, not a problem, pre-wash them. There are some things that you can do to help set the colors. You could put in a cup of vinegar, quarter cup of salt in a gallon of water and soak your fabric in that to help set it. Personally, even if I’m pre-washing fabrics I would not worry too much about doing that with most of my fabrics. But like I said those rich reds, the blues, the really rich colors, you might want to do that with it because those are colors that are more likely to bleed. There’s also a product called Retayne that you can also use to help set your colors and stop them from bleeding. Key thing, read the instructions and follow them completely if you really want it to work.

Okay, so why would you pre-wash them? 1) stop the bleeding get the color out ahead of time and you’re getting away the excess of dyes and everything else such that you don’t have to worry so much in the future. Now that said I would still look at using a ColorCatcher the first couple times I washed the quilt afterward even if I did pre wash my fabric just to be on the safe side. Especially with those rich colors. 2) pre-washing your fabric you’ve also pre shrunk it that 2-3% meaning that once it’s completely done once you wash it, it’s going to look exactly the same as it was before it was washed. You aren’t going to get a little of that crinkly stuff. 3) to remove those surface finishes or the stiffness of a fabric. So if you’re a quilter that likes the crispness in your fabrics to make it easier to cut then you want to use something like a spray starch when you iron it to get some crispness back into your fabric before you start cutting it.

Now, for me, I have kind of a stash of fabric, or like I said, a collection of fabric that I may have gotten from my mother or my grandmother. I have no idea whether that fabric was washed ahead of time or not. Maybe, possibly, I don’t know. So if I’m going to start using that in a quilt with other things that I know I haven’t pre washed, it’s like, Okay, I need to be aware that I might have a difference of shrinkage on things. So it’s just something to be aware of, or I go, you know what I don’t know. It’s not my norm. But I’m going to pre wash everything, even any new fabric, just to be safe. So I know my fabrics are going to match when I’m completely done.

So as I mentioned, washing your quilt when you’re done. So when you’re all done quilting, a lot of times, you may have markings on them because of where you marked for the quilting. Or, you know, we just have oily stuff on our hands. Or if your like me, I have a dog in the house and when I lay the fabric out on the floor to look at it to position things, sometimes Charlie likes to come and help, he thinks it’s his job to give me his opinion on it! So when I’m done with the quilt, I will throw it in the wash with a ColorCatcher before it goes to its forever home. That means it’s all clean and fresh, smells wonderful, no dog fur, and it’s washed out any markings that might be visible. Plus I’ve gotten one chance at that ColorCatcher to see how it’s going to turn out. Now, if I were to wash it, and that ColorCatcher had a lot of color on it, I may opt to wash it a couple times till I could see that my ColorCatcher was less full of color. Totally up to you, those are some thoughts on what I do.

Watch the Video

If you’re more of a visual person and would prefer to watch rather than read, check out my YouTube video, The Basics – Quilting Fabric,

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