When you first learn how to make quilts, you’ll find there are as many ways to make them as there are quilters. From choosing your fabric, to cutting your pieces, to actually quilting your quilt, you’ll find there are many, many ways to get to your finished product.
However, there are several steps everyone who wants to learn to quilt should take before beginning their first one. You’ll find that a little preparation and education will save you loads of time and money down the road.
Probably one of the most important, if not the most important, part of quilting if your fabric. If you take a little time to understand fabric, you’ll reap the benefits later. It’ll save you time and money because you’ll have a better idea of what to buy as well as how to avoid wasting it.
Learn about fabric. Trust me, it’s not a chore. It’s easy to spend (literally!) hours sifting through racks of fabric at your local quilt shop and sometimes even easier to spend entire afternoons browsing through online fabric shops. Study the grain, look at how different colors complement each other (or not) and get a feel for the differences between “designer” and store-brand fabrics.
This is a step many people new to quilting overlook, but it’s also a step many experienced quilters choose to skip. As for me, I almost always pre-wash my fabric.
Before I wash, I do a quick zig-zag stitch around the edges to keep my yardage from unraveling and then wash it on the gentle cycle in cold water. (If you have serger, you can serge the edges instead.) A zigzag stitch is super easy, but here’s a simple, very short zigzag stitch tutorial if you need one.
One reason I pre-wash my fabric (other than to prevent it from shrinking once I’ve sewn it into quilt squares) is that it helps rid the fabric of the chemicals manufacturers put on it. For instance, most of your fabric will have protectorants on it to give that really crisp, new feel, and washing gets rid of it. Be aware that protectorant does seem to make it a little easier to cut those super-straight lines you’ll need, but also exposes you to the chemical. I know people that are absolutely fine with that, so it’s just a judgement call you’ll need to make for yourself. (It’s really not that big of a deal, just something to be aware of.)
The only time I don’t pre-wash is when I’m using pre-cuts.
Pre-cuts are fabrics that you buy that are already cut into pieces for you. I don’t pre-wash them because I feel like they’ll get lost in my washing machine and I’ve never had any trouble with them shrinking and messing up a finished quilt.
Yardage is, as the name suggests, fabric by the yard. You may have only 1/2 yard of a fabric or you may have 7 yards of a fabric, it depends on the quilt your making and the type and amount of fabric you need.
Drying Fabric After Pre-Washing
To dry my fabric, I usually put the dryer on low heat and try to remember to take it out as soon as it’s dry to minimize wrinkles. You’ll find that you’re going to have to iron your fabric regardless, but the fewer wrinkles, the easier it’ll be to get it nice and crisp for cutting and piecing.
Choosing Fabric Colors
When you first start quilting, it’s really easy to choose only fabrics that contain your favorite colors. You love the colors, so you’ll love the quilt, right? (Wrong! Probably.) It’s important to use some contrast in your quilts, otherwise you might find, as I did, that your quilt made of only your favorite colors that you is lacking something. Learning to use the color wheel can really help you pick out some gorgeous fabrics that you might have otherwise not even spared a glance.
If you look really closely at your fabric, you’ll see that you threads running the length of the fabric and threads running the width of the fabric. They form perfect 90 degree angles wherever they intersect. When you cut quilt squares, you’re going to cut “on the grain.” This means you’ll be cutting along the straight and cross grain. (Or just cutting straight up and down.)
When you cut diagonally across the fabric, you are cutting along the bias. You’ll might use bias cuts when you make your binding or if you make some applique pieces. If your quilt has rounded edges, making your binding out of a bias cut is a really good idea because the fabric is stretchier when cut this way.
If you’re curious about what difference the grain and your cuts make, get some scrap fabric and cut a strip along the bias and then cut one along the grain. Play with them, pull and stretch and see how they stretch differently. (This activity won’t take but a minute and it’ll help you understand your fabrics better.)
Binding is the outermost portion of your quilt that closes it up and holds everything together.
Cutting Your Fabric
In the past, people used scissors to cut every single piece of fabric they needed for their quilt, and some people still do. However, you’ll find that most quilters today use rotary cutters. These make cutting quick and help you stay accurate.
You’ll need to cut your fabric on a self-healing mat. These mats protect the surface area where you’re cutting. I use a 36″x24″ mat. This is the biggest mat I could get that would fit comfortably on my
dining room table cutting area. The bigger your mat the easier it will be to cut bigger pieces of fabric, at least in my opinion.
If you’re wondering about the
scribbling art work on my mat, it’s courtesy of my 4 year old son… he’s such a little helper. 😉
You’ll also need a non-slip quilting ruler in order to cut your fabric. You’ll place the ruler on top of the fabric, line up your measurements to get the straightest cut possible and then cut. A good ruler is really an absolute must.
My quilting ruler is 8″X24,” the same length as my mat. I highly recommend getting a ruler at least the length of your mat so that you can make long, straight cuts. I don’t make them all that often, but it’s handy when I do.
When you start quilting, you’ll probably be fine with just one ruler, but as you gain experience, you may want to get rulers in all different sizes to help you keep your measurements as close to perfect as possible. I still only have one, but I know people that have several and swear by them.
This isn’t everything you need to know about quilt fabric, far from it, but it is a pretty good start.