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Sunday, August 13, 2017

Quilting Essentials ~ It All Begins With The Fabric

Every quilt project begins with the fabric.  After choosing (or being possessed to make) a quilt design, the next step is gathering just the perfect fabrics for that quilt.  

I can not over state the importance of using quilt shop quality fabrics for your quilt.  Quilt shop quality fabric simply means the base fabric itself, called greige goods (pronounced gray), are 100% high quality cotton threads in high thread count.  You can tell the difference when you hold it up to the light (as compared with chain store fabric), and in the "hand" of the fabric, which means the soft, smooth feel it gives when running your hand across it.  AKA petting said fabric.  Teehee!  

Additionally, the dye used, and the printing manufacturing process produce fabric that are not likely to bleed, fade, and will last much longer to wear & tear and washing than lesser quality fabric.  Quilt shop quality milled fabric are long lasting, quality goods produced specifically for quilting, and sold only to quilt shops for that reason.  If you're going to invest your most precious resource into your quilts....your time....why short change yourself with lower quality fabrics?  (in my humble opinion.)

To Wash Or Not To Wash?

I believe this to be a personal preference.  I thinking it's fine and dandy if you want to wash your fabric before cutting into it.  Personally, I don't wash mine.   The reason is that when fabric is milled, sizing is added to it for body, to keep it smooth, and to keep it from wrinkling. Once I have it at home, I add a lot more sizing or starch (mostly sizing) to make it even more stiff.  

I am a big believer in sizing fabric!!  The proof is in the results you get and I feel strongly that it's worth the time.  There's a whole lot of designers and quilters who have come to know the benefits of sizing/starching fabric....a lot more than you might think.  More on this in a moment.

A few years ago, I wrote a blog post about washing a quilt that was made with unwashed, and sized fabrics.  (Click here to read the original post.)   

Red fabric being one of the most notorious for bleeding, I did an experiment with this little quilt made from my A Prairie Gathering collection.  I sprayed the fabrics with sizing, soaking them thoroughly, then ironed them dry before cutting them for the quilt.  If a fabric is going to bleed, it will surely bleed with sizing the same as with plain water.  I tossed this quilt into the machine using the same detergent I use to wash our clothes.  I wanted to see if any of the reds would bleed into the lights, or onto the backing.  I'm happy to report that not one fabric bled. You can see photos of the experiment results in the original post.

With today's colorfast dyes, and milling process, fabrics generally do not bleed or run like they did years ago.  That does not mean it never happens! If you have any doubt, it's always a good idea to test a patch so you'll know for sure.

Why add sizing or starch?

One word.....Control!

Washed and unwashed fabrics are soft and pliable.  They fold and bend easily which is not a good thing for piecing.  Imagine piecing a block with tissue paper, then imaging piecing with card stock.  The stiffer the fabric, the more it behaves, and the more control you have to make it do what you want it to do, stay where you want it to stay, which means controlling it as it moves through the needle on your machine.  

You must, must remember....starching or sizing must happen when your fabric is still yardage or scrap - BEFORE  you cut it up for your quilt!!!!  

If you didn't add sizing to your yardage before cutting, 
do not spray your cut pieces, or blocks with starch as this will shrink or warp your fabric.  I also don't recommend spraying any pre-cut, charm pack, or 10 x 10 pack, to guard against shrinkage. 

You will notice a difference with the control you have in cutting your fabric, big time with piecing with your fabric, and you'll get a beautiful press with stiff fabric.  If you don't believe me, just try it with one block!

I have an entire chapter all about fabric preparation, sizing, and even a way to starch yardage in your washing machine in my Heartspun Quilts Hint & Tips book.  Click here for more info on the Hints Book.

All of the above fabric preparation is the way I do things and is just my opinion.  I know it has helped many people gain great results in their piecing experience, but certainly isn't the only way to do things.    If what you're doing yields good results for you....if it isn't broken...don't fix it!  

Wednesday, I am headed to Primitives of the Midwest in Missouri.  I haven't traveled for work in a year, so I'm very excited to get back to teaching, meeting wonderful quilters, and making more memories.  Check Instagram and Facebook for pictures while I'm on the road.

Be well....and keep your sewing machines humming!


  1. Pam, I learned from you how important it is to use sizing before cutting my fabrics. It has helped my piecing tremendously. As always, thanks for the great tips. I'm off to hunt for fabrics!!

  2. Hi Pam.I hope you are having a great weekend. I have enjoyed reading your blog post so much today. I prefer not to wash my fabric either. I love the way it feels before washing and it is so much easier to handle and cut. Plus, I can line up my seams better. After I finish putting my quilt together, I throw it in the washer with a color catcher and it comes out looking just fine. The colors don't run and I can't tell that the fabrics have shrunk. This is how I have always done mine and I have never had any problems.
    The other day I read an article from a designer that insisted every one should wash their fabrics before using them. She went on to give a long list of reasons why. It kinda made me feel guilty because I didn't. LOL Oh well!
    Since we are talking about fabric, I have a question for you. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE scrappy quilts. The more fabrics that I use, the better I love the quilt. But one quilt I made just did not have the wow factor. So, what color besides red can I use to give it the wow factor?

    1. I was always told black was the color to use for what you want.

    2. 1.My first response was for Joyce (sorry-forgot to note that).
      2. Pam, regarding the sizing treatment from companies; I would walk into a store and just smell the chemicals and was told to wash these out immediately as they could cause your fabric to deteriorate. Are you saying the solution used in the past has changed? This would be great news. Is this true of ALL cotton fabric manufacturers? What a wonderful thing if true.
      3. I am still leary of not washing really saturated colors or hand dyed. What has been your experience with the hand dyed fabrics running?
      4. How many cans of Fabric Sizing do you go thru each month. :))
      replies: robinsbusiness@hotmail.com

  3. Thanks for the tips, Pam. Today, in the mail, I got a few more blacks, reds and ivories for my BH blocks. Two of the fabrics were designed by you...one black calla and the other was the ivory barely there basics with the tiny red accents and the barely there is exquisite! I might have to find a pattern in which to use that as the background fabric!! Thanks very much!! It's great to hear that you are recovered enough to travel again.

  4. I loved reading your blog posting today - it's like reading a letter from a friend. 😄 I hope you have a great teaching trip!

  5. Great info, Pam. I don't wash my fabrics, either. I also don't use the sizing. Maybe one day I will try it, but for now I think I am just too lazy to add another step to my quilt making process. LOL

  6. So that is why your quilts are so perfect! Thanks for the starching tips. I have never used it, but I am always looking for new things to try.

  7. Thanks for enlightening me very interesting and well said

  8. I agree with you 100% on working with the best materials (pun unintended) you can afford. In addition to the concerns you mentioned, I've heard horror stories about fabric designers finding knockoffs of their designs being sold in chain stores.

    However, I do prefer to prewash my fabric. If there are any problems with the fabric, I want to know about it BEFORE I go through a whole quilt's worth of cutting and sewing.

    I haven't had any dyes in print fabrics run, but a lot of the batik fabrics do have excess dye that needs to be washed out before they're used. Some of the darker fabrics have so much extra dye in them that you can actually feel it.

    Then there's shrinkage to consider. If you're using fabrics from the same line that all shrink by the same amount then you're probably going to be okay, but if you're mixing fabric lines or making a scrappy quilt then you might run into trouble if one fabric shrinks a lot but another shrinks only a little.

  9. Thank you! I'm a huge fan of starching... I even use the Niagara Heavy Starch. Sure, prepping the fabric with starch takes extra time, but it is sooooo worth it to make cutting and piecing easier (and more accurate). Thank you for the Cheer suggestion...if that works well with the reds, then I will give it a try.... I'm always looking for more affordable ways to enjoy the hobby! :-) Have a fun and safe time at the show!

  10. Pam, these fabrics are beautiful and I'm sure much more in person!! Can't wait to see them.

  11. Great info Pam. Thank you for the help. The comment with all of those links... what is that about? Doesn't seem to be about quilting. This is why moderating comments is a good thing. They appear to be ads, at your blog's expense. Prim blessings.