Learning to quilt and to use quilting machines can be an exciting, creative venture. One of the more important details in quilting is knowing what fabric to buy. Whether quilting by hand, using standard quilting machines, or learning on long arm quilting machines, the right fabric prepared the right way will always make the best quilt.
The Best Fabric for Quilting
The best fabric to use for most quilting projects is 100 percent cotton. Cotton is durable, washable, and available in countless colors, patterns, and thread counts for use with just about any quilting project. Cotton is also easily creased and sewn; it withstands wear well, making it great for quilts that will get a lot of use.
Cotton also comes in a variety of qualities, differentiated by thread count; the higher the count, the finer and more desirable the fabric. This gives quilters many options depending on their project. Although 100 percent cotton is a favorite fabric to use, some quilters use other types like cotton blends, wool, and silk. Different fabrics may require different preparation and handling, so it is important to check into this before using any of these fabrics.
Strips, Quarters, and Bolts
Quilting uses smaller pieces of fabric that are cut to shape, then sewn together either by hand or with standard quilting machines, then quilted on long arm quilting machines. These shapes can be cut from both smaller or larger pieces of fabrics.
Bolts are the large rolls of fabric sold by the yard at fabric and hobby stores. Quarters and fat quarters are pre-cut, one-quarter yard cuts. Quarters are 9” wide and the length of the width of a fabric bolt, usually about 42”. Fat quarters are cuts that are 18” wide and half the width of the bolt, usually about 22”. Fabric strips are usually a few inches wide and commonly sold in bunches, with strips made from many different fabric patterns. These are the four ways fabric is usually purchased for quilting.
Preparing Fabric for Quilting
There are two trains of thought on preparing fabric for quilting. One suggestion is that it should be washed and dried ahead of time. The other recommendation is it should be cut and quilted prior to being washed. Working with fabric before it has been washed is preferable to many who quilt using both regular quilting machines or long arm quilting machines, as the slight stiffness of the fabric makes it easier to sew. Also, washing after machine quilting can provide just enough shrinkage to hide the sewing holes. When choosing not to pre-wash, it is important to test colorfastness on some small pieces of fabric to ensure the colors will not run once the quilt is washed.
Hand quilters prefer to pre-wash their fabric to test for colorfastness before putting a lot of effort into a project and to pre-shrink the fabric. Higher quality fabrics are usually pre-shrunk; however, if there is a question about shrinkage, it is best to pre-wash first.
There is much for beginner quilters to learn about this beautiful craft and it all starts with choosing the right fabric. Whether quilting with standard quilting machines, long arm quilting machines, or quilting by hand, there are many fabric colors, patterns, and thread counts to choose from. With practice, newer quilters will get a feel for the different fabric qualities and be able to choose fat quarters with ease, turning them into beautiful sewn quilts and other projects!