QA Class 120 Lesson 1-2: All About Fabric

Fabric selection for Bluebonnet Cabin quilt
Fabric selection for Bluebonnet Cabin quilt

Fabric terms to remember:

Selvage is the lengthwise edge of the fabric. It has the name of the fabric and other information on one edge. Its practical use is to aid in the printing and finishing of the fabric before it gets to the store. Once we get to the quilting phase, it has little use except as a straight edge when aligning the fabric. Usable width of the fabric does not include the selvages. Use them to straighten, discard during the cutting phase.

Lengthwise grain runs parallel to the selvage. Lengthwise grain is the least stretchy direction of the fabric. It is the most stable. This can be used to your advantage when trying to stabilize the quilt with borders. The lengthwise grain is the length of the fabric after it is cut. Aka. “warp yarns.”

Crosswise grain runs perpendicular to the selvage. It has more stretch. The crosswise grain will be the grain followed for cutting strips in most written patterns. Crosswise grain is as long as the usable width of fabric. Aka. “filling” or “weft yarns.”

Bias is the 45 degree diagonal of the fabric. It has the most stretch and can affect the way pieces come together. Biases can be used for bindings and curves in applique.

Thread count is the number of threads in a square inch of fabric. Quality quilting fabric will have equal number of yarns in both directions and a higher number with a finer “feel” to the fabric.

This post at Generations Quilt Patterns goes into finer detail about fabric grain.

Fabric for Twilight Stacks Quilt
Fabric for Twilight Stacks Quilt

The reason we learn all of this about way fabric is constructed is to use it to our advantage in making straight, square, exacting quilts. The method Harriet teaches is to go through a process of straightening the fabric in order to establish a stable material to work with.

I am reminded of a passage I just read, “But a person who does machining or foundry work or forge work or welding sees ‘steel’ as having no shape at all. Steel can be any shape you want if you are skilled enough, and any shape but the one you want if you are not.” – Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Let’s re-write that, “But a quilter sees ‘fabric’ as having no shape at all. Fabric can be any shape you want if you are skilled enough, and any shape but the one you want if you are not.” Harriet hopes to turn us into skilled quilters. So we learn how to wield this medium to our purposes.

Strips of fabric scraps used to make a wedding bunting (a non-quilting craft)
Strips of fabric scraps used to make a wedding bunting (a non-quilting craft)

The first step is to make a few decisions:

Sometimes a decision will have to be made regarding the print of a fabric. A grid based pattern or stripe may be printed so that the printed grid does not line up with the structural grid of the yarns in the fabric. You will have to make a decision based on the following considerations:

1)How big are the finished pieces?

2)What is their structural vs. aesthetic purpose in the quilt?

3)Are they for use in a border?

There are different sides to each consideration, but for now I’ll veer away from grid type fabric prints.

The decision to tear or cut fabric off the bolt is one that the quilt shop usually makes for me. Most of the quilt shops I frequent cut the fabric to the length I order, so I make up for this by:

1) Picking quality fabric by fine feel, quality brand, and place of purchase (not Jo-Anns.)

2) I add to the next cutting mark when ordering a length.

The decision to pre-wash a piece of fabric is highly debated. My grandmother washes every piece of fabric before she uses them in a quilt. I don’t even know why! I just follow her example. Harriet promises to go into detail about this later in the book series. But with my skillset where it is, I’m going to now take advantage of the benefits of non-prewashed fabric.

The following are reasons I’m not pre-washing my fabric:

1) I like a vintageĀ  puckered fluffy texture that comes from shrinkage after washing the finished quilt.

2) The stiffness of fabric off the bolt adds to the ease in cutting and machine piecing accurately.

3) I just want to get to piecing already!

What about you? Does your quilt store cut or tear off the bolt? Do you pre-wash your fabrics as they come in your door? How do you like to use those grid like prints?

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