QA Class 120 Lesson 3: Preparing Fabric

This post is part of a series where I work through Quilter’s Academy, a book by Harriet Hargrave & Carrie Hargrave. See archives for the rest of the series.

Hey there! I’m quite the seasonal quilter. I typically work on quilts when the weather starts getting rainy, cold, and nasty. In Texas that means I mainly quilt through our short winter. Once the weather starts warming up, I want to be hanging outside in the shade somewhere near a body of water sipping a cold beverage. Things warmed up early this year, and I boogied to the lake ASAP and have been there ever since! BUT! We are in the middle of some awesome spring rains, and I’ve got a bit of an itch to get into a cozy project.

So let’s open up where we left off. We’re in the second class of Freshman year, and we’re getting some fabrics ready to quilt. We’ve gone through the selection process, and decided not to pre-wash. Next order of business is to manage the grain of the fabric.

It turns out lots of fabric from my quilt store has come off the bolt crooked! This is common, but some fabrics are so crooked, that I now round way up when ordering. Like, at least an extra quarter! How do I know the fabric is cut crooked? I tear it and see that the grain is off from the cut.

When you tear fabric, it tears along one thread. As we learned in the last class, the cross-hatching of these threads makes up fabric.If you start cutting your quilt strips using the quilt-store cut edge, the little threads are neither parallel or perpendicular to your edge. This means that all your pieces will be on the bias. When you sew together pieces cut on the bias, the fabric tends to stretch out in various directions, making it hard to sew nice neat straight seams that line up every time.

Now, if you tear your fabric along one of those threads, you’ll be starting your cutting edge with a true straight line. All the little threads will fall into place in a nice square manner. Or so the theory goes.

Let me start out and say that I had to phone a friend on this one. I had no idea where to start snipping into my fabric! I started with youtube, and then asked one of my quilting friends where and how to snip the fabric for cutting. Turns out people do it different ways! As anything in quilting, everyone has their own method. How fascinating.

Let’s go through the exercise step by step.


Using scissors, make a little snip in the fabric 2-1/2″ away from the cut edge.


Firmly grasp on either side of the snip and tear the fabric in a quick and firm manner.DSC_0394

(I was holding the camera in the other hand, but imagine my right hand on the other side of the snip, and imagine me tearing the fabric)

You do this on both sides and end up with two strips, and a larger piece of fabric with torn edges. Here’s my first strip


My selvedge corners always end up wonky and stretchy. This makes it especially hard to align the fabric, but I don’t see a way around it. Spraying with water, pressing, spraying with starch, pressing, and repeating tons of times sometimes gets the edge workable again. But I always struggle with this issue. How fascinating.



Open the fabric all the way and spray it all over with water. A big ironing board comes in handy! I have a tiny little spray bottle from the grocery store travel section. I love it so much!


Step 3:

Press to remove the center fold.


A note on pressing: A quilter once insisted that pressing is different than ironing. I thought she was joking! She was not joking. The key point is that when you “PRESS” you do not in any way stretch the fabric. This is crucial when trying to align your fabric in the manner laid out here.

A note on starch: Using starch helps “relax” the threads and allows them to line up in their little fabric-y way. If you stretch the fabric as you iron, you will be making things much harder in the long run.

To press properly, just allow the iron to use its own weight to flatten the fabric. Do not press down and push the fabric. Gently guide the iron across the fabric, back and forth.

I use a “dry” iron with no water in it and the steam setting turned off. I have it turned up to the highest heat setting.

I like to do three total rounds of pressing at this step, with the fabric open on the cutting board. It goes like this: Spray with water, Press. Spray with starch, Press. Spray with starch, Press.

Step 4:

Fold the fabric in half and pin the selvedges together.


Use some more handy dandy starch to iron in a new, straight “center fold.” This can be such a hard step sometimes. Easing the fabric around to lie nicely without stretching it, lining up the edges so that they meet and lie nicely together.

Sometimes it takes a few times to get things straight at this step.


Step 5:

Here is my new center fold. Maybe we should call it a middle fold?


You can kinda see the pattern is off grain of this fabric. This is a perfectionist’s nightmare. Take a deep breath. Reply, “How fascinating!”

Step 6:

Use a friend to help you, Harriet says! The fabric may magically realign with two quilters willing it to lie nice and flat. I don’t have a quilting friend to help today. If I did, we probably wouldn’t spend our time pulling fabric straight. We would probably be chatting about projects we’re dreaming up. So I muster up all my fabric-willing powers and continue alone.

Step 7:

Fold the fabric again in half and align the fold with the selvedge edge. Make sure the torn edges align. This is the most frustrating step. After all of that willing, I realize my fabric is not lying straight.


Wonky fabric. Not as bad as it sometimes is!


Step 8:
If it’s not lying straight, simply repeat the process (from Step 1) until it is.


Sometimes I pull on the bias gently to coax the corners and torn edges into alignment. There is some sort of art to this, and I don’t know what it is.


In the end, it’s okay if there are “a few threads variation” and it will get much easier with each piece of fabric you straighten. And then you’ll get a fabric that was on the bolt almost diagonally and curse the fabric fairies!

I find this whole process the worst part of quilting, but I like working with straight crisp pieces of fabric. It makes a huge difference in my piecing ability, so ultimately all the early pressing and fussing is worth it!


Plus, when your fabric is finally aligned all straight with two folds, you get to take out the pins and start slicing rows! And they come out so straight and pretty! Stay tuned for that, up next.

What about you? Do you align the fabric grain or just start into cutting? Do you find it makes quilting easier or harder? I’m so curious.




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