Saturday, November 15, 2008

What Kind of Fabric?

We've had nothing but gray skies and drizzle here. Pretty much describes my mood too. Please, sunshine, come back!!!

My friend Siobhan has just moved and is pondering how to set up her sewing studio. Hmmm, don't take advice from me, the Queen of Disorganization (and Procrastination)

Okay, here's today's topic for the beginning quilter. And again, this is a liberated, improvisational free-piecing quilter. What fabric to buy?

I know when I started out in the mid 1980's all the books recommended 100% cotton. period, no discussion. But now that I am much easier-going and have seen marvelous quilts such as those made by the Gee's Benders I'm not sure I can just turn around and give that advice myself. I can say it will be EASIER if you stick to all 100% cotton.

100% cotton IS good stuff. And yes that almost describes my entire stash. I admire a wide range of fabrics in others' quilts but I haven't quite worked up to that freedom myself. I would beware of cheap fabric with a really loose weave - it may just come apart way too quickly. Also, I'm a big supporter of the high quality fabrics found at quilting shops - they don't lose their dye as quickly as some of the cheaper stuff. Is this a quilt intended for a short period of time or for many many years? Are you making a dog bed or an heirloom? Depending where you are on that scale, the more you should pay attention to high quality fabric.

Batik fabric is cotton but it has a tighter weave than traditional cotton. If the quilt you are making is going to be made completely by machine (pieced and quilted) this is a great choice because it irons well, doesn't fray much, and is just plain easy to work with. However, because of that tighter weave, it is harder to hand piece and harder to quilt. May not be worth the frustration factor for the beginning quilter.

Flannel and brushed-cotton (looks like flannel on one side and regular cotton on the other) are stretchier. In some ways that can be fun because it will force you to work looser and more care-free. I love using brushed-cotton for applique because it misbehaves and I automatically get something of a primitive look. I've never tried hand-piecing with these materials.

Linen. I've read blog posts by folks who love working with this material, although of course I couldn't find them now when I'm searching for them. Oh, wait, here are some posts on linen by Quilt Words Meg (who I wish was still blogging and if she's reading this: hello!) Linen is a natural fiber, nice and soft.

Silk is absolutely gorgeous but it is slippery and frays like crazy. You're a beginning quilter - it's most likely not worth the heartache.

Polyester. Sorry, I just won't use it and won't use any fabric that has been blended with it. It wears out differently and looks unnatural. I know that for sure: one of my very first quilts was made with poly-cottons and just a few squares of real cotton and the quilt definitely hasn't aged well.

I'm not buying polyester and that goes for spandex and lycra too. I'm sticking with natural fabrics.

I'm out of my depth as far as talking about anything else. But I can sum it up this way. Stick to 100% quilting cottons unless you're adventurous. For quilting fabric it really can be true, you get what you pay for (unless it's a fantastic sale or store like Mary Jo's). That's when you're buying fabric off the bolt, but there are also great opportinities to be found by repurposing old clothing.

Additional reading on fabric can be found here and here.

Now if you want to see a quilter who does an absolutely incredible job of mixing a wide range of fabrics together, see Jude's work over at Spiritcloth.


Fran said...

I had to laugh when I read that you stay away from polyester.

Are you too young to remember the polyester rage of the '70s. It was 60" wide and came in every pattern and shade known to man kind. We all had dresses, slacks tops...ect...ect...ect.. made from it. My kids were all pretty young at the time and my very first quilt I ever made was a rail fence pattern from this polyester scrap. In my eyes it was the most beautiful thing I'd ever made. *lol* However this monstrosity has survived for over 35 yrs. and I was asked to make a new back for it just last year. I did it out of love.:-))

How times have changed. Now I do try and stay 100% cotton, but I do stray at times for embelishment. But if your really determined you can make a quilt out of anything. That's the advice I gave my grandaughter. She hasn't much money and she needs the practice.


Carol E. said...

It's fun to listen to you ponder the world of quilting. Thank you for sharing your journey with us. I visited Spiritcloth and was amazed. Fascinating to see what a real artist can do with fabrics. (this includes you, by the way)

Quilt Pixie said...

interesting what different quilters like/want for quilts... I figure anything will work -- if its a knit stretchy fabric that I just have to have, I know it'll need to be interfaced to work with (or the stretch will drive me loopy).

I tend not to like the feel of man made fibers and that's the real test of fabric for me -- is it the colour, texture AND feel I like? If I like all three characteristics, and am prepared to compensate for stretch, fraying, need to dry clean or other "limitations" it comes home...

What this means in reality is I mostly buy natural fibers, but not always. I often buy smooth fabrics, but not always. I usually buy fabrics that don't ravel a lot, but not always.

As you said, it really depends on what you're making -- a bed quilt (given the time, cost of fabrics, and wear it'll take) has different considerations than a seasonal wallhanging...

True Blue Nana said...

Very interesting discussion of fabrics. I stick to 100% cotton but if you do a lot of reading you see some fantastic quilts made of a variety of fabric. Gee's bend quilters even use corduroy and it looks fabulous. I have bought some cheap fabric that all but fell apart when washed. On the other hand I have bought some cheap fabric that I really liked. I also like a crisper fabric as opposed to a soft or flimsy fabric. I would also suggest that a beginning quilter use some solids. I am just enamored with solids at the moment. I have not used much flannel but my aunt mixes flannel with cotton and it adds a very interesting texture.

Nellie's Needles said...

I'm enjoying your posts on information for beginners ... it's good info for all of us. Thanks.

My solution for working with slippery or soft fabrics is to treat them with an iron-on starch or sizing. Sometime it takes several applications. This is for projects that will be washed to get the product out. It's a good idea to have pre-washed the fabrics so any running of dyes or shrinkage takes place before it's used.

Kristin L said...

I'm 100% with you. Cotton is the easiest to work with. But... once you've got the hang of high quality quilting cottons, please do try to throw something else in the mix when it feels right! That extra bit of texture or sheen can really spark a quilt. That said, I'm finishing up a quilt with a lot of linen, and while it feels and looks wonderful, it was a pain to work with because of it's loose weave -- it moves around a whole lot. Starch would help, I'm sure.

Lynda said...

Cotton is the best for beginner quilters, as it's so easy to use. Having said that, my first quilt was made from all kinds of dressmaking scraps (mine and others') in the 70s and has all kinds of fabric in it and is still going strong, but it was paper pieced hexagons, which kept the dificult fabrics in order!

jovaliquilts said...

I love the look of quilts made with mixed fabrics, but so far I haven't tried that. I worry about washability, too, but unless it's a bed quilt or lap quilt, that might not matter.

Magpie Sue said...

The only thing I would add is that those cheap fabrics may also be so coated with a sizing or finishing agent that they are more sizing than fiber! Those (and the loosely woven ones) are the ones that will fall apart quickly. And then when you come up chemically sensitive they are also the ones that have to go, no matter how cool the print is!

jude said...

i never met a fabric i didn't like. i used to reject some but each has a special quality. like people, you gotta get to know them. thanks tonya, you have inspired some fabric posts! i got my sewing machine fixed too ha!

Clare said...

I'm enjoyng this thread. Learning all sorts of stuff. Thank you.

My first quilt (that thing which is too big and wieldy to classify as a bed quilt!) was made out of mixed fabrics and where the poly/cotton mix joins the 100% cotton the seams are splitting because of the different weights. Another thing to take into consideration perhaps?

I'm a great one for recycling, including denim, but have learnt my lesson and fabric has got to be 100% cotton.

Bleuch weather here, but Périgueux has sun and blue sky. Think I'm moving 25 kms further south!

Bonnie said...

You are such a good read, Ton! I love reading your words,because you come across in text just as you do in real life...and I get all excited about seeing you SOON!! :cD

I'm with you on the polyester stuff. I had a lady donate me a huge piece of a "shirting stripe" but it turned out to be a blend. (urrrgh) solution was to use it as the HANGING SLEEVE. It used it up quickly, and every time I see it I think how kind she was to donate to me, thinking she was doing me a great service.:c) good solution? I won't use poly in the front or the back of a quilt, but what could it hurt to use it as a sleeve?

I also use cotton/linen shirts...and cotton/ramie shirts...they feel like homespun sorta kinda...but yes, natural fibers.

Just say NO to spandex...bleech! :cD

Tanya said...

Rats. My husband handed me some old shirts and told me to use them in my patchwork. But a check reveals that have polyester in them. I've been keeping them around wondering if they can still be used but I guess I'll toss them in the garbage bin...

Lynn said...

I like the batiks for hand applique. Because they don't fray as much as other cottons I can get nice tight curves and great points on precise designs.

My first quilt, made in the 70s contained a bit of polyester. I then turned to 100% cotton only. Now, I have loosened up a bit and will use more variety. It does depend on how the quilt will be used though. Bed quilts for sleeping under are still all cotton with all cotton bats.

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Kathleen said...

Such a frustration... I had determined to make a quilt out of all the scraps I've unearthed from making my kiddos some clothes way back... 25+ years ago. A lot of it is cotton, but frustrating me is the fact that many of the sweet prints that are poly-cotton. They are too light-weight for a quilt that would be used but were perfect for summer dresses over diapers. I think I'll have to do two quilts - use all of the poly-cottons together, including the yards and yards of solids that have that glimmer-shimmer and tell-tale drippy hard bump when burning a tiny wedge of it. I actually was burned by the melt landing on my finger. I do have enough glow-in-the-dark piranha scraps that once were a pair of shorts that will become a much smaller pair for his son - scraps to follow into the cotton quilt.