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Choosing Fabric for Your Quilting Project

purple floral and purple stripe quilting fabric

Buying fabric often becomes on of the most enjoyable parts of quilting.  This is way quilters often end up with lots of fabric, which is referred to as their “stash”.

Why is fabric shopping so enjoyable?  It is because fabric is so appealing to our senses.  There are so many beautiful colors, and so many lovely prints.  There are a lot of emotions that run through a quilter when they are shopping.  That is why they often have to have just a little piece of so many different fabrics.  Buying small amounts of fabric help to make quilting a frugal hobby.

A quilter’s stash can bring them so much pleasure that they will take out their fabric and refold it several times a year- just to look at it.

If you become an accomplished seamstress, you may tire of the less expensive fabric, and only want to sew with high quality quilt fabric.  At that point, you have to be careful not to mix the high quality with the lower quality fabric in the same quilt. 

Quilt shop fabric is usually thicker (more threads per inch).  It will last longer, does not ravel as easily when washed, and wrinkles less after washing.

Some of your more inexpensive fabrics will literally tie into knots if you put a quarter of a yard in the washing machine and dryer.

I recommend buying 100% cotton whenever possible.  Then you never have to wonder about the fiber content of your stash.  Cotton is durable, and holds creases well, which comes in handy when you are piecing.




almost solid green quilting fabric

This is your basic piecing fabric.  It is not a solid, but reads solid, even up close.  The pattern is small.  You can cut this piece up to make tiny pieces for quilting blocks.


If you use a fabric like this when making a quilt of squares, it is considered a "worker".  There are "stars" and "workers".  You need both.  The workers provide the background so the stars can shine.  The workers also keep the quilt from becoming too busy.


large scale yellow floral fabric

When you use big blocks in your quilt you can use large scaled patterns like the yellow floral to the left.  This fabric is an example of a "star."


You cannot cut a piece like this up for piecing, as the pieces would not be uniform.  Large scale patterns are great for borders, and can work for sashing strips on some quilts.


small print quilting fabric

This small scale print is a worker.  The print is small and consistent.  It can be cut up the same as the green piece above to make pieces for block designs.


Using a piece with a little pattern has a different effect than using a solid.  This piece has an old-fashioned feel about it.  It moves the eye around more than the green fabric above.  It gives the quilt a little more personality.


blue and green plaid quilting fabric

Plaids are a quilting basic.  They look great next to floral prints or other patterns with rounded edges.

They give a quilt personality and interest.  Plaids, checks, stripes, and other geometric shapes do the same thing.  The plaid to the left has a juvenile feel to it because of the bright colors and curvy lines.


green striped quilting fabric with birds

This fabric is a wonderful example of an fabric that does a lot of the work for you in a quilt.  First there are lots of colors in this fabric.  You can use it as your inspiration piece, and pull all the colors of your quilt from the colors in this fabric.

It is a striped fabric. and it is a directional fabric.  It has a top and bottom.  If you decide to run it in vertical rows between other blocks in your quilt, you need to run it the same direction.  This fabric would also make a wonderful border.

These kind of fabrics are called novelty prints.  Novelty prints are always "stars".  They give a quilt personality.  In the case of this particular piece of fabric, it has a very high thread count and is top quality fabric.  When you use a fabric that is of such high quality, you must make sure the other fabrics in the quilt are of the same quality and weight.


juvenile quilting fabric

Children's prints, also known as juvenile or baby fabric,  are most often used  for baby quilts.  Juvenile fabrics  range from fabrics that are white and delicate and suitable  for a newborn, to prints that appeal to older children with trucks and dinosaurs.

Prints of well-known commercial images are called licensed prints.  An example of one of these would be Thomas the Train.  See the Snowball Quilt Block Page.


Green retro quilting fabric

Many designs and styles from years past are now being reproduced.  They are known as vintage or retro prints.  Each era has their own authenticated designs and colors.

Bubble gum pink, mustard yellows, mint green, and peach are some of the colors you will find in reproduction fabric.


red vintage quilting fabric

Here is another vintage print fabric.  It also is a novelty fabric.  Novelty fabrics have pictures on them of people, places and things.

Novelty fabrics are always "stars", and need visual relief from the "workers" so they will stand out and not look busy.


gray leaf quilting fabric

The gray leaf print is a tone on tone fabric.  It reads solid from the distance, and the design is subtle enough to use as a solid.

You can use this fabric as a "worker" for piecing and as a background fabric for the "stars."


novelty rooster quilting fabric

Again we have a novelty fabric.  This is a farm print, with chickens and eggs. When working with a fabric with a certain feel to it, try and pair it with similar fabrics.  This fabric would work well with a homespun fabric.

I Spy quilts are often made with a collection of novelty fabrics.  They are busy, but that is the nature of that quilt. 


blue batik quilting fabric

Batiks tend to cost more than other cotton fabrics.  They have a lot of movement, and make a quilt interesting without a lot of piecing.

Batiks piece well, as long as they are broken up with more solid looking colors.


The above are just a few of the pattern choices you have when you go to purchase fabric.  If you are a beginning quilter, look at a lot of pictures, and visit a lot of fabric stores before you start buying fabric.  Make sure you like, if not love, what you buy.  Sometimes after a few visits to the store your taste changes.  You need some exposure and time to make sure you purchase that which you are going to continue to like.  I also would practice of some less expensive fabric.



Generally speaking, the higher the price of the fabric, the better the quality.  The thread count will be higher, the color look better, and the finishing added to the fabric of a higher quality.  Be aware, however, that after you wash your fabric, some of the finishing will come off.  Your fabric will be more fluid than when it came off the bolt. 

There are two schools of thought on whether to wash your fabric when you first bring it home. 



 - You could complete your quilt, wash it, and one of the darker colors could bleed and discolor the lighter fabrics and ruin your quilt.

 - The sizing could gum up your needle and sewing machine.



 - The sizing keeps the fabric stiffer, and makes for greater piecing accuracy.

 - If you wash the quilt after it is done, it will shrink, and give the quilt an old-fashioned puckered look.

 Quilters are split on this issue.  I choose to wash my fabric first.  If I need more stability in the fabric, I just use some spray starch on it. 

 You need to decide what you are going to do, because you don’t want to end up with both kinds of fabric in your stash.

Most quilts are scrappy these days.  They are made with many fabrics.  I think part of this is because quilters love to buy fabric.  Most quilters go into quilt stores every place they go, looking for fabric and fabric on sale.  When you find a piece you love, you can buy just half a yard or less,  and work it into a quilt.  It is a lot easier on the pocketbook, and it adds another fun thing to do when traveling.

Buying fabric is one of the most enjoyable parts of quilting.  Make wise, frugal choices, as you could be using little bits and pieces of each choice for years to come.



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