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Navigating the Quilting Bakery

Fabric Advice for Beginning Quilters

by Annie B

For the person who is just getting into the art and craft of quilting, the first visit to a quilting store can tend to be a bit overwhelming. On the surface, a person might thing that quilting is a simple as finding a pattern, finding the right fabric, having a few quilting specific tools and supplies. While this is true, like most things that are taken seriously by a lot of people, once you start peeling back the layers of the onion, there is a lot to learn. Take fabric for example. Once you start your investigation you will begin to see lots of new and wacky terms. The conversation could go something like this; "Like this pattern? It is very easy, all you need is this quilt kit. However, is you like a different color, you could also make it with these pretty fat quarters, charm squares, jelly rolls, layer cakes or turnovers." Hold on just a minute! Are we trying to quilt here, or have we accidentally landed in a New Orleans Bakery? "Pass the beignets please!". Here is a quick rundown of the terms that you will need to familiarize yourself with to help you navigate this strange new world of quilting fabric.

Quilting Fabric

The best fabric to use for quilting is 100% cotton. Most quilting fabric is 42" wide although you can find wider yardage that can be found to use for backing. Obviously, quilting fabric comes in and infinite number of colors and patterns. It is usually recommended that the fabric be washed prior to using to minimize shrinkage and/or fading. Keep in mind, though, that fading and shrinkage is not quite as much of a problem with higher quality fabric. If this is a concern you can always wash a small piece of the fabric prior to using.

Quilt Backing

Quilt backing is the fabric panel used as the back piece of a layered quilt. Backing can be made from a single piece of fabric or it can be pieced or assembled in another decorative way. Sometimes it is possible to find specific fabrics that are made in wider yardage that can be used specifically as backing. This may be a good approach for getting started with beginners quilting.

Quilt kits

Quilt kits contain all of the necessary fabric, in the yardage that you need, to complete the specific quilt patterns that you would like to make. Usually the backing fabric, batting, and thread are not included in the kits. For the busy quilter kits eliminate a lot time, effort and initial confusion that it takes to pick out fabrics that will work for a specific pattern. It also minimizes waste. Also, if you see a quilt kit that you like then you can be assured that yours will look the same.

Quilt blocks

Quilt blocks can be a single piece of fabric cut to your specification or pattern specifications or it can be a pieced block (several pieces already sewn together in a particular pattern). A single quilt block can be used for different purposes such as a quilted wall hanging, quilted potholder, quilted table topper, quilted candle mat or several blocks can be sewn together to make a larger quilt. For the beginning quilter or quilters on a budget, you may want to search the internet, or our quilt pattern section for a free quilt block pattern.

Quilting Fat quarters

This is a one fourth yard cut of fabric that usually measures 18" x 22" instead of the typical 9" x 42" quarter-yard cut. The advantage of a fat quarter is that it is a wider cut of fabric and more economical than the 9" wide quarter yard for certain quilting patterns. There are many quilt patterns designed specifically for fat quarters.

Quilting Charm squares

These are also sometimes referred to as charm packs, are 5" squares of fabric from a specific fabric line. These come with forty squares in a pack with at least 1 square of every fabric in the line. These may be used to make quick and easy small quilts by sewing coordinating squares together and bordering with coordinating fabric from that same fabric line or any other coordinating fabric of your choice. There are also new patterns out using charm squares to sew piece blocks.

Jelly Rolls

These are 2 ½ inch wide strips of every fabric from a specific fabric line rolled up jellyroll style. These are nice for sewing the strips together for strip quilts, eliminating the need for you to cut each strip. They can also be used for checkerboard patterns but sewing the long edges of a desired number of strips together lengthwise and cutting across the seams. These can then be arranged in the desired checkerboard pattern. Again, it is easy because there are a lot of patterns calling for 2" strips and this eliminates the cutting time.

Charming Jelly Cakes

These are a charm pack, jelly roll and a layer cake of every fabric in a fabric line. There are patterns written specifically for these.

Layer cakes

Quilting Layer cakes are 10" squares with at least one of every fabric from a fabric line. Usually used in the same way as charm squares but for use in making larger quilts. They can also be cut into half and quarter square diamonds to be used in piece blocks.

Quilting Turnover

These are 6" triangles each fabric in the line with 40 pieces in every pack. This eliminates the need for you to have to cut the charm squares into triangles

Honey Buns

Honey buns (used to be called cinnamon buns) are 1 ½ inch wide strips of each fabric in a fabric line. Used the same way as Jelly Rolls, they honey buns eliminate having to cut the strips.

Quilt Panels

Quilt panels are a panel of fabric with a pre-printed design. The whole panel may be quilted or sections of the panel may be cut out and used in a pieced quilt. These are time savers if you use the whole panel because they can be sandwiched and then hand or machine quilted.

Quilt Batting

Quilt batting is the middle part of the quilt that is sandwiched between quilt top and the back. The batting is what gives the quilt its depth and thickness. There is a large variety of quilt batting to choose from. The batting that you choose for your quilt is basically a personal choice. Specifically, you should think about what the quilt will be used for and also experiment until you develop a personal preference. High loft batting is very puffy. 100% cotton batting is a thinner bat and is used when you want the quilt to have an aged appearance as it shrinks when washed, giving the quilt a slightly wrinkled appearance. Pellon, which comes in several thicknesses, is a batting used for table quilts and wall hangings that you wish to have a flatter appearance.


Quilting Appliqué

This is the process of sewing one or more smaller pieces of fabric onto a larger background.
Appliqué can be accomplished by hand or by machine. Busy quilters generally use an iron-on Appliqué product. These iron onto the back of the fabric, are cut out into specific designs and are then ironed onto the quilt top. For seldom washed quilts this is all that is required, for quilts with heavier use a button hole or zigzag stitch holds the appliqué firmly in place.

Annie B

About the author...For more tips, hints and advice on quilting and quilting fabrics as well as a calendar of regional quilting shows go to



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