Quilt Fabric Selection and Preparation

Selecting fabric for a project is a personal thing. When looking through patterns and projects, it is clear to see that a quiltmaker will develop a unique style and taste.

Selecting fabric for a project is a personal thing. When looking through patterns and projects, it is clear to see that a quiltmaker will develop a unique style and taste.

Some projects are made from soft flannels and brushed cottons to produce warm and comforting quilts, others are made from cottons, resulting in bright color arrangements suitable for display or for interior decorations. Your fabric choice will stamp your individuality on the project. It is never possible to re-create a quilt exactly, as fabric designs and color schemes are always changing.

Tonal Values
To achieve interest in your quilt you need to use different tonal values, and if you are using print fabrics, the scale of the print is also an important factor. The tonal values of fabric in your quilt should include light, medium, and dark fabrics. These values are relative to each other, so one person’s medium may be another person’s light; the fabrics can even play different roles in the same quilt.

If you are unsure of the value of the fabrics, you can view them though a value finder, a red screen that eliminates the color and allows you to see the lightness and darkness, i.e., the value. A similar effect can be achieved by photocopying fabric and looking at the value of greyness. Another technique that you can employ is to stare at the fabric selection and gradually squint at it: the darker fabrics “disappear” first. This is a good technique when perhaps you are confused between brightness and lightness.

The scale of the design of a print fabric is very important. Your quilt needs to hold interest both close to and from a distance. Try to use a variety of scales — small prints when viewed from the distance will look like solids. Geometric designs add movement, encouraging the eye to move over the surface and allowing you to see the other fabrics. There are also fabrics on the market that are monochromatic prints or textured solids, which are good substitutes for a solid fabric, giving a softer overall finished look.

You can always experiment with coloring a quilt design on paper before making your fabric selection, but remember, no colored pencil or felt-tip pen can re-create a single fabric or its effect when placed next to another. If you are unsure of your fabric selection, purchase only a small amount and try a fabric mock-up. Quiltmakers are avid collectors of fabric, often buying without a project in mind. If you buy your fabrics separately, take the existing ones along with you to see them all together, as it is very difficult to carry an image of color in your head. Finally, always be prepared to change your mind.

Fabric Cuts
Most rotary cutting projects involve the cutting of strips first; these are best cut from across the width of the fabric. Therefore, take care if a design calls for a quarter: most quilting supply shops sell quarters either “fat” or “long.” A long quarter is cut 9 in./25 cm. deep by the width of the bolt. A fat quarter is cut 18 in./50 cm. deep by the width of the bolt, then split at the fold to give a piece 18 x 22 in./50 x 56 cm. Only buy a fat quarter if the design specifies such a size. All the fabric for your project must be washed separately to ensure that excess dye is removed. You do not need a detergent but the water needs to be hot. Keep rinsing until the water runs clear, which may take several rinses. If you wish to use the washing machine and have no means of collecting the waste water to check for dye, place a piece of white cloth in the machine together with the fabric. If the dye bleeds, it will do so into the white cloth. Repeat the process until no more dye runs. If dye continues to run after repeated washes, you may feel that you have to abandon this fabric. It is not advisable to try setting the dye with salt or vinegar, as it will only set it until the next wash and if you intend to wash your quilt, the color will run throughout the quilt.

After washing, partially dry, then iron the fabric while it is still damp to replace its original crispness. Press with the selvages together just as it came off the bolt.

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest