10 October 2010

Week 1: Fabric Selection & Pre-Washing

The first step in making a basic block quilt is gathering materials.  Any time you use a pattern, it will include a list of the materials needed. To make my 36-1/2 x 45-1/2" (baby-sized) quilt, I've listed the requirements below.
Materials Needed:
  •  1/2 yd of fabric for the binding 
  •  1 1/2 yds of fabric for the back 
  •  40 x 50" piece of batting
Fabric selection is by far my favorite part of the quilt-making process. With so many delicious collections of fabric on the market, it is easy to feel a little overwhelmed with indecision. But where to start?
  1. Explore the quilt shops in your area.  If you are lucky, you might have several to visit.  Quilt shops are the absolute best place to find beautiful fabric, not to mention inspiration!  It is at a quilt shop that you will find Moda, Michael Miller, Marcus, Art Gallery, and Windham, just to name a few of my favorites.  You will not find the same lovely stuff at the chains like JoAnn's or Wal-mart.  The quality of the fabric at quilt shops is also superior in terms of thread count...let's just say that you get what you pay for.  I have been totally dying because there are no quilt shops in my area..what's a girl to do?
  2. Buy fabric online.  There are many online shops that sell fabric.  I happen to really like browsing the Etsy fabric shops because the selection is fantastic.  It is always a delight to browse through by bundles of fabric, especially when the shop owner has a really good eye.  A lot of these Etsy shops also have facebook pages.  By "liking" them, you see announcements about new fabric coming in, sales, etc.  It helps me feel in the loop.  Besides Etsy, Fat Quarter Shop is another place I like to do online fabric shopping.  There are literally hundreds and hundreds of shops to choose from on the internet, and those are just a couple that I really like.
Once you've found a good shop, your challenge is to choose from all the eye candy before you.  I always go for the fat quarters.  (There is just something about that neatly folded bundle that makes my heart happy.)  Instead of having to rip a whole bolt of fabric out of the wall, I can easily grab the fat quarters and begin matching.  I can lay several next to each other and begin to imagine what my quilt could look like.
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It is always good to choose a variety in terms of color and scale.  Notice that some of the patterns are busy while others are simple.  Some are colorful, others are more monochromatic.  This combination is pretty spunky!  I have a variety of designers' fabrics in here like Tula Pink, Aneela Hoey, and Amy Butler.
Now that I have all my fabric selected, I am really excited to get started! But what about pre-washing?  Some quilters do it, some don't. It's just a matter of preference, and perhaps you will want to try doing both and see what you like best. 
I don't generally pre-wash--only partially because I am lazy (too excited to get started?), but mostly because I like the way a quilt looks once it shrinks and gets all those lovely little puckers. Another reason is that I tend to use a lot of fabric pre-cuts, which I will explain a little more about later. That being said, there are just as many quilters who pre-wash as don't, and here are some of the reasons they do it:
  • To pre-shrink the fabric. This doesn't require much explanation, but most fabrics shrink after being washed. Pre-washing the fabrics beforehand ensures minimal shrinkage later. There are times when you will definitely want to pre-wash! For example, when a project involves a combination of materials (printed cotton fabric, minky, flannel, etc.) you should pre-wash since they will shrink differently. Otherwise, when you wash the finished project, the shrinkage will be uneven and it will look weird.
  • To avoid color bleeding.  Some fabrics (especially reds and blues) have dyes that can bleed when washed. Pre-washing the fabrics will prevent dark colors bleeding onto the light colors--you can run a colorfast test on any fabrics you think could bleed. I haven't actually EVER had a problem with colors bleeding but from what I hear, this is a problem you run into more often with fabrics from chains, not quilt shops (the difference in quality).
  • To remove chemicals.  Manufacturers treat fabric with various chemicals like formaldehyde and "sizing." Formaldehyde is a pesticide used to keep the bugs away.  "Sizing" is starch and makes the fabric feel crisp and stiff.  Sizing makes the fabric easier to cut, but pre-washing removes this. After pre-washing, iron the fabric with a heavy starch spray to restore its original crispness, if desired.
Important exceptions to pre-washing: If the finished product will not ever be washed (like a stitchery), then there is no need to pre-wash.  If the project involves charm packs or other pre-cuts (many of my patterns do), skip the pre-washing process!  With fabric pre-cuts, the fabric has already been cut to its specific block dimensions, and pre-shrinkage will change this! 
Overall, the most important principle is consistency.  Either pre-wash all the fabrics in the project, or don't wash any of them.

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If you want to pre-wash your fabric, here are some general guidelines:
  • Separate the light fabrics from the dark fabrics.  Use a permanent press cycle with a warm wash and cool rinse.
  •  Use a mild detergent and skip the fabric softener.
  •  Toss in the dryer using a permanent press setting
  •  Iron with a heavy starch.  Clip off any loose threads. 
Now, you're ready to move on to the next step: 
Cutting Fabric & Arranging Blocks 

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