Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Before You Start Sewing or Quilting

Flying Geese Rainbow
   As with anything in life, there are a few guidelines you should know about when starting any new endeavor or before starting on the 'good parts' instructions.  These are not inclusive, nor are they everything you need to know on each item (I will attempt to further elaborate in future posts), it is simply a starting point.  The very basic necessities. Along the way I will inevitably discuss tools that might save time or increase accuracy once you have the basics down pat.

Are we there yet? No. Not yet, grasshopper.

Concerning Fabric.

Fiber content:
   In quilting, it is best to use fabric of the same fiber content such as all cotton, or all polyester/cotton blend, or all denim, or all wool etc.  Why? Because all fabric threads are not created equal in strength and ability to wear evenly.  Why spend hours, days, months and sometimes years creating something that will ultimately fail and come apart at the point at which the stronger fiber pulls too hard on the flexible fiber? Your time is precious. Don't waste it. I have seen beautiful quilts made out of all of the aforementioned fabrics as well as flannel, linen and silk.  As with everything, there is one exception to this rule that I know of and that is on a crazy quilt of which I have no experience. The ones I have seen are absolutely beautiful and use any kind of fabric, lace and gewgaw but I would be afraid to use it every day because of it's delicacy. On the whole, I tend to use 100% cotton, but not always as occasionally it's just interesting to explore outside the box.
   For many years I used all purpose thread (polyester wrapped cotton) but have found that using whatever the fabric's fiber content is (ie cotton thread with cotton fabric, polyester thread with polyester fabric, silk thread with silk fabric) tends to yield a longer lasting quilt. If in doubt and I have it on hand, I use cotton, otherwise all purpose thread.
   If buying fabric, pre-cut squares will say on the package (most often 100% cotton) and if it doesn't say, don't buy it. At the end of the bolt (the cardboard fabric yardage is wrapped around), it will tell you not only the fabric content, but also the width of the fabric (36", 44/45", 60" and wider for most backing fabrics), washing instructions and country of origin. If possible, I pay a little bit extra (usually this is never more than what I would pay for a cup of coffee if you want to keep this expenditure in perspective) for the Made In the USA fabric as I find it's quality is always the better buy (and I'd like to see more jobs come back to the United States). Unfortunately, although the choices are increasing, there is still a much smaller pool of fabric and colors to choose from.

Pre-washing Fabric:
   There are many camps as far as whether to wash new fabric before using and if you are not cutting up old clothing and household goods, it is up to you. Most people that do NOT wash beforehand are those that buy pre-cut fabric squares (or other shapes) and those who like the crisp feel of unwashed fabric when sewing because the sizing manufacturers put on fabric makes the fabric a little stiff and thus a little easier to line up for stitching.  The down side to this is that your shrinkable material will shrink the first time you wash it. (I happen to like this look of finished quilts but not everyone does) On the positive side of pre-washing (besides pre-shrinking) is finding out if a color will run BEFORE you finish a quilt and wash it for the first time.  Trust me. I have had this happen to a baby quilt I once made for my nephew. There are still ways to test fabrics for running color if you choose not to pre-wash which I will go into on a future post. Should you decide to go the pre-wash route, when fabric is still a little damp, iron it and if you like the stiffness you can always add sizing at this point. By ironing, you make your cutting a little bit more accurate.

Concerning Tools.

   For quilt tops there are truly very few tools you need to succeed and succeed well with quilting. When starting out I used a wooden ruler with a metal edge I found at an after school season sale, a sharp pair of  8" all purpose scissors (also found at the same sale), a lead pencil, straight pins, thimble (if you are blessed with the knowledge of how to use one), needle and thread.  The last three I bought on sale or with coupons. Your total today would be under $20 if you shop wisely and wait for the right sales.

Other Materials.

  For sandwiching quilts to quilt them, I began with old blankets as batting. Some worked better than others. So again, necessity is the mother of invention. Wait for sales and you can pick up cotton, wool or polyester batting reasonably inexpensively. What kind to get I will go into more detail at a later time.

  For the back of quilts, I started with old sheets and still use them if they are handy. Otherwise you can sew large sections of other fabric together for your backing or buy fabric specifically manufactured for quilt backing that comes in sizes 108' wide and wider. This can be costly so wait for sales if you decide to go this route.  I think muslin is the fabric I have most often used for this as it is inexpensive, wears well and comes in unbleached, bleached and some even have white on white patterns.

Are we there yet? Yes, Grasshopper. Time to start learning the 'good stuff'. (Can you tell patience is not a virtue I nor my offspring possess?)

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