What fabrics to use for quilting


What are the best fabrics to use?

Can’t I just use any fabric on any quilt?

What is the trick in using this speciality fabric?

I will try to explore these questions and more.


The Best and Most Used Fabrics

Most quilters will say that 100% cotton is the best fabric to use.

  • It doesn’t stretch much.
  • Cotton lasts well.
  • It has been used for years and years.
  • Comes in many colors and prints.
  • Washes well to keep a clean quilt.

Cotton has been the go to fabric for many years. Part of that reason was the fact that the synthetic fabrics weren’t widely available until the last 70 to 100 years. Many synthetic fabrics weren’t even known about until after World War II.

Cotton is a stable material that doesn’t give too much in any direction. So when you sew pieces together in a block, the next block will match it in size. This is important for many patterns, as they require that the seams match to give you the final design.

Cotton is easy to wash and have it stay the same size every time. So the shape of the quilt will stay the same even after washing. Other fabrics can shrink more in one direction or be easily pulled out of shape when hung up to dry.

Also cotton fabric will wear well. It is a very durable fabric, as shown by the number of antique quilts that are still in good condition after 100 years or more.


Other Fabrics That Are Used In Quilts

Quilters are always experimenting with fabric choices and combinations. Sometimes it is interesting to combine knits, denim and silk together for an interesting design or funky quilt.

Just saying that cotton is the preferred fabric doesn’t eliminate trying even fleece in a quilt. The only thing to remember is the stretch factor of each fabric. Fabrics with different stretch factors are harder to use in keeping an orderly quilt. But these days, unorderly quilts are considered an artistic statement.

Knit fabrics tend to stretch more in one direction than another. So putting them together with the grain at 90° to the next piece or block, can make an interesting stretchy quilt. Also, knit fabrics tend to stretch when going under the presser foot and over the feed dogs. So even if the two pieces started out the same length, one piece will end up longer.

Real slick fabrics like silk or taffeta can be very difficult to use as the material goes all over the place and keeping a straight seam and seam allowance can be difficult. And sewing a slick fabric onto a cotton or knit can make you pull your hair out and cause a block to go out of square real quick.

Usually, the fabrics that are not cotton are used more as appliques on a cotton-based fabric. Most appliques are held in place with double-sided fusible web. So the problems associated with joining them together are non-existent.


Are There Tricks To Using Silk, Knits and T-Shirts?

Most times that T-Shirt quilts are made, the material is bonded to a stiff fusible backing. This keeps the t-shirt fabric from stretching out of shape. It will be stiff until it is washed a couple of times. As with all fusible material, the initial stiffness is from starch or some other water-soluble stiffening agent.

For using knits and slick fabric, I prefer to use a walking-foot attachment. This helps to pull the top and bottom fabric through at the same rate. When you use just the feed dogs to advance the material, the pull is on only the bottom layer. This can cause problems with uneven stitching and throw your patterns off.

Fleece or old blankets are sometimes used on the surface of a quilt for added warmth. Other times, they are used as an inner layer for batting. When they are an outside layer, it is again best to use a walking-foot. Also, you will need to clean out your bobbin case area much more frequently as these fabrics will put all kinds of lint down there. A lint buildup can start to cause thread breakage or even machine damage.

On specialty fabrics, learn the proper way to sew it before you try to incorporate  it into a quilt. Quilting is not the time to try to learn the characteristics of a fabric that is new to you. There enough other ways for things to go wrong, like putting the pieces together wrong so the pattern goes wacko. Then again, sometimes a wacko design will give you new ideas for quilt blocks or even make an interesting quilt.


What About Thread?

Most quilters have their favorite thread that they use almost all the time. And it may not be the same for piecing and quilting.

I prefer cotton or dual duty thread when I am piecing a quilt together. It seems to work best for me. But I have used the transparent thread for piecing because that is what I would use for quilting . I hate changing threads, so I use the same thread whenever possible.

For the actual quilting I normally use either cotton or polyester thread. But I have been known to use metallic, clear nylon or polyester or other speciality threads as I think the design needs.

Don’t limit your self to just one type of thread. Experiment and try different threads. But be certain to test threads out on a sample sandwich before tackling your quilt. It isn’t easy having to pick out stitches on a quilt sandwich. And there is always the chance that you could damage the outer fabric on your quilt.


Next Friday there will be a new article. So come back and check it out. Please leave a comment below to let me know if this article was helpful. If you have a subject you would like to learn more about, please leave it in the comments.



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