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#QuiltingTheory – Fabric

In this weeks post, we are going to be looking at fabric. Yay! When starting out, the selection of quilting fabrics can be exciting and scary. There are so many colours, patterns and different types of fabric cuts that you can buy……the amount of choice and decisions to be made can be overwhelming. It doesn’t take long before a fabric shop can feel like a candy shop though!!!

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Today, we’re going to be looking at the different ways in which you can buy quilting fabric cuts, and use them. There’s a lot of detail covered, so if you would like to jump to a particular section, here are the different headings;

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Buying Quilting Fabric

There are a few different ways to buy fabric for quilting projects;

  • Precuts: 42 pieces cut to a certain shape/size from one range of fabric.
  • Quilting cuts: most common are Fat Quarters/Fat Eighths.
  • Yardage/Meterage: ideal for larger projects and quilt backings.

When I first started quilting, pre-cuts were a great way of getting variety in my patchwork, which was great when I didn’t have a stash and still nervous about putting colours and patterns together.

Pre-cuts will sometimes have duplicates of fabric patterns/colourways, depending on the size of the range (which can be anything from 20+ different prints). Common pre-cuts are;

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  • Mini/Candy Charms: (42) 2.5″ squares
  • Charm Pack: (42) 5″ squares
  • Layer Cake: (42) 10″ squares
  • Jelly Roll: (42) x 2.5″ x Width of Fabric strips

My only advice with pre-cuts is to be extra careful when sewing them together. Double check the size as I have often found that I need to use a slightly more scant seam allowance than I normally would to achieve accurate results.

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If you’re looking to buy bigger pieces of fabric – either for a specific project or to build up your stash – the most common cut is a Fat Quarter. However, Fat Eighths are also great for smaller projects or applique/scrap projects.

Using quilting fabric

#QuiltingTheory - learn everything you need to know to start quilting and grow your skills. Today we're looking at quilting fabric cuts and how to draw marks on fabric by fabricandflowers | Sonia Spence


The selvedge runs along each side edge of each fabric, and prevents it from unravelling . One side will detail the manufacturer, designer and name of the fabric range as well as individual colour dots (or sometimes motifs!) that identify the exact colours used in the fabric printing. This is a great way of getting an exact colour match if you are looking to use solids.

Some quilters like to cut off the informational selvedge by 1-2″ to use them in other projects (Pinterest is a great source of projects!). The other selvedge side sometimes has the design print running all the way to the edge of the fabric but also needs to be cut off as it has a different texture (like a tape) and tiny holes.

Generally, cutting off the selvedges will leave 42″ of useable fabric.

Right/Wrong side of fabric

For most fabrics, it is easy to tell the difference between the front (right side) and back (wrong side) of the fabric as the front tends to have stronger colour where the pattern is printed on.

On some fabrics though, such as solids, batiks or Liberty Tana Lawns, it can be a bit trickier to identify the front of the fabric as the printing process and/or thinner fabrics means that the colours seep through to a much greater extent. Where this is the case, I normally do a couple of things;

  • Fold the fabric back on itself. If there is no noticeable difference in the colour/texture of the fabric, I don’t worry about it too much!
  • If there is a noticeable difference, I will decide which side to work with. As I cut the pieces out, I will mark them (with one of the marking tools or maybe a bit of washi tape) so that they all get used in the same way.

To wash or not to wash fabric?

This is a subject that causes much debate between quilters – should fabrics be pre-washed, or left until the quilt is finished???

Fabric undergoes lots of different processes and treatments whilst it’s being made. One of these includes adding starch. Pre-washing will remove this and can mean that, even with pressing, it can be difficult to get all the creases out of the fabric again.

Generally speaking, as long as you are using the same fabric type throughout your project eg. all cotton, it doesn’t make too much difference to the finished item as they should all react in a similar way to being washed.

One benefit of leaving washing until the quilt is finished, is that the fabric will shrink (generally by 3-5%) giving the quilt a lovely crinkled effect and – assuming all the fabric are made with the same materials – all fabrics will shrink by the same amount.

HOWEVER, it does become a bit nerve-racking to do this if the project you are working on is high contrast or has a very vibrant colour eg. red or navy.

I follow the non-wash* approach and throw in a couple of colour catchers with the first wash. If it’s a particularly strong colour, I’ll put a couple of extras in for good measure. The sheets absorb any colour that does run and so far, this strategy has always worked for me. And sometimes it’s the colours that you don’t expect to run that do! I would, however, always recommend using your own discretion or testing the fabric if you’re especially concerned and it’s a project that you are going to invest a lot of time and money in.

*NOTE: this is different to dress-making where I would always recommend pre-washing your fabric as it is devastating to make an item of clothing that is the perfect fit only to have it shrink after its first wash!

How to cut fabric straight

Ooooh, this is a good topic! From experience, I have found that some fabrics can be printed wonky. It’s frustrating, but it does happen, so ‘straight’ can sometimes be relative to the pattern of the fabric you are using!

When I am cutting fabric, I use a quilting ruler as a guide against the selvedge (a straight edge) to ensure accuracy.

However, if the fabric has a noticeable pattern – and it is not perpendicular to the selvedge – I cut in line with this as any unevenness can be highly noticeable once it’s pieced into a quilt.

Marking Tools for Quilting Fabric

#QuiltingTheory - learn everything you need to know to start quilting and grow your skills. Today we're looking at quilting fabric cuts and how to draw marks on fabric by fabricandflowers | Sonia Spence

When quilting, you will sometimes want to draw on your fabric – either to mark a sewing line, quilting pattern or template line for applique.

There are lots of different pens, pencils and tools available for drawing and marking on fabric. Again, what you use is most often down to personal preference and the project that you are working on. Over the years, I have tried out a number of the most commonly used options;

  • Frixion pen (A): draw on the fabric and when finished, run over the lines with a hot iron and the lines will disappear. It’s magic! However, the lines can come back if the temperature gets extremely cold and, depending on the fabric, it can leave a residual line which doesn’t completely disappear.
  • Washable pen (B): draws just like a felt-tip pen, but the line washes away when dabbed with water.
  • Air erasable pen (C): Once drawn, the pen line will gradually disappear the longer it’s left in the open. This is okay if you only need a mark temporarily, but if the project is going to take a bit of time it can be frustrating if your marks have disappeared! Also worth noting that it disappears a lot quicker in hot weather!!!
  • Silver gel pen (D): These are great for needle-turn applique. You can draw the shape/lines on the front of the fabric and the line gradually wears off as you handle the fabric. It also shows up on a variety of different coloured fabrics.
  • Mechanical pencil (E): a pencil with a retractable/extendable lead inside. Each pencil often comes with a few leads inside and refills can be purchased.
  • Ceramic lead pencil (F): much like a mechanical pencil, the lead can be extended/retracted and the refills can be purchased. The leads come in different colours – I like the yellow as it seems to show on both light and dark fabrics (I know it looks barely visible in the picture but I promise that under the light of a sewing machine it does show up!). The line can then be erased with a damp sponge or gentle rubbing. Also useful for dress-making.

If I am drawing on the front of the fabric, I tend to use a washable pen (drawing embroidery lines), silver gel pen (for marking dark fabrics/zips when pouch making and needle-turn applique) and ceramic lead pencil.

If I want to mark the back of the fabrics/within the seam allowance I use a mechanical pencil. These probably get the most use in my sewing room and I buy them in packs (or refills) – they can be picked up easily and cheaply so are quite cost efficient too!

Phew – yet another mammoth post!!!!! I hope it’s all been useful. Please do make sure that you carry out your own checks when using, washing and marking fabrics as the reactions/results can vary depending on so many different factors – please remember that these are only my thoughts and experiences!

If you’d like to look at any of the other posts in #QuiltingTheory please have a look at the schedule;

See you next week when we’ll be looking at quilting tools!


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