Saturday, January 10, 2015

REWIND: Fabrics (and their fibre content) that I've used in my quilts

Welcome back to REWIND! Every now and then I "rewind" and republish one of my older posts that you may have missed! Today I'm going to share a post from July 2013. In this issue I talk about some of the fabrics I've used to make my quilts!

Fabrics (and their fibre content) that I've used in my quilts
Let me preface with the following: I make quilts because I like them, I plan to use them AND I will not be entering them in a juried show.

I was taught to make hexagons by my Grandmother when I was a girl but that was about all I knew about patchwork for many years. When I started quilting as an adult in the late 1970s I was living in a very small town in the far north. There were no shops where I could buy fabric or quilt guilds where I could learn. My only source of information was the odd quilters' magazine. I would see a picture and draft my own pattern. The first lesson I learned, and I learned it the hard way, was that the 1/4" seam allowance is added all around the patch! That's a mistake you only make once!

As far as fabric goes I would order it mail order from a Sears catalogue OR there was mail order business in Alaska that sold bags of scraps for quilting and they were cheap. But they were not 100% cotton. And I had no idea at that time that I was expected to use only 100% cotton. Well in that scrap bag was a lovely piece of turquoise with white polka dots and another small turquoise and white print. I loved both because they were kind of quirky and different (this was back in the days when brown calico was the rage). I used both in my quilts and this is one of the quilts that contains both fabrics. This was made back I my draft-your-own-pattern and figure-things-out days! I had no idea how to go about making a quilt like this but I did remember the hexagon lessons from my Grandma so this quilt was English paper pieced! Even the larger squares!

And I also snuck some of the turquoise into a block where it didn't belong - it was a thinking patch. I wanted people to think "did she mean to put that patch in there or was it a mistake that she didn't catch until AFTER the quilt was made"?

I used these two fabrics in many of my quilts because my plan was that they would be my "signature" fabric and I would put a small piece in every quilt I made.  That plan sort of fell by the wayside when I learned I should only use 100% cotton top quality designer fabrics and I think that is sad because looking at my quilt now I realize that I lost some of my spontaneity and creativity.
And here's another block made with who-knows-what but I'm pretty sure that there's some poly cotton in there!

I also used leftovers from the clothes that I made for myself. The blue points were from a mat dress.

And then one of the first true 100% quilting cottons was purchased. My brother sent me money as a gift and a visiting sewing store came to town. I purchase the blue fabric in the centre of this star - I loved it and bought as much as I could afford which was probably about 2 yards (I still have some of that fabric). 

Not only was I using blends but I was also using polyester thread....white polyester thread!!! It never occurred to me that you should match the thread to the fabric but then I didn't have much to chose from in the way of thread and white seemed like a good universal colour to use!

For a number of years I adhered to these rules - 100% cotton designer fabrics. But the trouble was that I was seeing some really nice fabrics that weren't designer fabrics OR fabrics that were poly-cotton blends. So what did I do? If it was a patch of fabric that I really liked and really needed it in a quilt I used it! I still try to use 100% cotton but it doesn't have to be designer fabric and if I run into the odd piece of 80/20 poly cotton that works in my quilt I use it. Why not? My quilts are to be used. And as for the notion that they won't last, neither will I so what's the problem? I made this quilt 30 years ago and it has been used like crazy.

I did stop using polyester thread for piecing and switched to 100% cotton. I still like it but am rethinking this because there are some really lovely soft polyester threads made for piecing and they work well, produce little to no lint and are much more economical. And if my scrappy star quilt has survived with 30 year old polyester thread......

Today I went to Fabricland for the 50% off everything sale. I had plenty of time so I went to the home dec section to browse. What did I see? Some fabulous cotton fabrics that are 104" wide.....and they were on sale at $12/metre. There is nothing wrong with these fabrics. They have a beautiful hand and are the same weight as quilting cottons. Can you say "cut me some of that"? I can and did! This one will make a beautify quilt backing! 

And the other fabric I purchased is a grey-beige which will be fabulous in something but I'm not sure what just yet! The print has a bit of a woven look to it like a linen.

My point here is that if you are committed to 100% designer cotton and you have the wallet for it, by all means continue. But if like me you want to make quilts that will be loved and used and the perfect fabric is a home dec fabric or an  odd bit of poly cotton blend I say go for it! It is your quilt after all and the quilt police will not come knocking at your door! And that's my two penneth worth for today!

Since I published this post I've begun using more polyester threads. I love Superior's So Fine! for piecing. It is soft and very affordable. I also use it for machine quilting! The quilt featured in this post is called A Pound of StarsWhen I made it many years ago I was inexperienced and didn't have access to classes or quilt shops. I knew how to English paper piece so that is how I constructed my quilt. You can read how it got its name here!

I hope you've enjoyed this edition of REWIND. Until I post again, happy sewing!

Karen H


  1. I hadn't read this before so I really enjoyed it!! Nothing like a walk down memory lane to appreciate what we have today!! Your quilt is STUNNING!!

  2. I adore that quilt, it's beautiful!!

    I agree with you regarding fibre content - gorgeous fabric is gorgeous fabric. If it's washable and a similar weight to the other fabrics, then it's fair game. Your early quilt proves it.

    I mainly use cotton thread because I was told that poly threads can weaken the seams on cotton quilts that get used and laundered frequently - but your quilt seems to disprove that. I've used poly lingerie threads in the bobbin for wall hangings and you're right that there's far less lint and it's much cheaper. I should try using them more often for both bobbin and top.

    And you scored with that amazing backing fabric!! Thanks for sharing :)

    1. I should have added that I now use good quality polyester thread. I'm sure that the really cheap stuff is no better that really cheap cotton thread!

  3. So Fine is one of my favorite heads, as well as Bottom Line. Great idea to check out the home dec department once in a while!you never know!

  4. I did enjoy your rewind post, Karen. I've begun to look at decorator fabrics but oh my going through those books is a chore. I love the yellow one you bought! Linda of Linda's Landscapes was very lucky to be GIVEN some upholstry sample books - She is so lucky - she can broderie perse to her heart's content.

  5. A beautiful quilt that has truly stood the test of time - whatever the cotton content! Love seeing the hand quilting - gives it such a soft vintage look :)

  6. Oh what a great post to re-publish! You know, I have only ever used a few decorator fabrics in my pieces as I couldn't find the right style in regular quilting cottons and they worked out fine--as a matter of fact I have a piece still that will go into my quilt for my Granddaughter. .
    I am going to try out some poly/cotton--why not; as you say, these will NOT be for Museum quality but for use and for family and gifts...why didn't I think outside the box like this??? Too many ads for $$$-er fabrics I guess...hugs, Julierose and Thanks

  7. P.S. And your quilt is lovely...hugs, Julierose

  8. Fun to read about your quilts--this one is so lovely. As a clothing and textiles major, I never bought into that "only use cotton thread because poly will cut your fabric" business. Each fiber or synthetic ingredient for fabric or thread has their strengths and weaknesses and they generally (except for maybe rayon and acrylic) play well together. So glad you wrote about using good synthetic threads in our quilting. I have 40 year old quilts that are holding up okay (loved that line of yours!).
    Thanks for this "rewind!"

  9. This is my favourite of your quilts. I love it's quirkiness, it's true scrappiness and homey look. I love to EPP, I am just finishing a King size Irish chain quilt, all made with papers, so I was happy to know even your big squares were over paper.
    My first quilt, like yours, had many weights and quality of fabric. I had not idea how to bind round the corners, so I cut them off ! I have to say it is one of my favourites.

  10. I really enjoyed this "Rewind" post. There are lots of lovely, well made fabrics that don't fit into the 100% cotton, fancy name brand category.
    Unlike you, I don't have to create a "thinking patch," there's usually at least one unplanned error in my blocks that I can pretend was on purpose.

  11. My very first quilt was made with a complete mixture of fabrics collected from old clothes, when the cottons wore out they just got patches sewn on top of them! I must admit to only using cotton now but as you say why not mix it up a bit.

  12. I've used all kinds of fabric, particularly old clothes (there's quite a few of these in the QAL hexies.) I often have no idea what they're made of! And that home dec fabric looks fabulous for fussy cutting.

    Still no reply, I suspect! WIsh I could fix it, Never mind.

  13. Loved this post Karen. Loved seeing your white thread stitches. The days when we did things with whatever we happened to have, and didn't know there were rules, were almost more fun. Lots of happy memories in my past of making due with what was on hand especially old clothes b/c I was free to cut them up to my hearts content, and not worry about wasting. Good times. :)