Recently a reader asked me how I go about making quilts that are square (not “square” as in the sides being equal to the top and bottom but as in having nice square corners). I’ll share how I do it in this post and in a couple more but please remember there are lots of ways to do everything and this is the way I do it. Your way may be better so if there’s anything you do differently from how I do it, please describe your way in a comment below and we can all learn from each other.
Before getting into the details of making the quilt, I’ll talk about the fabric and batting used. Typically, the fabrics from quilt shops, though maybe more expensive, are a better quality fabric than some of the fabrics from discount stores. I am not saying you cannot make a beautiful, long lasting quilt from less expensive fabric and if it comes down to not being able to quilt because you cannot afford (or just won’t do it) quilt shop fabric, please don’t stop quilting and certainly don’t feel like your quilts are less worthy than the quilts made from quilt shop fabrics. A good rule of thumb us to buy the best you can afford. I’ll add to that . . stock up when there’s a sale! No matter where you buy fabric, you want a good fabric that is woven evenly. Fabric is made from “greige” goods. Obviously, a lesser quality greige good is going to produce a lesser quality quilting fabric. Fabric is obviously made of thread so another factor in how our fabric feels is the thread count and the thread weight. Thread count is the number of threads per inch. Think of the various threads you have in your studio. Some are thicker than others. Laying 30 thin threads next to each other and weaving with those will obviously produce a thinner fabric than if 30 heavier weight threads are used. Not knowing the facts completely, but simply sharing my thoughts, I’ll compare/contrast two different fabrics by Moda. We all know that Moda is one of the premier quilt shop fabrics.
The top fabric, which appears to be lavender but is really pink, is Pieces from my Heart by Sandy Gervais for Moda. The bottom yellow fabric is Marbles by Moda. Marbles was once my favorite fabric. I dreamed of having 10 yards of every color. It is no longer my favorite . . not because it has changed but because my tastes have changed. It may be hard to see in the photo but the yellow fabric has a finer thread and is a lighter weight fabric. The Pieces from my Heart has a bit thicker, though certainly not thick, and this is the weight of fabric that I now love. The Krystal fabrics by Michael Miller are in this same weight category, while the Dimples by Andover fall between the heavier and lighter weight fabrics. I find that my borders lay flatter and tend to flare less when using the fabric that’s just a tad heavier than the Marble weight fabrics.
Without worrying about greige goods, thread count and weight, we can usually walk into the quilt shop and choose a fabric we like and get a great quality fabric. Thank you quilt shops for providing us with this opportunity and while I’m at it, if you have a great quilt shop near you, thank those ladies who provide that service. While the prices we pay for quilt shop fabric continues to go up, it’s because the shops are having to pay way more for the fabric, as well as probably everything else that goes into keeping those shop doors open (electricity, insurance, taxes, etc.). The prices are going up because the quilt shops have no choice and most of the shops are probably making less per yard than they were a few years ago
The only way for us to know what we’re getting is to handle the fabric and wash the fabric. Pre-washing or not will always bring up a good debate among quilters. I always pre-wash and here are the reasons:
- On rare occasions, twice that I can remember, I’ve had quilt shop fabrics come out of the dryer feeling like a flimsy piece of tissue. I could see through it almost, and it was simply limp. In a quilt, if there’s ever going to be a weak spot, a piece of fabric like this will be that weak spot. I’d much rather know that before putting that piece into a quilt.
- Every now and then a fabric dye tends to run. For the most part, one pass through the washer and dryer is all a fabric will need to wash away any excess dye but on rare occasions, fabrics need a little extra help to stop the running. I’d rather know that too before putting the fabric into a quilt.
- Have you ever been in a big warehouse full of fabric? Even though most of the bolts are wrapped in plastic, it’s often dusty in those warehouses. Sometimes the fabric sits in shops for a good while before you buy it and take it home. I prefer to wash away any foreign substance from the fabric before it goes into my stash.
- I just plain don’t like working with non-washed fabric! I don’t like the feel of it and I think it lays flatter once it’s been washed and dried and the fibers are a bit tighter.
Back to having flat quilts . . when you’re piecing the quilt, be sure that your blocks are square before sewing them into your quilt. When you sew a quilt together with blocks that aren’t completely square, you’re setting yourself up for a quilt that will not lay flat. If you don’t already have one, invest in a good, square ruler. I love the Creative Grids rulers and the squares that I use the most are the 12-1/2″ square, as well as the 16-1/2: square.
Tomorrow I’ll talk about adding the borders and squaring them up.