As a beginner in this wonderful world of patchwork and quilting, you can easily become a little confused with all the terminology and general guidelines that can apply to the many different sections of the craft. Should you wash new fabric? What fabrics can you use? What thread is best for each task? Well, for this blog I thought I’d look at the frequently asked questions and see if we can answer a few for you. If you are an intermediate or even advanced quilter, you never know you may still pick up a little nugget of information.

Should I Wash My Fabrics?

This one is a question that appears quite regularly in any forum. Should fabrics be washed prior to use? There are some teachers that say ‘yes, always’ and if you asked me ‘do you wash yours?’ I’d say ‘of course, mostly, sometimes…’

Pre-cuts – those pre-cut fabric bundles that are known as Jelly Rolls, Layer Cakes, Fabulous Forties, Charm Packs etc. (some of these names are trademarked to Moda, some not) are definitely NOT washed prior to use. Good quality fabrics with trustworthy dyes not likely to run or bleed during washing and those pre-cuts can end up in a huge tangled mess when they come out of the washing machine!

As to the rest of those wonderful ranges of fabrics that are available to us generally the answer is yes, wash. Having said that, if you are working with good quality quilters weight cotton from reputable companies, the technology used in the manufacturing process means that if you just can’t be bothered or, like me, were just too keen to start my new quilt, then don’t worry too much. The only caveat to this would be strong colours, such as a bold red. Sometimes even the best companies red fabrics will still leak dye in those first few washes. The reds I used in my FREE Hearts runner pattern, ideal for beginners, were leftovers from other projects. These would need to be washed prior to use as they sit against pale creams.

If you have bought cheaper fabrics then again, yes. P&Q is not necessarily a cheap hobby so it can be tempting to buy cheap fabrics but there is a consequence to that. Cheaper production costs, cheaper dyes means more chance of shrinkage and dye bleed. Always wash.

Pre-loved fabrics? Repurposing fabrics from other items be it clothing or perhaps something you found in your Grandmothers loft/charity shop? Yes, wash, just in case.

If fabrics are unwashed prior to starting a project, when washed it can cause the quilt to take on a ‘vintage’ look, something I love. This is caused by the fabrics shrinking a little. This would have happened before being assembled if the fabrics had been pre-washed. So the final answer is? Maybe…. But generally, yes.

Linen threads for hand embroidery

The Question of Thread, Which for What?

This one is a little simpler to answer. I always say use 100% cotton for piecing and quilting unless you are using a specific thread for a specific purpose. I’m thinking decorative threads for embroidery on wall hangings as an example. There are different weights of threads and you can check out the manufacturer’s websites for advice on which and what to use.

The difference between using poly, or poly/cotton mixes, and cotton is that polyester is stronger than cotton. When used in a quilt, either in the piecing or the quilting the general movement of the quilt can eventually wear, or cut, the cotton fibres leaving holes or slits. Again, if you think you can live with this, we are talking years of wear here, then don’t worry, use up your threads but perhaps think about buying 100% cotton when you need to replace them. As an added point, I’ve begun to think about more and more, is that a fair proportion of the tiny plastic particles polluting the ocean come from polyester clothing. I’ve switched to natural fabrics as much as I can when making my quilts as I don’t like the idea of adding to those pollutants. (I’m not a saint, just doing a little bit here and there.)

This brings me onto wadding. Can you join wadding together to make a piece large enough for your quilt?

Yes, you can! Butt the edges together and, with a coordinating thread, either hand stitch a Ladder stitch to join or run it through your sewing machine with a wide Zig Zag stitch. Make sure the edge doesn’t overlap which would leave a ridge but other than that, it’s very simple. Your quilting will ensure everything stays in place.

Various wadding/batting
Ladder stitch to join pieces – Use a coordinating thread, the red was for demonstration!

Which way should I press my seams?

You may have heard the quote from the famous space film ‘to the dark side’ but what does this actually mean? When you have joined to pieces of fabric the seam should be pressed to the dark side, the darker fabric. Why? Firstly, you won’t see the seam through the darker of the fabrics whereas you can see it through a light fabric and secondly, it stops the migration of fibres from the wadding slipping through the gaps between the stitching of the seam. There are times that you may wish to press your seams open and with modern wadding, the risk of fibre migration is much reduced. Sometimes, such as in the below example, to get a neat pinwheel of seams some get pressed another way. Go with the flow for the neatest finish.

Seams to the dark side, mostly!

Needles are next, what needles should I use?

Needles should be changed regularly. For my sewing machine, I always suggest a new needle for every project. Usually, 8 – 10hrs sewing is a good guide. Don’t forget to change your hand sewing ones too. I was struggling with hand quilting a recent project and couldn’t work out why it wasn’t as easy to stitch until I tried a new needle. They do blunt over time so if you feel resistance when stitching, try changing. As to which brand to buy? Machine needles? I go for Schmetz, they are good quality, available everywhere needles. For hand sewing, you can find a selection available such as John James, British made, or perhaps Tulip which are made in Hiroshima from Japanese steel and come in wonderful packaging. (Mini test tubes.) Both John James and Schmetz websites have plenty of information for further reading.

This blog grew at an alarming rate. It started as a simple question and answer list for some of the most commonly asked questions and ended up quite long. Apologies for that but I hope you have learned something new and if you have any more questions you’d like answered, leave a comment, check out the Hints and Tips on UKQU or visit my website at Strictly Quilting and I will always try and help. Take care and stay safe!