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Quilting With King Cotton

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I’m a quilter, and I adore 100% cotton fabric. To me cotton is the king of fabrics, with silk dupioni running a close second. My husband would readily agree, as I literally have closets full of gorgeous cotton fabric for quilting. Back when I began quilting- a long time ago- 100 percent cotton fabric was very difficult to find. Available colors and patterns were rather bland, and often the cotton was mixed with polyester, a synthetic fiber which attained great popularity between 1950 and the 1970s due to its comparatively low cost and non-wrinkling quality. After years of standing over a hot iron, the very thought of wrinkle-free garments was exhilarating! It was fine for clothing, but I didn’t like quilting with it.

Why Cotton?

The main reasons that I prefer cotton for quilting is that cotton quilt pieces line up better, “stick” together for sewing, and don’t distort the way that polyester fabric sometimes does. Mixing polyester and cotton fabric pieces together in a quilt can create seams that are uneven or bumpy. i.e., distorted. Additionally, where a good steam press can often correct a problem seam when the fabrics are all cotton, polyester seems to have a mind of its own, refusing all efforts to make it lie flat.

Beards Are OK On The Face, But Not On The Quilt

Nothing is more annoying on a quilt then to see little spikes of fiber polking through the quilt top or bottom. Polyester batting and polyester fabric can sometimes beard, creating an unsightly appearance. Because of this tendency, I prefer cotton fabric and 100 percent cotton batting as well. I like the thinner cotton bats as they create a more antique appearance in my opinion.

Ah, Comfort!

For me, a cotton quilt is far more comfortable to sleep beneath since cotton, a natural fiber, breathes. Polyester seems to trap moisture which I find quite uncomfortable.

Quilting By Hand

Needling is the term applied to hand quilting, or attaching the 3 layers of the quilt together using a needle and thread. When done well, hand quilted designs can be absolutely magnificent and literally ‘make’ the quilt. Obviously, hand quilting is time consuming.

Most quilters would agree that cotton is far easier to quilt by hand then is polyester. Hours spent hand quilting can be hard on the joints and fingers, especially for those aiming for a substantial number of stitches per inch. If you intend to machine quilt your project, obviously your sewing machine won’t care about your fabric choice. My suggestion? Start with a small project, a table runner for example, and see which fibers and quilting methods work best for you.

And A Word About Pre-Washing Fabric

I don’t. Yes, I know many quilters who wash and iron yards of fabric, but I prefer to use my cottons as they come from the manufacturer, usually with a nice finish that makes cutting easier. Since I use 100 percent cotton for the quilt top, the bottom, and batting, everything shrinks at the same rate. (Cotton can shrink 2-3 inches per yard if it isn’t preshrunk.) I do, however, pre-test all red fabric for dye leakage by putting a swatch into a glass of warm water with a few drops of detergent. I let it sit for 30 minutes or so; if the water turns reddish, I wash and iron the fabric. I also use a fresh dye magnet (available at your local grocery store) when laundering any fabric with red in it.


By Florence Dove Google

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