Two Tips to Prepare Fabric

Two Tips to Prepare Fabric

Let’s pretend you just blew your grocery budget at the local quilt shop (LQS) on new fabric for your first quilt… we’ve all been there. #oopsIdiditagain

If you’re anything like me, the last thing you want to do is stop to prepare your fabric. I can hear you now saying “I want to get to the cutting!” As a short-attention-span quilter, I totally get this, but hold on to your pantaloons and hear me out.

In quilting, the success of each step depends on the accuracy of the previous step. Taking the extra couple of minutes to prepare your fabric before cutting will lead to more accurate cuts, more accurate cuts lead to more accurate sewing, on so on.

Here are the two most important things to know about preparing your fabric for a quilt: 

  1. Pressing and ironing are different

I’ll be honest, I rolled my eyes the first few times I read this advice. I also cried when I realized my refusal to follow the advice resulted in a ruined piece of fabric.

We iron clothes by setting the iron down on the garment and moving it from side to side without ever lifting the iron. If you were to do this with the fabric you just brought home from the quilt shop, you will stretch it  and this is a bad thing.

We press quilting cotton by setting the iron down on the fabric, wait a beat, pick it up and move it a few inches in either direction, set it down, wait a beat, and so on. Seems like such a small difference, right? Trust me on this one, don’t be a Sarah and ignore this advice. 😊 This is as important when you are pressing large pieces of fabric that haven’t been cut as it is when pressing smaller pieces.


Tip: Some quilters use steam, some use starch and some don’t use anything besides a dry iron. Try all three and see which one you like the most. Keep in mind, however, that wet fabric stretches even easier than dry fabric.

  1. Refold the fabric

When using fabric that has been cut off the bolt, the selvedges (those raw edge ends opposite of each other) are rarely “square”. It’s tempting to just leave it be since there is already a nice crisp fold, but there are two reasons not to. 

The dreaded “V” strip…the center is wider than the rest of the strip.

If you use the fold to cut long strips, as I will show you in the “Fabric Cutting” post, you will end up with strips that have a useless V in the middle, like the picture below. If the strip you cut is 2.5” wide, that V could be more like 2.75” and as a result, will pieces you cut from that section of the strip will already be the wrong size.

The solution is easy!  Before you start cutting, refold the fabric by matching up the selvedge edges as closely as possible and press a new fold.

(note: this tip doesn’t apply to fat quarters, since they only have one selvedge and aren’t cut of the bolt. Just make sure to press them flat)

See? That wasn’t so bad right? If you make a habit out of these two fabric preparation tips, you will have set yourself up for success in the following step, cutting. It’s the little things like this, I’ve found, that really add up in the end!

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