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Saturday, May 17, 2014

Hand Quilting for Beginners: Fabric

This is the first article in a series of articles by Caron Mosey geared for the beginning hand quilter.  If you have NEVER hand quilted before or just dabbled in it with no instruction and want to know how, this is for you! 

What kind of fabric is best for hand quilting?

100 percent cotton fabric is the best choice for any hand quilter.  Quilters have been working with cotton for as long as quilting has been around.  It is basic, it comes from the land, and you won’t go wrong with cotton.  That is not to say that eventually you might add another type of fabric into your quilt, but for starters, stick with all cotton.

fabrics1We know that when we purchase sheets for our beds, we see a mention of so many threads per inch.  That is called “Thread Count.”  For information on thread count, visit the article “What does thread count really mean.”  When you shop for fabric for quilting, here are a few guidelines that do not include a mention of thread count.

  • For your first few quilts, visit an actual quilt shop and not a “big box commercial store.”  A manufacturer of fabric usually makes two different versions of the same fabric.  One is of higher quality than the other, and you want a good quality fabric.  Visit a quilt shop for your best fabrics.
  • Feel any fabric that you find appealing.  Touch it.  Close your eyes and rub it between your fingers.  Does it feel soft or coarse?  You want a fabric that is soft rather than one that feels like a scrubbing pad you want to wash your dishes with.  For your first quilt, you might consider a fabric called a Batiste.  It is very soft and gentle, often used for baby clothes. 
  • Fabric is expensive.  There is no question about that.  The money you invest in your quilt is precious.  Buy quality fabric.  Not just for the front, but for the back as well.  Please do not buy a bed sheet for the back, even if it is 100 percent cotton.  Here is a video on YouTube by Alex Anderson that talks about using a bed sheet for the back.  Please watch it!
  • As a beginner, you might hear quilters arguing whether or not to prewash fabric that you will use in your quilts.  Here are the Pros and the Cons of prewashing.


Always Prewash

Never Prewash

Fabric from any  manufacturer is treated with things like chemicals, starches, anti-insect sprays, etc.  As a quilter, you don’t want anything extra in or on your fabric that will make it more difficult for you to quilt. (Keep this in mind when we talk later about basting a quilt sandwich together!) Remember, you will be quilting by hand, and you want your needle to glide through the fabric as if you are stitching through butter. The fabric looks good when you bring it home.  If you wash it, that  means that you will need to dry it and press it to get it to look the way it did when you bought it.  Do you really have time to do that?  Do you like ironing?
Fabric that has any color in it has gone through a dye process at the manufacturer.  Much of the excess dye has been removed, but not all.  If you do not check the fabric for this on your own, you have no guarantee that the dye won’t bleed onto any other fabric in your quilt.  Quilts can take hundreds of hours to make and hand quilt.  Do you REALLY want to take the chance that when you wash your quilt, it will be ruined by bleeding dyes? You might hear quilters say they never prewash and have never had any fabric bleed onto their quilts.  These people are lucky!  Please take a moment to visit this article and read about a major problem I had with bleeding. 

Color Catchers are a help, but not always 100 percent successful. 
You are a beginning hand quilter.  You are reading this article because you want to learn something new.  Please be good to yourself and follow good information.  After you have made a few quilts yourself, feel free to change your mind.  Please don’t take a risk on your very first quilt. 


See the block in this photo?  It was included in a group quilt.  Everyone was asked to prewash their fabrics.  This reddish-brown fabric did not get prewashed, and the dye bled all over the white fabric.  The fabric on the front, AND the fabric on the back! 

Don’t let this happen to YOUR quilt!  Please always prewash your fabric. 





  1. Excellent advice, Caron. I hope you'll link up to this over on FB.

  2. excellent - quilters should be aware though that fabric can be prewashed several times and then several years later be put in a new washing machine that has different kind of cycles and bleed - if you have a new washing machine that is a water saver select BULK wash load if you have it or something similar - this will fill your machine full of water and not just a couple gallons of water - you have to wash a quilt with a lot of water or the dye might still bleed even if it has been prewashed. I learned the hard way when I got a new water saver machine

    1. Thanks so much for this information! I didn't have any idea that the quantity of water made a difference!

  3. well who knew about the bulk thing ! ? Amazing;learn something new every day :)

  4. This is a great idea Caron. With so many new hand quilters joining every week, the same questions keep getting asked over and over again. Now there is a single place we can direct them all to. It's like writing a book but not getting any royalties. Thank you on behalf of all the members.

  5. Thank you so much for beginning a series for beginning hand quilters. I've made less than a dozen quilts and hand quilted only several. I've never paid much attention to the brands of fabric but I do notice how they feel in my hand before purchasing and have avoided fabrics that feel stiff or scratchy, but they haven't necessarily been name-brand fabrics. I needed fabric for a back and didn't have any on hand. I deliberated whether to piece a back or buy fabric. I finally went to a quilt shop (there aren't many here in my area) and found a piece of Chateau Rouge by French General (moda). Gosh, it's amazing fabric! I may have trouble using the fabric I have on hand after using that! I'm looking forward to the next installments in this series. Thank you.

  6. Thanks for the beginners series ...
    I will be especially curious about the hoop/stand/frame part ...

  7. Thanks for this series for us beginners who want to learn.

  8. Loving this.............always wanted to learn to hand quilt................Will be following this series....

  9. Great article and love the bit about pre washing. I look forward to the rest of the series

  10. I'm a strong supporter of prewashing, especially reds, blues, and batiks. And not just washing it once and calling it good. I now wash all new fabric with color catchers until I can pull the catchers out relatively clear. Washing a quilt made with fabric that has already proven it will bleed is harrowing. It took three washes with color catchers (12 of them total) before I was satisfied the quilt wouldn't bleed any more. Despite the attitude I've gotten since about "Quilt Store fabric doesn't run," I assure you, it can.

  11. I am just catching this series for hand quilting, and I am enjoying it. I have never hand quilted, put would like to start on something small and work my way up to the ladder to something big. Thank you for this series on hand quilting.


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