The Pull of the Stripe….

I am trying to break free from my stripes addiction, but the pull is strong! I need help buying non-stripes.

–Gillian Jacobs


I like stripes.

I also realize some quilters don’t.

And I’ve never understood why.

I do have an affinity for fabric that tends to give a quilt “movement.”  So, material with swirls and irregular motifs or paisleys play a prominent role in my quilts and my stash.  These fabrics tend to make the viewer’s eyes move across the quilt and then up and down it instead of focusing in on only the center.  They also go a long way to help disguise any quilting mistakes.

However, for me, striped fabric is one of the most versatile materials that has movement.  There’s just so much a quilter can do with it.  You have to be careful when you use it, but to me, that extra-step in fabric layout is more than worth it when the quilt top is completed.  Some folks may fear that extra step, but if you think about it, quilters have been dealing with stripes on some level all the time.  Made a Log Cabin quilt?  That’s working with stripes.  Made a Rail Fence quilt?  Again, you’ve worked with stripes.  Sewed two strips of fabric together and then sub-cut into squares to make a four-patch or nine-patch?  Stripes.

Strip piecing

nine patches (2)

Rail Fence Quilt

Log Cabin Quilt

Trust me.  You’ve played with stripes before and you will again.

The first issue that must be dealt with is that striped fabric is that it is directional and directional fabrics are not always suited for all quilt blocks.  A directional fabric is defined as fabric that has an obvious an up and down and/or left and right on the outside of the material due to the manufacturing process.  It does require some extra planning and additional care when cutting the quilt out.  Blocks that are strip pieced may not work because segments cut this way often have to be turned and flipped, so all the stripes may not run the same direction once the block is completed.  You must think through the layout and cutting before grabbing that rotary cutter and ruler. In other words, that glass of wine you may have while your quilting?  Leave that alone until after everything is cut out.

Another issue you have to think about is the scale of the stripe.  In many ways, this is the same characteristic you must consider with any fabric – we know large-scale prints can lose much of their beauty and definition when confined to blocks comprised of small pieces.  If the stripes are large, cutting them into two-and-a-half inch blocks may make their beauty dissipate; however, if the stripes are narrow, those two-and-a-half inch blocks can take on great movement and character.

Most stripes are printed to run parallel to the length-wise grain of the fabric (parallel with the selvedge).  There is some that will run on the cross-wise grain, and occasionally the stripes will run diagonally on the 45-degree bias angle.  The easiest way for me to begin to plan my quilt pieces is to take myself back to the very basics of quilting and use templates.

Yes.  Templates.

Most of the time when we read the cutting directions, they will ask us to cut out strips and then sub-cut these into squares or rectangles.  With a little practice, we can usually cut those out without templates and have all the stripes running the same way (at least with the squares – I would still recommend templates for the rectangles).  If your pattern has setting triangles, often the directions will tell you to cut out a square and then cut the square on the diagonal once or twice.  This is where your stripes can get really wonky.  They can run horizontal across two ends of your quilt and vertical across the other two ends.  If this is the look you’re going for, you’re good to go. But if it’s not, try this – cut out templates the unfinished size of your setting triangle and use this as the pattern to cut out all of them.  This takes longer, but it assures you that all your stripes will run in the same direction.

Templates on fabric

My favorite kind of striped fabric are the border prints.  Border prints are fabric with wider stripes that can be used to frame your quilt.  It gives the borders more pizazz and looks like you’ve spent tons of time planning that part of your quilt, when it really all it consists of is carefully cutting the stripes apart on the length-wise grain of fabric.  It’s really great if you can miter these stripes in the corners so that everything matches up.  If not, use cornerstones and go with that.  One quilt and pattern designer that takes using border fabrics to a whole new level is Jinny Byer.  Go to her website and be prepared to be awed.  Border fabric is also great to use with kaleidoscope quilts or for creating columns between vertical rows or sashing for horizontal rows.

Border print

Yes, I  have used stripes for borders!


I like narrow-striped fabric, too, and not just for pieces of my quilt block.  I love to cut the narrow-striped fabric on the bias and use it for binding.  This makes the stripes run diagonally along the bias and add that last bit of movement to the very end of the quilt.  It’s just another “zip” in the “do-dah” of the quilt.

Striped binding


Give stripes a whirl.  You may love them or hate them.  You may want to reserve them only for borders or binding.

Or you may find yourself like I do myself: the pull for the stripes is strong…


Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam


PS… There will be no blog next week as I will be at the High Point Quilt Guild’s “Drop Everything and Just Quilt!” Annual Retreat with 33 of my closest quilting buddies…Sam’s minding the  quilt studio while I’m gone.  I know I’m leaving it in good paws.

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