Which Direction Does it Go?

I would like to talk about one of my very favorite topics this week – fabric.  It’s no secret that all quilters like pretty fabric. And fortunately, we live in a day and age where material producers can manufacture fabric that appeals to all quilters.  However, there is one type of fabric that can give quilters a fit – directional fabric.

Directional fabric is any fabric that has a distinct “up and down” or flows in an obvious direction.  For instance, this fabric is not directional fabric.  I can turn it this way…

Or this way….

And it doesn’t make any difference.  There is no distinct up and down. 

However, this fabric does.  If I turn it this way it looks correct.

If I turn it around the other way, it doesn’t.  The ballerinas would be dancing upside down. 

Striped fabric falls into the directional fabric category.  While it can be used either vertically or horizontally, a quilter must work to keep it all going the same way in his or her quilt.  Border prints often must be treated the same way, depending on if it’s used for small patches or the actual quilt border.  While striped and border prints usually run vertically when coming off the fabric bolt, care must be given when cutting them out so that they work correctly with a quilt. 

In other words, if you want to use directional fabric in your quilt, there is some additional planning that must be done.  At this point, you may be asking yourself, “Is it really worth it?  Is using directional fabric that important in a quilt that I have to add extra time and effort in the planning stages?”  To be sure, not all quilts have or need directional fabric.  However, directional fabric adds movement to a quilt and, if used correctly, can help the eye move across the top.  It can give it added interest and just a little more “zing” than normal.  My very favorite type of directional fabric is stripes.  I love to cut striped material for binding.  I cut it on the bias so that it slants sideways around the quilt.  This is particularly effective with red and white striped fabric on Christmas quilts – it looks like peppermint candy canes. 

There are generally three types of directional fabric:  Border prints, stripes, and those fabrics that have a definite up and down.  We will look at each and discuss how to use them effectively.  Since we’ve already mention stripes, we will begin with them. 

Ideally, you want all the stripes used in your piecing to run either vertically or horizontally.  There are some exceptions to this (as in Spider Web Quilts),

Spider Web Quilt

but usually you will want the strips to run either all left to right or up and down.  Therefore, striped fabric is generally not a good choice for any quilt you plan to strip piece.  As you strip piece, the patches will be turned and twisted, so you run into the situation where some of the strips in the block will be vertical and others horizontal.  If you’re making a scrap quilt, it doesn’t matter as much.  Ditto if you’re copying an antique quilt.  Our quilting fore mothers didn’t care if their stripes ran different directions.  The scale of the stripes is also something that should be considered.  If the stripes are wide and the pieces in the block are small, the fabric may not work. 

Border Print

Border prints in themselves are just a lot of fun to use in quilts.  Obviously, they can be used for the quilt borders, but they are useful for a few other things.  I use them as a starting point to help me pick my other fabric for a quilt.  The colors may not necessarily match what I end up using, and I may opt not to use the border print, but it’s a great place to start designing your quilt.  If the border print has wide repeats, there is a chance that I can use part of that repeat in my sashing – which really helps pull the quilt together.  And if you’re into kaleidoscope quilts, border prints work perfectly for that technique. 

Kaleidoscope Quilt

Fabric that has a definite up and down or flow is the trickiest of all to work with.  You don’t necessarily want to use the fabric in a quilt block and have it upside down – again unless it’s a scrappy quilt.  In my opinion, this fabric takes more planning that striped material. 

So how do you make directional fabric work in your quilt?  There are options out there, and I’d like to tell you how I manage all of these wonderful, directional fabrics. 

  1.  I see if I can miter the striped fabrics and/or the border prints in my quilt borders.
This quilter used a border print and mitered the borders.

The wonderful thing about border prints used as borders is that it looks like you’ve performed excruciating piecing or applique when you haven’t.  So not only can a border print work to pull all the colors of your quilt together, it can also fool the viewer into thinking you spent hours on your borders when you didn’t (but keep that to yourself and let everybody else wonder at your piecing or appliqueing skills).  However, since a border print is inherently just a fabric with really large stripes, if you simply cut the strips to fit the sides of the quilt and sewed them on as normal, it wouldn’t really look right. However, you can get around mitering (if that’s really not your thing), by adding cornerstones.

But in my opinion, if the corners can be mitered, it looks so much better – kind of like a picture frame around the quilt.  Mitering isn’t difficult and I covered this topic in my 2018 blogs on borders. 

  •  Templates can save your quilting neck when you use directional fabrics.

I admit that using templates is probably one of my least favorite quilting techniques.  I imagine this deep feeling of resentment comes from my early quilting days when everyone was taught to piece by using templates.  When I began quilting in 1986, rotary cutters were not used by the majority of quilters.  I had to make templates out of card stock or thin cardboard, trace those onto my fabric and then cut out my patches.  I thought that this was too laborious and the least fun thing ever.  When the rotary cutter and cutting mats began showing up in quilt classes and shops, I was delighted. 

There is one handy-dandy thing about templates:  If they’re cut out of see-through paper, you can easily preview your fabrics in the shape they’ll be after they’re cut out.  This means you can turn the templates the way the fabric patches will be oriented in the quilt, so you can clearly see if the directional fabric will work as well as how you need to cut it out.  And usually, I will trace around the templates on the directional fabric and cut out my patches with scissors.  Then I use a piece of painter’s tape or a sticker to label the patch and where it goes in the block.  This process takes a little extra time, but it assures me that my directional fabric will be oriented the way I need it to be. 

  •  If you love the directional fabric, but don’t want to go through mitering or templates, use it as a focus fabric in a block that has a large-ish center.

Take for example, this block:

It has a nice, large center square.  It would be a great idea just to fussy cut your border fabric or other directional fabric and use it for the center in this block.

This would mean little waste in fabric, plus it would be really easy to make sure your directional fabric is turned the right way.  It adds interest and helps pull the quilt colors together. 

So, don’t let directional fabric daunt you.  It’s a great thing to use in the quilting process.  It adds movement to your top and it’s just plain fun.  It does take a little extra planning and perhaps a little extra fabric, but it’s so worth it!

Until next week, Quilt with Passion!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam

2 replies on “Which Direction Does it Go?”

I have dancing fairies on the planned border of the quilt however I hate to see them dancing upside down on the top of the quilt – which will be the effect if i keep the direction of the fabric the same all the way around.

There are a couple of ways you can approach this, and since I can’t see the fabric, I’m not sure if any of the will work. The first approach is to cut your borders so all the fairies are right side up. This can cause two issues. First, you need to have enough fabric to make that approach work. The second issue is you may have to two borders WOF and two LOF, which can cause your borders to be wavy. Sometimes enough quilting can take care of that. The second approach is to cut two borders with the fairies right side up and sew those on the quilt and make the other two borders out of another fabric. Or only have two borders. There’s no law which states a quilt must have four borders.

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