Fabric Crumbs

I’ve written a blog since around 2007, first on Blogspot and now on WordPress.  I am lucky enough to have some really faithful readers, whom I love and appreciate more than I can say.  One of the wonderful “side effects” of my blog is I get asked questions.  Sometimes these questions can lead into an entire blog on a subject.  And others deserve an answer, but sometimes those responses aren’t long enough for a blog.  This column will answer those questions which don’t need an entire blog, as well as throw out some quilty information I think you need to know, but that knowledge isn’t enough for an entire blog, either.  I’m calling this blog “Fabric Crumbs” because it’s just snippets of   material you need to tuck back and remember. 

The first topic this week is quilt backing fabric.  I’m talking about the fabric which specifically designed to be a back – it’s 108-inches or more in width.  Leanne the Long Arm loves backing fabric – she hates pieced backs.  If I have a quilt destined for Leanne, nine times out of ten, I have purchased backing fabric for that quilt.  Let me also remind you at this point, I’m a pre-washer.  Just about every piece of quilting fabric I use has been prewashed – including the back.  I realize the majority of my readers aren’t pre-washers, but let me throw a few facts in which may at least get you thinking it’s a good idea to wash backing fabric.  First of all, quilt backing fabric is more heavily treated than standard quilting cottons.  This fabric stays on the bolt longer and must look beautiful for extended periods of time.  Quilt backing fabric is treated with chemicals such as formaldehyde, which is not a good thing.  You may want to wash that out before handling it.  On top of this fact, the additional finishes will leave a residue in the machine performing the quilting.  Whether this is your machine or the long armer’s, this isn’t a good thing either. 

However, this final fact may prompt you to pre-wash your backing fabric:  Quilt backing fabric can shrink as much as eight percent, which is a much higher ratio than regular quilting cottons.  So, if you finish your quilt and rinse it out in the washing machine, you may have an appearance issue.  By the time it dries, the top and back could shrink at disproportional rates, making the final product look a little wonky.  Even if you don’t prewash the fabric for the front of your quilt, you may want to take the time to prewash the backing fabric if you’re using the 108-inch plus width kind.  After it dries, you’ll need to press it and add some starch or Best Press to it before you quilt it.

This leads me to the first question.  One reader asked,  “What’s your problem with Best Press?”  My regular readers know I use spray starch far more often than Best Press.  It’s not that I don’t like Best Press, but I prefer the look Spray Starch gives fabric over the appearance which Best Press leaves.  Perhaps it’s because when I began quilting Best Press wasn’t anywhere on the market and we all had to work with spray starch.  However, when I’m prepping prewashed fabric for rotary cutting, I definitely prefer spray starch over Best Press because the starch stabilizes the fabric far better (in my own opinion) than Best Press.  I don’t think it’s an issue over which product is better, because they’re both wonderful items to have in your quilt studio.  I simply think it’s a matter of personal preference, and I prefer spray starch. 

Another reader asked this question:  “What kind of basting glue do you use, or do you use one at all?”  I do use basting glue pretty regularly.  If I’m adhering fabric to fabric or an applique piece to a background, I like this one:

Roxanne Glue Stick.  I’ve used Roxanne’s liquid basting glue for years and loved it, but in my opinion, the glue stick is so much better.  It has the same adhesive power the liquid does, but in a glue stick form, which makes it a bit more controllable and easier to use. For paper piecing or Apliquick, I prefer Sewline or Karisma, but have grabbed an Elmer’s School Glue Stick.  The main idea to keep in mind with any glue used is it should be water-soluble, otherwise it will leave your fabric feeling stiff, even after it’s washed.

This leads me to the third question.  Several folks wanted to know if I washed my quilts and if I did, what do I use?  Truthfully, my wall hangings and small display quilts seldom, if ever, are washed.  They generally never need to be.  If they get dusty, I simply vacuum them.  My bedquilts are treated differently, and what I use and how I wash them depends on the quilt.  If it’s a pieced quilt, I use the delicate wash cycle on my washing machine and lay them over a drying rack to dry.  If they’re applique quilts – especially if they’re hand sewn – I fill my bathtub with cold water and let them soak. I roll them in towels to remove as much water as I can and then let them dry on the drying rack.  With either washing technique, I use either the blue Dawn dish detergent (because it has a surfactant in it) or Quilt Soap.  I don’t use regular laundry detergent. 

One of the most interesting question I’ve been asked is how do I plan my quilts?  To be honest, there’s more than one answer to that question.  Sometimes I see a quilt I’m completely inspired by and must make it.  At other times, I find a pattern I really love.  Sometimes it springs from a fabric.  However and whatever compels me to put needle and thread to fabric varies, but the process I follow is pretty much the same.  The beginning point in the process is the pattern.  If it’s a pattern already in print, I read it thoroughly.  If it’s one of my own designs, I’ll look try to figure every angle which may give me problems and make some notes. Then, like most everyone else, I cut, sew, assemble, and quilt.  But what I call the “Pre-Quilting Period” takes up several days’ worth of work.  I can be quite settled with the pattern and the fabric, but I generally have a good game plan before I make the first cut.  If it’s a pieced quilt, I know how I will assemble the units.  If it’s an applique quilt, I have decided which applique technique I’ll use.  If I’m altering the borders, those are drawn out.  I have assembled all the fabric special notions, rulers, and thread so everything I need is within easy reach.

This process is one I’ve utilized for years, because the actual time I have to quilt has always been limited.  When I started quilting, I had small kids, work, and grad school.  Now I work, my mom or grand darlings may need me, and I have community responsibilities.  I rarely have a day when I can sew for several hours at a stretch.  For me, it’s important to make the most of the scattered time I have.  This “Pre-Quilting Period” gets me organized so when I do have fifteen minutes here and there (or the luxury of an hour or so), I can make the most of it without wasting time trying to figure out my next step or where my supplies are. 

And since I now have a long arm, there’s another area I make decisions about in this early process – the quilting.  I make sure I have the batting I want.  If it comes in one of those small packages, I know I can lay it out on the spare bed and allow it  to “relax” for several days (let the wrinkles ease out of it).  If I intend to quilt it on Leanne the Long Arm, I find a wide quilt back which will work with the quilt top and prep it.  And then I get a really good idea about how I will quilt it.  If you don’t quilt your own quilts (either on a domestic machine or long arm), you may not see the need for this step.  You’ll still go through this process, but with your quilting artist’s input.  You’ll want to find out what kind of backing and batting he or she wants, as well as get yourself on the waiting list.  And when you deliver your quilt to the quilter, it is a great idea to have some different quilting designs in mind.  This really helps the quilter. 

In my 34 years of quilting, I’ve determined a little bit of extra time at the beginning of the process goes a long way in keeping myself organized and finishing the quilt in a fairly timely manner.

Someone else asked how many projects am I working on at any one given time?  I think it’s a given most quilters have ADD when it comes to projects.  One of our quilty friends may have a new pattern under their needle and we decide we just must make that quilt, too.  A new line of fabric may pull our attention away from what we’re working on now.  Then there’s all those quilt magazines with their slick pictures…and I admit I’ve fallen victim for some of these – okay, a lot of these…

Ideally, for me, I have four on-going projects.  I fully confess I’m not a quilter who can work on one quilt from beginning to end until it’s finished.  I get bored.  So, I have two machine-pieced quilts in production at a time.  One of these is a generally a quilt which requires little thought and is fairly easy.  I work on this one when I’m too tired to concentrate on anything much.  I also use it when I need to feel productive – hey, if the pattern says make 25 four-patches, I can make those in one evening and go to bed feeling wonderful about my quilting self.  The other machine-pieced quilt is a little more complicated and requires me to plug in my advanced techniques.

I also have two on-going quilts which require handwork.  Again, I have two so if I get bored with one, I can switch off to the other one.  In the past, these both were hand applique quilts, but since my friend Karen introduced me to Cindy Blackberg’s piecing stamps, I am loving hand piecing.  I don’t think I’ll every be an EPP convert.  Now I have on-going  hand applique and hand piecing projects under my needle.

This process works for me.  It may not work for you.  After you’ve quilted a while, you will find out if you need to finish one quilt at a time or how many projects you need to have in process.  There’s really no one right answer. 

I also have one project loaded on my long arm at all times.  If I need a break from hand work or machine piecing, I quilt a row or two on a top.  This keeps things moving along, and my backlog of quilt tops is slowly diminishing.  I try to at least do three rows on a quilt each week.  Some weeks I’m more successful than others.  And it depends on how complicated the quilting is.  If there’s a lot of fine background work, I may only finish a few blocks.  Likewise, if there’s ruler or template work.  This type of quilting takes more time.

“Why do you quilt?” is the final question I’ll address, and it’s one which family, friends, and my spouse have asked.  Usually, several times a year.  Bless his heart.  I quilt for the history of the art.  The women on my mother’s side were quilters.  I own one of their quilts and have pictures of others.  I quilt because I like the feel of fabric beneath my fingers.  I quilt because it brings me joy that I can create something beautiful and useful.  I quilt because this “hobby” has brought an amazing group of people into my life and I count these people as my family bound together by stitches and fellowship, not DNA and blood.  But primarily I quilt because it quiets my soul and calms me down.  After an exhausting day, thirty minutes in my sewing space revives me and improves my outlook on life.  It makes me turn off everything else but the creative side of me and forget about payroll, and invoicing, and the other myriad of issues I take care of on a day-to-day basis.  It’s a mental vacation every night.  Do I get grouchy if I can’t do this several times a week?

You better believe it.

The last idea I want to leave you with is Zoom.  During this world-wide pandemic, I think most of us have “Zoomed” at one time or another.  If you have kids who have plugged into remote learning, or you’ve had to Zoom for your job, you know what this magnificent little app is either on your phone, iPad, or laptop.  I have three quilt groups which have continued to meet via Zoom.  I know several guilds who have used this technology to meet and have speakers.  I really, really think Zoom has changed the face of quilting as much as the internet did in the 1990’s.  I have had the amazing opportunity to “visit” with guilds all over the world.  Yes, it meant getting up at 5 a.m. sometimes to attend a guild meeting in Australia, but man, was it worth it!  However, the point I really want to make is this:  Zoom has opened up an incredible opportunity for quilting classes!  I’ve probably taken at least two dozen quilt classes since COVID 19 put a kabosh on everything.  I’ll be the first to admit, staying at home has tried me like nothing else, but it gave me the INCREDIBLE ability to take classes with nationally and internationally known teachers I would have NEVER had the chance to attend under normal circumstances.  From the comfort of my own quilt studio.  Often in my pajamas!  I do think Zoom classes such as these are here to stay.  I urge you to take advantage of them.  Yes, there is a charge, but it’s so much less than what it would be under normal circumstances.  There are no hotels (you can sleep in the comfort of your own bed and have your own coffee or tea in the morning), no travel fees, and you never have to worry about lost luggage or leaving part of your supplies at home.  This is such a wonderful opportunity.  Please plug into it.  I’ve taken numerous classes and have found the teachers wonderfully prepared, available to look at your work, and everyone still chats and exchanges information just like in a regular class.  It’s truly a wonderful thing.  I sincerely hope Zoom stays around even after the Pandemic is history (soon, please….soon).

So that’s it…that’s all for this Fabric Crumb post.  If you have any questions you want me to address, please leave those in the comments section.  I do look at each and everything folks write and answer them.  Sometimes those questions need an entire blog and other times just a paragraph or two.  Those I’ll save for my next Fabric Crumb blog. 

I’ve received several messages and emails about my brother, Eric. Thank all of you for your concern, thoughts, and prayers. While myeloma is serious, we are very fortunate and grateful for the early detection from Duke Hospital System. Since they’ve been tracking Eric for three years, this ability to stay on top of the situation led to the discovery of the very small lesion on his hip. Yesterday he began five days of radiation therapy. Because of early detection, the radiation dosage is very, very low. He will finish that, and then go on vacation. When he returns, he will undergo chemo therapy via injection and in pill form. Right now, we believe we’re looking at six to eight weeks of chemo. After he has some time to recover from this, he will begin the process of stem cell transplant. Please continue to keep him and our family in your thoughts and prayers. And I’ll continue to update as the situation progresses.

Until next week, Quilt On!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam

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