Quilt Kits. Do You Need One and How to Tame Them.

Most quilters have seen things like this:

And this:

For the uninformed (or very new quilter), these are quilt kits.  A quilt kit is a complete or almost-complete quilt in one package.  Most quilt shops – both on-line and brick-and-mortar – offer these for sale, at varying price ranges and at varying “completeness” ranges (and more about this “completeness” in a bit).

When I began quilting in the early mid-eighties, I used quilt kits nearly exclusively.   The biggest quilting hurdle I had to get conquer was choosing my fabric.  For a woman pretty well-versed in the arts, standing in the middle of Hancock’s or Piece Goods (remember them?) and having to decide what fabrics to put in a quilt was daunting, overwhelming, and downright scary.  Quilt kits removed the fabric choice from the quilting equation and allowed me to quickly get to the part I like most – sewing. 

Like me, some quilters prefer having fabric decisions removed from their quilting equations.  Other quilters like the convenience quilt kits offer.  For the most part, everything is in the kit.  You may have to pick up some notions, such as embellishments, backing, and batting, but 95 percent of the quilt is in the package the kit comes in. 

Eventually, as most quilters gain experience and get a few quilts under their belt, fabric decisions aren’t as difficult, and most of the time you’ll have nearly everything you need for a quilt in your studio (sometimes you don’t even have to purchase any additional fabric!).  However, if you’re beginning to quilt and quilting is just a hobby and not a lifestyle, quilt kits may be just what you need.  When you consider most of what is needed for a quilt is in the kit, the price is reasonable.  If your fabric storage has limits, it’s great to know a kit contains only the fabric needed for that project. 

Since most quilters have worked with kits at sometime or another, today’s blog is focusing on quilt kits – the pros and cons of kits as well as how to handle them. 

Good Things About Quilt Kits

  1.  You don’t need to make any fabric choices.  Colors, textures, weaves, and fabric decisions are already made for you.  If you’re a newbie, you can begin to pick up tips about colors and fabric by noting the fabric used in the kit.
  2. For the most part, they can save you money.  I know some quilters (including myself) have suffered from sticker shock on some kits.  Keep in mind you’re also paying for the labor of cutting the fabric and stocking the kit.  Sometimes this can be balanced against the time it would take you to pick out the pattern and the fabric as well as gas and mileage used to purchase them, or the postage paid to have the those shipped to you.
  3. They save you time.  Next to removing fabric decisions from my quilting equation, this was the second reason I loved kits when I began quilting. In the mid-eighties I was working, had just become a mom, and my husband worked out of town.  It was so much easier to run into the fabric store and grab a kit than it was to deal with a young baby, car seat, diaper bag, etc., etc.  And when you think where I was at that point in my life, I only had time for one quilt a year anyway, so a kit worked just great then. 

Not-So-Good Things About Quilt Kits

  1.  They may be short on fabric.  Let me hasten to add for the most part, quilt kits tend to have a little more extra fabric than needed, but once in a while, a kit may come up short on fabric.  More on how to deal with this a little further down in my blog.
  2. They aren’t unique.  No matter how lovely the quilts from these kits are, it can’t be forgotten manufacturers produce these quilt kits to make money.  Therefore, they make a lot of these kits so they can make a lot of money on them.  More quilt kits equal more sales, which equals more quilts which will look exactly like yours.  Several years ago, this became a bit issue in quilt shows (primarily local ones), as multiple entries of the same quilt kept popping up.  For a while, many local shows didn’t accept entries from quilt kits, but this stance has softened recently.  Now there may be a category just for quilts made from kits.  These quilts are usually judged on technique and quilting only, as originality and color choice are eliminated in quilts made from kits.  If you are able to enter a quilt made from kit in a non-kit category, expect to perhaps be dinged on originality and color choice.
  3.     Most kits are not complete.  While the kits will have the fabric needed to make      the top, most kits do not include backing, batting, and sometimes binding fabric.  Usually, you can find a coordinating backing for sale along side the quilt, as well as additional fabric for binding, etc.  If special embellishments are used, sometimes these are offered as a separate purchase.  The exception to all of this may be a kit for a small quilt.  Sometimes they are all inclusive.  Be sure to read the label on the kit to determine what exactly is included and what will need to be purchased separately. 

I have a routine I go through whenever I use a quilt kit.  Once I get the kit in my studio, I immediately open it up to make sure all the fabric is there and in the measurements indicated on the package.  If one fabric is cut wrong or I’m missing a fabric, it’s always best to call the store or website then.  At this point, they either will have additional fabric they can send me or simply replace the entire kit.  If I wait six months or a year, the kit and the fabric may be long gone.  And let me throw this in here:  I don’t prewash the fabric in a kit.  As much as I am a confirmed pre-washer, I give the kits a pass.  Only so much material is included in a kit, and if I pre-wash it, it may shrink too much to be useable. 

The next thing I do is read through the directions a couple of times, mark them up to indicate important instructions, and then sub-cut the fabric if necessary.  Sometimes kits come completely precut, and other times they will give you pieces of fabric you must sub-cut.  As I sub-cut, I make sure to retain the selvages.  If you look closely at a selvage:

You can get a lot of information.  The dots indicate what dyes were used in the fabric, but what’s even more important is the selvage has the information about the manufacturer and the name of the line of fabric.  If something happens and you can’t complete the quilt right away, or the kit is an older one perhaps purchased off Ebay or at an estate sale, this information makes it easier to find coordinating fabric for the kit.  A quick Google search with the manufacturer and line of fabric plugged in will let you know if any additional fabric is available.  I also never throw away any of the scraps left over from cutting until my quilt is complete.  An inch or two of fabric here and there can rectify a cutting mistake without any additional fabric purchases.  After the last stitch is put in the binding and label, I toss the scrappage (unless I have pieces large enough to go in my applique scrap fabric bins). 

So, after all this information, should you purchase a quilt kit or fabric and pattern?  Honestly, it’s a personal choice.  There are a few questions you may want to answer before sinking your hard-earned cash in a kit:

  1.  Do I already own a lot of fabric?  If the answer is yes, then a kit may not be needed.  You may have enough of your own fabric to make the quilt without purchasing any (or at least not much) additional fabric.  And quite often you don’t have to purchase the kit just to get the pattern.  Many times, a shop or website will sell the pattern by itself. However, if the quilt kit is simply beautiful and tugs at your heartstrings, go ahead and buy the kit while it’s available.  Once the kits sell out, fabric manufacturers rarely re-print the fabric for the kits.
  2. Is time a real issue for you?  For a while in my quilting journey, time was one of the largest obstacles I had to work around.  Kits cut down the amount of time I spent looking at fabric, trying to find exactly what I needed.  I could purchase the kit, get it home, and begin sewing pretty quickly.  If you’re the position where time is a precious commodity, a kit will trim down the hours spent searching for fabric – even if that time is spent in your pajamas perusing fabric websites.
  3. Does it bother you to put together someone else’s creation?  It’s one thing to use a designer’s pattern, it’s another thing entirely to use someone else’s pattern and their fabric choices.  Choosing your own fabric is one easy way to make the quilt look like you – your favorite colors, favorite designers, favorite lines.  With enough of your own fabric, you can alter blocks and applique, enlarge or shrink them, or substitute blocks.  You can’t do this with a quilt kit.  Fabric is limited. 
  4. Do you hate cutting fabric?  I’ve readily admitted this is my least favorite quilting task, but I’ve learned how to deal with it so it’s not as onerous any longer.  However, if this is the one aspect of quilting you really, truly would rather live without, a kit eliminates most of the cutting.  There are some kits out there with every piece cut exactly the way you need it – all the squares, all the triangles, etc. However, with most kits, you get smaller chunks of fabric which need to be sub-cut into the units needed.  So, you’ll still cut fabric, but you won’t have to handle a lot of yardage. 

At this point, you may want to know if, after nearly 35 years of quilting, do I still purchase and/or use kits.

There are occasions when I will buy a kit and dive right into it.  I live near Pineapple Fabric and Keepsake Quilting.  Both of these stores are well-stocked with lovely kits.  Several times a year, Pineapple has huge warehouse sales, and these kits are marked down significantly.  If there’s a kit I want and it’s on sale, I’ll buy it.  I also will purchase a kit if I like a particular designer.  Some designers offer beautiful kits with their fabrics in them.  If one grabs my attention, I’ve been known to plunk down my debit card for it.  I will also buy a kit if it’s particularly unique.  When you’ve quilted as long as I have, it’s easy to look at a kit and know what you would change if you made it.  However, on occasion, if there is truly a unique kit available, I’ll buy it. 

This quilt kit falls into the unique category. All the critters on the quilt are native to my home state of North Carolina. Big plus? It’s raw-edge, machine applique. Bigger plus? The applique pieces are laser cut, with the webbing already on them. Biggest plus? It was on sale.

The following reasons are the major motives behind any kit purchase I make:

  1.  I want (or need) something mindless to sew.  Sometimes if life is stressful or I have a pretty complicated quilt project under my needle, I need an easy project to clear my head and help me focus.  Quilt kits are great for this – especially those which are pre-cut.  My favorite line of pre-cut kits is from Laundry Basket Quilts.  They use lasers to precut the fabric, so the edges are sealed – meaning no fraying or raveling – as well as being extremely accurate. 
  2. I’m learning a new technique.  This reason deals primarily with kits sold by quilt teachers.  While many quilt teachers will allow you to supply your own fabrics, some will offer the option of purchasing a quilt kit.  If I am taking a class from a teacher who offers a kit, I’ll purchase it.  I do this because it’s simply easier to follow the instructor as he/she goes through the class.  I don’t have to try to remember what fabric I picked out to substitute for the fabric the instructor is using.  However, I will use my own background fabric – and let me tell you why.  If you take several classes, you’ll end up with several quilt blocks which may be beautiful, but you have no idea what to do with.  If these blocks have the same background fabric, it’s easy to make a quilt out of them (this tip courtesy of Katie McMullen, a friend of mine from The Applique Society). 
  3. It’s on sale and I want the fabric.  I’ll be completely honest here.  If a kit is on sale and it has lots of pretty fabric at a dirt-cheap price, I’ll purchase the kit for the material and toss the pattern if I don’t like it.  Often quilt stores or websites need to sell kits to get them off their inventory.  If this occurs, they sometimes will offer the quilt kits at insanely low prices.  If you see this happening and like the fabric offered, sometimes the sale price literally means pennies for the yardage.  When Craftsy sold out to Blueprint several years ago, all of their kits were on sale.  I purchased two Jinny Byer kits and a few others with batiks and Reproduction fabric simply because I liked the material.  I spent less than $200 and came away with enough fabric for four quilts. 

So, the next time you see one of these:

Don’t think lots of these:

Consider the options the quilt kits offer you.  Maybe it’s mastering a new technique. Perhaps it’s some mindless, relaxing sewing.  Or it could be lots of fabric for very little cash.  Whatever reason a quilt kit grabs your attention, just remember these little packages are here to stay, and what we do once we have them in the privacy of our own quilt studio is our business!

Until next week, Make Your Quilt Yours!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam

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