Today’s blog topic is glue – more specifically, fabric and sort-of-fabric glue (I’ll get to the “sort of” later). I know this sounds like one of the most boring topics I could possibly write about concerning quilting, but hang with me because there’s a lot more to glue than just stick-to-it-ness. And if you’re strictly a piecer and don’t think you’ll ever use glue because you think glue is only for applique, you may be wrong about that. There are a few great ways to use glue when you’re piecing.
First, let’s talk about what glue is. According to Simple English Wikipedia, glue is a sticky material (usually a liquid) which can stick two or more things together. Glue can be made from plant or animal parts, or it can be made from oil-based chemicals.Throughout our lives, we come in contact with all types of glue, from the basic Elmer’s School Glue which saw many of us through our elementary school crafting projects, to a type of adhesive called mastic which may hold our flooring securely in place. As people who work primarily with fabric – most specifically cotton fabric – our glue world is filled with all types of glues, some which work great and others that are not-so-great.
The first time I heard the term fabric glue was in a beginner’s quilting class around 2000. Before I made only garments – most specifically, heirloom French garments or smocked clothing for children. Glue was not used, mentioned, or suggested for either of these. When the quilting teacher threw out fabric glue as one of our optional notions, I was just a tad skeptical. I was a purist. Sewing involved pins, needles, fabric, and thread.
However, as I learned to love applique, I also discovered fabric glue could be a great, little tool to have tucked away in my sewing kit. It worked a lot better than pins – even the applique ones. If an applique piece was glued down, I didn’t have to wrestle with my thread getting tangled up around the pin heads and points. I could adhere all my pieces at once and then spend lovely hours hand sewing them into place. Short of needle turn or back basting appliques, glue worked with everything else from machine to hand stitching. In less than a year I went from turning my purist nose up at fabric glue to embracing this notion with a religious fervor.
The chemistry teacher and the heirloom sewing instructor in me continued to have a tickling worry in the back of my mind. Could glue damage my fabric? Not immediately, of course, but in the years ahead, could it in some way harm my quilts? In my quilting world I have two types of quilts – the type which is “used up,” and the type I want to last forever (or at least as close as it can get). The kind of quilt I want to get “used up” are those made as play quilts, snugglers, lap quilts, and some bed quilts. Even a few wall hangings. Quilts which are reduced to a pile of loose fabric and stitches have obviously been appreciated, loved, and used almost every day. The wall hangings which become hopelessly faded means the person adored having them on a wall in their home. `
Yet there are a few quilts – quilts which I’ve put a lot of time and effort in or made specifically for a really special occasion – I want to have as long a shelf life as possible. These are the quilts I’ve made for births and weddings or as memory quilts for grieving loved ones. Some of these quilts have been entered in shows and took home ribbons. I’ve dubbed these quilts my “heirloom collection” and I hope they’ll be around (intact) for many years to come. Needless to say, I don’t want anything – from fabric markers to glue – to come back and leave holes or spots. And while much has been written about the pros and cons of fabric pens and pencils, not a great deal has been recorded concerning the long-term ramifications of fabric glue on quilts.
And to be honest, in my research, I found literally nothing about any long-term ramifications of fabric glue on quilts. What I have done in this blog is pull together what I know about heirloom garment preservation and what I know about pH balance. I’ve combined that with the most popular fabric glue brands and have hypothesized about the glue and fabric future.
One of the issues I covered as chemistry teacher was pH. This two-letter term is thrown out on everything from shampoo to cosmetics to feminine hygiene products. We tend to think of the term “pH balance” as something which only pertains to the human body. To a large point, this is correct, but lots of man-made substances also have a pH. This term stands for the potential of Hydrogen, or the concentration of the hydrogen atoms in a substance. Scientists have a pH scale which runs from 0 to 14. Any material from 0 to 6 is considered acidic, and the closer the pH is to 0, the more acidic it is. The number 7 is neutral – neither acidic nor alkaline. Anything from 8 to 14 is alkaline, and the closer the number moves to 14, the more alkaline (or base) it is. Just the term “acidic” lets you know any substance with a pH from 0 to 6 would probably be bad to have near your quilt. And this is correct. It would seem you would want to run as far away from the acidic scale as possible with any fabric – to the point anything with a 14 pH would be great for your fabric.
This is also incorrect. Strong alkaline or base substances are just as bad as strong acidic ones. Quilters need products with a 7.0 to a 7.45 pH balance to protect their quilts against any harm. Lucky for us, cotton fabrics, thread, and batting are largely neutral. Even if you’re a pre-washer, by the time the detergent is rinsed from the fabric, it’s back to a 7.0-ish pH. Battings can be a bit iffy, because the pH balance may be directly affected by how the batt was finished.
The heirloom French sewing instructor in me is constantly referring back to one of the reasons we spend so much time and effort in making something: we want it to last and be handed down for generations. A good chunk of my sewing instructions dealt with the preservation of the garment, how to care for it, and the correct way to store it. These topics dealt with pH balanced soap, padded hangers, folding the garment in acid-free tissue paper, and storing in acid-free boxes. While quilts are vastly different from kids’ heirloom clothing, the principles remain the same: the less the quilt comes in contact with anything acidic, the longer your quilt will survive and be passed down for generations to come.
Which brings us back around to our topic of glue. Generally, it’s the applique quilter who uses glue more than any other type of quilter. We use it to hold patches in place and to secure turned under edges for finish edge applique. It’s used in some freezer paper processes and definitely in Apliquick-type techniques. The one characteristic of all of the fabric glues used in quilting is this: It’s meant to be a temporary bond. So none of the glues we will look at are permanent fabric glues. They all should wash out with water. However, even if they are water-soluble, it’s important to know if they leave any residue, and if so, what could this do to your quilt.
Aleen’s Tack It Over and Over
This glue can be used for a myriad of crafts, not just quilting. You coat the back of whatever it is you need to adhere to fabric, and set it in place. Even after the glue dries, you can reposition the applique patch if needed. I have used this glue and it is thick. I usually dilute with a little water (about a 1:1 ratio). It is acid-free and will wash out. It’s also non-toxic.
Let me be frank at this point. I use Aleen’s glues for lots of craft projects. Quilting generally is not one of them. If I need to move an applique piece I’ve glued down, I have found the Tack It Over and Over does leave a residue, even if I’ve diluted it. And the residue can be difficult
just about darned near impossible to remove completely.
Let me also be honest here: I love this glue. It comes in almost any type of application possible. Roxanne’s has glue in bottles with little spouts, glue in bottles with a needle-tip, glue in tubes with a sponge-tipped dabber, and (my very favorite) in glue stick form. It is pH balanced (as are Roxanne’s fabric pencils) and dissolves completely in water – your quilt doesn’t feel stiff after washing. I like it because it holds your applique piece in place pretty firmly – including the glue stick. I have found it can be difficult to move a patch if you’ve used any of the liquid glue forms. However, if the glue stick is used, the applique can be repositioned easily. It contains no chemicals, dyes, or waxes and dries quickly. Roxanne’s Glue Baste-It is a popular quilting notion and most quilt shops (and even some big box stores) keep it in stock.
Sewline is technically not a glue stick – it’s a glue pen which you can easily refill. It is water-soluble, and while the glue is blue, it does dry clear. The pen form can be easier to control than a glue stick. Sewline is advertised for use with English Paper Piecing, but this is my go-to glue for the Apliquick applique method. It doesn’t gum up your needle. It will hold applique pieces in place, but I’ve found it doesn’t have as strong of a bond as Roxanne’s. Sewline is archival quality and pH balanced – meaning if you use this glue in your quilt, you don’t have to worry about it harming the fabric short or long-term. It contains no chemicals, dyes, or waxes. The pen is easily refilled, and the leftover glue tubes are great storage places for needles. Sewline is very affordable and found in a lot of quilt shops and on Amazon.
This is also a glue pen, which means you can refill it. This glue is colored yellow, but it does dry clear. It is completely water-soluble, but I have no idea if it’s pH balanced or not – my research never distinctly said one way or another. This is my second choice for Apliquick. I have found this glue a bit more “gummy” than Sewline, but the bond is stronger and seems to hold the applique pieces down better. It is advertised for both English Paper Piecing and applique. I’ve only found this glue in quilt shops or quilting websites. It is not on Amazon.
Bohin Glue Pen
This glue pen is pink, but dries clear. Those of you who have worked with Apliquick may recognize it as one of the technique’s glue of choice. This glue pen is refillable, and the glue is completely water-soluble. It is pH balanced and contains no chemicals, fillers, or waxes. I think it glides on easier than the Sewline or Quilter’s Select, and the bond will hold applique pieces firmly in place, but you can still reposition them without too much trouble. It’s comparable in price with the other two glue pens
Apliquick has used two different types of glue under their name brand. Until 2017, they used a yellow, refillable glue pen much like Quilter’s Select. Now they have a wider, non-refillable glue stick (not pen). This glue stick is about 3-inches long and 5/8-inch wide and is transparent. This is a pretty soft glue stick, and it takes anywhere from five to eight minutes to dry. It doesn’t leave your fabric stiff and it’s easy to push a needle through. However…if you’re used to a glue-pen or longer glue stick, you may find this glue uncomfortable to hold as it is really short. It costs around $20 for two tubes, so it does hit the pricey range for glues. Many Apliquick aficionados have told me the glue stick doesn’t last as long as the pen – since the tip is wider, you use more glue. However, it’s pH balanced and is easily removed with water.
Fons and Porter Glue
This type of glue is available in pen form and can be refilled. It glides on as blue, but dries clear. It’s water soluble and costs about the same as the Sewline, Bohin, or Quilter’s Select. I could not find out if this glue is pH balanced or of archival quality.
Sew Daley Glue
Sue Daley Glue comes in two forms. The first is a glue pen. This one goes on pink, but dries clear. Amazon buyers gave this glue 4.6 stars out of 5 and touted that it was great for working with English Paper Piecing. The second type is in a squeeze bottle with a tip, making it easy to use for finished edge applique or needle turn.
I could not find out if this glue is pH balanced, but it is water-soluble. And for you Lori Holt fans, this is her preferred glue.
This glue is acid-free, pH neutral, and water soluble – so it checks all the boxes quilters need to feel good about using it. It has a tapered top, which allows you to put the smallest drop possible on your prepared edge applique. The tip is made of nylon, so it won’t rust, and it can twist off if you need to clean it.
I had never heard of this glue before researching this blog, so I have never used this glue in my studio. A Google search on this product returned no reviews (not even on Amazon). It appears to be a wonderful product and definitely has no longevity issues. It was developed by Jill Finley, who is a Master Designer for Aurifil Thread and a Bernina Ambassador, as well as a fabric designer for Riley Blake.
This is a clear, odorless liquid glue which comes in a squeeze bottle. It is water soluble, nontoxic, and comes with a precision spout. Two ounces cost around $10, which makes it a little pricier than the glue pens, and throws it in the same price-point range as Roxanne’s glues. I could not find out if it was pH balanced or not, and this is the preferred glue of Kim Diehl. Keep in mind that since Quilter’s Choice is a liquid glue, you must allow time to let it dry before stitching, unlike stick glue or glue pens which require little to no drying time.
I’ve used this glue.
I was not impressed.
The bottle is hard to squeeze and for those of us older quilters who have some arthritis in our fingers and hands, this can be a deal breaker. I found it dried somewhat stiff and it was difficult to push a hand sewing needle through. My sewing machine didn’t like it much, either. My advice, if you have a bottle stuck back somewhere and you want to use it for applique – use the smallest dab possible to adhere your applique pieces. Like other basting glues, Quilter’s Choice states it doesn’t permanently bond fabric. However, I did find it was not as water soluble as other basting glues and even after washing, my applique was stiff.
Nevertheless, this glue does hold one special place in my life – emergency hem repairs. This glue will hold up to some serious abuse. When I travel, I always keep a bottle of Quilter’s Choice with me in case I need to fix a hem on the fly. At home, I’ve grabbed it and did the same thing. The hem will stay in place for days.
Elmer’s School Glue
This is the sort-of-fabric glue and before any glue-basting purists turn their nose up at this one, hear me out. This glue meets every one of the characteristics of a great basting glue. It’s water soluble and it’s pH balanced. It will hold an applique patch in place and (unless you’ve applied the glue super-thick), it will also allow you to reposition it if you need to. The one caveat you must be careful about is it must be the school glue. Elmer’s has a myriad of types of glue, but the school glue is the one which may find its place in your applique toolbox because it’s water soluble. Not all of the other Elmer’s are.
Elmer’s School Glue comes in both stick and liquid form. Personally, I like the purple glue stick best because I can see where I’ve applied the glue. The white glue sticks go on transparent. The liquid glue may need a little special handling. The tip of the glue bottle isn’t exactly conducive to the accurate glue placement needed for small pieces or tight places. A quilt teacher (who uses Elmer’s religiously) recommended getting these:
Which are available for a few bucks on Amazon. Fill the small bottle with Elmer’s and the tapered nozzle will allow you to place a drop of glue exactly where needed.
By far, this is the most economical “basting” glue available, and you can pick this up almost anywhere – from a convenience store to the grocery to the drug store to the office supply place. You can even purchase it by the gallon.
At this point, I’ve written nearly 3,000 words about glue. And most of them apply to those quilters who enjoy applique. However, I did promise to talk about how glue can be used for those who strictly piece.
It can help you match or make perfect points.
We’ve all had that one quilt in our lives with lots of points or triangles. Either the points need to meet perfectly, or the tips of the triangles need to remain intact and not chopped off. In either situation, most of us pin our fabric in place, slow down our stitching speed and hope for the best. However, pins can slip out of place. But I’ve found if you put a dab of glue where the points should match or where the triangle point should be and then heat set the glue with an iron, nothing shifts. Points come out perfectly and the tips of triangles remain intact.
It can hold the binding in place, so you don’t have to use pins or clips.
Once you’ve sewn the binding to the front of the quilt and folded it over to the back, use a series of glue dabs to keep the binding in place. I’ve tried this and it works great – there are no clips or pins to tangle your thread around. For me, a liquid glue worked best. The bond is a bit stronger than a glue pen. And Elmer’s is my go-to for this technique.
It can hold matched-up paper piecing seams in place. This works in a similar way as matching points. With paper piecing, the sections need to line up as accurately as possible. Use a dab of glue to at the matched seams and heat set it. Between the glue and a walking foot, your paper piecing should look perfect.
It makes sewing curves super-easy.
If you’ve made blocks with curves (like the Drunkard’s Path) you know how tricky it can be to get the curves sewed down smoothly. It requires a lot of patience and the judicious use of pins. You need to sew slowly and remove the pins before sewing over them. I found glue basting the curves instead of pinning them makes life much easier. The glue will hold the fabric patches in place and there’s no need for stop-and-go sewing to remove pins.
It tames the flannels. Quilters are used to cotton fabric, which is generally not “slicky.” Even the high thread counts cottons generally stay in place pretty well. Quilting flannels are an entirely different animal. They are not 100% cotton, but have some spandex and rayon incorporated in the flannel. As a result, flannels are soft, stretchy, and sometimes difficult to hold in place. I’ve found a glue stick comes in handy with them. Instead of pinning the pieces together, I glue baste them in place. This actually works better than pinning. Often flannel and similar fabrics will “creep” out of place, even if pinned. Glue basting takes out the “creep” factor.
If you are an appliquer, you probably already have some type of fabric glue in your sewing room. For you, I hope this blog gave you some useful information about what to look for in a glue and what type of glue – either pen, stick, or liquid –will work best for you. If you’re strictly a piecer, I hope this blog showed you how basting glue is a good tool to have in your quilt studio, too. No matter if you’re a piecer, appliquer, or both, just remember it’s important any glue which touches your fabric be pH balanced and water soluble.
Until next week, Make Your Quilt Yours!
Love and Stitches,
Sherri and Sam