Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Quilt Class 101

Chasing Cottons

Rebecca over at Chasing Cottons is starting her Quilt Class 101 today and I am more than happy to help her get the 12 weeks started with possibly my favourite part of the quilting process...the BUYING of fabric;-)

Some of you may want to skip this post because I have mentioned some of this before. Scroll down to the end if you like because I've popped an image of a quilt in just so your click through has been worthwhile ;-)

For the rest of you, I hope the following is of help. I just want to add though that this is my take only on the whys and wherefores of fabric buying and we each do it all in our own different way. I'm also writing this from a starting point of the nearest quilt shop being a plane ride away ie. my local quilt shop is the internet. All my recommendations are purely personal ones because I've ordered from the following companies.

Where to buy fabric buy from?
Where I buy from is dependent on selection and postage costs. Although I technically live in the UK, unlike the UK mainland,  there are no import duties/taxes for goods ordered here. This fact alone makes it more cost effective for me to order from the US, rather than the UK. If you are reading this in the UK, there are plenty of other UK quilt blogs that have  good details of UK online fabric stores that you can order form. The only UK company that I do tend to use is The Cotton Patch as I happen to think they have the best selection of threads I have seen anywhere.

Best for postage costs - several times a year they offer free worldwide postage. For 'international' (read anyone outside the US) you have to spend over $100 to qualify for this. I use this as an opportunity to buy batting (maximum two rolls allowed), new blades for my rotary cutter, any stabilisers etc that I find hard to get here. I also buy a lot of Kona cottons from them as you can never (imho) have too many solids in your stash. - they are currently offering $7 for international shipping. I have to say I don't find the site the easiest to navigate but if you know what you are looking for then that is fine.

Best for selection - all the latest must have lines - ditto - I always manage to find something weird and wonderful here - best sale section - only place I have come across where the Kona solids are labelled...very handy when you come to use them several weeks later and can't remember what you ordered. - nice range of fabrics and excellent customer service - ditto

The last three in the list are Etsy shops. For those of you not familiar with Etsy it's like a massive online craft mall with lots of little shops within it. Use the search button to find something you are looking for specifically. If you are unsure about the reliability of an Etsy seller, check out their feedback. I say that from experience - I ordered some 'too good to be true for the price' fabric from an Etsy seller and it never arrived. When I asked her what we should do, she said we'd have to wait three months while she claimed from the US postal service. Like a mug/honourable customer (take your pick!) I waited three months. Of course by then she had closed her Etsy shop and the negative feedback was piling up from other angry customers.

Super sleuth me discovered she had an active blog. So I left a comment on her next post asking her to do the decent thing. And what did she do? Within a few days she had made her blog by invitation only! OK, it is not the end of the world but it is a shame that there will always be a minority who will spoil it for the majority.

What fabric should I buy?

Highly personal for everyone. I've been quilting for about 15 years so have built up a stash that (I hope) pretty much covers all areas of the colour spectrum. If you are just starting out with quilting I would suggest you buy what you like in the colours that you like but try to buy with values in mind ie. dark, medium, light.

If you struggle with the concept of value invest in a ruby beholder. When you look at fabrics through it, you can see whether a fabric is either dark, medium or light. A more DIY method is to lay a bunch of fabrics out, screw your eyes up and see which fabrics stand out and which recede. All fabrics have a value but that value will change in relation to other fabrics that you put with it. A cream may be light against a brown but medium against a white and so on.

I wouldn't go stash mad though (I know, 'pot', 'kettle', black' !) as your tastes will change and in a few years you'll look back on some of your purchases and struggle to work out why you bought them in the first place.

I never buy for a particular quilt in mind and as I've said before, the majority of what I buy is from the sale sections of websites. When I start a quilt, I pull out the fabrics I want to work with and off I go. I am not the slightest bit worried that I will 'run out' of a fabric for that quilt because then I'll be forced into making a different design choice and that always seems (for me anyway) to make the quilt better and I feel I've been stretched.

If the thought of the last paragraph has you a little unnerved, consider starting with jelly rolls, charm packs etc. where you have a complete fabric line in one set. These came out after I had started quilting and although I have used them (and still have some to use up) I am starting to find them a little too matchy matchy and prefer to pick and mix lots of different fabrics.

I don't usually buy anything more than a yard of something. Exception to this would be solids and something I have in mind as a backing fabric. When I get my fabrics I do try to (sort of) store them in colour families.

The 'of the moment' fabric I like tends to stay on the bookshelf image you've just seen.

I then have my blender families tucked quietly away.

And so on...
And then I also sub-divide into batiks:
And Kaffe Fassett:
And there is always a pile on the floor of a current project:
Plus, there's another cabinet that houses solids and large pieces that are suitable for backing:
Oh, and stuff on top too:
(H'mmm, this is rapidly turning into a fabric confessional rather than a post about how I store my fabric!)

To pre-wash or not to wash?
I don't pre-wash my fabrics before starting a quilt and have never had colours run into each other after I've washed the finished quilt. Two reasons: I am intrinsically lazy and secondly I think the fabric handles better not washed when you are sewing it together. I do use a colourcatcher though when washing the finished quilt for the first time.

The cost of fabric
The cost of fabric outside of the US in particular is not cheap and with cotton prices predicted to go up, I am starting to stop and think 'do I really need this' before hitting the order button.

Again, I have mentioned this before in a previous post but please consider selling on Ebay. It can be anything. I just happen to sell my daughters' clothes several times a year. If all has gone well, I am left with a nice pot of money in my Paypal account. You can then go fabric shopping at the likes of Hawthorne Threads and Pink Chalk Fabrics and the whole of Etsy as you can pay by Paypal...with the funds that you earned from selling on Ebay.

And if my daughters' clothes have got glitter/paint on them on a part of the dress that just won't come out, I cut them up and use them as part of my fabric stash.

And that is almost it, although I did promise a quilt at the end.

I made this about 13 or so years ago when I was lucky enough to go on one of Jinny Beyer's Hilton Head retreats and this pack was in the going home goody bag. Really simple to make up but, I think, very effective and does give you a good idea of what you can achieve if you have a little of all colours!


  1. AHHHHH i LOVE it!!! Thank you Thank you... It was a great read! I loved your screwed eye ball thing!! Hillarious! xx Thanks so much... im sure lots will come over for a visit! xx Thanks for supporting... bec xx

  2. Well written and thorough. Some very good advice here, and I am glad you touched on specific shops and postage issues. Unfortunatley, I am going to have to call for an INTERVENTION regarding your stash......

    (pot, kettle, black)

  3. This is a great post! I think there is something for everyone in this post. Thanks so much!

  4. Thanks for the tip on Hancocks regarding free postage and ordering batting through them. Never thought of that but then again I'm learning to quilt at the moment.

  5. Wow...super helpful. Thanks so much for taking the time to post this!

  6. HA! Now I feel better about my, I mean stash. Just because it is in three different rooms doesn't mean anything. I never prewash, I never know what I will be making, I just buy fabric. (I know, we are twins!) I used to worry about having big enough pieces for the back of a quilt but now I just piece the backs so that doesn't matter any more. I enjoyed reading your post!

  7. I loved snooping though your stash. :)

  8. Very helpful information. I too buy most of my fabrics online. Here "down under" is so expensive. Thank you for the great info. Cheers Dianne

  9. A great read, thank you. I'm a beginner quilter with absolutely no stash; I have precut squares for an "I Spy" quilt and that's it! (The squares were cut by an experienced quilter and sold at a charity exhibition)

    I am already thoroughly sick of my first fabric choices - perhaps because we bought a yard of each of seven fabrics for a baby's floor quilt! We supplemented that with five fat quarters in other fabrics! We made four items from that fabric, including the top and backing for a 50 inch square quilt!

    That may explain why I have joined Rebecca's "Quilt Class 101"! LOL

    Thanks again.


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