Sunday, December 5, 2010

Should I prewash my quilt fabric?

Back 12 years ago when I started to piece and grow a fabric stash, this was the question I asked every quilter I knew. With a short history of sewing my own clothes...6th grade home ec., a bit in high school and college, I figured pre-shrinkage was the way to go. I washed, ironed, and stored every bit of fabric I purchased. It was a lot of work! Now I stack my fabric on the shelf until I'm ready to use it and then decide if I want to prewash or not.

Whether to prewash really depends on the look you want for the quilt and how the quilt will be used. For example, for most of the lap and bed quilts I make, I love the scrunchy texture that results from using unwashed fabric and batting out of the package once the quilt is washed and dried for the first time. However, for wall hangings and applique, I will use prewashed fabric because I desire a flat look to the quilt and may not be washing the quilt at all.

My decision to prewash is really determined by what type of quilt I'm making which also helps me decide which type of batting to put inside the quilt. For example, if I'm making an heirloom quilt and want an antique, scrunchy texture that old quilts have, I will not prewash the fabric. The batting will be 100% cotton and the quilting lines will be close together (1-2"). After quilting and binding, the quilt can be washed and dried to produce the look I'm after.

The worst advice, which I've actually read in some quilting books, is to wash your fabric in the hottest water to shrink and set the color. The rationale being this will be the toughest treatment so you'll have no worries later. Well, that fabric just took a beating it didn't need which is an ignorant way to approach fabric care. Lukewarm water and a phosphate-free detergent that will not strip the color from the fabric is the way to go.

If you logically think about it and educate yourself a bit, you will learn how to care for your fabric, not tear down the fibers before cutting it up for quilt construction. For an educated look at fabric and how it is processed and should be handled, read From Fiber to Fabric by Harriet Hargrave. She and her daughter, Carrie Hargrave, are co-authors of Quilter's Academy, a new 6-volume series by C & T Publishing, which is a skill-building course in quiltmaking. Education=success!

Copyright ©2010, Sharon Baggs

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Binding with dotted fabric

For the binding on the feedsack quilt, the fabric chosen was Mama's Feedsacks by Darlene Zimmerman for Robert Kaufman. It's a reproduction of the original red so it matches nicely to give an attractive edge to frame the variety of prints in the quilt. The same fabric was used to back the quilt as well. Love, love, love this red.

Using about 2/3 yd. of the fabric, fold in half, selvedge to selvedge, and cut several 2-1/2" strips. To join one to another, lay the strip right side down and fold the end over on a 45 degree angle. Finger press the fold or use a light iron.

Then position this vertical folded piece directly on top of a second horizontal strip, right side up. Notice how the fold is positioned so the dots are evenly spaced.

The dot pattern needs to remain even while joining strips so check each one for proper placement as you go. Once it looks correct, lay the fold out flat so you see the wrong side with the diagonal crease. Pin in place along the diagonal crease.
By folding the tip down you can see that the dots line up. The fold line is just to the left of the dot and will be the line that is stitched. The dots on the right will become part of the seam line as you will see in the pictures below.

Start at the corner and stitch down the visible fold line to the opposite corner. If you have prepared all your strips, you can continue to stitch the next one by allowing your machine to take a few stitches in between, then sew the next strip without breaking the thread. By chain piecing in this way, you will end up with your strips completely joined in one go. Snip between each thread join to make one continuous strip.

Double check your stitching before trimming the seam lines. Using an acrylic ruler, line up the 1/4" mark along the stitched line.

Trim the seam to 1/4" using a rotary cutter.

Press the seams open.

A perfect seam makes the fabric's pattern look continuous.Trim the thread tails. Fold the strip in half, right sides facing out, and press. This creates a double-fold binding strip. For more details on the process of sewing the binding to the quilt, please see posts from Feb. 2009--Straight Grain Binding and Binding Corners and Joining Ends.

Copyright 2010, Sharon Baggs

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Minkie Coverlet

Diana's friend bought a kit to make a crib-sized minkie quilt (40 x 46), which Diana pieced for her. They decided to nix the batting, making it a coverlet, which I stitched together with an overall meandering design to secure the top and back layers. Without a layer of batting which adds stability, I had to lower the presser foot tension on my sewing machine to avoid skipped stitches.

For the thread, I chose Presencia's 50 wt. cotton (color #300--medium bay blue). When you free motion on minkie, the thread 'melts' into the fabric, making it difficult to see the actual stitch. When your machine is stopped, with the needle down into the fabric, use your fingers to feel the area you are heading into so you don't cross over stitched lines. Sufficient lighting helps to see where you've been and where you're going. (View of back, shown below)

Copyright ©2010, Sharon Baggs

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Preparing to quilt Andrea's feedsack quilt

Ah, I love red. This backing fabric (white dot on red, right) for Andrea's feedsack quilt is Mama's Feedsacks line by Darlene Zimmerman for Robert Kaufman fabrics. It is the perfect match to the 1930's red feedsack pieces in this quilt. What's even better is finding the exact matching thread (100% cotton, 50/3, #279 red) by Presencia ( I only had the small spool to fill a couple of bobbins but it's available in a 125 gram cone, just delivered to my doorstep by UPS. So I'm off and running.

For the top thread, I'm using Presencia's winter white #206. I like to use an off white rather than pure white for most vintage style quilting. I'm using a walking foot to stitch in the ditch to secure all the seams. Here's how I go about balancing the tension so the red doesn't show up on top and the white doesn't pull to the back.

Last time I was sewing something, I had polyester thread in the bobbin which requires a tighter bobbin tension--polyester thread is smooth and slick so if the tension is too loose, lots of loops will show underneath. When switching to the cotton thread I'm using now, I had to loosen the bobbin thread and also adjust the top thread tension. I go through a series of different settings and mark my test fabric with a pencil to see which # is the one to go with. Here, I had the best results with a top thread tension of 2.

To avoid getting small tucks in the backing fabric, I use a straight pin to secure the intersections which stitching-in-the-ditch. This is very effective is keeping the backing fabric from bunching up. I keep a couple of pins in the square I'm quilting and keep moving them down as I go. The safety pins are for basting the quilt layers and I keep them in until all the stitching-in-the-ditch is completed. Additional quilting can be done without safety pins because they have done their job and the quilt will be light, yet secure, to handle.

Copyright ©2010, Sharon Baggs

Friday, April 2, 2010

Cross stitch quilts

This is a pre-printed cross stitch quilt that was cross-stitched by Bonnie and quilted by Heather. My job was to wash out the blue lines and bind the quilt. We had worked together on a quilt like this one before and the ink washed out easily; however, this time the ink set and I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to remove the ink, or at least lighten it.

The ink was mainly visible in the center of the quilt where curled designs were quilted instead of the pre-printed x-stitch designs and some dotted lines.

My attempt to remove them resulted in only lightening the x's and dots. I did this by mixing a solution of baking soda, a few drops of Synthrapol (which contains Isopropyl Rubbing Alcohol) so I added a couple more drops of rubbing alcohol to the solution and gently scrubbed it in with a toothbrush. Then I let the quilt soak in lukewarm water for 1-2 hrs., spun out the water and rinsed. I avoided heavy agitation of the wash cycle. I also read the suggestion to use Oxo Brite non-chlorine bleach. I tested this on a small area of the quilt and it didn't seem to lighten the dye. However, if left to soak for a time, it might be effective.

After a 20-minute dry cycle on warm, the slight shrinkage from the washing/drying process made the background recede and the quilting to be more visible. At first glance the remaining blue dye was not noticeable. Bonnie was very satisfied with the results and appreciated the care taken to wash out the unwanted dye. It definitely looked better than it did after the intial wash that removed none of the dye.

My suggestion with these pre-printed cross stitch kits is to stick to the quilting design given so you can go over the lines. There is no guarantee that the dye will be removed. Test first if you want to use an alternate quilting design.

Copyright ©2010, Sharon Baggs

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Magic Carpet Quilt

Working on the souvenirs committee for Christian Youth Theater's production of Aladdin, I was inspired by the jewel tones and rhinestones we embellished everything with, to design this quilt for our Opening Night Opportunity Basket. It accompanied several gift cards and a free tuition to a CYT class.

My initial thought was to make a "Gold Coin Quilt" with lots of gold fabrics weaved into the design. I looked at traditional Chinese Coin quilts and made my coins longer and leaner than the standard. It was only after the quilt was completed and someone on the committee said, "It looks like a magic carpet" that the name stuck. The quilt measures 34" x 56".

The quilt top is made entirely of batik fabrics. I cut each coin 1.5" x 5" and sewed them in pairs. I sewed a long length of coins to a long length of the solid blue batik to complete the layout. I'm going to tweak the instructions for making the basic section/block for the quilt, adding more to make different sizes. This was just a first run with revisions and alternate border ideas still to come.

For the quilting, I stitched in the ditch between the sections and between each coin. I had pressed the seams to one side on the coins but next time I will press the seams open and perhaps quilt an edge-to-edge design across the entire surface of the quilt.

I used Sew Art smoke monofilament nylon thread in the top for the ditch quilting and Presencia 50/3 in the bobbin (gold to match the backing fabric). For the background fill, which was all the blue batik fabric, I used Presencia 50/3 blue to quilt the curly-q design to give the, magic carpet, some movement!

For the binding, I used a gold batik, that looked like the gold coins I was thinking about all along, to frame the finished quilt.

Hannah was a curtain warmer and a part of the Genie Chorus, pictured here with her #1 fan, sister Becca.
Hannah and her lifelong friend, Emily, who portrayed a friend of the Princess Jasmine.

Hannah and Haley, two peas in a pod who became good friends during this production!

Copyright ©2010, Sharon Baggs

Thursday, February 18, 2010


When I started quilting almost 12 years ago, I had an intense love affair with those perky reproduction fabrics designed after the original feedsacks of the 1930's. I collected many of them but I never owned an original vintage feedsack...until this week, thanks to ebay. I was prompted to go on the hunt for the sole purpose of completing Andrea's antique quilt.

To add three rows to the original quilt top, I needed 45 additional squares. Andrea's mom contributed these two red prints, one being a full sized original feedsack, the first I'd ever seen.

I removed 5" of stitching along the side seam at the top of the sack, clipped the fabric and tore it along the width. From this I cut the squares. Because thick string was used to sew feedsacks together, small holes remain where the string is removed. You can work around those by examining the fabric carefully before cutting a square to size.

As I started to remove squares from the quilt top and mixed in these prints, it quickly became evident that I needed at least one more print. The red prints really brightened the look so I searched for something lighter and found this perfect pink print.

Now the additional rows are nearly in place. This quilt will finish to approximately 65" x 85", just the right size for a twin bed. More will be posted on the layering and quilting of this quilt soon!

Copyright ©2010, Sharon Baggs

Monday, February 15, 2010


Jitterbug is the name of this contemporary style quilt from Debbie Bowle's book Dancing Quilts. The quilt was pieced by three friends who made it as a wedding gift for another friend. I quilted it and attached a scrappy binding.

Made entirely of batiks, they worked a beautiful color scheme around this design. According to one of the piecers, the quilt was very easy to construct; however, the tricky part was choosing the right fabric and then placing the blocks to show a semblance of order in the all-over design.

After discussing quilting options, we decided on an edge-to-edge angled design as shown here. It greatly enhanced the geometric design of the quilt. It's very easy to quilt this type of design. Quilt a short straight line, stop, then quilt in another direction to create the angle. Finger trace these close up shots to get the idea and try drawing this design on paper.

I used Superior Thread's King Tut for the quilting and changed color to blend in with the fabric. Batiks have a higher thread count so the fabric remains fairly taut while quilting. The backing was a heavy green felted fabric (I called it billard cloth, but it's not really that heavy!) I used a 40 wt. YLI brand cotton thread in the bobbin.

The border of the quilt was pieced from random pieces matching the color of the blocks and I pieced the binding to match each print along the edge. It turned out so well! Especially with a batik, you can just match the color, not necessarily use the same print and it will frame the quilt nicely, not distracting your eye away from the design of the quilt. The binding does need to be pieced-as-you-go with straight seams to join (not diagonal) but it's just a little extra effort that makes a big impact for the finished look.

Copyright ©2010, Sharon Baggs

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Sunbonnet Sue

I love the story behind this quilt. Earlier this fall, I was contacted by the niece of a woman who wanted a quilt for her daughter. The Sunbonnet Sue blocks were appliqued by another quilter who had that end of the project for at least two years. When the niece called me she was desperate to help her aunt get this quilt finished. The aunt was worried she wouldn't see the day of its completion, now that she was in her 80's. Within two weeks of our conversation, I had the blocks and got to work.

First, I added yellow print sashing to 32 blocks, which were set diagonally, to make a full size quilt top. Each block with sashing was approximately 13" finished. I added matching muslin for the setting triangles and corners.

Next came the quilting. I marked a continuous oval stencil design, typical of vintage style quilts, on freezer paper with a black felt tipped pen. I attached the design to my glass top coffee table and put a light underneath the table to illuminate the design.

Using a blue washable marker, I marked the quilt top, following the design that is visible underneath. I then pin basted the quilt top with Hobbs Heirloom Bleached batting and extra wide white tone-on-tone backing.

I used Presencia 100% cotton 50/3 thread for all the quilting in both the top and the bobbin. When I quilted the 1/2" grid (see below), I used the 60/3 thread in the top and 50/3 in the bobbin.

Following what I did, here's a suggested quilting order:

*Use a walking foot to stitch in the ditch all the seam lines between the blocks and the sashing. This firmly anchors the quilt.

*Next stitch the curves of the oval design, also with the walking foot.

*With a darning foot, stitch around the Sunbonnet Sue applique design, taking care to stitch just between the applique and the background fabric and not on top of the applique, except when quilting around the top of the foot, bottom of the bonnet, and around the sleeve/hand. This helps keep the design from popping out, especially after washing/drying the quilt.

*Quilt a 1" grid in the setting triangles and the corners with a walking foot.

*Quilt a 1/2" grid in the background of the Sunbonnet Sue. I used the walking foot here too, although you can use a darning foot for ease in maneuvering around the applique.

It's best to mark the grids before layering the quilt. I contemplated a couple different designs for the background, such as McTavishing and a meandering line with flowers interspersed, before settling on grids. When in doubt, quilt a grid. It highlights applique beautifully and is an authentic design choice for Sunbonnet Sue.

I'm happy to say the quilt was finished in time for the holidays. Here is Sandy, the recipient of the quilt on Christmas morning with her mom, Betty. There is such joy to see it finished!

Copyright ©2010, Sharon Baggs