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Bells, Whistles, Strobe Lights in Sky

HisChildBeth | Posted in Quilting and Home Decor on

I just had one of those wonderful light bursting moments that changed the stress level of my life 100%.  For all of you sewers and quilters I know you will be ROFLing (my daughter taught me that one, short for rolling on the floor laughing).

I haven’t sewed in 30 years and have only retained enough to get myself in a tizzy.  You see I’m a perfectionist so we tizzy easily.

I have been worrying myself sick about how I was going to know what the “straight of the grain” was when I got to a piece of fabric that didn’t have any selvages.  Alex Anderson in her book Rotary Cutting says to cut off the selvages, and I know in sewing clothes you lay your pattern out so it sits on the good side of the selvage and gets cut off.

I know that the thread runs parallel, straight, with the selvage.  I figured I would worry myself into sleepless nights trying to tell which direction the “straight” was only knowing that the crosswise grain had a little more give.  I tried pulling several pieces of fabric to see if I could tell.  Nope.  Sweating here.  I can get myself in such a tizzy I can’t sew until I am positive what I am doing is right.  I know.  CHILL BETH!  The little house on the prairie ladies used grain sacks and old aprons!

I learning quilting alone since I can’t get to a beginner’s quilting class for a long time.  I thought I would read everything I could find on the web, buy some books and I’d be OK since I have sewed before.  For beginners I have a HUGE WORD OF CAUTION!  I got messed up with that first book I tried by picking an author who is “known” and a low price.  BIG MISTAKE!  There are so many books out there pick from for a beginner’s sewing or quilting book.  It is a research project just like buying your sewing machine for the first time.  You can read every review out there and be even more confused than when you started.  Until you have a book in your hands that is your’s highlight and note, you just won’t know if it is good or not.  You can look at in a store and think it is great, but you won’t know until you dig in deeper than a store glance.  First see if you can buy second-hand in good condition either in your local store or on-line.  Be prepared to buy two or three of your top picks.  If you don’t like one, trade it back to your second-hand dealer and trade it.  Tonight I started on the Quilter’s Complete Guide by Fons and Porter.  Here is my epiphany moment from page 16:

“Arrows on patchwork pattern pieces indicate how the pieces should be placed on the fabric.  When using a fabric without a nap or sheen, align the arrows with EITHER (EMPHASIS MINE) the lengthwise OR I(EMPHASIS MINE) crosswise fabric grain.  THIS IS CALLED CUTTING PIECES ON THE STRAIGHT OF THE GRAIN (AGAIN, EMPHASIS MINE).

So for all you wise and learned sewers and quilters out there, assume that no piece of your knowledge is to little or to frivolous  to mention (oh, she knows that).  No, she may not know that; maybe she is so wrapped around pole she can’t figure it out on her own, etc.

Thank for giving me a place to come where I do not feel dumb and stupid with my messages.  I only hope that others in the same boat as me have the courage to ask what seems like the dumbest question in the world because you never know, someone else out there might have the same question they are too embarrassed to ask.



  1. damascusannie | | #1

    Well, shoot! Now I feel bad--we forget sometimes that our terminology, while using the same words, doesn't always mean the same thing as it does in clothing construction! Yes, in quilting, "straight of grain" simply means in line with the threads in the fabric. BTW--one trick: if it's hard to see the threads on the front side of the fabric, cut from the back instead. They are usually very easy to see from the back side.

    On rare occasions, a quilting pattern may specify cutting strips on either the crosswise or lengthwise grain, especially for things like long borders which are often cut on the lengthwise grain because it's less stretchy. If you can, do this, BUT the world will NOT come to a fiery end if you cut them on the crosswise grain. Sometimes, due to the pattern in the fabric, you may want these strips cut the other way and it's not that big of a deal if you do it.

    Another tip while I'm at it. I starch my fabrics very heavily prior to cutting. I use a concentrated liquid starch (Sta-flo) and mix it about half and half with water in a trigger spray bottle. The starch creates a fabric that is very stiff and won't distort as you sew. It revolutionized the way I quilt and my piecing accuracy skyrocketed. I'm a perfectionist, too, and an imperfect point gets on my last nerve, so anything I can do to keep things accurate is a huge plus for me.

    1. HisChildBeth | | #2

      This is another silly question, but I have heard differing views so I thought I would ask.

      Do you prewash everything, and then apply the starch as you iron your yardage before you start cutting pieces?

      If that is what you do, what do you protect your ironing board cover with?  I know that starch will stick to your iron, make brown spots on your cover, and can even make brown spots on your fabric.  At least that is what happened to me in the "olden days" when we still had to iron everything.

      Remember we had to iron jeans!  I was blessed because I had just gotten to that stage of being taught housekeeping when my mother moved up in the world when my father got a promotion and she got a full-time maid and laundress who did all the ironing.

      Back to quilting ....

      I thought the point was to get everything out of the fabric, all the stiffners and stabilizers, before you cut pieces.  Isn't starching the reverse?

      I have always prewashed my fabrics, ironed the whole yardage and folded it away until I was ready to use it, and then it only required a little touch up on the light fold lines before laying out and cutting.  I even prewashed my Warm and Natural batting.  I don't want my fabric and batting to shrink and my piece get wrinkly.  Some wrinkling is unavoidable, but pre-washing seems to lessen that quite a bit.

      I know there are people from both schools or thought, pre-wash-don't pre-wash, and I would appreciate feedback on why you choose one way over the other. 

      Thanks, Beth

      1. damascusannie | | #3

        I do prewash everything for a couple of reasons:
        1) Almost all of my quilts will be gifts and I need to know that no matter how they are washed that the the fabrics won't bleed.2) I will use fabrics from literally dozens of different manufacturers in the same quilt and I want to know that they are pre-shrunk so that I don't have different fabrics shrinking at different rates. I agree that it seems like we are re-building the wheel to wash out the sizing, and then basically add it back in, but I HAVE to prewash, so I don't have much choice. While starching isn't necessary, it is becoming increasingly common among quilters, because it really does almost eliminate any tendency for the fabric to stretch and distort. It also "levels the playing field" between different weights of fabrics making it easier for me to blend heavy Moda cottons, with lighter weight batiks for instance.

        The latest issue of Quilter's Newsletter (a monthly quilting magazine) had a short "Secrets of Successful Strippers" in their "Workbook" section. Number One tip? "Starch your fabric heavily. It should be as stiff as a sheet of paper." One of my quilting friends says that "If it doesn't shatter if you drop it on the floor, you didn't use enough starch." A bit of an exaggeration, but it gives you the idea! I only starch as much fabric as I will be cutting at a time. That means that if I have a yard of fabric, but am only going to need a 6" strip, I only starch that much of it. While the starch contains borax to resist fungus growth and insects, I don't want to count on that to protect a fabric that might not be used again for a year or two.To avoid brown spots, give the starch time to soak into the fabric. This will eliminate about 95% of the potential problems. Because I quilt almost to the exclusion of any other sewing, I protect my entire ironing board with a sheet of muslin. When the muslin is completely nasty from starch build-up I just throw it away and pin a new piece on. If you will only be quilting part-time, use an old 100% cotton T-shirt and just slide it over the end of the ironing board. You can rotate it around to find clean sections when one section gets nasty and again, just throw it away when it's past use.

        1. HisChildBeth | | #5

          What is this about fungus, bugs, starch and borax in the starch?  I have all my fabrics pre-washed, and the ones I haven't gotten to to prewash, all in a large plastic bin a closet.  I only have out the pieces that i am using on the current project.  Can I expect bugs and fungus to attack my fabrics?  If my clothes are fine why wouldn't my fabric be OK. Fabric is closed up and my clothes aren't.

          1. marymary | | #6

            Beth, bugs and fungus feed off starch.  If you only starch the fabric you are working with, don't worry.  Starching and storing can be a bad combination.

          2. HisChildBeth | | #7

            OH!  Light bulb!

      2. marymary | | #4

        I use Warm and Natural almost exclusively in my quilts, but I don't preshrink it.  That's too much work!  I do put the batting into the dryer for about 20 minutes just prior to making the "sandwich" to relax the wrinkles.  I don't know if this shrinks the batting, but I doubt it.  I also wash my quilts when they are finished and I have never had one come out "bunched" or wrinkled.

        When I preshrink my fabrics I throw a Shout Color Catcher in with them.  I tend to like bright fabrics and this is essential with the batiks that I use.  Sometimes it is necessary to wash a fabric several times before the excess dye is removed. 

        I use an old towel over my ironing board.  When it gets dirty, I throw it in the washer. 

        Edited 6/1/2008 10:45 am ET by marymary

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