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What’s Behind Your Quilt

You’ve spent a lot of time and effort creating a quilt of which I am sure you are very proud.  Now that you are finished, have you pondered what you will choose for the back of your quilt?  What type of fabric are you going to use?  How large will it be?  Will you use one piece of fabric or will it be pieced?  These are all questions that you should consider.  Let’s get started.

Fabric Type

When it comes to fabric choice, there are many schools of thought.  Some say take the least expensive route because nobody will ever see it.  To others a muslin or bed sheet would be more than adequate.  For me the back of my project is just as important as the front.  I want to be proud of the entire creation hence I would strongly disagree with both of those philosophies.

Here’s my reasoning:

    • Nobody will ever see it  –  A quilt used on a bed is often folded back.  What do you see when it is folded back?  The underside of the quilt of course.  Doesn’t that make the back side just as important.  Would you make a wedding dress using the finest materials for the front, then finish it with less appealing fabrics for the back?  Quilts are often admired not only from the front but also from the back.  A fabric coordinated with the quilt top will make your quilt even more appealing and will add value.
    • A bed sheet will do just fine – Bed sheets are not at all appropriate and here’s why.  Simply put, the thread count of sheeting is much too high.  When machine quilting the densely woven fabric of a bed sheet, the piercing action of the needle through the fibers can cause threads to break.  Although a broken thread here or there may not seem an issue, multiple broken threads certainly are.  Over time those broken threads threaten the overall integrity of the structure.

Size Matters

There’s nothing more disappointing than a quilt back that is too small.  Make sure your backing fabric is at least 6-8″ larger than your quilt top.  For example:  If your quilt top measures 60×60 then your quilt back, before quilting, should be a minimum of 66×66.

How Many Pieces

In an ideal situation, all quilt backs would be a single cut of fabric.  That being said, quite frequently quilt backing is constructed from two or more segments.  In fact, some are even pieced from multiple fabrics.  No matter which method you choose the following is a list of helpful guidelines.

  1. Remove the Selvage:  The selvage edge of fabric is very densely woven and has no give.  Leaving the selvage in place would not only make your fabric more difficult to load on a long arm quilt machine it would also create uneven movement in your quilt.  My recommendation:  cut them off before seaming quilt backing fabric together.
  2. Seam Width:  If your backing will be fashioned from multiple pieces, of various sized fabrics, perhaps in the case of a scrappy pattern, 1/4″ seams are acceptable.  On the other hand, if your backing is created using large sections of material please use 1/2″ seams.
  3. Horizontal or Vertical Seams:  In researching this topic I came across, what seems like, just as many opinions as there are quilt designs.  In analyzing their suggestions I realized that most of them were not providing instructions for long arm quilting.  Since long arm quilting is the focus of my business and this site, I am going to tell you what’s best for a successful outcome with my machine.  Horizontal seams are my preferred choice.  Horizontal seams load much smoother than those sewn vertically.
  4. Press Seams Open or to the Side:  This too is a question with varying opinions.  Some would recommend that seams be pressed to one side or the other.  Some would say that pressing seams open is best.  Still others would say that it doesn’t make a difference.  Believers in pressing seams to the left or right claim those seams are stronger with less stress directed toward the stitching.  Those advocating the open seam press, point out that seams lay much flatter, thereby promoting a much smoother machine quilting experience.  Here again, because I am a long arm quilter I lean towards the open seam camp.  Anything that can be done to remove obstacles to the machine quilting process gets my vote.
  5. Press from the Wrong or Right Side:  When pressing open your seams do so from the wrong side.  This eliminates those stubborn seams that have a mind of their own.  You know the ones that chose to follow a different path.  Tackling them head on eliminates surprises.

Will the Exact Center of My Quilt Backing Match Up Exactly with the Center of My Quilt Top?

Nope.  When a quilt is machine quilted using a conventional sewing machine the quilt is generally quilted from the center out.  With a long arm quilter the quilt is either quilted from top to bottom or side to side.  Using this method it is nearly impossible to make the center front and center back meet.  Assume that this is not going to happen and you will be much happier with the outcome.

Should I Baste My Quilt Top, Batting and Backing Together Before I Deliver it to My Quilter?

Gasp Never, never, never!  As was mentioned with the quilt top instructions, your quilt sandwich will be loaded on three separate rollers.  If you baste them together your quilter must remove the basting before she can proceed.  Aside from creating extra work and causing her frustration, you may find yourself with a much larger quilting expense.

How Do I Let You Know Which Edge of My Backing I Would Like You to Use as the Top?

The best method, I believe, is to write the phrase “top of backing” on a piece of paper, then safety-pin that paper to the top of your backing.

One Final Note

As with your quilt top, if your quilt back was constructed from numerous pieces of fabric, it may be advisable to stay stitch 1/8″ from the outside edge, all the way around your quilt back.  This simple step can help maintain the integrity of your seams.

Thank you for sharing your time with me.  I hope you have found these tips to be informative.  Drop me a line and let me know what you think.

Cindy Anderson of In A Stitch Quilting

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The Filling Between the Sandwich

A quilt has three main components, the beautifully designed quilt top, the backing and of course the filling between the sandwich.  Choosing the proper batting is very important.  Before thumbing through catalogs or cruising through your local retailer take time to ask yourself these questions:

  • How will my quilt be used?  Will it be a wall hanging or bed quilt.  If I am using it as a bed quilt, how warm would I like it to be.
  • Do I want to do hand or machine quilting?
  • How much quilting do I want to do?
  • What is my budget?
  • Do I care about quality?
  • Did I use light or dark fabrics?
  • Do I have allergies?
  • How big is my quilt?

This sounds like a lot of questions but they’re all very important.  Your answers to those questions will help you make your choice.

Let’s Begin the Journey

Obviously not all battings are alike.  There are many terms that are used when describing batting.  There’s carded or combed, bonded, needle punched; natural or synthetic fibers; low loft, medium loft, high loft or extra loft.  Lets explore some of this terminology

Carded or Combed Batting

Carded or combed fibers have no bonding agent therefore are more prone to shifting and bearding.  As a result the quilt lines on this batting should be between 1/4″ and 1/2″ apart.

Bonded Batting

There are two types of bonded batting, resin and thermal.  The processes are very different but the reasons are similar.  Bonding is done to help prevent bunching, eliminate thick and thin areas as well as bearding and provide extra strength to the fibers.  Bonded batting has a higher loft than needle punched because the fibers of the needle punched batting are compressed.

Resin bonding is a thin coating of resin or glaze applied to both the top and bottom layers.  This type of batting is great for comforters and quilts that have less quilting.  Thermal bonding is typically done only on polyester batting.  Thermal bonded batting is softer than resin bonded batting, but not as durable and may tend to be more susceptible to bearding.

Needle Punched

Needle punched batting is just what it sounds like.  The fibers are punched with thousands of needles.  The punching tangles the fibers together, thereby compressing them.  The tangling process adds durability.  Some needle punched battings also have a scrim.  A scrim is a netting type material that is added while the batting is needle punched.  The scrim adds even greater strength.  Lightweight scrims are easily hand quilted.  Heavyweight scrims are more suited to machine quilting.  A heavyweight scrim makes the batting stiffer but less .

Loft (Weight or Thickness):

Low Loft

    • 1/8-3/8″
    • Easy to work with
    • Great for lightweight quilts, wall hangings, placemats, clothing
    • Suitable for hand or machine quilting

Medium Loft

    • Adds texture
    • Thicker loft means more difficult to machine quilt
    • Very difficult to hand quilt
    • Use in warmer quilts and wall hangings

High Loft/Extra High Loft

    • High = 1-2″ thick
    • Extra High = 2-3″
    • Great for tied quilts
    • Difficult to hand and machine quilt
    • Not suitable for placemats

Fibers

Now that we’ve explored the process of bonding lets discuss the types of fibers.  Battings can be made from natural fibers, synthetic or a blend of both.  Fibers that fall within the natural category are:  alpaca, bamboo, natural cotton, organic cotton, cotton flannel, flame retardant batting, a flax and linen blend, silk, soy blend or wool.  Synthetic fibers are made from:  polyester, plastic, a cotton/polyester blend and a cotton/polyester blend with stabilizer.  Lets look at each one a little closer.

Natural Fibers:

Alpaca

  • Many colors
  • High quality, expensive
  • Lightweight, warm
  • Fibers are smooth, not itchy like wool
  • Often blended with wool or cotton
  • Needle punched variety easier to quilt
  • Care:  Can be machine or hand washed.  Do so with care.  Agitation can result in felting.  Air dry.
  • Needs protection from moths
  • Shrinkage:  2-3%
  • Distance between quilting lines:  2-4″

Bamboo Blend

  • Rayon fiber made from bamboo
  • Eco-Safe plant, fast growing properties eliminate need for pesticides or fertilizer
  • Often blended 50% bamboo rayon with 50% organic cotton
  • Needle punched.  Has lightweight scrim, no glue or binders, no bunching or clumping
  • Great for machine quilting
  • Breathable & cool like cotton, keeps you cool yet warm
  • Naturally antibacterial
  • Care:  Machine or hand wash with care, air dry (check label, some are machine dryable)
  • Shrinkage:  2-3%
  • Distance between quilt lines:  up to 8″

100% Natural Cotton

  • Very popular
  • Not subject to bearding
  • Can be blended with other fibers to reduce their bearding tendencies
  • If needle punched typically doesn’t have a scrim and no chemicals are added.  May vary depending on manufacturer
  • Great for machine quilting and intricate hand quilted table runners and wall hangings
  • Higher quality natural cotton batting has fewer “neps” (tiny tangles that dull needles)
  • Absorbs moisture which keeps you cool in summer and warm in winter
  • Softens with age, washing and use
  • Available in natural, black and bleached
  • Care:  machine washable, air dry or machine dry low
  • Shrinkage:  3-5% when washed.  Once washed will keep its shape and no longer shrink.
  • Distance between quilting lines:  variable, 2-4″, 10″ if scrimed

100% Organic Cotton

  • Similar to natural cotton batting
  • Eco-Friendly because no pesticides or fertilizer are used
  • Soft
  • Some are needle punched.  If needle punched may have a scrim.  Scrim would make it more stable, less stretchy.  Scrim could make it slightly harder to hand quilt.
  • Suitable for hand and machine quilting table runners and wall hangings
  • Care:  machine washable, air dry or machine dry low
  • Shrinkage:  could be 2-3% when washed, keeps shape after that
  • Distance between quilting lines:  3-5″, see label

Cotton Flannel

  • Woven fabric
  • Often used as batting and backing
  • Great when very low loft desired
  • Lightweight alternative to typical batting
  • Many, many colors
  • Suitable for table runners, bed runners, placemats, tablecloths and lightweight quilts
  • Care:  wash before using, machine dry low
  • Shrinkage:  can be 10% (read label)
  • Distance between quilting lines:  8-10″

Flame Retardant Batting

  • Made from wood pulp
  • Soft, warm
  • Needle punched
  • May have scrim to hold fibers in place, no resins or glues
  • Naturally flame retardant, no chemicals
  • Great for baby quilts, bedding
  • Care:  pre-soak, wash carefully (especially first time), machine or air dry
  • Shrinkage:  4-6%
  • Distance between quilt lines:  6″ (refer to label)

Flax/Linen Blend

  • 2-3 times stronger than cotton
  • Prone to wrinkling but presses well
  • Thin, highly absorbent
  • Needle punched with very lightweight scrim
  • Great for hand or machine washed quilts and wall hangings
  • Care:  machine wash, air dry or machine dry low
  • Shrinkage:  2-5%
  • Distance between quilting lines:  8-10″

Silk

  • Quality, elegance, pricey
  • Hard to find
  • Lightweight, thin, drapes wonderfully
  • Carded and resin bonded
  • May be blended with small amount of polyester to retard bearding
  • Warm like down
  • Colors:  natural or black
  • Suitable for machine or hand quilted clothing, light quilts or coverlets
  • Care:  hand wash or machine wash with extreme care in tepid water, lay flat or air dry
  • Shrinkage:  up to 5% on first washing
  • Distance between quilting lines:  up to 4″

Soy Blend

  • Eco-Friendly
  • Blend of 50% soy & 50% cotton
  • Needle punched with lightweight scrim
  • Hard to find
  • Very soft, thin, skin friendly
  • Drapes smoothly
  • Hand quilters like it because it is easy to quilt
  • Care:  machine wash gentle cycle in cool water, air dry
  • Shrinkage:  2-3%
  • Distance between quilting lines:  8-10″

Wool

  • Breathable, lightweight, soft, naturally warm, easy to quilt, expensive
  • Beards more than natural fibers
  • A resin bonding or cheesecloth scrim will reduce bearding
  • Some people are allergic to it
  • Naturally flame-retardant
  • Comes in natural or black
  • Great for quilts
  • Care:  wash gently in cool water or dry clean.  Never dry in dryer because agitation and heat will ruin it.  Protect from moths
  • Shrinkage:  2-3%
  • Distance between quilting lines:  2-4″

Synthetic Fibers:

Polyester

  • Most popular synthetic, least expensive
  • Hypoallergenic
  • Lighter than cotton but cotton is more breathable
  • Easy care, may launder frequently
  • Bearding tendencies make it great candidate for blending with cotton.  If not blended then needle punched or bonded
  • Petroleum based, not renewable
  • Durable, great insulator
  • Colors:  white or black
  • May be hand or machine quilted
  • Care:  machine wash and dry
  • Shrinkage:  none
  • Distance between quilting lines:  2-4″ (read label)

Plastic Earth Friendly

  • 100% recycled plastic bottles
  • No scrim or resin
  • Needle punched
  • 1# of batting = 10 bottles kept out of landfill
  • Soft, cozy
  • Great for hand & machine quilting
  • Care:  machine washable, air dry or machine dry low
  • Shrinkage:  none
  • Distance between quilting lines:  2-4″, up to 12″ if needle punched

Cotton/Polyester Blend

  • 80% Cotton/20% Polyester; 50% Cotton/50% Polyester; 60% Cotton/40% Polyester
  • Long arm quilters prefer the 60%/40% blend
  • Great for hand or machine quilting
  • Blended because easier to handle, gives more loft than 100% cotton
  • Very drapable
  • Colors:  white or black
  • Care:  machine wash, air dry or machine dry low
  • Shrinkage:  2-3%
  • Distance between quilting lines:  2-4″, up to 12″ if needle punched

Cotton/Polyester with Stabilizer

  • 24″ combined with stabilizer
  • If using embroidery machine to quilt no need to back batting with stabilizer
  • Stabilizer adds strength
  • Care:  machine wash and dry
  • Shrinkage:  none
  • Distance between quilting lines:  n/a

Fusible Batting

  • No need to baste
  • 100% polyester with fusible web
  • Can also be a natural blend of cotton and bamboo rayon
  • May be fusible on only one side, if so, fuse on backing of quilt
  • Limited sizes
  • Fusible web holds layers together while quilting which eliminates shifting
  • Fusible web is temporary.  Dissolves when washed.
  • Softens when washed
  • Great for small machine quilted projects
  • Also suitable for hand quilting
  • Care:  machine wash or rinse in cool water after quilting, air dry or machine dry low
  • Shrinkage:  2-3%
  • Distance between quilting lines:  2-6″

Insulating Batting

  • 100% polyester
  • Needle punched with reflective mylar
  • Low loft
  • 45″ wide
  • Great for craft projects
  • Care:  machine wash, machine dry low
  • Shrinkage:  none
  • Distance between quilting lines:  up to 10″

Conclusion

What you have just read barely scratches the surface of available information. I didn’t even attempt to compare the various manufacturers and brand names.  Doing so would have sent my head spinning.  If you would like further details you can find numerous websites with even more data.  Feel free to go on a search and discovery mission of your own.  I hope that you have found this information helpful.

Cindy Anderson of In A Stitch Quilting

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The Frame Around Your Quilt

Borders

Many quilts have borders but that’s where the similarities end.  Borders can be very simple or extremely elaborate.  Your imagination, abilities and resources are your only limitations.  Traversing the seemingly endless options can be insurmountable but with a little patience and careful contemplation you too can design a border that wonderfully complements your quilt.

Measure, Measure, Measure

Measuring and attaching your border or borders is as important as their design.  A border hastily applied can do more harm than good.  Among the unfortunate side effects are wavy edges, obstacles to long arm quilting as well as unsightly draping when displayed.

Very Important

The most important tip I have ever encountered, when it comes to border application, is to measure your quilt beforehand to determine the exact length your border should be.  If we were to take the following measurements

  • along the left outer edge,
  • down the center and
  • along the right outer edge

chances are we would obtain three different numbers.  The measurement taken through the center would be the most accurate number to use.  The center would have the least amount of give or distortion. The measured distance through the center of your quilt, from top to bottom, is the length your strips should be cut when attaching borders to the sides of your quilt. The measured distance through the center of you quilt, from side to side, is the length your strips should be cut when attaching borders to the top and bottom edges of your quilt.

Attaching the Border

Typically quilters will first attach the top and bottom borders, then add borders to the left and right edges. If you would rather do the exact opposite it’s completely acceptable. For this demonstration we will first add border strips to the top and bottom edges, then to the left and right edges.

  1. Using the guidelines above measure and cut the fabric strips for the top and bottom edges of your quilt.
  2. Once you have done so find and mark the center of the quilt edge you will be working with.
  3. Then do the same with the border.
  4. Match and pin those two center points together.
  5. Next match up the left corner of your quilt with the left corner of the border.
  6. Pin the two corners together.
  7. Now match the right corner of your quilt with the right corner of your border.
  8. Pin the two corners together.
  9. Add pins, as needed to evenly distribute any excess fabric. Be sure to remove the pins, as you approach them with your presser foot, to avoid breaking or bending a needle.
  10. Now sew a seam.
  11. Repeat these steps on all four sides of your quilt.
  12. When finished your quilt top should be as close to square as possible.

More than One Border

If you will be adding more than one border simply follow the above twelve steps for each additional border. Also, before cutting the fabric for the additional borders be sure to follow the tips mentioned above when deciding how long each strip or border piece should be.

Still Need Help?

I am confident that these suggestions will assist you in achieving a pleasant outcome.  If the steps that I have just described seem confusing, watch this You Tube video and perhaps you will better understand.

Cindy Anderson of In A Stitch Quilting

 

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Should I Square Up My Quilt Blocks?

A Work of Art

Hours and hours of preparation and construction go into creating a quilt top.  From chosing the pattern to selecting the fabrics and even the thread, so much thought and contemplation is devoted to achieving just the right outcome.  Careful techniques are used to make sure the fabrics are cut at just the right angle and just the right width.  Seams are meticulously sewn so that the pieces all fit properly.  When all of the components are assembled the finished display is a work of art.

Attention to Detail

Achieving a quilt top that has square corners means paying attention to detail.  As your blocks are assembled it is imperative that you check their measurements.  If the measurements do not match with the patterns specified dimensions you may need to make adjustments in your sewing or pressing techniques.  Perhaps your seam allowance is not as the pattern specified.  Perhaps in pressing your blocks you added to the imbalance by stretching in one direction or another.  Sometimes authors even have you make the quilt blocks larger than needed.  Then after the block is constructed and carefully pressed they give you the measurements for the final version and instruct you to cut it to size.

Adjust It Now

No matter what caused your block to be misshapen it is extremely important that you make whatever adjustments are necessary for its dimensions to match with the pattern instructions.  Making those corrections now will help to eliminate future problems when the quilt top is assembled.  If you don’t take the time to remedy the problems before your pieces are sewn together the resulting imbalance will be even more pronounced.

Easier to Square Up A Block

Squaring up a quilt block is much easier that squaring up a quilt top.  There is a big difference between a quilt top that has square corners and one that does not.  The one “with” will be much easier to attach borders to, much easier to quilt and most important of all will have the most desirable outcome.  We all want quilts that dazzle the eyes and bring a smile to our faces.  Why not invest a little extra effort and a little extra time during construction?  You will be much happier with your outcome.

Additional Assistance

Before you go let me give you two of many websites that can help you square up your blocks:

This is a You Tube video:  Squaring up your blocks and these are written instructions

Cindy Anderson of In A Stitch Quilting

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Welcome to In A Stitch Quilting!

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In A Stitch Quilting was started in 2012. The purpose of the business is to offer professional longarm quilting services.

This blog is a blend between business and personal. The main focus is the discussion of topics relating to longarm quilting.  Also included are helpful tips on quilting techniques, suggestions for useful notions, information on my favorite shops, patterns and fabrics as well as stories about myself and many of my life experiences.  I hope you will find the information helpful as well as entertaining.

If you would like me to longarm quilt your next project you may reach me at cindy [at] inastitchquilting [dot] com.

Please tell your friends all about me. If there are topics you would like discussed further, please send me a message and I will do my best to answer your questions.

Thank you so much for your time! I wish you all the best!

Cindy Anderson

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