Quilting basics: choosing and treating fabric

Source: Generations Quilt Patterns; Fine Craft Guild

Selecting material

  • 100% quilting cotton gives you a lot of colour/pattern options and standardized weight
    • Avoid mixing fibre types to ensure what you make washes and wears consistently
  • Keep fabric weight in a single project consistent to avoid problems with uneven sewing and uneven wear
  • Pre-washing is usually not necessary if you specifically buy quilting cotton, but for other fabrics, test first

Choosing colours

  • Colour theory terms
    • Hue: basic colour in colour wheel
    • Value: the darkness or lightness of a hue
      • Tint: a paler version of the hue (add white); aka pastel
      • Shade: a darker version (add black)
    • Saturation: the intensity of a colour; lower saturation by adding grey
    • Complementary: colours opposite each other on the colour wheel (1/2 interval); high contrast
    • Triadic: colours spaced at 1/3 intervals around the colour wheel; balanced impression
    • Analogous: colours adjacent to each other on colour wheel; least contrast
    • Monochromatic: same hue, different values
    • Temperature: “cool” (green/blue/violet) vs “warm” (red/orange/yellow) colours
  • Colour palette inspiration resources
  • Choose a focus fabric to dominate the quilt, and build co-ordinating fabrics around it
  • Pay attention to the scale of the pattern on a print
    • Solid colours can look flat and uninteresting, but are good contrast against prints
    • Small prints often look like textured solids
    • Medium/large prints provide visual interest


  • Manufacturers often sell co-ordinated packs of assorted fabrics:
    • Jelly Roll: 2.5″ strips
    • Charm Pack: 5″ squares
    • Layer Cake: 10″ squares
    • Fat Quarter: 18″ x 22″ squares
  • Fabrics from the same collection from a manufacturer will usually go with each other


  • Not usually needed with quilting cottons
  • Do if you think your fabric is going to shrink or bleed

Pre-treating fabric for cutting

  • Lightly starch and press fabric to minimize distortion when cutting and sewing

Testing fabric for bleed

  • Make a lukewarm solution of laundry soap and water and stir a test square of fabric into it
  • Let sit 30 minutes and check for colour in the water
  • Pour out water, replace with fresh, and let soak again; check for colour
    • If no colour has leached by this point, fabric is safe to use
  • If colour has leached into water, put test square on white cotton and allow to dry
    • If no colour has leached at this point, fabric is probably safe
  • If colour has bled onto other fabric (“crocked”) and you really like the test fabric, try again with a new test swatch and different laundry soap until you find a combination that doesn’t bleed
  • If colour continues to bleed, remove from quilt stash and use elsewhere, or try to launder into submission

Treating bleeders

  • Before it’s in a quilt: try Retayne (colour fixative for commercially dyed cotton) as a pre-treatment for possible bleeders
  • After it’s in a quilt:
    • Avoid heating quilt (heat sets stains)
    • Tumble dry on low/no heat to speed drying and shorten bleeding window
    • Use “Color Catcher” dye traps when washing

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