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LESSON 1 A: Selecting Fabrics


LESSON NUMBER 1A: How do I find the fabrics?

Part of the reason most people don't quilt is because they are afraid of the process of selecting fabrics for their quilt.

Before going to the store to purchase fabric sit down at a comfortable spot and answer the following questions:

Who is the quilt for . . . yourself, your relative, a friend, for charity, a raffle???


Not very many quilters make quilts for themselves – they are always giving them as presents! For yourself, you have complete say so about the style of the quilt and the colors!


Did you tell them about it? Or is it a surprise?

If you told them about it, or they requested it, they can give you ideas about the colors and fabrics they want. They could also go on the shopping trip to purchase fabrics. Also, they can help you choose the pattern and layout of the quilt.

If it's a surprise, again, you will have complete control of the pattern of the quilt and the fabric. You might go to their house with the purpose of surveying their color schemes or might ask another friend to help you with ideas for the pattern or fabric.


Again under your total control for design or fabric. Great time to experiment with design of the quilt or the fabric. Or use up some of the fabrics in your stash. A scrap quilt uses all kinds of fabrics from your stash rather well and they are very beautiful.

Now that you have decided which pattern or layout and size of the fabric, it's time to go to the store!

WAIT! Before you leave for the store, look at the quilt pattern that you have decided to use for the quilt.

If its a simple one patch like our “Beginners Quilt”, cut a square out of paper or card stock. The square must be exactly the same size as the block that you are planning to use for the quilt.

If it is a more complicated piecing structure, cut out at least two of the piecing blocks that you are going to use.

Once you cut the pieces out of card stock. Cut out the middle of the piece so that you have a piece that looks like a window. The cut out in the middle should be approximately 1/4” away from the edge of the piece. You will use these Cut outs to audition your fabrics. If the inside window is 1/4” away from the edge of the paper, you will get an idea of how the fabric will look in the finished piece when it is cut up and sewn into your quilt.

Now that you have your audition cut outs. Time to figure out how many yards you will need to purchase.

There are many tables and charts to help figure this out for your particular quilt size and pattern.

If it is a beginners one patch quilt. Just large blocks of fabric. This is the easiest quilt of which to figure yardage With this type of quilt, you can even get away with not figuring at all, if you already have a fabric stash. Just pick up the nearest piece of fabric and add other fabrics to that piece until you have a combination of several colors that are pleasing together.

Then, start cutting. Say you are going to use 5 or 6 inch blocks. Start cutting 5 or 6 inch blocks.

You want to know when to stop cutting? Well, let's take the 5 inch block.

Standard sizes are as follows:

Crib – 36” x 48”

Twin – 72” x 90”

Full – 80” x 85”

Queen – 90” x 100”

King – 110” x 110”

So lets take the Crib size:

36” wide divided by 5” equals 7.2 blocks. Rounding up makes it 8 blocks wide.

48” long divided by 5” equals 9.6 blocks. Rounding up makes it 10 blocks long.

Now that's just one row wide and one row long. (see picture)

You still have to fill in the rest of the rows. So, multiply 8 blocks by 10 blocks which equals 80 blocks.

So, for a Crib size quilt measuring approximately 36” x 48”, you will need 80 blocks. Now you have a complete quilt of blocks. But, as you can see in the pic below, it's not very attractive.

What's missing to make it more attractive is a border. A quilt without at least one border is like a picture without a frame – it looks unfinished. Add one border and cornerstones in each border. Cornerstones are the little blocks in each corner. They should be the same size as the border is wide. So if your border is 3 inches, your cornerstones should measure 3 inches square.

Much better! Now it has a frame that says, “O.K., I'm finished!”

Now this quilt, with the 3 inch border and one less row width and length, measures 41” x 51”.

I deleted one row across and down just for picture purposes.

O.K., NOW you are ready to shop!

Maybe you can invite a friend to go with you on your first trip. She will help you decide whether certain fabrics look good together or maybe you just want to go by yourself.

Whichever, have fun! Remember this is a fun and creative art medium. If you make a mistake, you are that much wiser. Everyone makes mistakes!

REMEMBER “ The man on the horse” rule!

What is that you say?

Well, as it was told to me at my very first quilt guild meeting.....

If a man on a horse riding by your house can not see the mistake you made, don't worry!!!

Needless to say, I almost fell on the floor laughing!

FOR BEGINNERS, I recommend this method of shopping:

This will mean two trips to the fabric store, but It's safer and better results. Besides, what quilter doesn't want another trip to the fabric store? I love going to the fabric store to spend hours touching and looking at fabric! Sometimes just looking and not buying!

O.K., your trip to the store is ready. You have your card stock cut outs, your color scheme, and a pad of paper and pen in your purse. You are at the store . . . There are so many fabrics, WHERE DO YOU START????

First, if you've never been to that particular store, walk the store and just generally take in what they have to offer. Then, go to the 100% cotton area. Usually this area has large signs designating it as quilters fabric. Most quilters prefer 100% cotton for their quilts. But, if it's going to be a frequently used quilt such as a baby quilt or a lap quilt for someone in a wheelchair, consider the 50/50 fabrics. 50% Cotton and 50% polyester. They are just as beautiful and more durable for those constant washing that these two particular types of quilts go through.

Once you've checked out the store and decided on the type of fabric start looking at the large to medium print fabrics for your MAIN FABRIC.

This MAIN FABRIC will decide the color scheme of your whole quilt. So, choose a fabric that has at least 3 outstanding colors in it. The three colors should range from dark to medium to light. You can pick fabrics with more than 3 colors, but make sure they range from dark to light.

Once you have picked your MAIN FABRIC by color scheme, pull out your cut outs and place them on the bolt of fabric in the different design aspects of the fabric.

Look inside the window of your cutouts.

Do you want the cut out piece to show part of the design of the fabric or does it not matter?

When you are looking at the different aspects in the shape of the window of the cutout piece, does the color look the same as when viewed in the whole of the fabric or does it look like a different color? And most of all, do you like the way the fabric looks in that window?

Remember, this is the way the fabric will look once you cut the fabric into squares, triangles, circles, flowers, etc. This is the purpose of your cutouts! To see what the fabric will look like when cut. Decide if this large print is pleasing to you in color, patterns and as cutout pieces. Make sure that you move your cutouts all over the fabric to get an idea of how the pieces will look when cut.

Once you have decided on the MAIN FABRIC, it is time to pick the rest of the fabrics.

Most fabric manufacturers will make their fabric selections in color ways. Color ways will have several prints large, medium and small in certain color families. Then, they make other fabrics that are prints that read solid from a distance or actual solid fabrics. These color ways or families are usually stacked right next to each other and are easy to pick out. If you choose to go to other manufacturers, remember that every year, all manufacturers decide which color families will be used for everything, clothing, fabric, cars, stereos, etc. Once decided, all manufacturers follow these color ways and do their thing with the fabric design. So hopping from manufacturer to manufacturer is not hard.

Pick a fabric that will match a particular color on the main fabric. It must match, not be a shade off or match “a little” The color of your supporting fabrics are very important. You can use fabrics with whatever design element you like, but do not pick large or medium prints for supporting fabrics, they confuse or detract from the MAIN FABRIC and make the pattern hard to see. If the pattern is just scrap fabric squares, patterns visibility is not important.

For instance, say your main fabric has moon, sun, and stars all over. You can pick a blue that would match the sky in a solid or small floral design. Small floral designs usually read solid from afar, but add a beautiful element all in itself. Or if the design includes grassy areas, a green matching the grass would nice.

One of the supporting fabrics could be a neutral color like beige or tan or grey or black. I usually use these for the background of the quilt design and in the border. For example, our windmill pattern. The actual windmill can be the MAIN FABRIC, the background fabric that will help define the windmill can be the neutral color, beige, tan, grey or black.

Now that you have picked your fabrics, how much do you buy?

To buy fabric and make a mistake with the design in the fabric is heartbreaking. So why buy all of it? This is where your pad and pencil come in. Before you go to the cutting table at the store, take a minute and write down the information on the end of the bolt. It will have the name of the manufacturer and the name of the pattern and color of the fabric. Do this for all the fabric that you have picked. If the bolt doesn't have the information, look on the selvedge. It is usually printed along the selvedge of the fabric. The selvedges are usually white along the length of the fabric. Write all the information down.

This is extremely important. You will need this information when you come back on your 2nd shopping trip. If the fabric doesn't have this information on it, then bring your sample block with you so you can find the fabric again.

After you have written all this information down, go to the cutting table. At the cutting table you will ask for either ¼ yard or ½ yard for each of the fabrics that you have chosen. How little you buy is up to you. With this small amount of fabric, you can test the pattern you are going to use. This way, you will see what happens with the fabric once it is sewn into your block and you will not have spent too much money on fabric if it doesn't really work in your pattern. If it doesn't work the way you wanted. Save the scraps for a scrap quilt and save the test block you made. This block will help you make decisions on your next fabric buying for this quilt. Also, when you are finished with this particular quilt, if you didn't use this test block you can add it to a scrap quilt later.

Despite the audition with the window pieces, sometimes when we work fabrics into a pattern, they just don't look good or we don't like them for some reason. Quilters Choice!

Yes, it takes two trips to the store, but at least you haven't spent a great deal of money on the fabric.

The important thing to remember is to return to the same store and purchase the rest of the fabric within at least a week. Fabrics tend to disappear very quickly and if you wait too long to go back you might not find it again.

This method is exceptionally good to use when shopping on the internet. Because on the internet you can't audition the fabrics!

When you finally decide on your fabrics and are buying your yardage, always buy an extra yard of each fabric. This extra yard will be there if you make mistakes when sewing or cutting. You can always add the left over fabric to your stash or use it for scrap quilts or make matching pillow cases for the quilt gift.

I hope you enjoy your shopping trips and these little tips have helped ease the confusion. Shopping for fabric shouldn't be painful or agonizing. With proper preparation it will be really fun!

If you have any questions, just send me an email or contact me on the chat phone.

Next lesson:

What equipment do I need?


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