The “musts” and “must nots” of quilting have evolved through the years, much like the protocols governing proper behaviour in social situations.
For illustration purposes, there was a time when a quilt could only be made using cotton or wool batting. Naturally, that shifted throughout the course of time. There are several different kinds of batting, the most common of which are cotton and wool. Other options, including as natural bamboo and polyester, are also available.
It was also true that quilters should never combine different types of cloth fibres, with the exception of a crazy quilt, of course. Pieces made of cotton were stitched together with other sections made of cotton, while pieces made of polyester were patched with other polyester pieces. These days, an increasing number of quilters are utilising both techniques in their work.
Despite tradition, there’s nothing wrong with that as long as the quilter is using fabrics of similar weight. Today’s polyester is not the same stuff that dressed the disco age in leisure suits. There are light weight polyesters that feel like silk. Some feel like suede. Others are strangely similar to cotton.
Technology has made these advancements possible, which means we quilters have another consideration to make: to combine fibers or not to combine fibers?
Really, it’s a matter of personal choice. If you have a polyester fabric in your stash that would look great in a quilt top you have planned using cottons, give it a try. Some quilters have a hard time working with polyester since they are accustomed to using cottons. Make a block and see how you like it. If not, don’t proceed. If you don’t have a problem, go right ahead and include your polyester. It’s as simple as that.
The important thing about mixing fabric fibers is to keep the pieces approximately the same weight. Weight is important because as the fabrics brush or rub against each other, they will begin to wear. Heavier fabrics will wear out thinner ones. Sometimes, a heavier fabric sewn to a lighter weight one will pull against the thread, too. This will make your fabrics tear and pull apart at the seams.
The real problem with mixing cottons and polyesters in a quilt top will arise in the quilting method you choose and whether or not you are already comfortable with quilting on polyester. If this is new to you, it may take a little time to adapt. Try tying your quilt rather than quilting in the ditch if you seem to be having problems with this step. Free motion quilting brings about different challenges, but if you take it slow you should be able to maneuver the project just fine.
What do you do about threads when you combine fabric fibers? Avoid changing back and forth by just using the thread that fits the majority of your fabric. If your quilt top is predominantly cotton, but you have infused a few of your favorite polyester pieces, use cotton thread. This advice is good for both piecing and quilting.
It’s important to realize that just because mixing fabric fibers has become more accepted in the quilting world does not mean that judges will consider the same line of thinking in a contest event. Before entering any quilting contest or show, be aware of the guidelines. Follow the rules so you don’t get disqualified. Some contests may have a division for mixed textiles or a creative division in which your project may qualify.
Sometimes it’s fun to break the “rules” and try new things in our quilting. If you’ve been itching to throw in some polyester into your cottons, give it a whirl. You never know – you may just develop a new look that will inspire you to create many more!
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