Most quilters use 100% cotton fabric for their patchwork quilts. While part of the reason has to do with tradition, another part is due to what is practical.
Cottons tend to shrink at the same rate as each other. Most natural fabrics will shrink at least a little bit, even though the manufacturer has pre-shrunk the material.
Blends will shrink at different rates than natural fibers, and 100% synthetics will shrink very little or not at all.
By mixing cotton fabric with cotton-polyester blends and synthetics, when you wash your finished quilt, you may end up with some very strange puckering. Some patches may be all puckered up, while others are perfectly flat.
Cottons are easy to sew. Many quilters finger press their patches and blocks as they quilt, and only iron (or press) their quilt when they have large sections complete. Along with way as they are sewing, they will “finger press” their work.
Finger pressing is just using your fingers to fold over a seam allowance before sewing it to another piece.
100% cotton fabric is more likely to stay folded over when finger pressed. Blends and synthetics will just keep popping up — they want to be straight, not folded over.
Why does that matter? It’s easier to quilt when the seams lie flat and are on one side of the stitching. Twists in the seam allowances add bulk to the quilt top and will cause your quilting stitches to be uneven.
Cotton breathes. Cotton, like other natural fibers, retains heat, so it keeps you warm, whit it “wicks.” Wicking is when the fabric draws moisture away from your body and allows it to evaporate. Synthetic fabrics capture both heat and moisture — you will be warm and also sweaty.
Cottons are reasonably priced, readily available and come in a huge variety of colors and patterns. Most fabric shops have a large selection of cotton fabrics.
With the popularity of quilting, many shops have all of the 100% cottons in one section of the store, making it much easier for quilters to shop. Many cities and towns have quilting shops that carry only 100% cotton fabrics. And shopping online expands the variety even further.
Frequently silk quilts were made using silk, satins, velvets and brocades and were embroidered with elaborate stitches, giving them charm and elegance.
Often quilters used more than 100 different embroidery stitches in their silk quilts.
Because silk is so delicate (and somewhat difficult to work with), quilters used a lining of thin muslin or cambric, and then sewed the design onto the silk and the lining at the same time.
Today, some quilters use silk for appliqué designs. Because silk frays easily, it is a little more difficult to work with in appliqué.
In a silk quilt I am working on, I am using a very light iron-on interfacing to shape and secure the fabric. Some quilters use heavy paper (like a brown paper bag) to shape the piece.
The paper is cut to the size and shape of the finished piece, the seam allowances are folded around to the back, and then basting stitches are made from one side of the piece to the other across the paper in the back.
One other caution about silk is that sometimes the needle and thread holes from basting will remain long after the basting is removed. Whenever possible, it is best to use special thin silk pins, and only sew in places you want to have permanent stitching.
Whole cloth quilts made of silk are the direct descendents of the quilted petticoats that were fashionable until the early 1880s in America. These underskirts filled in the opening at the front of the skirt just below the waist of the dress. After the fashion died out, seamstresses opened out old petticoats and pieced them together to make quilts. Some quilters also transferred the intricate designs they had used on underskirts to whole-cloth quilts. By 1840 this kind of quilt was no longer made in New England. But in the South, quiltmakers continued to add elaborate quilting and trapunto to white areas in both their appliquéd and pieced quilts. Thanks to a book called America’s Quilts, created by the Country’s Best Quilters for this bit of history.
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