All About Fabric ~ A Quilter’s Medium

on April 22 | in Sewing + Quilting Tips | by | with 170 Comments

Rita from Red Pepper Quilts and our Sew,Mama,Sew! Editorial Board loves fabric. Today she shares her thoughts on building a fabric stash, choosing fabrics for a project and storing your fabric, all from the perspective of a very active and talented quilter. Enjoy!

Building a Fabric Stash
A good fabric stash is an essential element in quilt making and, as a self-confessed fabric fanatic, I can attest that a fabric stash grows and also evolves over time. I like to think of my fabric stash more like a collection and, similar to a stamp collection, not all the best fabrics can be found in the one store, nor at the one time; it is a very individual process and comes with financial constraints and changing preferences. I have been stashing fabrics for almost ten years now, and my fabrics come from all corners of the earth.

QMIIRita1.jpg title=

Photo courtesy of ish and chi

Not unlike other quilters, my fabric collection has changed theme and direction over the years, starting with muted florals, moving on to bold and colorful Kaffe Fassett fabrics, to purchasing entire designer fabric collections (all of those by Amy Butler and Denyse Schmidt) to now choosing individual fabrics just because they appeal to me.

Have no fear scouring your local fabric store or the internet to find fabrics that appeal. When buying fabric I generally purchase half yards of those fabrics that catch my eye. I tend to also keep an eye out for suitable backing fabrics and, depending on price, I will purchase up to 3 yards. Occasionally I will purchase a stack of fat quarters.

Another wonderful resource is your scrap bin. My own scrap bin is more like a catalogue of all of my fabrics, and will often turn it upside down for fabric inspiration. You’d be surprised what you can do with even the smallest of fabric scraps.

Choosing Fabrics for a Project
Many quilters purchase fabric with a project in mind, and then there are those who buy fabric just because they love that piece of fabric, whether it is the color or print that appeals. Your very first consideration, however, should be quality. Although the cost of good quality fabric will be a little more, you can be reassured it pays off in the long run. This means checking for thread count, grain alignment, and color or pattern consistency.

If you are new to quilting it can be very tempting to make a quilt using a single fabric collection by a specific designer. Fabrics within a collection are all designed to coordinate and you will find they include all the basics for a quilt: large and small scale prints, stripes, spots, and a range of hues that are complimentary. All of the fabric selecting has been done for you and is indeed a very safe option.

My first quilts are pieced from single fabric collections, and when I look now at these quilts I realise they lack a certain “wow” factor. Over time I have challenged myself to work outside of this comfort zone by choosing my own fabrics.

QMIIRita2.jpg title=

Photo courtesy of One Flew Over

When choosing fabrics for a quilt start with a print that you really like, preferable one that has just a few colors in it. Using the colors in your main fabric as a guide to choose fabrics which coordinate well, ensuring there are light, medium and dark hues. Try not to get too hung up on the required range of hues, but arrange your fabrics on a table, and see how they work together. Add more, take some away; it is all about auditioning the colors and the prints. Keep an eye out for quirky colors, and consider using an “ugly” fabric which can sometimes add interest to the quilt. Try and limit yourself to 10 fabrics or less, unless of course you wish your quilt to take on a scrappy look.

Storing Fabric
Considering the emotional and financial investment you have made in your fabric stash it is import to remember that care and storage techniques will affect the long term condition of your fabrics and ultimately your quilts. There are many factors that determine the long term quality of your fabric including pre-washing fabrics, light and temperature/humidity.

Fabrics being stored for lengthy periods of time must be clean. Although pre-washing fabrics is an oft debated quilting aspect, by pre-washing your fabrics you can ensure that your fabric is clean and that no residue will damage your fabrics (and by pre-washing your fabrics you are always ready to sew). Keeping a clean storage area for your quilting fabrics will also prevent pests such as silverfish.

QMIIRita3.jpg title=

Photo courtesy of quaint handmade

Fabric should be stored away from direct sunlight. Fading is very common when fabric is exposed to ultra-violet light. Ensure that if your fabric stash is stored on open shelving that it is not exposed to direct sunlight, or you will find that there is some fading along the fold edges of your fabrics. Similarly if your fabric is stored in transparent plastic containers be sure not to store your containers in direct sunlight.

Fabric should always be stored in an area that has both an even temperature and humidity level. Basements, attics, and the garage are among the worst possible places for storing fabrics as these areas often experience extreme temperature variations.

When storing fabric in plastic containers be sure they have small air holes to allow the fabrics to breathe. If you store fabrics in cardboard boxes ensure the boxes are made from acid free cardboard otherwise your fabric will discolour.

QMIIRita4.jpg title=

Photo courtesy of Chaletgirl

It is my dream to have my own studio where I can play with my fabrics to my heart’s content. However, this not likely to happen any time soon and as such, my fabric stash has lived in plastic tubs for many years, and has now slowly taken over my very large dresser in my living room. Being able to see all of your fabrics at once is a real advantage.

Most of my fabrics are neatly folded and arranged by color, having separate fabric stacks for blue, green, orange, red, pink, gray, black and white. My solid fabrics are stored separately in a plastic container. Although my own storage solution is not optimal, and my fabric stacks often end up as leaning towers, I love having all my fabrics readily available and visible.

QMIIRita5.jpg title=

Photo courtesy of modernAcorn

Remember that a fabric stash is accumulated over a period of time and that when choosing fabrics, stay true to yourself; choose fabrics because you like them, not because they are part of the same fabric collection. Take some risks when collating fabrics for a quilt, try using some colors that “clash” and you may just be pleasantly surprised to see how this adds extra zing to your quilt. Taking care of your fabrics will ensure you can enjoy them for years to come.

All images used with permission.

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170 Responses to All About Fabric ~ A Quilter’s Medium

  1. Cinnamon Sangria says:

    Wow! Seeing all of those pretty fabric storage pictures makes me incredibly envious. Thank you for the tips.

  2. Liz Noonan says:

    this was a great article, thank you! I’m glad you covered not just using from one designer but rather picking what you like and working with that…I’m always tempted to do my own thing but was unsure, now I will take the leap, thanks!

  3. cath06 says:

    Very interesting article and great prizes to win

  4. Q says:

    How sweet is that. Thanks for the great info. I too only dream of having my own studio one day. I keep my fabrics (for the most part) neatly folded and stacked in my spare closet. I like to see all my fabrics (independent of design, color, etc) all at once.

  5. WhitneyG says:

    Great article! I appreciate the tips!

  6. Jenniffier says:

    Great advice. I can look back over the fabric I have collected over the years and see how much my tastes I have grow and changed.

  7. Leila Gardunia says:

    Great tips. Thanks for sharing. Now to stash more fabrics! :)

  8. Kathleen says:

    Collecting fabric is my favorite part of quilting. Thanks for a great article.

  9. Great tips here. Thankyou

  10. Lesly says:

    Great tips!

  11. Viv says:

    That was a great article, it’s good to know whee we should be storing fabric.

  12. Meghan says:

    Amazing article. I always see specific prints I want, but I never know how much to buy if I don’t have a project in mind for it yet. I’m always afraid I’ll buy a half yard, and a year later want it for a project calling for a full yard.

  13. I’m starting to collect fabric. Right now, I have no where to store it, so it is sitting in a canvas bag, rolled up. But I’m going to be purchasing some plastic totes to put all my fabric in soon. This way it is easily accessible to ME and not my 16 month old son, and this way I can put my unfinished works in there as well, so store them until I can work on them again.

  14. This just makes me want to go and buy MORE fabric!!! Like I need an excuse!

  15. JenD says:

    This makes me want to go buy more fabric and organize it….love the tips…thanks

  16. Adrianne says:

    Great article. Thanks Rita! I’ve been quilting and stashing fabric for almost a year now and I recognize some of these phases already. I started with “sets” of fabric, and I am now starting to buy some fabrics just because I LOVE them and I NEED them. Anyone else know that feeling? Hee hee. It’s fun seeing the loves slowly evolving and playing nice together. I always recognize a Red Pepper quilt on flickr… Rita’s individuality shines.

  17. Katrina H says:

    I love the picture! Thanks for the tips.

  18. Thanks for the tips! Makes me more confident with my usual tactic of grabbing whatever I like and putting it together (though my most recent quilt did just use a whole layer cake with coordinating solides).
    Love the pics of other people’s stash and how they arrange/display it. Mine lives in plastic tubs.

  19. Sequana says:

    Every once in awhile, it happens. A fabric that you NEVER thot you’d be using finds its way into a project and looks like a million bucks. *S* It just gives me the shivers.

  20. Thank you Rita for the great information.

  21. Wow, thanks for the great tips!

  22. BethG says:

    Would someone come over to my house and organize my stash please?

  23. Maureen says:

    What a colorful stash of fabric. Thanks for the info on organizing and storing it.

  24. Krystina says:

    I just wish all my fabric was this organized!

  25. Candice says:

    I love the pink dresser full of fabric…one day I’ll make it happen! :)

  26. Chrissy says:

    Wonderful tips…thanks!

  27. June says:

    Great info and beautiful pics. Very inspiring…

  28. Carole Lee Criddle says:

    Thank your for the fabric stash information and encouragement. As a fabric lover, I cannot seem to reduce my stash, it continues to grow!

  29. Rochelle says:

    I want Quaint Handmade’s pink dresser full of fabric! Love it.

  30. Jeannine says:

    Great info, keep it coming,,,

  31. Stacy says:

    I am not one to use fabric lines. I usually don’t like all the fabrics from a line. I have already grabbed some of a line then replaced the ones that I don’t like from my stash. This not only looks better to me because I like all the fabrics used, but it makes each quilt individual. I know that there is not another quilt out there like it in this world. I usually am not one to follow tradition. I think outside the box. My quilts are all unique, just like me.

  32. Nicole Lamb says:

    I just love seeing all that beautiful fabric arranged together!

  33. Sarita says:

    Great info! Thanks so much…:)

  34. Cristi says:

    Thanks for the advice. I want all of the fabric that is pictured!

  35. Llamabean says:

    Great advise and lots of fun to see the different systems.
    Thank you.

  36. moira says:

    I’m so envious of these stashes and how they are stored. My stash is currently spread on the bed in the spare room! Early days, I remind myself, early days….

  37. PeachRainbow says:

    superb article, thank you!

  38. Colette says:

    I love that pink dresser holding the fabrics! I can only hope my sewing room will grow (in good taste) as my fabric collection does, ha ha.

  39. Melanie says:

    glad to know I’m not the only one with leaning stacks of fabrics that I absolutely love! :) thanks!

  40. Milica says:

    Great advice! I am new to quilting and although there are many lovely collections out there it gets expensive buying a yard of 10 different fabrics for every quilt, I would be able to do more quilting if I was less intimidated by mixing and matching what I have. Rita has inspired me to pull something together and take some risks with my choices.
    Now if I could only conjure up that gorgeous dresser/linen chest for my own stash!

  41. LauraJ says:

    Excellent post! Very well written!

  42. Gretchen says:

    Great encouragment to go out shopping for fabric!

  43. tracy_a says:

    thank you! I was happy to hear a half-yard is an okay amount – that’s my general purchase, but once in a while, I realize it’s not enough to get a 20″x20″ square out of ;)

  44. Maya says:

    Thanks for the great tips!

  45. Emily says:

    those stashes are incredible. i love the dresser idea . . . and thanks for the advice on storing clean fabrics!

  46. Linda says:

    This is great information and is food for thought. Thanks for giving us advice based on your experiences. You make lovely quilts!

  47. Great advice. Thanks for encouraging people to push beyond the one fabric line quilt.

  48. I always pre-wash. It’s a ritual of mine to take new fabrics home, wahs immediately, iron, and store them. When inspiration strikes, they’re ready to go!

    Thanks for great tips.

  49. Greeblygreebly says:

    Those stash pictures are sooo pretty!

  50. SofiAlgarvia says:

    Very usefull advice!

  51. upstatelisa says:

    love the photos of the stashes! so cool to see how everyone handles their stash!

  52. Anna says:

    Very helpful advice. Now I just need to convince my husband that a decent stash is necessary….

  53. Ethne says:

    Still waiting to find a suitable unit for storing all my fabrics, UFO’s etc in – someday

  54. SewSofie says:

    Just looking at fabric makes me happy. Great post.

  55. Marcelle says:

    Thanks for the advice & inspiration Rita! I surely need to organize and find some storage space.

  56. Veronica says:

    What great advice. Thanks a lot!

  57. MamaBee says:

    Thanks for the advice!

  58. Melissa says:

    I love the drawers for storage! So brilliant!

  59. Katie says:

    Great storage ideas, and lovely accompanying photos too!

  60. valerie says:

    Very helpful! I love visible fabric storage–so pretty!

  61. mab says:

    Hmmm… does this article give me permission to go shop for more fabric? :) Thanks for the input and great photos — good inspiration!

  62. Annabel says:

    I’m inspired by those pictures of lovely folded fabric in drawers and shelves- must get out my iron!

  63. Jeanne says:

    I am crazy about Red Pepper Quilts. Love her style and color choices. I have been a follower for quite some time now. :) Most of the time I am a lurker but sometimes I post too. Thanks for sharing your talents.

  64. Melissa says:

    Great advice! I am slowly building my stash, and I think it’s better to have this knowledge before it gets too overwhelming. :)

  65. Melissa says:

    Thanks for the great advice!

  66. lara says:

    Thanks, enjoyed the pictures very much and I appreciate the advise especially concerning the silverfish!

  67. Janet says:

    Beautiful fabric collections!

  68. Julie says:

    Thanks for the fabric storing advice! I will be refurbishing a bedroom dresser to use in my almost finished craft room. Thanks for the idea!!

  69. sharonj says:

    That was great advice thanks! Sharonj

  70. Mandy says:

    Thanks for the info Rita. Great tips.

  71. robin new says:

    wow, much more of a scrappy collections i have, thanks for sharing!!!

  72. Cathy A says:

    Such pretty pictures! I agree that it’s really important to be able to see what you have. My fabrics are not really very visible and it’s hard to remember what I have.

  73. Karen says:

    Great article Rita, thanks for the fabulous tips.

  74. Jenny says:

    *gasp* love those pictures! Thanks for the inspiration!!

  75. I love the photos of fabric – beautiful in their own right!

  76. taryn says:

    oh my goodness. I so wish I had fabric collections like those!

  77. Rose L says:

    Thanks for all the thoughts about choosing and storing fabric. Can you tell us more about what is a “good” thread count? Thanks!

  78. JJ says:

    Those pictures are making me drool!

  79. April says:

    Holes in plastic bins–I wasn’t aware of that. THANKS!!

  80. elle says:

    Fabric is pretty just by itself!

  81. katie says:

    I’m so envious of that organization…

  82. Lennye says:

    Great tips, thanks so much. I’m loving quilting month!

  83. Susan says:

    I really enjoyed this, especially the advice to branch out from having all one collection into fabrics from various sources. I tend to want to stay “safe”! :)

  84. Super cute!

  85. Elizabeth says:

    Great info! I too would love to have my own studio one day.

  86. Karen says:

    Great advice and tips. Very helpful!

  87. susan says:

    those stash pics are awe-inspiring!

  88. Sue says:

    Love all the ideas, yes I would love to own the whole Kaffe collection. My fabrics have also changed over the years and I now sew what I want, when I want and with many many different colours and designs

  89. Kaye Prince says:

    This is all amazing advice Rita! I love my stash and it really is so interesting to see how my tastes have changed since I started quilting (although there are some designers I will always love)!

  90. Fran says:

    Lots of good advice here ! My stash is also in plastic
    bins ( I’ll have to check for air holes ) it’s fun to get
    them all out & look….like visiting old friends !

  91. Nicely written, Rita, and wonderful pictures of lovely fabrics, lovingly arranged/stored.

  92. Lindsay Forgette says:

    What wonderful tips! Some day I will have a nice big stash.

  93. alisha says:

    All those pretty photos make me want to run out to the store and buy new fabric! I always wonder how much fabric I should buy when I see a print I can’t live without. Thanks for your advice!

  94. tjesa says:

    Rita… great advice to all quilters, not just beginners. Love your quilts, love your blog… keep up the good work.

  95. D says:

    Good tips – I have my cottons arranged by color and love it now that I have the space to do so. I organize the rest by fabric type… silks, upholstery, wierd fabrics….

  96. ~Helena~ says:

    Great info, great pictures of others collections.

  97. Lindsey says:

    I would love to have an extensive stash but am learning to have patience as I do not have the resources to buy a lot of fabric. Thanks for your helpful hints!

  98. Laura Bray says:

    I love this. Thanks for the tips.

  99. Danielle says:

    Oh wow, I wish that I had that type of room to be able to organize like that. Someday. :-)

  100. Annette says:

    Thanks for the great tips Rita. My stash, as such, is stored on a cupboard shelf and always gets in a mess when looking for something at the back. I will look for an old chest of drawers like in your photo, that seems a very sensible option.

  101. Tally says:

    Great article!
    I’m still waiting for three parcels from the U.S., but could order again this second.
    Beautiful pictures of beautiful stashed fabric.

  102. I love how the fabric looks on the shelf without even making anything with it!
    Jana

  103. alexandra says:

    Great article. I love seeing pictures of fabric storage!

  104. Julia says:

    thanks for the tips!

  105. Ruth Tillman says:

    Great Tips! I love thinking and finding ways to organize my workspace.

  106. Christina says:

    Really helpful. Thanks. This makes me want to do a little fabric shopping.

  107. Megan says:

    Oh my goodness, these photos are making me drool! And where did my car take me this morning? The fabric store, of course!

  108. candice says:

    I love these helpful tidbits. These articles are getting me very excited to start my new hobby of quilting. thanks!

  109. Amy Grant says:

    Really helpful Info there! I have often wondered how people make decisions on what to put in a quilt! For me its like scrapbooking, I just cant seem to make it look not cluttered. Thanks :)

    Oh and loving that huge shelving unit ;)

    Amy

  110. Gwen says:

    Great advice… I love the idea of a closet full of fabric.

  111. Mary Lou says:

    I’ve been trying to figure out how to store the little bit of fabric that I own. This article gave me some good ideas. Thanks.

  112. heather says:

    Really good info!

  113. Leah says:

    good tips. The collector/pack rat in me always wants a little bit of the whole line… but you’re right. Often the finished projects look sort of bland. Beautiful, but predictable.

  114. Char says:

    I rarely buy fabric collections. That’s too easy. I like to choose my own fabrics. Maybe because when I started quilting there weren’t as many controlled designer fabric lines avaiable. Thank you for the info.

  115. Norma says:

    Great article. I can relate to buying kits or bundled fabrics in the beginning. Nowadays I would much rather gather up my own fabrics because I want that WOW factor.

  116. Ramona says:

    Wow! I wish I had those stashes. Thanks for all your great advice. I just recently got my own sewing room and am having fun putting my fabric away.

  117. Sara Hemmeke says:

    Very helpful – thanks for the encouragement!

  118. Becca says:

    Great post! Inspiring photos!

  119. Val Miller says:

    thanks! I struggle with how to store and see at the same time!

  120. Kristin says:

    The photos alone are inspiration, but oh do I ever need to take the advice of getting out of my single-fabric-line comfort zone. Thank you so much!

  121. Andi says:

    Lots of great tips here, thanks! I never thought about putting air holes in my plastic containers, I find fabric stored in plastic takes on a kind of “plastic” smell and the air holes might help with that, too!

  122. Jessica says:

    Man, looking at fabric never gets old.

  123. Marcia W. says:

    Thank you for the hints, especially regarding the half yard / 3 yard suggestion.

  124. Rachel says:

    So helpful. I want go buy MORE fabric now just to have a pretty range of colors too look at :)

  125. Southern Gal says:

    Love all of these storage ideas.

  126. Latrilla says:

    Oh my goodness!!!! I am IN LOVE with the fabrics and such organization. I don’t have a stash quite yet, but the ideas are great.

  127. Christine says:

    How organized you are! I wish my stash were as neat and tidy.

  128. Sara says:

    These are helpful tips to consider as I am moving into my new sewing studio!

  129. Katie H. says:

    Rita, this is really helpful information – thank you! I very much enjoy your writing style.

  130. Tara says:

    I love the suggestion to steer away from using all the pieces in a designer’s collection and making some independent choices!

  131. Sarah Craig says:

    Great tips! I’m also encouraged to see a recommendation to use something other than a single fabric collection. I’m a semi-firm follower of the original intent of quilts – to create something useful out of scraps. I will use designer fabrics on occasion, but find much more satisfaction in finding the unusual. In addition to standard quilting cottons, my stash has beautiful Irish linens my grandmother bought 50+ years ago, and vintage table linens that were originally destined for the trash, but that still have usable portions. Both of those will become parts of unique quilts. If you think outside the box, you never know what will spark your imagination!!

  132. qsogirl says:

    great information; thank you also for sharing the beautiful photos of different means of fabric storage

  133. Laurel says:

    Very practical tips. Thanks!

  134. Sara says:

    I appreciate the tip about creating air holes in your plastic containers filled with fabric–thanks so much% )

  135. Maeve says:

    Let’s face it – we are addicted to fabrics! Just to LOOK at these photos is delicious! Love all that color and print. Touching our fabrics is even better. It is relaxing and exciting at the same time, with all that potential for inspiration and finally, a project of some sort!

  136. I love to empty out my scrap bins. Then all the quilts I’ve made come back to me.

  137. carmel says:

    beautiful
    thanks!

  138. Charity says:

    Great tips!

  139. Sally says:

    Thanks for sharing the great fabric storage tips! As a newbie I’m gradually learning to use my own tastes when assembling fabrics for a quilt; Rita is a constant inspiration in this (and many other) regards!

  140. Katie says:

    SO jealous of those fabric stashes.

  141. Christina says:

    Thanks for the pre-washing tip! I used to wash right before starting a project and I had never considered that the fabric needs to be clean to store it!

  142. Tong says:

    Great tips, very helpful! Thank you Rita!

  143. Megan Presley says:

    All those pictures are wonderful and make me long for the day when I can have my own sewing room (and space) to beautifully store my fabric!

  144. Mary P says:

    It’s nice to hear that Rita is like me and does not have her own studio–she’s incredibly productive regardless!

  145. Lynn says:

    Did you ever think that fabrics all organized and folded and colorful, is just like a work of art! Lovely pictures and tips.
    Thanks

  146. Caroline says:

    Cool! Thanks :)

  147. Lisa says:

    Inspiring! Time to reevaluate, use or replace the fabric stash!

  148. Sam says:

    I love this interview! such great advice, and it makes me want to add to my stash!

  149. Kimberly says:

    Thank you! I’m bookmarking this series to refer to later.

  150. Nicolette says:

    Thank you for this helpful information, as a new sewer this really comes in handy :)

  151. Kerry says:

    Such beautiful and inspiring fabric pictures!

  152. Mel says:

    Great ideas! love the pics

  153. Karo says:

    yummmmmm

    i’m such a sucker for other people’s stash pics!

  154. Lisa H. says:

    This is especially helpful to those of us just starting to build our stashes of fabric. The photos are lovely, too! Thanks!

  155. Julie says:

    So many things to think about. Thanks for this informative post!

  156. Kelli says:

    Isn’t it great to hear someone as good as Rita say you don’t have to go out and buy an entire collection of something to make a good quilt? Sometimes I get to feeling like I can’t keep up because I can’t afford to buy all the new fabrics, but I’ve got great fabrics right here at home that I’ve picked out by myself over the years or inherited from my grandmothers. It’s reassuring to be reminded that I CAN make great quilts with what I have…and using what I have leaves me room to buy new…so it’s all good! ;) Thanks, Rita!

  157. Kathy says:

    Great information, even for an experienced stasher like me!

  158. Molly says:

    Fabric choice is where I struggle to get the right feeling. Thanks for the great tips, it really helps.

  159. Patti M says:

    Thanks for the tips. I always debated about whether to go with a collection or what moves me. Know I know to just go with what moves me. If I love it, I will use it!

  160. delitealex says:

    Thanks for the great info.

  161. Margie Bennett says:

    Thanks for all the wonderful & needed information!

  162. Dana Nichols says:

    Great article. Thanks!

  163. Katie B says:

    Great info! This makes me want to go fabric shopping!!

  164. Kimberly says:

    Very helpful. Thanks!

  165. Jeni says:

    Excellent tips! :)

  166. Joan says:

    Wow, it’s my goal to have stashes like these! Beautiful photos.

  167. Fawn says:

    Sweet! This is very encouraging. I see photos of people’s fabric stashes and I wish, “Man, I don’t have that much fabric to choose from!” Have to remember that beginners also begin their fabric stashes. They can increase and be accumulated over time:)

  168. Such great advice. Thanks!

  169. Margaret says:

    Great tips – thanks!

  170. Beal says:

    Helpful info – thanks!

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