Jacquie from Tallgrass Prairie Studios has a brilliant series of Quilting Basics tips scheduled to post throughout Quilting Month II! Jacquie is a Sew,Mama,Sew! Board Member, a member of the Modern Quilt Guild and an all-around extraordinary quilter. Today Jacquie kicks off our month-long celebration of all things quilting with part one of her Quilting Basics series. Today’s focus: Preparing and cutting your fabric. Enjoy!

Seeing some of the beautiful quilts that are posted on Sew,Mama,Sew! and across quilting blogs can make quilting seem intimidating. Quilting is easier and more fun if you know some of the tips and tricks that experienced quilters use everyday. I’d like to share a few things that work for me. Please remember that these are not must-haves, or must-dos. Once you give it a try you’ll find what works best for you.

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Preparing Your Fabric
Preparation can be one of the keys to successful quilting. You have that shiny new fabric and want to make a quilt. So what’s next? There are two camps in the quilting community, pre-washers and those ‘I don’t prewash’ folks. There are advantages to both. Pre-washing removes chemicals from fabric and allows for shrinkage to happen before your quilt is made. Some fabrics shrink at different rates and your quilt can sometimes change size dramatically if you haven’t pre-washed. Special care needs to be taken with vintage fabrics. I always pre-wash or at least test vintage fabrics for bleeding. It’s heartbreaking to have a quilt ruined by bleeding colors. If you wash your fabric try not to use detergent. Detergents tend to strip color from cotton fabric. Dreft or baby shampoos are good choices for pre-washing.

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On the other hand, some quilters prefer working with and cutting fabric that has the sizing in it which gives it a bit more body for handling and cutting. Some quilters also love the crinkly look created after washing and drying a quilt with fabric that has never been washed. I aspire to be a pre-wash girl, but I do enough laundry at my house, so I admit I usually don’t. I do use Shout Color Catchers as a precaution against the possibility of bleeding, especially with dark fabrics. Color Catchers can be found in larger grocery stores and so far they have worked for me.

Whether you pre-wash or not, it is important to iron your fabric before you start cutting. Wrinkly fabric leads to crooked and inaccurate cuts and that’s never good.

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Rotary cutting can be fast, easy, and accurate. You’ll need a rotary cutter, a 24” see through ruler and a self-healing cutting mat. The 24” x 36” mat size is perfect for quilting. Make sure you keep a sharp blade in your cutter. Dull blades make for jagged cuts and can be unsafe if you have to press too hard to make your cuts. I use an Olfa ergonomic rotary cutter. Get in the habit of closing the blade of your cutter when it’s not in use. Safety first. Don’t learn from experience like I did.

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Fabric right off a bolt probably has uneven edges or may be folded off center. The first step in rotary cutting is to square up the fabric edge. With freshly ironed fabric, lay your fabric on your self-healing cutting mat. Fold the fabric in half lengthwise, wrong sides together. Line up the two selvages and adjust the edges until the fold hangs evenly or lays flat without wrinkles. This will make sure the grain of the fabric is straight and you will get nice straight width of fabric cuts.

You may want to fold your fabric again lengthwise bringing the folded edge down to line up with the selvage edge. This will give you a shorter cutting length (you’ll have 4 layers) and you won’t need to reposition your hand when you cut.

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I’m right handed. If you’re left handed, adjust accordingly.

To start cutting, make sure the folded edge lines up with a horizontal line on your cutting mat. Then place your ruler along a vertical line on the mat for a straight cut. If you are right handed the bulk of the fabric will be on your right. The opposite applies if you are left-handed. The first cut you make will be to trim off the raw edge and square up the fabric. Cut off just enough fabric to make a straight edge.

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Now you’re ready to cut your strips. I’m cutting 2” strips so I line up the edge of the fabric with the 2” mark on my ruler. Make sure the 2” mark lines up all the way down the edge of the fabric, not just at one place. Check that measurement. Measure twice, cut once!

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Place your left hand on the ruler, spreading your fingers for stability. Always cut away from yourself. Be safe. Rotary cutters are sharp. Cut along the right edge of the ruler and keep the blade flush against the ruler. Never cut beyond your hand position. Stop cutting, reposition your hand up the ruler and continue cutting.

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I always open up my first strip and check that it is straight and even. If not I adjust the fabric and square it up again. It’s better to check at the beginning than cut a bunch of crooked strips.

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After your strips are cut you can line them up on the horizontal lines of your mat and use your ruler to sub cut them into the shapes and sizes that you need for your quilt.

Happy and Safe Cutting!

Next time:
The quarter inch seam, piecing and pressing.

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