Quilting 101-General Marking and Cutting Instructions

Quilting 101- General Marking and Cutting Instructions (Chapter One of Super Quilter referenced)

Boy-oh-boy! I'm changing a lot of this chapter. Some of the basic info is good, but much has changed since the early 1980's.

Squares are the fundamental basis of piecework. This is like learning your ABC's for all the stuff you learn later, so don't think you can skip this. If you like, you can do a tooth fairy pillow to practice. It's easy, and a nice gift for your kids. (Yeah, Susan. Make it now and put it away for later.) An alternate might be a hot pad for placing your hot pans on the counter. You won't need special heat resistant fabric for this. It's just a trivet-like barrier, but by the same token don't use it to take hot stuff out of the oven. You don't want to burn your hand.

General Instructions

  1. Wash all fabric immediately upon purchase. Get into this habit now. It's highly important to get all the harsh chemicals and sizing out as well as making the fabric shrink or bleed if it's going to do so. Find out now before you spend a lot of time and effort on it.
  2. We've already spoken about this, but let's reiterate to use only 100% cotton fabrics. Cotton shrinks less, wears better, and doesn't "move" on you while you're sewing. If you've ever had to work with slippery satins or slinky knits, you'll get the point quickly. If you're not sure, take a little bit and burn an edge by holding it next to a flame. Any polyester will melt and turn hard. As soon as the fabric cools, you'll feel that hardness if you rub the edge between your fingers. Even a poly-cotton blend will have that hardness. Don't trust it! Test it. Cotton burns like a candlewick, easy and clean. You may even have a little trouble putting out the fire. That's good news. If you're a little nervous about doing this –and well, you should be!—have your iron's squirt bottle of water standing by to give it a shot.
  3. Ironing—When you get your fabric back from the laundry room, give it a good once-over with the iron. Please feel free to use starch. (Cheap trick—buy liquid starch and make your own starch spray for pennies! Read the directions on the back of the bottle and make your starch spray out of a recycled spray bottle.) Iron it all out and stack it on the table next to your cutting mat, rotary cutter, and ruler. You may wish to have a water-soluble pen nearby. 
  4. Preparing to cut—In the back of the book is a 2" template square for making the project. This part of the instructions is basically obsolete, though a version remains for more advanced work. Nowadays we use a rotary cutter, mat, and a quilter's ruler. The mat has a grid on it. Mine is marked in 1" squares, but some even have the ½" marked. Check your mat and know how it measures. Now lay your fabric on the mat. See the "funny" edge of the fabric? It's the selvage edge created by the manufacturer during the weaving process. In some cases, the selvage even has the colored dots marking what colors went into the process of making the fabric, and often may include the design name and designer. Cut that off and save it in the sheet protector or at least staple it to an index card with the project information, date, etc. If you have to go get more fabric, that selvage edge is a lifesaver! Now fold your fabric so it's selvage to selvage. Do this now before you forget which edges were the selvages. Iron it so you have a fold line.
Trick time!—Take a piece of paper from the printer. Fold it in half horizontally. Mark the fold line "Fold Line." Directly opposite of that will be your "selvages." Now, here's the important part—the two short sides are called "width of fabric" (w.o.f.) and you must remember what is your wof. When you buy fabric in the store, they measure at the selvage to cut the yards you need, and the wof is almost always about 45". When you see a pattern tell you to "cut 2-1/2 inches by wof," you'll know where and how much to cut, won't you? Now you know to mark 2-1/2" at the fold or selvage and cut along the wof. Easy! You should end up with a long strip that measures 2-1/2" by 45" (approximately). Keep the folded piece of paper taped up on the wall or something to give you a fast reference until you've learned to know your wof by "eyeball." If you won't be using your fabric for a few minutes/days, then take your washable marker and note the selvage edge. That's just a timesaver for later, just in case.
  1.  Speaking of the wof, it's time to lay your correctly folded and ironed fabric on your cutting mat. (Are your hands shaking? Then don't touch the rotary cutter for a minute. You're not ready yet anyway.) Lay your fabric on the mat so the fold line matches up with any of the measuring lines on the mat. Don't worry if the fabric isn't perfectly square. You'll take care of that in a minute. Give it a nudge or two until you're happy that it lines up. Okay, now turn the whole mat carefully until you can see the one edge of wof. I'm right-handed, so I look to the right side. You can look at either. If it isn't perfectly square and lines up with one of the lines on the mat, would nudging it over a smidge do it, or is the whole fabric totally out of square? If it is, just get it reasonably close and maybe over the line just a smidge. Ready? Get out your ruler and lay it so the long edge of the ruler runs down that line perfectly. It should be long enough so you can see both the top and the bottom of the line on the mat. There should be a bit of fabric sticking out the right side. That's what needs to be cut away.

Less panicky now? Open your rotary cutter so the edge is exposed and hold down your ruler firmly with one hand. It should be flat on the fabric, and the edge where you need to cut should be clearly exposed. Don't let your ruler move! If necessary, ask a friend or husband to hold the ruler down for you until you're comfortable. Run the razor edge of the wheel right up against the ruler's edge and slice away that bit you don't need. Throw it in a Ziploc bag labeled "Threads and Edges." We'll go green with those little bits and thread snippets another day. 
  1. You now have a squared up fabric ready to cut cloth. Use the measurement I gave you and your ruler. Measure 2-1/2" at the fold and cut a wof. Repeat with a few more fabrics. Iron them, fold them, iron the fold, square it up, and then cut a 2-1/2" strip. Save those strips! Strips are the basic cut for many forms of piecing, and 2-1/2" is the standard measurement. Many quilts are based on these strips alone! Cut one light fabric, one medium color, and one dark. For instance a baby pink, a rose pink, and a burgundy would be a set. Another might be white, gray, and black. You choose the colors you want.
  2. A note about colors--You'll find yourself separating by these three values a lot, so learn to think in this way. Every one of the basic colors (black, white, pink, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, brown, etc) has those three values. Even black and white can have shade variances in their color family, though they are neutrals. Think how many shades of white wedding gowns there are, and how many shades of gray and you have the idea. Learn to think not only in color family but also in light, medium, and dark. Try to remember to have all three of any color when you're buying fabric for a quilting project. You will almost always need some of each in light, medium, and dark. Even prints often have a shade value. Some will have a white background and appear very light. Some will be a medium tone, and some will appear dark. Quilt fabric designers know we need these shades and create entire families of colors in a design collection so we don't have to think too hard. If you need help, grab up those colored dots on the selvage strips you cut for inspiration in matching colors and shades. In a quilt shop, it's not unusual for a new quilter to bring her selvage strip and pattern, and have not only the owner but also another couple of shoppers happily helping find just the perfect matches! 
An example of a designer's collection:
  1. Mother fabrics-- More often than not, you end up with a "mother" fabric that is the main inspiration for a quilt, and all the other colors/fabrics come off that one. For instance, you've chosen an oriental dragon fabric with lots of blues, greens and gold. The dots show you all the colors and you don't have to do more than whip out your little selvage card to do a little matching. Between the pattern recommendations listed on the index card and your selvage strip, you can match up your fabrics without too much waste. Just note which fabric goes with which on the pattern (snippets or selvage clippings will help) to keep yourself in check without overbuying. 
  2. Let's return to the book. Let's say you do need a template. One of several types of material may serve, and each has an advantage. Cardboard/card stock is durable, such as recycling holiday cards, old index cards, or even cereal or laundry soap boxes. Look around and you'll find something. Take a tracing of your design from the book on ordinary paper, cut it out, and lay it on the cardboard. Draw a careful fine line and cut using paper scissors. Store this template well, and use it as the master when drawing multiples of the needed design element onto freezer paper or even directly onto the fabric.

Another template possibility is also in your recycle bin—plastic lids such as found atop a coffee can, yogurt pint, or frozen whipped topping. The plastic insert in a package of bacon also makes a great template. Some plastic containers with flat sides can become templates, but beware the brittle plastics. Employ extreme caution when marking these items and cut carefully so you don't cause inaccuracies. It's better to be patient and careful now than cussing while you try to match fabric later. In less than a month of diligence, you can have quite a collection of plastic saved up, trust me.

A less permanent template but one with certain advantages is from sandpaper. Drawing the marking on the paper side, cutting, and placing the sandy side down on the fabric keep slippage kept to a minimum. Feel free to experiment to find out what works best for you.

No matter what template you choose, label them carefully. You'll need to know what pattern they went with and what they were. You won't remember this was template G from the airplane block quilt in a few months!
  1.  Marking using templates involves one rule—read the label and pattern carefully. Purchased templates and most modern patterns include the seam allowance, but older or handmade templates do not. When you use a template, know beforehand whether or not you have to add for the seam allowance. Usually a seam allowance is a mere ¼", but that adds up to a huge difference when you have 20 squares across one row. That can be 10" of difference between what you have and what the designer intended. If you do have to add a seam allowance, mark around the template but cut ¼" or so outside that line.
  2. Mark on the wrong side of the fabric whenever possible. Choose your marking utensil carefully. Make sure it's water-soluble and washes away cleanly. Do not put your template so close to the edge that your seam allowance includes any remaining selvage. You don't want to sew through that "funny" tight weave, do you? You are not a masochist. Yes, use the fabric to your best advantage and as efficiently as possible, but don't drive yourself nuts. We have a use for every scrap and thread, so nothing is wasted.
  3. Since we're working with simple 2-1/2" squares to make our tooth fairy pillow or hot pad, we need not concern ourselves with templates today. Simply use the rotary cutter, mat and ruler to cut the 2-1/2" strips, then turn the strips 90 degrees and cut them again so you end up with 2-1/2" squares. (I love modern quilting!) Cut all your pieces and colors in this way. You may, if desired, store your squares by color (red, blue, green, etc) or shade (light, medium, dark) as suits your brain and the way you prefer to categorize things.
Hooray! You've cut your first quilting project. Now go have a cup of tea and celebrate.

Lena Austin


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