Quilting Part 2: Cut and Dry

At last!  All the fabric for the front of my king size quilt has been washed, dried, pressed, and cut.IMG_2154

Here’s the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly aspects of this part of quilting:

The Good: Prewashing all my fabric to avoid uneven shrinkage in my quilt (patting myself on the back for avoiding one rookie mistake).

The Bad: Prewashing all my fabric meant that I lost quite a bit of fabric to shrinkage and unraveling of the edges.

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The unraveled threads I put to use for stuffing a pumpkin pin cushion I am making using the Fiskars tutorial here: (http://www2.fiskars.com/Sewing-Quilting/Projects/For-the-Home/Organization/Sewn-Pumpkin-Pincushion#.Uhi6tWRBKHc), so no major loss there.

IMG_2117However, the shrinkage was saddening because I didn’t get quite as many fabric squares as I needed from some of my fabrics that shrunk more than others (see Quilting Part 1 for more info about that: https://kazoopartyoftwo.wordpress.com/2013/08/05/blocks-strips-and-squares-oh-my/).

The Ugly: Pressing and cutting.  I hate to iron (seriously–there are items of clothing that hang on the “to be ironed”rack for months until those clothes go out of season…or until Chris decides to do it, whichever comes first). “Pressing” (not ironing, as I have learned!) all of the fabric was rather tedious, as was cutting all of my squares…ALL 1296 OF THEM. That’s right–you heard me. ONE THOUSAND TWO HUNDRED NINETY SIX SQUARES.  For just the front of the quilt. (CAN YOU HEAR ME SCREAMING INSIDE?!?!?!)

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Here’s how things happened in a nutshell:

Materials Needed:

  • Fabric (obviously)
  • Cutting Mat (at least 18 x 24 is my recommendation)
  • Rotary Cutter (with back-up replacement blades if you are making a ginormous quilt like I am…mine started to dull near the end of all my cutting)
  • Sewing/quilting rulers (6 1/2″ x 6 1/2″ at least; also preferably a 6 1/2″ x 24″ (6″ x 24″ will work, too)
  • Cutting guide (if you don’t have the steadiest of hands…which you won’t after hours and days of cutting)

Step 1: Making the Left Edge Even.  After pressing my fabric and cutting off the unraveled parts, I folded the fabric to make the selvages meet (top and bottom), doubled it (not an expert quilter thing to do, but I didn’t have the 6 x 24 ruler you are supposed to have to do this step…so I improvised) and cut the left edge to be nice and even using my rotary cutter.  It was a rather painful discovery that this meant additional loss of fabric.   Although this may not be an expert quilter thing to do, I allowed the residual fabric to cascade down the side of my smallish desk to allow gravity and the edge of the desk to help keep my folded material in place.

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It was at this point when I realized that the cutting directions I was following were for right-handed people.  Everything I was doing felt very backwards to me, being a southpaw.  Nevertheless, I powered through and managed to survive…at least long enough to write this blog post ( If you don’t see posts for awhile from me, assume I have carpal tunnel at best and have crawled into my craft closet to die at worst).  Fortunately, the rotary cutter I purchased could be used by either left- or right-handed people, so I made the best of an awkward situation.

Step 2: Cutting Strips. Lots of Strips.  After evening up the left edge, I could cut strips and strips and more strips of fabric.  The beginning quilter book I was following advised against using the gridlines on my cutting mat as a guide for straight edges, but I checked mine against my rulers and confirmed that they were spaced at appropriate intervals and were indeed perpendicular and parallel.

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I used this nifty tool (shown below) to help me cut straight lines at the right intervals (3 1/2″ apart in my case) …if you are left-handed, you will understand my concern with needing help to cut straight lines, even with a rotary cutter instead of cheap elementary-school kiddie scissors.  As you can see, though, the tool is only 12 x 12, so you have to be careful to fold your fabric to fit the form.  Make sure you don’t fold your fabric too many times, though, or you will find that you actually don’t have some straight strips.  I simply folded my fabric once, then once more, so I was only cutting through four layers at a time.

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Step 3: Cutting Squares.  From there, I used my square ruler (shown in the pic) to cut my strips into squares.  IMG_2120

This took FOREVER…(not the five squares, but the 1296 it took to make the entire quilt front).IMG_2115

Step 4: Cutting the Binding.  While I was already in cutting mode, I decided to cut the strips for my quilt binding.  I realize that this is a later step for most quilters, but I am not most quilters.  Obviously.  IMG_2130

Since I’m making a 108″ x 108″ quilt, I needed 108″ x 4 sides = 432″ of fabric in length.  I also added 15″ extra inches in length to allow for error and working with the corners for a grand total of 447″ length. I decided to make my binding 2.5″ wide, so I cut my strips using the same strategy as before, except 2.5″ wide instead of 3.5″ wide.

IMG_2129I had great help in measuring my binding strips to ensure I had enough material cut (and yes, that is my yoga mat: short on space = craftercise room).   IMG_2124

Lessons learned:

(1) The pattern I created for the front alternates (hence why some of the stacks of fabric squares are turned on the diagonal in the picture above), which meant I could not leave my fabric in strips that I could sew together to save time and then cut apart into squares later. I could have left some in strips since the pattern does repeat, but I was also concerned about my novice-cutting not being so great, so I cut everything into squares.  In the future, I will probably try to create patterns that allow me to take such shortcuts.  If you need to learn patience, cutting 1296 precise fabric squares is a great way to do it.  Believe me, I know.

(2) Forget #1.  I see why many people can’t go the distance with quilting, especially quilting a king size quilt.  For the back of this quilt, I plan to use fabric strips to simplify matters and go faster.  Plus, I like the idea of chunky stripes almost as much as I do a nifty pattern of squares…and maybe better.

(3) Forget #2.  After looking at some inspiring quilts online (http://www.stitchedincolor.com/) , I still plan to do the strips for the back of the king quilt, but perhaps for another quilt, I will make a more intricate pattern to amp up my piecing skills and allow my creativity a bit more room for expression.

(4) Read beginning quilting books and checkout online tutorials, but don’t feel like you have to play by their rules.  For example, my beginning quilter book actually recommended that novices avoid use of geometrics in their first quilting enterprise.  I ignored their advice simply because I adore geometric prints and because geometry is kind of my life’s work (I conduct research investigating children’s thinking about geometry and space).  I. love. geometry.  (You have to love geometry to love quilting, I think…even if only on a subconscious level).  A word of caution, though, when working with geometric prints involving straight lines: As you can see from this picture, this fabric is going to look wonky if you don’t actually even the left edge and cut your strips to align with the vertical lines in the pattern.

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(5)  If you have any problems with your hands/wrists/forearms (tendonitis, carpal tunnel, arthritis, trigger finger, etc.) your hands will get tired and cramped from this much cutting.  Space out your cutting over several days or even weeks, if you can wait that long.  I suffer from trigger finger, exacerbated by an excessive number of hobbies involving my hands plus a job that requires lots of writing, and my left hand knotted up from so much cutting, even spread across multiple days.  Don’t wear your hands out just to get your cutting done in record time.

Now onward to the back side.  Yes, I could begin blocking the front, but I want to have all the wash, dry, press, and cut out of the way before the beautiful assemblage begins.  Call me crazy.  I’ve got some beautiful fabrics for the back, too; who knows, it might end up as the “front” of the quilt?  The best part of doing a two-sided quilt is that I can reverse it at will…and believe me, I will. 🙂

Until next time!

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