Orienting Quilt Fabric



This post is part of a series about sewing NotQuilts. If you’re unfamiliar with this method, The NotQuilt series begins here. The link below takes you to the Cat Notquilt project.

Now that the back has been put on, I’m turning my attention to resewing the front of the cat comforter. Most of the fabric is cat-patterned. That helps to compensate for the randomness of the look.

A NotQuilt like this does not reveal its ultimate appearance until it is finished. In this case, it’ll be rectangles of cats surrounded by a sea of green cats with a green border.

Cats, cats, and more cats. Hundreds of cats, thousands of cats, millions and billions and trillions of cats. Since some of the green set fabric is full of kitten images, there really will be thousands of cats on the finished product.

orienting quilt fabric

This project started with several pieces with cats on them sewn in place. Real cat (Ivan the Terrible) shown for scale.

Orienting Quilt Fabric as a Design Element

Looking at the above photo, you may notice one of my quirks in action. If I have a piece of fabric that has a definite up and a down pattern, I sew it on so that the orientation is correct. All of my NotQuilts have a definite up and a down. I can’t stand seeing upside-down motifs.

This can be limiting, but it also imposes order. I also take advantage of this in patterns that have can have an orientation. Striped and geometric fabrics may not have an obvious orientation, but that doesn’t mean you can’t use them that way.

When you cut your stripes, lay out the fabric pieces so the stripes go all the same way when they are sewn down. An interesting variation is to cut your stripes and sew them so that the ones at the top and the bottom show vertical stripes and the ones on the sides lay horizontally. This lets you use the same fabric, but it looks different and has a different movement.

Another effect can be created by cutting strips on the diagonal. I have not found that cutting on the bias makes any difference in the finished NotQuilt.

Pinning and Sewing Pieces

When I choose a piece of fabric to sew down, I guesstimate the size I need. If the piece is to be covered on all sides by other pieces, I iron it flat with no turned-under hem. The raw edges will be covered by other pieces. That saves me time and some added bulk.

The piece gets pinned down either at the ironing board or on the floor. Take care to smooth out the wrinkles in all the layers. Wrinkles and tucks that are left in place will get sewn in place. From three to ten pieces are pinned down at a time. More than that means more pins sticking me as I sew or coming loose and found by stepping on them.

When I sew a piece down, I keep the presser foot oriented so that the bulk of the walking foot is on the piece. I orient the foot’s toe alongside the raw edge, giving me a seam allowance of about 1/8 inch.

I do not tie the starting and ending threads into tiny knots. I alter my stitch length instead and take care to start sewing a patch where it will be covered by another patch.

You can’t backstitch with a walking foot!

Instead, I start a patch with a very short stitch length to secure the thread, switch to the longest stitch the Babylock will allow, and then go all around the patch. When I reach the starting point, I stitch over the previous stitching a short ways, then change the machine setting to a very short stitch for the final bit, the length of a fingertip or so. Very short stitches (3/8 inch or so) keeps the seam from coming out in the wash.

Babylock Tip

The Babylock doesn’t like turning corners. Sometimes, it will drop a stitch, giving me a jog across the corner instead of a nice clean turn. To counteract that, I shorten my stitch to the machine’s preset length of 2.5 when I am a fingertip away from the corner, sew the corner, turn, and stitch using 2.5 for another fingertip’s worth of distance. The shorter stitch length also allows me to square the corner more precisely.

Then I go back to the longest stitch the Babylock lets me, a 5.0 mm for the seams between the corners. Years of long experience have proven that the longer stitch length works better going through all the layers; it doesn’t bunch up into tiny stitches and the machine likes it better.

It’s a bit of trouble, but this method ensures nice corners that don’t tear free. Since every raw edge will be covered by a turned edge, those layers build up and they reinforce each other.

I could probably not do this (changing stitch lengths) with the corners on the bottommost layer of fabric pieces as they will be covered later on. But if I do them all the same way, I won’t forget to reset my stitch lengths when it really matters.

Wrapping Up and What’s Next

If a fabric piece is going to overlay another piece, I iron down a seam margin of 1/4 to 3/8 of an inch. I sew it exactly the same way except much closer to the turned edge. I always conceal the previous layer of stitching beneath the new patch.

The underside of the NotQuilt will show many, many lines of close-together seams. The top shows only the seams that are on the top layer of patches.

For the next few days to weeks, I’ll add the cat fabric patches, covering the surface while leaving space between each patch for the final, green set fabrics.

There won’t be a lot of changes from post to post, until the set fabric comes into play. I am, in addition to sewing on the cats right side up, trying very hard to not put the same fabrics side by side. Since I am limited in my fabric choices and I’m certainly not going to buy more, I may not succeed.

We’ll see what happens.