Choosing the NotQuilt 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 Balloon Notquilt project.

Last week, we looked at sewing down the two frames on the interior of the NotQuilt. This week, I’ll talk about the process of finding NotQuilt fabrics to fill the spaces in between.

I have a large stash of fabric, some of it bought, but most of it given to me. Much of that isn’t to my taste, but I make it a rule: Always accept donated fabric.

The reasoning goes like this: as soon as you tell someone, no, they’ll assume later that you don’t want the Thai silk they’re getting rid of, either. Of course I want the Thai silk! I do! I do! Gimmie, gimmie, gimmie.

So say yes to the ugly stuff and beautiful fabric will come.

I save all my dressmaking and craft scraps, and have many, many Rubbermaid boxes full of them, sorted by color and fabric type. I dug through the blue-toned yard goods first, looking for enough fabric of a single pattern and color for the binding. I wanted to stick with blue, to match the backing fabric and the facing set. I also found some sheet remnants left over from an earlier project.

The type of fabric plays a big role at this point. Percale, for example, is ideal for seam binding. It is so tightly woven it wears really well. The binding gets the most wear and tear and is the hardest area to patch, unless your budding engineer son uses his bed as a workstation on which to disassemble TV sets (but that’s a whole ’nother column).

Percale doesn’t work for patches. The tight weave makes it hard to sew through. This doesn’t matter as much in a NotQuilt as the sewing machine takes care of that problem. But I would not want to hand-quilt through percale.

The binding is a deep, dark blue with pale gray marbling and emerald green squares bordered in gold. I am going to ignore the squares as they are very widely scattered and won’t show up much. The percale is not the right color and weight, but I have enough of it to make the binding and some patches tying the binding to the fashion face of the NotQuilt.

notquilt fabric

How I calculated the fabric I needed (click to embiggen)

To figure out how much material I need for the binding, I drew my picture, got out my calculator, and measured the outermost edges. As you can see from the picture, I need 382 inches worth of binding to enclose the raw edges. I will need 100 inches to go across the top and another 282 inches to go around the sides curving into the bottom edge. Plus, I have to add the length of any joining seams and meeting at corners. Then I add a few more inches as my measurements may be suspect. It is always better to overestimate how much you need. It is unbelievably aggravating to come up an inch short. Remember, you can always cut a length shorter but it’s impossible to make cloth longer.

The picture in my notebook implies my section of sheet was about 77 inches long and I had plenty of width. I miss-measured, I don’t know how, and the actual width from selvedge to selvedge is 108 inches. Maybe I wrote down the narrower width and not the actual width from selvedge to selvedge. This is why you measure twice before ever cutting anything. This is also why people who write manuals don’t show you the raw notes. Raw notes show your mistakes and first drafts. The sad part about this is that it implies the person writing the instructions didn’t make any errors and everything went just as planned.

That is rarely true.

I first thought to cut the strips eight inches wide, giving me a nice frame. Then I looked at the curved bottom edge and thought about how I was going to fit a straight piece of fabric around that curve. So I went with seven inches for the total width of the binding strips, allowing me three inches on front and back, plus another half-inch for the folded-under raw edges on front and back.

It will be tricky to fit those curves. I am not sure whether I will make tucks, darts, or gather that section, allowing me to have a longer outside edge on the binding to follow the curve and a shorter inside seam. I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.

In the meantime, I measured seven inches and ripped the sheet section, then did this three more times, giving me four strips seven inches wide and about 108 inches long apiece. That will be plenty to bind the edges and have enough left over so that if I don’t like how the binding is coming out around the curves, I can redo it. I wanted the binding strips ripped to I ensure that I have enough fabric set aside, rather than come up short later.

I have enough of this fabric that I ripped additional strips, about 3 inches wide, to run from the outermost edges to the outer frame of blue balloons and then between the outer and the inner balloon frames. This will help tie the binding into the finished fashion face.

Potential candidates for Notquilt fabric.

Potential candidates for Notquilt fabric.

Yes, those really are flying bears in bumblebee outfits.

Yes, those really are flying bears in bumblebee outfits.

Then I looked for fabrics to use on the NotQuilt surface. I have a lot of blue scrap that I wanted to use up. I didn’t want to use florals if I could help it. I like the balloons and I decided to stick with a theme of flying things in the blue color family. I’ve got balloons, kites, flags, butterflies, teddy bears wearing bumblebee suits, and birds. I have plenty of solid blue fabric. It this doesn’t leave me enough cloth, I’ll go back to stash and use whatever looks okay.

The first pieces of fabric sewed down are the four squares filling in the corners between the outer and inner frames. I found a big rectangle of darker sky blue with balloons and kites – perfect! I cut it into four quarters and sewed it down into the four corners, keeping the orientation of the fabric the way it was when it was uncut. That is, if you look carefully, you can see where the corresponding pieces of balloons are.

It matters very much to me that I keep all my pattern orientations right side up and when I cut a fabric into halves or quarters, I keep them aligned with each other, letting the fabric repeat more naturally across the surface of the NotQuilt.

I found another piece of the same fabric, cut it in half, and sewed it between the inner and outer frames. I did not align them. I wanted the asymmetry. I also found the teddy bears in bumblebee suits and a piece of blue with a butterfly plus a wide, long strip of palest blue with teddy bears holding balloons. All of these got sewn on, the teddy bears with balloons anchoring center of all four sides.

The next step was to pin and sew down the dark blue percale. I will add eight more strips of percale to frame the pale blue teddy bears. I do not believe I will use more dark blue percale after that.

When I cut and sewed the four squares of darker blue kite and balloon material, one corner of the fabric rectangle was missing. I ignored this and cut and sewed the four rectangles down as though all four were intact. You can see from the picture that this left a small area with ragged raw edges exposed. I knew this would be covered and found a small rectangle of teddy bears wearing bumblebee suits. I ironed all four sides down, pinned it and now it is ready to be sewn down.

notquilt fabric

The problem and the solution

The next step will be to frame the four strips of palest blue teddy bears with balloons with the dark blue percale.

After that, the sorted-out stash will tell me what to do. I will need to use longer pieces for the outermost border (16-inch long rectangles), shorter rectangles (9 inches or so) for the inner border, and the center medallion can be filled in as crazily as I want. I may make the inner border more random with shorter pieces. I don’t know yet.

As with all my previous efforts, what I think will happen and what does happen may be entirely different.

See you next week!