Preparing for a Quilt Workshop FAQs

design, quilting, sewing

We get lots of emails from students wanting to prepare for quilt workshops so we thought we’d share some of the questions in one place.

Q. Should I precut by fabrics before the workshop?

A. This simple question has surprisingly complex answer. We’ve found in our 20 years of teaching all over the world that there are two types of quilters who take our classes. One is a quilter who is interested in learning how to choose a palette, boosting his/her confidence when it comes to editing a palette, understanding how to choose the right scale of fabric for any given pattern and learning how to combine different genres of fabric. The other is a quilter whose definition of a good workshop is defined by the amount of sewing that gets completed in the workshop. The former is a more process-oriented quilter and the latter is more production-oriented. Neither is better than the other. The former wants input from us in editing the palette while the latter is not interested in any input and just wants to start sewing. As instructors, we want you to have the experience that you hoped for when you signed up. Most people fall into the former category and most end up dramatically changing the fabrics they had planned to use and in some instances changing the pattern as well. They bring extra fabrics so they have options and our input helps them create what’s in their heads. These students regret it when they have already precut their pieces because they often don’t end up using the fabrics as they had originally planned. Conversely, the production-oriented quilters define the success of the day by being able to hold up their progress during the day, post it on Instagram or show it to their friends and family at the end of the day. If you fall into this latter category and don’t want input on your palette, feel free to precut your pieces.

Q. Should I prewash my fabrics before class?

A. We have seen many, many quilts ruined by not prewashing yet we hear endlessly that quilters don’t want to prewash because it takes too much time and they don’t want to iron their fabrics. Problems related to bleeding and shrinking are common in quilts that are made from fabrics that weren’t prewashed.

In one case, a quilter used a water-soluble marker on a white fabric to mark her quilting and sprayed the white fabric to remove the markings. The water was absorbed by a red fabric near the white fabric and created a large pink stain on the white fabric that the quilter wasn’t able, even with scrubbing, to remove on a quilt that had taken months to hand applique and quilt. In numerous other instances, we’ve had calls from quilters who said they never planned to wash her quilts so they didn’t worry about prewashing, bleeding or shrinkage. However, ill pets, flooding basements, humid storage environments, household fires or other events had forced the quilters to choose between washing their quilts and throwing them away. Dozens of these people over the years have called us asking for help in fixing fabrics that have bled and quilts that have shrunk irregularly because different fabrics in the quilt shrink at different rates.

Perhaps the most compelling argument for prewashing was in the quivering voice of a grandson who called us to ask how to clean the 50-year-old quilts he inherited from his grandmother’s attic. Some had not been washed in decades and were musty and dusty. He wanted to clean them but was worried that some might bleed because the ones he had already washed had bled. One student hand-basted Shout Color Catchers over every red fabric after the red fabrics in another quilt of hers bled and was able to save her quilt. The internet has an endless number of time-consuming fixes for bleeding fabric (some of which work and some of which don’t) but there is no fix for different shrinkage rates of fabrics that distort a quilt and prevent it from lying flat. So while it’s possible sometimes to rescue a quilt that has fabrics that weren’t prewashed, we don’t understand why any quilter spending 20-500 hours making a quilt wouldn’t be willing to machine wash, machine dry and spend 10 minutes pressing the fabrics when they come out of the dryer.

Q. How do you recommend prewashing fabrics?

A. We use Ivory Liquid dish soap based on the advice of textile engineers who say that this soap prevents fading. We use about 1/2 teaspoon in cold water for 3-5 yards of fabric in an HE front-loading machine. In a top-loading, non-HE machine, you might want to use a bit more. We machine dry on low as we will the finished quilt. If you remove the fabric as soon as the dry cycle is complete and stack the fabrics, you can run and iron over the whole stack and shorten your ironing time. We prewash pre-cuts in lingerie bags. Manufacturers advise against prewashing pre-cuts because they know that they will shrink more in one direction than the other. As a result of the weaves of many fabrics, 5″ charm squares will shrink and become 4 1/2″ x 4 3/4″ rectangles. So you’ll need to weigh the risks of the fabric shrinking before you make the quilt versus what’s going to happen to the quilt if that fabric shrinks in the finished quilt versus how you’re going to feel if the fabrics bleed.

Q. I’m taking your Rediscovering Your Stash workshop. When you say to bring a lot of fabric, what exactly do you mean?

A. This is a no-sew class. We’ll spend the entire day planning projects using each person’s stash. The more you bring, the more projects you’ll be able to plan and the more that you’ll learn. Bring the following especially: fabrics that you have in large quantity, fabrics that you love and don’t know how to use, fabrics that you used to love, have a lot of but aren’t excited about anymore, fabrics from different genres that you’d love to combine. At the minimum, bring enough fabric to fill a grocery cart. If you bring a fat quarter bundle of matching fabrics or come without fabrics, you will miss a great chance to get specific help using fabrics you already own.

Q. I’m taking your Solids Revolution class. I don’t have many solids and don’t know where to start in purchasing fabric for the class.

A. Many quilters have learned to assemble a palette by choosing a focus fabric and then pulling colors to match the colors in the focus fabric. When there’s no focus fabric, they are lost. Start with thinking about a palette that you love and use that as your starting point. It might be the palette found in Beatrix Potter books, or from Great Master paintings that you saw in Florence on vacation, or in the architecture of Miami, or in the lichen on the trees of your favorite campground. Think about colors that make you happy and start there. You don’t need to copy the palettes, just use them as a starting point.

Q. I’m signed up for your Large-Scale Prints class but really want to make a Transparency quilt from your book. After you’re done with everyone else in the class, can you help me to make a different project? Also, I’ve brought another quilt I’m working on and wonder if you can critique it for me, help me figure out why it’s not working etc.

A. We try to be accommodating to students who want choices in the projects they make in our classes so we typically offer a variety of patterns and are open to you bringing a pattern that’s not one we designed but that’s in keeping with the topic of the class. However, we aren’t able to answer questions about construction methods for patterns we didn’t design and we ask that you understand that if you sign up for one class, that’s the only class we’ll be teaching. In addition, we have to spread our time among all of the students in the class so it’s distracting and unfair to others to spend time helping students with projects that are unrelated to the class.

Q. I’m going to be late for class and will miss the first hour. Is that a problem?

A. Yes, unfortunately it’s a problem. The first part of every class discusses the basics of color theory and sometimes other important design concepts that are essential to understanding the rest of the day. If you miss the first hour, the rest of the day will be harder for you to follow even if you “have an art background.” Typically our classes have 20-25 people in them so it’s not possible to repeat the first hour for one person while everyone else waits to move on.

Q. I’m a beginning quilter. Will I be able to keep up?

A. Absolutely! Many of our students have never taken a quilt workshop before and benefit immensely from the collective experience of the group. We strive to create a supportive environment in our classes and meet you where you are in terms of skill and experience so speak up if there are terms you don’t understand or techniques that you don’t know.

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