Angela Walters and Jennifer Keltner share tips for machine quilting with specialty fabrics.

October 13, 2016

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"Hi, I'm Jennifer Keltner, here at the American Patchwork & Quilting sewing lab, with Angela Walters, Handi Quilter's ambassador for machine quilting. We're talking about specialty fabrics. You'll find them in lots of fun and different fabrics beyond quilting cottons at your local quilting store. But how do you sew with them, and more importantly, how do you machine quilt with them? T-shirt quilts are probably one of the most common specialty fabrics that people work with. But there are plenty of others to choose from, too. What have you got to show us, Angela?" "Absolutely. Well, I quilt for customers, as well, and I find that my customers are pretty adventurous when it comes to picking out different kinds of fabrics. So, over the years, I've picked up a couple tips or tricks to work with those types of fabrics, especially for machine-quilting purposes. And the first one I brought along is a linen. It seems like this is getting more and more popular as time goes on for quilting--and no wonder, because it quilts up gorgeous." "The texture is awesome." "Beautiful! The only thing that you're going to struggle with is if you notice, it's a woven fabric, so it has a loose weave, which will mean when you're quilting, it will really kind of suck in. So you want to make sure you're basting the edges of your quilt before you actually start filling that in. And that's really the only tip I would have for it. It quilts beautifully using the same needle and thread that you're probably already using." "So, really it's just the raveling of the edge you have to be careful not to get too close to that or it will pull it out." "Exactly. Another one that's more and more popular is the voile." "What I love about this fabric is the hand of it. It's so, so soft. And on this quilt that we had run in one of our publications, you've got it on the front and the back of the quilt, but I know that some quilters also like to use it just for the back of the quilt to give it a little bit cooler feel, a little bit lighter weight. What suggestions do you have for working with voile?" "Well, it's you're using it on the front and back, I would suggest a thinner batting, so you kind of retain that coziness of the fabric or the nice cuddleness--drape, that's probably the technical term for it. I would maybe consider using a needle that's a little bit sharper, since it has a little bit tighter weave, it will go through there a little bit better. Usually it's a pretty easy fabric to mess with and to deal with. I would just suggest a thinner batting so you don't lose those characteristics." "And if you're putting it just on the back of your quilt, would you suggest just keeping everything else the same in terms of needle and thread?" "Yes, I just quilted a quilt just like that that had it on the back and the front and it was no problem at all. Another fabric that seems to get a lot of use is the plush type fabric. And when you quilt them up, they are just so cuddly. There's really not a whole lot to change with this when it comes to needle of thread, but where you're really going to want to make sure you take care is when it comes to loading. The actual fabric itself, like most fabrics, has a selvage, so there's one part of the fabric that won't stretch as much as the other. You see here that it gives you a lot more stretch. So if you're going to load this on your machine, especially if it's for a backing, try to pin it along the stretchy side--that way, you won't pull it too tight. Because when you start quilting it, if you pull too tight, when you take it off the machine, it's going to curl up on itself. And I did that one time to a baby quilt and it was devastating, because I felt like I spent so much time just to have it ruined." "It ends up looking like a turtle shell." "Exactly. You'll never get it flat again. So if you can be mindful not to stretch it too tight, especially if you're using it on the front and back, you don't really have to worry about changing thread or needle there either." "I think that's the trick for quilters. We're not used to working with stretchy fabric, so there's something different about working with them that makes us a little bit leery. But you really don't need to be. This quilt is one that ran in our publication and it has that great plush back, and you can see the texture created by the quilting, which I really like. But it's sort of got the one, two punch, in that on the right side of the quilt it has the T-shirt quilt, as well. So, I know you have some tips to share with us about T-shirt quilts and what to work with, but even combining them like this brings it's own set of issues, as well." "Yes. Well, I brought a piece of jersey, and we all know that the problem with T-shirt quilts is that they're nice and stretchy. And you get a stretch to that, so if you put it on your machine and you stretch it too much, you're really going to mess up the integrity of the fabric. So, you want to make sure that you don't stretch it and that you go pretty slow with the quilting, because what will happen is it will kind of move on itself and you'll get those tucks that won't look so good." "And a common mistake people make is we learn to interface these fabrics, but sometimes people will use a really heavy interfacing for it or you'll have places on a T-shirt or jersey that will have a lot of painting or screening on the shirt that makes it hard to needle." "Absolutely. I would be very cautious and very slow when quilting with that interfacing. You want to make sure you're giving your needle enough time to complete the stitch--there's two layers it's going through at that point, so you'll run into thread breakage. So anytime heavy interfacing or you have a painted part of your T-shirt, you probably just want to stay clear of that altogether. The heat from the needle will actually transfer that paint. When it comes to T-shirt quilts, slowing it down, making the quilting nice and big and more flowy (there's not really a whole bunch of custom type quilting on those), because you don't want to get those tucks." "And the heat you're talking about is really the friction caused by the needle making several penetrations in the quilt top itself. So whether you're working on a long-arm machine or working on a sit-down sewing machine, that friction that's created is the same. And I always think you can sort of feel it as the machine is trying to make that stitch. If you start feeling it drag, you know you need to slow down. We've talked at different times about loving the need for speed as you're quilting, but when you're working with specialty fabrics, it really is a time where you might want to slow down and take your time. You can quilt through any fabric--it's just a matter of having patience. So, thanks for sharing these tips with us for working with specialty fabrics. And no matter what you're favorite fabric is, whether it's quilting cotton or voile, T-shirt knits, plush fabrics, linens--any of those--you can quilt through it. Just take your time and enjoy the process."