How To Make Quilts That Stand Up To Kids, Pets, And Life
Follow these tips to make durable, modern quilts that’ll be loved for ages
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Quilt pattern shown here is the Close Knit Quilt Pattern
If you’re like every quilter I know, you make quilts to be loved, not to disintegrate after a few washes and certainly not to collect dust. Celebrating weddings and the arrival of newborns are often the most popular reasons why we make quilts. These everyday items not only take a long time to create, but they also have the potential to become heirlooms.
A durable quilt that’ll stand up to children, animals, and life doesn’t need to be constructed from ripstop nylon or duck canvas. While you may already know how smooth, silky quilting cottons hold up to handling and use, are the recipients of your quilts comfortable caring for them?
Read on for best practices, tips, and words of wisdom for making tough, not-too-precious quilts that’ll be loved for years to come.
Quilt pattern shown above is the Playroom Quilt Pattern
Do invest in high-quality fabric (and thread) to get your money’s worth
Generally, the less expensive the quilting cotton, the looser the warp and weft, the weave, and the more likely they are to fray. “I made a quilt once where I started with a quarter inch seam allowance, and once it had frayed, I maybe had 1/16th, that’s not an exaggeration,” Victoria Newmyer said. Her online quilting and fabric store, Midlife Quilter, is currently on hiatus. The narrower the seam allowances, the more likely it is that they’ll come apart.
“Especially for kids’ quilts, these are going to be loved, and spilled on, and tugged on, and slept under. I realized it’s better to invest in quality fabric because then you’ll get your money's worth out of it,” Victoria said.
The following is the sole opinion of the writer, and doesn’t reflect the official stance of Sewn Handmade (kidding, but we’re entering controversial territory)!
Some quiltmakers are team Kona, and others are team Art Gallery Fabrics. I’ll say from personal experience, Art Gallery Fabrics are smoother and more tightly woven, resulting in less fray when pieced and better durability when washed. Kona and Moda, although loved far and wide, has resulted in more dye bleed and fray than I can muster the tolerance for.
If you buy from small online shops like Hawthorne Supply Co. or The Grey Finch Company, which aim to have all colors in stock, a yard of Art Gallery Fabrics Pure Solids will run $9.60 to $9.96, respectively (as of October 2022). If you choose to line the pockets of Amazon, you could score a yard of Kona solids for $8.70 per yard at Fabrics.com, or as little as $7 per yard at other online retailers. Fabric from JoAnn may be as cheap as under $5/yard, but all it takes is reading a few reviews to know you’ll get what you pay for. Let’s say an average throw-size quilt requires 10 yards of fabric, including the backing. Using only AGF Pure Solids would cost around $100, while Kona would cost around $70. Fabric from JoAnn would run about $50.
“Regardless of fabric, quilts take a long time to make,” Victoria said. That’s why it pays to invest in high-quality fabric (and thread!).
Quilt pattern shown here is the Brothers Quilt Pattern.
Don’t mix and match different types of cottons or fabrics
As a general rule, if you want to prevent inconsistent shrinkage, stick to piecing with the same brands of fabrics or the same types of cotton. If inspiration hits, and you must mix and match fabrics, ensure minimal shrinkage by pre-washing all of your fabrics, top and backing. This makes a difference in seam durability and overall shrinkage.
For example, quilting cotton may shrink as little as 1-3%, with Art Gallery Fabrics shrinking the least at 1-2%, the manufacturer says. Flannel, on the other hand, can shrink upwards of 5%.
When I decided to use flannel as a backing for a quilt, my longarm quilter, Cara Cansler from Sew Colorado Quilting, asked if I had prewashed the flannel. The reason behind this is because she once had a client who didn’t prewash a quilt with the same components. When the quiltmaker washed the quilt the first time after having it longarmed, the quilt top and the backing shrunk at different rates, and it warped the pattern beyond recognition.
Quilt pattern shown here is the Living Room Quilt Pattern.
Do use bias binding instead of straight-grain binding
“If you ever see an old quilt, most of the time, the binding is gone. It’s the first thing that wears out on a quilt because it gets the most wear and tear,” said Karen Wade of Bessie Pearl Textiles, specializing in binding. “Seeing as we wash things differently now than we used to, things hold up a little better, but binding will still be the first thing to wear out.”
Looking at old quilts can give us hints about how to improve durability. When you use straight-grain fabrics, the threads run horizontal and vertical. When you cut on the bias, the thread runs diagonally. “That allows for the stretch. For whatever reason, the threads on an angle wear longer. You get a binding that doesn’t wear out as quickly,” Karen said.
“For me, if I spent all that time and money on making a quilt, I’d want it to last as long as it can,” she said. “Bias binding will help with that process.”
Quilt pattern show here is the Mudroom Quilt Pattern
Don’t sweat the small stuff
Sometimes, seam allowances shrink despite our best efforts. If a seam opens after the first or second wash, remember it’s not the end of the world. Don't sweat the small stuff. The whole quilt won’t unravel, and a non-sewist can repair a seam here or there with only a needle and thread. When using wovens, shorten the stitch length for stronger seams.
“I just try and make sure my seam allowance is good and if I’m using wovens to shorten stitch length,” Jess Rash, prolific quiltmaker and quilt pattern tester, said. “Otherwise, I just roll with it and don’t show the little blown seams that I end up stitching back up after the first wash or two.”
Quilt pattern shown here is the Italian Tiles Quilt Pattern
Do include washing instructions when gifting a quilt
When I give a quilt as a present, I’d like the recipient to feel comforted by it and not be overly cautious about handling it and using it. The presence of care instructions will assure your quilt recipient that their gift is meant to be loved and eventually washed, just like a nice garment of clothing.
While my name is displayed on the front side of my quilt tags, the other side includes these washing instructions: “Wash on delicate cycle with cold water and gentle detergent. Immediately tumble dry ultra low.” Alternatively, a handwritten or printed note enclosed with the gift will achieve the same peace of mind.
Quilt pattern shown here is the Close Knit Quilt Pattern