Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Cuddly Quilt Tips

it doesn't get better than this!
 Someone posted a question on Leah Day's blog about density. Cheri was concerned that her quilt's were too stiff and cardboard-like. She wanted to be able to create something more cuddly. I posted a comment but there's only so much you can say in a tiny comment box. So I'm going to expand my comments here and go into a little more depth on how to achieve cuddly quilts. 

Materials and Methods for cuddly quilts:

1. Use fleece! I'm a bit of a last minute person. I don't have the time to spend years of washing to get a quilt soft and supple. When I make a quilt for someone I usually needed it 'yesterday' not next year. So here's tip #1: if you want a cuddly quilt begin by choosing soft and cuddly materials - like fleece or even minky. You need good quality non pill fleece. This costs a bit more than the cheap stuff but it's worth every penny. Good quality anti pil fleece washes beautifully. It also shows off your stitching.  Fleece is very economical, because it serves as backing AND wadding. That's two jobs for the price of one. 

a fleece backed quilt on the 6 foot Art Quilter frame

Here in the UK I can get lovely fleece from the haberdashery department of Boyes. Another fantastic source is fabric-online they offer a huge selection of 49 colours for £5.95 per meter! Do the math and you'll see this is a much more affordable option than the cost of backing fabric and wadding/batting combined.

click to see the quilting and notice how the fleece shows up the quilting pattern

The first time I ever saw fleece used in a quilt, was at a local quilt exhibition.  A woman had made this teddy bear themed quilt for her grandson. It had flannel on top and fleece underneath. It was the softest, cuddliest quilt I'd ever felt. I was inspired to give fleece a try and I've been using fleece for drag-around-the-house-kiddie-quilts ever since.

Rainbows light reflecting tri-lobal polyester thread keeps a quilt soft

2. Use polyester thread! The kind of thread you use makes a huge difference in the feel of your quilt. Cotton thread, especially densely quilted cotton thread will give your quilt a stiff cardboard like quality. Yes, it will soften up over time with repeated washing, but if you want your quilt to start out soft, use polyester at the very least in the bobbin. Even if you use cotton on the top, pairing it with a polyester in the bobbin like Bottom Line by Superior Threads will keep the quilt softer and more supple.

My favourite top threads for cuddly quilts are trilobal polyesters like the one-inch-colour-change variegated Rainbows line or the new Magnifico range from Superior. These lint-free gorgeous light reflecting threads are beautiful to look at and soft to touch. Because they're made for machine quilting they run through my sewing machine like butter. Bottom Line comes in lots of colours and is available in pre-wound bobbins or 3,000 yd crosswound cones. I like to match my bobbin thread to the fleece colour. This creates gorgeous texture on the back of my quilts. All these threads are available here in the UK from the machinequilter website.

a paisley whole cloth quilt

3. Loosen up! This final tip has to do with method. Think of a quilt as a combination of quilted lines and un-quilted spaces. The quilted lines hold the quilt together and the un-quilted spaces give you the fluffiness. Both are necessary and good. No matter what materials you use, if you quilt too many lines you will quilt out all the fluffiness. If you want a soft and cuddly quilt then use a soft and flowing line design for the quilting and leave some un-quilted negative space. This will create a quilt that drapes well and is soft and fluffy.

Perhaps the tendency towards over-quilting comes from the methods and tools we use. Sitting at the sewing machine to free-motion-quilt small sections at a time, lends itself to dense quilting. Lots of people like this look. It's great for wall hangings, table runners and gorgeous award winning bed quilts. But not for soft cuddly kid quilts. Soft cuddly quilts need a looser, less dense quilting style. 

Gypsy,  our cat thinks it's cuddly even on the frame
I think it is easier to achieve a looser quilting style standing up at a frame. A machine quilting frame gives you a much larger section of the quilt to work on.  Frame quilting allows a free-er more open quilting style because it's so much easier to free-motion quilt when the frame is holding the quilt sandwich nice and steady. It's also much easier to create bigger flowing lines by using the sewing machine needle like a pen as you glide your sewing machine over the top of your quilt. 

The tools we use do shape the kind of projects we make. I find it much easier to create larger more flowing lines standing up at a machine quilting frame rather than sitting at the sewing machine and wrestling with my quilt under the arm. Perhaps this has something to do with my body tension. I'm up-tight sitting at the machine and I'm much more relaxed standing at the frame. Being relaxed translates into a looser more flowing quilting style, which of course creates a softer more cuddly quilt.

If working with fleece is a new idea for you and you'd like a sample, email me your postal address and I'll send you a  little machine quilting sample. The samples are machine quilted on a New English Quilter frame with tri-lobal polyester threads on top and Bottom Line in the bobbin. The quilt sandwich has cotton fabric on top and anti pil fleece underneath. You'll be able to feel the difference for yourself.



Coffee Break Whatever said...

Thanks Martha! I appreciate the blog. I think my first option is the thread. I have been using 100% cotton as that is what I first learned is "best". is good for piece work, but apparently poly is better for FMQing. So that is what I will try first. I have used fleece as the backing with flannel in the middle..that does make a much softer quilt..but not to my "puff" in the design. Thanks for the information! Cheri

Martha said...

Hi Cheri. I'm glad that you asked the question. It's an issue that lots of people are wondering about. Well done for bringing it up. You could skip the middle layer and just have the top and the fleece. The quilt will have better drape if it's not so heavy. If you leave some un- quilted negative space you should get your puff!