Shot cotton is a special type of fabric that is soft, luxurious, and beautifully rich in color. If you've held a shot cotton before, you immediately knew it was different from regular quilting fabric. And if you haven't worked with shot cottons before, you're in for a treat!
Whether you are hopelessly devoted to shot cottons like me or brand new to this special fabric, keep reading for our quilting tips! I recently used shot cotton to make a beautiful two-color Shining Star quilt. Also, making a guest appearance in this post is Suzy's Shine quilt using lots bright shot cottons.
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What Is Shot Cotton?
So what exactly is a shot cotton? It is cotton fabric in which the warp (lengthwise threads) are dyed one color and the weft (side-to-side threads) are dyed a second color. The word 'shot' here means that the shuttle carrying the weft thread is 'shot' (thrown or mechanically moved) across the warp.
Because there are two different colors working in harmony together, what you end up getting is a very textured and interesting third color. Only when you look really closely can you see the different colored threads.
One of the most popular lines of shot cottons are called Peppered Cottons and are designed by Pepper Cory for StudioE. You can order from the entire line of 52 gorgeous colors at Global Fiber Textiles & Notions.
The shot cottons used in this two-color Shining Star quilt are from the Peppered Cottons line — Vanilla and Deep Space. The binding is black Essex yarn dyed linen, and the backing is Meadow Metallic in grey from the Bon Voyage line by Rifle Paper Co.
Pictured above is fabric Suzy used in the Shine sew along. Check it out here!
In the example above, you can see the rich color created using purple and blue threads. Yum!
8 Tips for Quilting with Shot Cotton
1. Prewashing Is a Must
In general we suggest prewashing fabrics whenever possible. I prewash all fabrics that are larger than a fat quarter (anything fat quarter or smaller may shrink too much). We also recommend washing prewashing your shot cottons as you plan on waashing your finished quilt. Since I typically wash my finished quilts in cold water on a delicate cycle, I prewash my shot cotton fabric the same way.
The main reason I wash all my fabrics before piecing is to shrink and relax them. Fabric is stretched very tightly when wrapped on a bolt and washing it relaxes the fibers while removing any sizing or chemicals that may be on the fabric from the manufacturer.
When you handle shot cotton for the first time, you'll notice that it drapes and moves differently than regular quilting cotton. The way shot cotton is woven creates a looser feel — and that luxurious feel can shrink a lot in the wash!
2. Prevent Fraying while Prewashing
There are several methods that can help prevent fraying when prewashing fabrics. My favorite way is to stitch a basting stitch around all unfinished edges of the fabric before throwing them into the washing machine. I sew as close to the edges as possible, and when I prewash, the fraying stops at those sewn lines! I find this to be the most reliable method for minimizing fraying in the wash.
In the picture above, you can see the line I stitched to minimize fraying. And in the picture below, you can see how little the fabric frayed when I prewashed it!
Other ways to minimize fraying while prewashing include trimming unfinished edges with pinking shears and clipping a small triangle off of each corner of the fabric. Without using one of these methods, you might lose more of your fabric than expected to fraying in the washing machine.
When I order shot cottons, I typically order a little bit more than I need for my project to ensure that after shrinking and fraying in the wash, I'll still have plenty to make my quilt. An extra quarter yard per color is plenty!
3. Starch Is Your Friend!
The same quality that gives shot cottons such a lush and drapey hand also makes them stretchy. Starching the fabrics is a huge help! Not only does starch get your fabrics neatly flat, it also helps them stretch less while you're sewing.
The Shining Star pattern encourages improvisational cutting and that makes for unique and wonky shapes. That can make using a stretchy fabric challenging! Giving the shot cottons a good starch makes it much easier to be wild with your improv log cabin cutting.
I use unscented Best Press to starch my fabrics. Instead of using the bottle the starch comes in, I pour some into a continuous mist sprayer. This handy little bottle distributes the starch more evenly over a larger area.
After giving the fabric a light spray, I press it. In the picture above, you can see that I starched and pressed my fabric at the top, and the bottom section has not yet been starched and pressed. Starch makes a huge difference! Once it's starched, I'm ready to cut!
4. Reduce Your Stitch Length
This is good advice for everyone making a Shining Star quilt. Going back and forth so often between cutting, pressing, and sewing on your block could cause the seams to loosen. By reducing your stitch length to 1.8-2.0 instead of the more common 2.5, you reduce the chance of your seam weakening!
Shot cotton is guaranteed to fray while you are sewing. It's no big deal—you can snip those frays off (see the next tip). But in addition to keeping your seams strong, a short stitch length helps prevent too much fraying while sewing!
Like with the line stitched before prewashing, your frays will not go beyond that stitch line. If you sew with a reduced stitch length, you're creating a stronger stitch line that will help prevent the shot cotton from fraying so much that it damages the quilt top.
5. Do Not Pull Fraying Threads — Use Scissors or Snips
We've all been there. You're piecing a block and see a little thread hanging off. Just pull it off — easy fix!
With shot cottons, pulling frayed threads can damage fabric more significantly than regular quilting cotton. To avoid damage, I keep a pair of these curved snips next to my sewing machine. The curve is perfect because it prevents me from accidentally puncturing my fabric!
Because of the high contrast of making a black and white quilt, you might notice that you see some frayed black threads through the white fabric when you look at your quilt top. I call this ghosting—when you faintly see a dark thread behind a white fabric in a quilt.
Try your best to trim the biggest black threads with your snips or scissors, but know that you are unlikely to notice these threads once your quilt is finished! You can't see any in the pictures of my quilt in this blog post!
6. Use a Tailor's Clapper On All Seams
Shot cotton can be hard to tame — especially when piecing with wonky shapes like an improv log cabin. A tailor's clapper solves that problem in a jiffy!
Read more about the science behind why tailor's clappers work, and you'll be a convert for life. My favorite clapper is from Modern American Vintage. No matter what I'm making, I pull out my trusty tailor's clapper and force my seams flat!
I use my trusty continuous mist sprayer you read about in Tip #3. I actually have two! I keep one for starch (which I mark with a line of washi tape to remember it's for starch) and one for water. Steam is an essential ingredient for getting flat seams, but using the water in your iron can be inconsistent and can sometimes shorten the lifespan of your iron.
Avoid that by spraying a light amount of water directly onto the fabric and pressing as usual. When shot cotton gets wet, the fabric will move. It looks like it has a life of its own! That's ok and totally normal. Just keep calm and press on. Once you have pressed the seam, lay the clapper directly on the seam for around ten seconds. Pick the clapper up to check if the seam is dry and cool, and move on!
7. Avoid Using Your Seam Ripper
Of course, nobody ever wants to use a seam ripper! While this tool is essential for quilters, using it can be frustrating. But it's even more important to avoid your seam ripper with shot cotton.
Pulling on a stretchy fabric like shot cotton can damage it severely. We don't want that! Avoid that seam ripper damage by sewing slow and steady. If you must consult your trusty seam ripper, go extra slow!
8. Use Bamboo Batting for a Drape That Can't Be Beat!
The way a quilt drapes and flows is very important to me. I use most of the quilts I make, and I want them to wrap around me effortlessly and snuggly. And I have a magic formula for getting the best quilt drape ever!
Shot cotton quilt top + bamboo batting = maximum cuddle!
I also like minimal quilting for a cuddly drape. The denser the quilting, the stiffer a quilt can be. But that bamboo batting makes a difference no matter how much quilting you do.
Something magical happens to a quilt made with shot cottons when it is introduced to bamboo batting. They become besties for life. They are bonded in their softness and snugglyness. Shot cottons and bamboo just click—total love at first sight moment.
For a quilt the size of the Shining Star throw, you really want a nice drape! It's going to be your go-to couch quilt, I know it. Read more about why we love the silky smooth drape of bamboo batting here!
Your Turn to Try Quilting with Shot Cottons!
Have you quilted or sewn with shot cotton fabric before? Tell us what you liked about it in the comments! If you haven't used shot cottons, are you excited to make the most luxurious quilt ever?