Raise your hand if a pretty FQ bundle makes your heart skip a beat. OK now raise your hand if you enjoy cutting horribly creased and wrinkled fabric. No? Nobody? Me neither! That's why I filmed this quick video tutorial showing you the best way to prepare fat quarters for quilting.
Spoiler, it's not quickly throw them on your cutting table then slicing and dicing with your rotary cutter. Sorry! With this technique I suggest you take a bit more time and get each fat quarter nice and flat. It's not fast, but like most things in the quilt making process, it can be wonderfully cathartic and calming if you let it be.
So join me at your ironing board. Flip on your iron to high, and let's iron some fabric together!
The Best Way to Prepare Fat Quarters for Quilting
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Why Ironing is so Important
FQs, or fat quarters, are a fun way to get lots of different kinds of fabric without purchasing yardage. They are perfect for quilters because many patterns are written for FQs specifically, helping you save on fabric waste and limiting scraps.
If you hop over to the Suzy Quilts pattern shop, you can actually filter quilt patterns by precuts. Check the Fat Quarter box and a long list of pattern options will appear.
FQs are especially hard to resist when they come in a pre-made bundle. Ooooh! My heart! When I see each fabric folded and stacked perfectly my creative juices start to flow. You know the feeling? The flip side of all that warm fuzziness is when I unfold each fabric and remember that to get such a neat stack of fabric, each one had to be folded, creating deep creases.
These deep fabric creases won't disappear without a fight, either. That's because fabric has a memory. Just like fabric remembers being stretched and folded onto a bolt, it also remembers being folded into a little square to stack in a fat quarter bundle. Because these bundles are often stacked with many fat quarters and held together with ribbon or even rubber bands, that extra pressure makes fat quarter creases extra hard to work out.
Cutting folded fat quarters without ironing decreases your accuracy, and can actually cause you to mess up the cutting enough that your fat quarter could be ruined. Ironing those fat quarters may be time consuming, but it's an important step!
Don't Pre-wash Precuts
I don't recommend pre-washing precut fabric because you can lose too much of it to fraying and shrinkage. Quilt patterns that are written for precuts assume that you have that exact amount of fabric. If you lose a couple inches on your FQ because of fraying from your washer and dryer, you may not have enough fabric. We don't want that to happen to you.
So yes, washing and drying fabric is a wonderful way to eliminate creases from store-bought folded fabric. Unfortunately, you just can't do that with fabrics smaller than a 1/2 yd.
Question: Can I mix pre-washed and unwashed fabrics in the same quilt?
Usually, yes you can. If you are quilting with all of the same substrate (like cotton), and mixing those pieces of washed and unwashed fabric around in the quilt top, it will shrink evenly throughout the quilt without causing any weird warping.
If you are mixing unwashed linen (or another substrate that shrinks and frays a lot) with pre-washed cotton, prepare for your quilt to look quite a bit different after it's been laundered. For more info on sewing with other substrates, check out our Fabric 101 tab.
Ironing vs. Pressing
If you're new to quilting, you've probably seen the term pressing instead of ironing in quilt patterns. Huh? It's just an iron, don't you use it the same all the time? Not in quilting!
It's no big deal if you mix up the words. (I do it all the time.) But ironing is what you do before cutting and piecing your fabrics. When ironing, you move your iron across fabric the same way you would iron clothes. Be sure not to pull too hard, apply too much pressure, or stay in the same place for too long as you're ironing. Each of those actions can cause damage to the fabric, like distorting the fibers or even causing scorches.
Pressing is a much more gentle action that you'll do after piecing fabric together. Instead of gliding the iron over the fabric, you'll set it down over a seam and hold it there for a few seconds. Then, lift your iron and set it down over the next area to press and hold it in place. Instead of a gliding action, you are pressing the iron down! This avoids any distortion of your freshly sewn seams.
In the post, How to Press Seams in a Quilt, I got over this difference in more detail. Here's a video from that post.
Ironing supplies are basic, but in case you're curious what I'm using, heres the list:
- Oliso iron
- Wool pressing mat (similar item). I have one that is large enough to cover my entire ironing board.
- Water bottle
How to Iron a FQ
In just three simple steps those obnoxious creases will be a distant memory, for both you and your fat quarter.
Step 1: Wet the fabric
The steam function on your iron won't work here. You need to get it nice and damp so you can do Step 2. I suggest using a spray bottle of water. The key is to get the fabric damp, but not soaking wet.
Question: Can I use starch instead of water?
Yes, but I personally don't think starch is necessary in this situation. During the manufacturing process chemicals, like starch, are added to the fabric. One reason we pre-wash fabric is to get those chemicals off. Since we aren't pre-washing these fat quarters, they already have starch on them.
If you are using loosely woven fabric, like a yarn-dyed fabric or something with a bit of stretch, like flannel, you can use some starch. Just so you're not blowing through your starch stash (that stuff can be expensive!), water it down.
Step 2: Massage the fabric
Wad it up! Massage the moisture into the fibers of the fabric. If you are still seeing visible creases during this step, go back to Step 1 and spray it with more water.
Step 3: Iron the fabric
Glide over your now very wrinkled FQ with a hot iron. Assuming these FQs are quilting cotton, your iron can be on its hottest setting. Never rest your iron in one section for longer than a second. Since the fabric is so moist, it can easily scorch.
Cutting Ironed Fat Quarters
Once your fat quarter is perfectly flat, it's time to cut! You should either cut your fat quarters immediately after pressing so they do not get creased again, or leave them stored flat until you are ready to cut.
Did you find this tutorial helpful? Let us know in the comments!
20 thoughts on “The Best Way to Prepare Fat Quarters for Quilting”
I just have laugh about your technique for ironing out the creases in FQ. Personally I love ironing anything so this has been a no issues for me and the FQ. But years ago, like very many, as a child we had 100% cotton sheets that had to be ironed even if they were hung out on the line. My mother would spray water with a spray bottle or take them off the line when they were not yet dry and put them in a “dampening bag”, a plastic type of bag with a zipper, the sheets all dampened by your method. There they would rest all crumbled up until one of us pulled the ironing out of the bag. Each of us had to iron 1 hour each day so the bag was never empty. This is what I do with FQ, tho they don’t sit for days like that but once they are spritzed, I do have them sit to get all the moisture evenly distributed, there will be then no drier and more wetter spots. Still about 4-5 minutes to iron each and they come out so perfectly smooth, now ready to make smaller cuts to put together to make something bigger, oxymoron of quilting I would say.
I can relate to your way of ironing. I was a growing teenager in the 60s. And everything was ironed. But with out enough time to do it all we would sprinkle down the items then put in a bag. After a chance to become even damp mom would put the bag in the freezer. That was the best way to get wrinkles out. This tip was given to my mom by an older lady that took in ironing.
Thanks, I like your tips. I have a quilt kit that I have had for 4 years. Just starting on it and this will be great for me to get those lines and wrinkles out!
Thank you for this tutorial. I did find it Very helpful. I am working on precision quilting without working myself up into a knot. This seems like a very gods step for me to include in my processes.
This is very helpful, I have always struggled with this. I have used the technique to dampen linen clothing so I could iron it. Thanks!
I love this. I have always struggled with getting the creases out.
Thank you for that advice on getting out the crease marks. That has always been an annoyance ironing over and over and steaming and not getting the creases out. I’ll try your method today.
Great videos! Very helpful!
On a totally different note – pun intended 😜Curious who the guitarist is on you video intro and close? I think it’s Tommy Emmanuel- but not sure?
Just tried this, and yes indeed, it works great!
Great tip!!! Thanks for all of your tips.
love it. I will be doing this with all my fat quarters in the future. Thank you.
Happy to be helpful!
Thank you so much for your website and the wonderful tips! I have 2 problems in quilting. The first is that I live in south-eastern Mexico and have a very hard time to find really good cotton fabric. I try to find fabric on line, but never find it by the yard for the backing of a quilt. The second problem is that no one here has the big quilting machine I used in the states to connect the finished quilt front to the back. It is really a gigantic task with my 1980’s Singer machine (no long arm) to make a queen size quilt. Any tips on how to do the finishing? Your pictures look so beautiful with the finished quilt top stitching, but there is no way I can achieve that. Thanks for your help!
Do you have any interest in hand quilting or finishing a quilt with ties? Both of those techniques cut out the need for a sewing machine altogether. I love hand quilting and even mixing some simple machine quilting with hand quilting. By searching “hand quilting” in the Search Posts box, you’ll find some helpful articles – https://suzyquilts.com/search-posts/?searchvar=hand+quilting&engine=default
If you would really like to use your machine to quilt, look into quilt-as-you-go tutorials. It’s not something we have covered here on the blog (yet), but it’s a workaround for quilting big things in small sections.
I liked this video. What can I do to keep the fabric from fraying, on the edge?
Inevitably the raw edges of fabric will fray. The best way to minimize that is to handle the fabrics gently. Fraying gets the worst when you machine wash and dry fabric with raw edges. You can hand wash fabric to avoid this if you are concerned about losing too much of it to fraying.
Thank you for this post . It’s very clear now , wash or not wash … It’s OK
I don’t use the washing machine, but sorry I do use liquid starch, and I starch everything in a plastic dishpan and hang on a drying rack and dry iron. It makes cutting a breeze and very flat blocks. You also discove if something bleeds and can then use Retayne to fix the dye. Color catchers just pick up loose dye but don’t set the dye – which is the issue. My favorite national show quilters, all prewash, and after quilting, block their quilts before binding to get the flatest quilt and will not take chances on a bleed.
Oh my goodness. I have been quilting/sewing for fifty years and never heard anyone talk about messaging fabric. Had a really stubborn fat quarter today, figured I had nothing to lose.. AND IT WORKED!! So easy, so fast. Thank you for the tip.
Smiling from ear to ear! You are SO adorable and quirky – I love it!!! Why not smile and have fun while learning (or in your case, while teaching)?! I have followed you for several years and you are my go-to whenever I need to learn something or refresh my memory about a technique. I appreciate that you research information so thoroughly and that you have so much knowledge and experience! I had not stopped to think that, duh!, the fabric already has starch in it from the manufacturing process so yay! I don’t need to be spraying starch when ironing out those fold lines! I love touching and playing with fabric, so massaging it is going to be the ultimate treat!! Thanks for another great tutorial, li’l Miss Suz 😍 Ok, I’ve gotta go now to find some FQs that need massaging……