Experience IS a good teacher!

“Practice makes perfect” is a pretty common concept…and it is true. That said, I am thinking about what we learn from experience. Experience IS  a good teacher! Since this blog is focused on quilting, I want to talk about some of my experience over the 3 years, or so, that I have been at this craft. More specifically, I want to talk about prepping your fabric….

I hope some experienced quilters will join in on this topic with comments about what they do. Sharing can only help each other, and especially help those starting out. That is, unless they tend to be like me and have to learn for themselves! It is not my most proud revelation, but true. Today’s topic is an example.

I am following along with Meghan and the Sienna Burst QAL. “This week is all about getting ourselves set up for success to start tackling the blocks. Starch, iron, cut; mix and match fabrics and learn all about HRT.” What I want to drill down on even more in this post is about the STARCH.

Side note: I previously posted on “Quilter’s Moonshine”. Meghan offers up her own version, that I have heard works very well too! You need starch…lots of it!!!!

Preparation…Meghan says to Starch, Iron, Cut. I decided I was going to do every step this time, as directed. In my EXPERIENCE, I have seen how fabric can shrink up when being pressed with either water or starch. You might think this only happens with lower-end fabrics. I hope the pictures I am including below will help you see that it happens…and not only with cheaper fabrics!


This is my first piece of fabric. It is Kona cotton, an acceptable quilting fabric from Robert Kaufman. You will note that I have folded it flat and removed the selvedge. (Another post for selvedges, one day…I love them!) On the cutting mat, you can see where the edges fall. Right side at the 1″ mark, left side at 22″.


Zoomed in a little to show the 22″ marking. The other side is at the 1″ marking.

Now I will press with starch. (Yes, the following pictures are the same fabric…just different lighting.)


Now I have pressed one time with starch. Do you notice those bumps? Those are created from the fabric shrinking in some places and not others. Probably not enough saturation with the starch!

Second…and third…pressing with starch has been done…

20180316_1124561699311820.jpg Now that looks good! 

I attempted to get videos of the process…

You can see the bumps almost disappear when the starch is sprayed on them! This process took THREE times starching and pressing. Prepping about 1.25 yards of fabric used about 12 ounces of starch. Yep! that is why “Frugal Frieda” here likes the homemade version!

Now, I hope the pictures below will tell you, in plain sight, why this preparation is important! Remember above, the fabric was laid out on the mat starting at the 1″ mark and it measured to the 22″ mark. The following pictures are after the starching process.

We have lost 1/2″ in width.
Notice the difference in the bottom that WAS straight.
Notice the variation in width and length across the piece of fabric that WAS straight before starching and pressing.
These are the trimmings left after cutting the fabric to be straight, squared up, and ready to cut.

So why is this important? What EXPERIENCE has proven to me is that if this process is not done first, your blocks will likely be really out of shape and proportion when you starch and press them AFTER you have made them! This results in seams and blocks that don’t match up and much frustration. Also, if your fabric is preshrunk and crisp before you sew, you will have a much better chance at perfect points!

If you want to learn by doing, go for it! That will work too, but once you have progressed to the point of buying quality fabrics, working more challenging patterns, and expecting a well-finished piece, you will understand..JUST DO IT! Prep your fabics!

From one who learned by doing, had some good outcomes, and some very frustrating finishes!

Happy Quilting!

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11 thoughts on “Experience IS a good teacher!

  1. This is a very interesting and informative post, thanks :). I’ve never used starch, but now I realize I maybe have to at least try it sometime to see if I like.

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  2. Great article! I’ve never done an experiment like this but I was aware, through experience, that fabric has the potential to shrink. Pressing with starch or water from a spray bottle can and often does distort dry fabric. When pressing, not ironing, fabric for quilting it’s important to lift and press the iron, not glide. The movement created by gliding an iron over fabric can lead to distortion. For best results, wash your fabric before doing anything else. Unless the fabric pieces are very large I wash them in a pail or bucket with Dawn soap and hot water (keeping darks and red fabrics separate from light colors). After rising completely I sandwich them between clean dry towels to absorb as much of the water as possible. Once they reach the damp stage I neatly fold them to fit on a hanger and hang them to dry the rest of the way. Once dry I use a spray bottle filled with water to remove wrinkles and press with a steam iron. I seldom use starch. I’ve found that the starch builds up on my iron and pressing board. This buildup eventually leads to staining on my fabrics. I’m sure this is way to much information…but you asked. 🙂 P.S. I choose to wash the smaller pieces of fabric in a bucket rather than a machine because it’s gentler and creates very little fraying.

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  3. If I am washing a big piece of fabric (a yard or more) I serge or zigzag the raw edges together. It’s much less mess in the washer and dryer. (The hubs was complaining about strings on his clothes 😬)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi! Thanks for both comments. I suspected quilters would comment on washing. I know some do and some don’t. As I mentioned, and you addressed, in response to Judemadeit’s comment…I have avoided it because of ravel in and know I could finish the edges first. I actually just did that a few days ago on some fabric I ordered from Spoonflower. I must admit that I am considering it again though!

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Well, I just something! I had no idea fabric shrinks by startching. Wouldn’t washing your fabric first do the same, without using all that startch? I don’t usually wash first, but I think I will now. Thanks for the pictorial!

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    1. Well, that was my thought and I didn’t mention it so you experienced quilters could reply…hopefully mentioning that. Frankly, I don’t like washing first because of fraying. AND I would still have to starch when it came out of the dryer for those crisp cutting and piecing lines! Thanks, Jude!

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