Friday, November 8, 2013

Fabric Selection - Nativity in the Trees - Quilt Along - Lesson 1

Welcome to Lesson 1 of our Nativity in the Trees Quilt Along!  The beginning of these quilt-alongs are always so exciting for me.  As of today, there are already 20 people signed up and I'm sure we'll be having more quilters join us along the way.

And you can see the other lessons in this series here:

 Lesson 1 - Fabric Selection

Lesson 2 - Sewing Your Greens
Lesson 3 - Cutting Your Triangles

Lesson 4 - Basic Applique

Lesson 5 - Sewing Your Triangles

Lesson 6 - Advanced Machine Applique

Even though our quilt looks like it has a lot of pieces, because we'll take advantage of strip piecing, it's really very doable.  This might not be a great choice for your very first quilt, but if you've made a quilt or two before this is a great way to stretch your skills a bit, even if you still consider yourself a beginner.  Our finished quilt will measure approx. 39 x 59 inches.  Measurements for a table runner are at the bottom of the post.

First, a few general notes about fabric.  There is a lot of variety in fabric quality even amoung 100% cotton "quilt" fabric.  I used to think that the only difference in "designer" fabric and chain-store fabric was the price and a designer name, and I'm definitely a bargain-type shopper.  As I've become more familiar with more "designer" fabrics, you really can tell a difference.  The printing itself is crisper, the fabric is softer and thicker.  If you shop an an independent fabric store (such as my sponsors that you can see in my sidebar) you can be guaranteed that you're buying fabric that is high quality and will last.  In my experience shopping at chain stores, you want to really take a look at the fabric itself and not just at the print.  The chain stores often have some higher quality fabrics as well as some fabrics of lesser quality, so you want to be careful about what you're buying.  If you're investing your time into making a quilt, you want it to last.

 You'll notice that most of my fabric choices are not "Christmas" fabrics.  I think the green with gold swirls came from the Christmas section at the fabric store.  That's mostly because of what I had in my stash.  I generally pick up fabric I like when I see it on sale and buying non-holiday fabric ensures it can be used in the greatest variety of projects.  Feel free to use as Christmasy or as non-Christmasy prints as you want as you're choosing your fabrics.

To wash or not to wash?  As a general rule, I wash my fabrics when I buy them, although more and more quilters are preferring to use unwashed fabrics.  (I think that's largely due to the rising popularity of pre-cuts which can't easily be prewashed.)  Since some of my fabrics had already been prewashed, I went ahead and prewashed all of the fabrics I was using.  If all or most of your fabrics are unwashed, and you prefer to use them that way, then go ahead and leave them unwashed.  Unwashed fabrics are a little more pleasant to cut and work with.

So lets start by talking about the greens first.  This is a great way to use up some scraps and smaller cuts of of fabric you may have left over from other projects.  You'll want to look for greens in a variety of shades, ranging from dark to light.  I wanted to use as many deep, rich greens as I could, so I started with those and then added in some lighter greens that coordinated well.

I laid them out together and in some cases, pulled a few out and switched them for something else.  The greens I chose not to use here, would work totally fine for the pattern, I just didn't feel like they meshed well with my other choices.

Emerald, lime, and turquoise greens are REALLY popular in fabric lines lately, even Christmas fabric, so those types of brighter and greens on the bluer and yellower ends of the spectrum may be easier to find and could be make an amazing quilt.  Since I'm planning to hang my quilt in our entryway, the truer deep greens worked better with my decor, so I chose those.  So definitely keep in mind where you're planning to use (or gift) the quilt as you're choosing your fabrics.
(Those Moda precuts are part of my giveaway here, ending later today...but it's an example of a Christmas line with turquoise and pink!)

You could even get adventurous and use an accent color in there with the greens somewhere.  One of the fun things about a quilt along is seeing everyone's different take on the pattern.

Fabric Scale
One last thing to consider when choosing your fabrics is scale.  That refers to the size of the print and/or repeat in the fabric.  This pattern is pretty versatile and you can choose anything from very small scale to large scale fabrics.  If you make sure to have some variety, it will give your quilt more visual interest and give it more depth.  Quilts with only very small scale prints tend to look "flat," while quilts with only larger scale prints tend to look "busy."

Here are some examples of varying scale in different fabrics.  (You might recognize some of these examples from the Hexies by Halves Quilt-Along)  Each picture shows approximately a 4-inch square of the print.

Large scale - You see much of the overall design.

Medium scale - You can see most of the elements of the design inside the square.

Small scale - These are small enough that there are many of the design within a 4-inch square and in fact you probably have a lot of repeats within a 1 inch square.

The fabrics that I chose for my greens mostly fell in the medium to small scale category.

Background Fabric
And that brings us to the background fabric.  I've been in love with black and white prints lately.  When I first envisioned this quilt, I'd planned on using a variety of black and white prints for the background.  However, when I saw this fabric Black, White, and Currant lV Gray and Black Large Flower Swirl from Henry Glass at Sisters and Quilters, I just knew I wanted to use it for the whole quilt.  I love the contrast of the black, and different greys and the pattern reminds me of snowflakes.  I also really like how having a single background fabric brings the scappiness of the trees together.

If I'd been choosing a different print, I think my second choice would have been the strings and dots ( was an end-of-bolt piece and I'm not sure where to get it now).  Any of these could have made good choices though.  The polka dots and the swirly flowers on the right are both from the tuxedo collection by Riley Blake.  The flowers came from Sisters and Quilters here

My sponsors also have some fun prints that would work well.  This Architexures Topography print in Navy or the Ink Spots print from Quilt Sandwich would be fun ones.

If you're looking for something a little less bold than black and white, grey or aqua and white can be a nice option.  I love this In From the Cold Icicyle or Aspen Frost at Sisters and Quilters.

Or if you're looking for more traditional snowflake prints, you might like the Holiday Frost line or these reindeer could be fun playing hide and seek among the Christmas trees.  Both of these prints are from the Holiday Frost line by Henry Glass and are available at You Keep Me in Stitches.  (Patty is offering Pieces by Polly readers a 20% discount off EVERYTHING on in her store including these prints Just use the Coupon Code "Polly Pieces" at checkout through Nov. 15th.)

There are also a lot of black and white fabrics on my Fabric Pinterest Board.

So now for the fabric measurements.  My finished quilt is approx. 39 inches by 59 inches.  A typical throw size quilt is around 42 inches by 60 inches, so mine is a tad narrow.  If you want to make your quilt a little wider, you could add an extra tree to each row, but keep in mind that will put your width over 44 inches which makes things a little trickier with your backing fabric since most fabric is 42-44 inches wide.

I chose 7 green fabrics and since they were from my stash, I have varying amounts of them, although many of them were in 1/4 yard cuts.  You choose more fabrics or fewer, but you'll want a total of 1 3/4 yards of assorted green.  If you're buying fabric just for this quilt, then choosing 7 quarter yard cuts should be perfect.  I prefer quarter yard cuts to fat quarters because you end up with strips the width of the fabric.  However, fat quarters will work'll just cut twice as many strips and sew them into a long one, so it's a little more cutting and sewing.

You'll need 1/1/4 yards of your background fabric, although that doesn't leave you much wiggle room for shrinkage or cutting mistakes, so you may want to go with 1 1/2 yards to play it safe.

You'll need 1/3 yard of your binding fabric.  I'm planning for mine to be green, so you may want to buy extra of your favorite green print, your background print, or something else entirely.  This will be for binding it by cutting 2 inch strips and making our own 1/2 wide-double fold binding tape.  If you will be using a different binding method, then you may need slightly more fabric.

You'll need 1 3/4 yards of your backing fabric.  I always seem to forget to plan ahead for my backing, so I ended up piecing a couple prints from my stash plus some green solid, so something like that is always an option too if you really want to go for a use-up-your-stash kind of quilt.  And if you're the type who like to bind a quilt by folding the backing fabric over the quilt top, that will work well with this quilts narrower width, but you'd probably want to get 2 yards of backing in that case.

And last but not least...the appliques.  Hopefully you've got scraps that will work in your stash.  You'll want some golden yellow, dark brown, and light/medium brown scraps for the star, nativity scene, nativity background and tree trunks.  Hopefully you'll have those in your stash, but if you need to buy fabric for them, a fat quarter should be fine.

Thread to match your appliques.  I love machine stitched applique as a really easy way to add interest to a quilt...the downside is you need matching thread, so you'll want thread to match your star and browns.  You do not need thread to match the background of your nativity scene.  I used green thread for piecing the quilt.

You will also need 1/2 yard of Heat'n Bond Lite (affiliate link) or similar applique adhesive.  You can buy packages or yardage of it as just about any fabric store, or even at Wal-Mart.  It comes about 17 inches wide, so half a yard isn't as much as it sounds like.  You may need to buy it in a larger package that what you need, but this stuff is awesome for quilts and I use it when I applique T-shirts as well.

1 3/4 yard of your favorite batting or 1 package of "crib" sized batting.  There are lots of batting sales this time of year or use a coupon...don't want to be buying this full price.

We'll talk more about this later, but you'll also want your favorite white or cream quilting thread and a free motion quilting foot for your machine if you don't have one already.  (Or you can choose to do straight line quilting and/or quilt or tie your quilt by hand.)  I'm still a beginner at free-motion quilting, but I'll share what I've learned and recommend some tutorials that have helped me learn.  I really love how the swirling lines are reminiscent of snow.

I'm generally don't add a lot of borders to my quilts, but if you'd a border for yours, you'll want to buy fabric for that.  If you need help figuring out how much fabric you'd need for a border, send me an email and we can discuss it.

For making a table runner:
Sorry I don't have the sewn example of the table runner ready yet, but I will soon.  The finished size will be about 11 inches by 39 inches...but you can make it shorter to suit your needs by leaving off a tree or two.  Because we need a certain width of fabric to cut out the large triangles, these measurements will actually give you enough  for one table runner and lots of scraps.  If you plan to make two table runners, then you'll need to double the binding and backing fabric, but the listed measurements for the background and green fabric will probably be enough for two.

1/2 yard of background fabric, a little less than 1/2 yard green fabric strips, brown scraps for the trunks and nativity, gold scrap for the star 1/3 yard batting (100% cotton if there's a chance you'll be placing hot dishes on it), 6 inches of binding fabric, 1/3 yard of backing fabric, 4-5 inches of Heat'n Bond.

Be sure to sign-up!
If you're new to the quilt-along be sure to sign up.  This way I can email you each time a new lesson is posted.  The detailed sewing instructions will appear on my blog in the form of blog posts which will be available until about a week after the quilt-along is over.  Once the quilt-along is over, I'll turn the instructions into a pattern that will be available in my shop.  For those who sign up and and send me a picture of your progress (even if you don't finish before the end), I'll send you a free copy of the finished PDF pattern.  If you sign-up for the quilt-along, but never quite get started (which has happened to me a few times), you'll get a coupon code to by the pattern at a 50% discount. 

Please show my sponsors some love...
Julia Rotham Ride Bikes from Quilt Sandwich
Spring House/Queen Anne fabric from You Keep Me in Stitches

Dr. Seuss Fat Quarter Bundle from Sisters and Quilters
Modern Black and Gold Hexies Baby Quilt - Pieces by Polly

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  1. Hancock (yeah, chain store, but it's what I've got access to besides the dreaded WalMart) .... is having a great sale Monday so I'll see what I can find, and if I don't like what I find I'll be online ordering Monday night! (I have some of those black and white prints also from my hexies by halves fabrics, but not enough for this sadly.) I'll probably be doing the table runner just for time's sake, but we'll see. :-)

  2. I'm going the FQ route from my stash as my DH would have a conniption if I have any more fabric delivered to this house! Lol! Should I wash these FQs and yardages before using them for this project. What is your opinion on this?
    Thank you

  3. Hi Polly,

    I'm in! I think instead of the full quilt, I will do a wall hanging instead. I wonder if the table runner could double as a wall hanging...anyway, I'll have to play with the dimensions of the forest to make it work. I definitely have enough green in my stash for this one!

    By the way, my mother-in-law showed me how to bind a quilt this week, so I'm about half-way through binding the hexie quilt. I'm excited! 4 months is world record speed for me to finish a quilt--my average is more like 4 years. So this is good.

    I don't think of myself as a quilter, but I love your patterns and keep wanting to try them out. :)
    Take care,


  4. What a nice xmas design! I have never done a quilt-along before, so I am excited about this. I have tons of greens -- to judge by my fabric stash, green must be my favorite color! -- and everything else on hand as well, so I am good to go! Bring it on ... !


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