Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Quilting with Linen

I love linen - the nubby texture, the subtle color variations.  My very first quilt was sashed with 100% natural linen and since then I've used it in all sorts of works, both 100% linen and linen/cotton blends like Essex.  Unfortunately, of the three quilts made with linen that I kept and subjected to multiple machine washings, all three showed linen to be an untrustworthy bedfellow.  In each quilt the linen unraveled to a greater or lesser extent at the seams, so that the seam stitches remained in tact, but many seams gave way.  So unfair!

Sometimes I think I'll just give up linen for good, but one way or another I seem to find myself letting it back into my life.  In fact, I'm including lots of linen in my current quilt-in-progress!  Today I thought I'd share some advice for other quilters who find themselves falling for linen's charming ways.  If you'll be combining linen and quilting cotton in your patchwork, take heed!

Linen Patchwork without Regrets

no. 1  Always prewash linen.  Linen may shrink at a different rate than your quilting cottons.  To reduce stress at the seams and to reduce shrinkage in those critical linen seam allowances, machine wash and dry your linen to induce shrinkage before cutting and sewing.

no. 2  Avoid lightweight fabrics.  Beware of patching linen with fabrics such as voile, cotton lawn and double gauze.  These substrates are even lighter weight than quilting cotton and thus even more likely to fail.  The difference in fabric weight increases stress at the seams, making seams more likely to fall apart.

no. 3  Starch if shifting is a problem.  When quilting with 100% linen you may find that accurate cutting and stitching is made quite difficult due to the shifty nature of linen, which often has a loose weave.  Spray starch or Best Press (my favorite) on linen before cutting.  Turn the fabric over and press on the opposite side of the fabric to set the starch.  This will temporarily stiffen the fabric.  Add as many layers of starch as you like!

no. 4  Consider a large seam allowance.  Since linen unravels much easier than quilting cotton, the seam allowances are prone to unravel, causing seams to fail.  Increase your seam allowance to 1/2" to greatly improve quilt durability.  Most of the time, you'll want to increase all your seam allowances in the quilt to 1/2" for straightforward sewing.

no. 5  Sew with a short stitch length.  An easy and convenient way to make linen patchwork more durable is to sew with a shorter stitch length, such as 1.5.  It is harder for the linen to unravel through the stitched seam if the stitches are closer together. 

no. 6  Consider finishing linen seams.  If you did not use a larger seam allowance,  I strongly suggest you finish all linen seams with a zigzag stitch to guard against unraveling.  After sewing your 1/4" seam and before pressing, sew a zigzag stitch along the raw edge of the seam allowances.  The zigzag should not go past the straight stitch, so that it does not show on the right side.   The zigzag will fall slightly off the edge of the seam allowances, wrapping and somewhat encasing the raw edges.  Then press seams to the side.

 finish linen patchwork seams

If you used 1/2" seam allowances, you could finish seams with a pinked edge.  Run a rotary cutter fitted with a pinking blade just along the raw edge, creating an uneven edge that is less prone to unraveling.

no. 7  Quilt generously.  If you're ever tempted (as I am) to quilt minimally, resist that temptation when quilting your linen patchwork.  Quilting over seams is an excellent way to reinforce them!  How much is enough?  One good rule of thumb is that you should not be able to put your palm down anywhere on the quilt without covering some quilting.  A linen patchwork quilt is not a good candidate for tying, in my opinion.

quilting with linen

In my current quilt, I have included both 100% mocha brown linen and Essex linen/cotton blend in natural.  Since I had already started cutting the diamonds for this quilt before deciding to add linen, I was already committed to 1/4" seam allowances.  I prewashed my linen and am treating linen seams specially.  For linen seams, I am stitching with a short stitch length and am finishing seam allowances with a zigzag stitch before pressing those seams to the side.

It's a little extra work, but I'm convinced it's necessary when quilting with linen!


31 comments:

  1. I love the look of Essex but haven't used it so far. Have you ever tried any of the fray stop products?

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    1. Hm... I have Fray Check, but that would be slow and expensive to use on all the seams, right? Maybe there's a cheaper, more appropriate product for this kind of thing?

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    2. I've seen a spray version, called "Sullivan's Fray Stop Spray." I found it on joann.com, but there are probably other varieties out there. Spray seems easier than the liquid plastic.

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    3. Yes, that would definitely be more practical than Fray Check! Thanks for sharing.

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    4. Fray check does eventually wash out, I wonder if the spray would as well. Thanks for the timely linen advice :)

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    5. Would serving/overlocking the seams work?

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    6. Jacqui, I think that would help. That's what I did with my next quilt that included some linen.

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  2. I love linen, but it is so tricksy. Like you, I've had the best luck when finishing the seams and using a very generous seam allowance. For linen, I also quilt in the ditch, and then just slightly to the edge on each side of the linen seams--it helps hold the linen in place, I think, and prevents shifting. I know a lot of modern quilters who aren't keen on quilt-in-the-ditch, but in this case, I've found it really helpful.

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  3. Do you think a fusible woven stabilizer, like the product they use for t shirt quilts would work under the linen? I haven't tried this myself but I have used it with vintage/ fragile fabrics with good results.

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  4. If you wanted to press your quilt seams open, you could also zigzag stitch or serge (if you own a serger) around the edges of your patchwork BEFORE sewing them together. I've done this with ravel-y material when garment sewing and it works well. You just need to make sure to stay within the seam allowance.

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  5. Thanks for all the tips, Rachel and commenters.

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  6. I generally restrict my linen use to bags and the like, but I agree it does tend to fray more than quilting cottons. I finish the seams (whenever I remember!) with my overlocker or a zigzag.

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  7. I saw that someone else said this above also, but I use Pellon SF101 when I use linen it makes it stiffer, I just roll it out with the linen and iron large pieces (after pre-washing the linen of course) and then cut to the desired sized and sew them to the cotton fabrics, after quilting you don't even see that it is interfaced.

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  8. I always think of you when I see people using essex linen! Hopefully your message will reach others, I know it's made me think twice. Looks like another tasty quilt Rachel x

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  9. I have never used linen in my quilting thus far, but I have always loved the look of the fabric and the texture it brings to projects. Thanks for sharing some insightful tips ~ can't wait for your chevron quilt big reveal!

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  10. I see some "Pretty Potent". Such a dramatic line.

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  11. Thanks for this wonderful advice. I love linen and hope to use it in my quilting more.

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  12. Thank you for the tips! I have been very interested recently in using linen for quilts and other projects, so your help is very timely.

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  13. Thank you so much for your valuable insight on linen. I bought my first cut of linen for a background down in Paducah, but have not used it yet. I will definitely try finshing the seams and prewashing. One of the many reasons I totally love reading your blog, thanks :)

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  14. Thank you so much for these tips! I will put them to good use, since I have some linen scraps I hope to use in a quilted goodie soon!

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  15. Wish I'd seen this post sooner! I have just finished a twin size quilt top using Liberty and Essex yarn dyed linen. Some of my seams are 1/8" in parts because I was using scraps of Liberty. And I've pressed seams open. Now I'm not sure it's even worth the effort of finishing because it sounds so likely to fall apart! I guess if I do finish it I will take the advice of an earlier commenter and stitch in the ditch to reinforce seams. Disappointing, though!

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    1. Oh no! I'm so sorry, Kate. You already put so much work into it, since it twin sized. Another idea is to zigzag stitch quilt to reinforce all seams. I think that would be even stronger than stitch in the ditch, if you like the look. Good luck!

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    2. Now I'm wondering if this is the place to use the iron-on Pelion product (very light weight, of course). Wouldn't it sort of fuse everything into one? Ptofessional Machine quilting would be a must, I think, as the added layer would make it thick and difficult to hand-quilt. I might try that, myself! Good luck, please post how your quilt came out.

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  16. Dear Rachel, I'm about to embark on my first linen quilt for a friend. She provided the linen and I the kona cotton. Its a 4"x8" flying geese quilt, anyway. I'm committed to the 1/4" seam as you were on the quilt you shared in this post. I plan to follow your foot steps by short stitching the seam, zig zag seam allowance, press to one side. I was wondering if you could ask your friend how the quilt has held up? Any notice of fraying at the seams from washing? thanks!

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  17. I have a small old hand spun, handwoven table cloth that was a wedding gift in 1959. It has been used a few times and washed but it sits in a box, I think it is a shame. I think I will use it in a quilt, something modern. The hints for using linen will be useful. Thanks.

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