Sunday, February 23, 2020

Making quilts with knit fabrics

Can you make a quilt with knit fabrics? With thoughtful consideration for tools and process, it is definitely achievable! Here's what I learned from this experiment.
Choose a stretch, knit, jersey or ball point needle for sewing with knit fabrics.

What to do with knit fabric scraps?
I love scrappy quilts! I also embrace the challenge of working with scraps—for bags, charity quilts, pouches, wall pieces and bed quilts. I had several small samples of Art Gallery knit fabrics [95% cotton, 5% spandex] that were languishing in the scrap box. The pieces were not large enough for a garment (without extensive patchwork, color blocking and searching for an appropriate coordinating fabric), so another solution was needed.

Knit patchwork quilt top.

While visiting with Jan and Andrea, shopkeepers at Bumbletees Fabrics, the possibility of successfully making a quilt with knit fabrics was planted in my mind. They showed me a quilted throw made with a beautiful Art Gallery floral knit [Floral Glow Twilit from the Autumn Vibes collection]. The throw was free-motion quilted on a long arm using Cuddle fabric for the backing. This throw has a major snuggle factor!

Quilted knit throw

So, with knit scraps in hand, I embarked on another kitty quilt to experiment with quiltmaking with knits. (The kitties love it when I do fabric experiments.)

Choosing tools and materials appropriate for sewing and quilting knits
Needles: I've learned from past projects that using a sewing machine needle made for knit fabrics—ballpoint, stretch, jersey, knit—is imperative. 
Thread: I used an Aurifil 50 wt cotton for piecing and WonderFil Tutti [50 wt. variegated cotton] on the top and DecoBob [80 wt. poly] in the bobbin for quilting.
Stitch selection: I used the lightning bolt stitch #17 on my Janome for piecing. This stitch accommodates the stretch of the knit fabrics without popping the stitching when the fabric stretches.

WonderFil DecoBob 80wt for bobbin, Tutti variegated on top.
Use a needle designed for knit fabrics.

Cotton Batting: I was able to zigzag stitch batting scraps together to get the size needed.

Piecing batting scraps with a 3-step zigzag stitch.

Backing fabric: Cotton flannel was used for the backing.
Basting: I pin basted the quilt sandwich. Because the knit fabric wanted to roll at the edges, I found that pin basting very close to the edge was very helpful. I think spray basting would be a good basting solution as well.

Pin basting very close to the edge to minimize fabric curling.

Free motion quilting on knits 
The next conundrum would be the free-motion quilting on a "stretchy" fabric. Even with the presser foot raised to the highest position, the open-toe free-motion [hopping] foot dragged in places and caused pleats.

Pleats and tucks caused by the presser foot during quilting.

The next foot I tried was the free-motion [cupped] zigzag cording foot (below center). This foot dragged on the knit top more than the open-toe foot. Hmmmm....

Left: open-toe free-motion foot. Center: zigzag free-motion foot. Right: convertible free-motion foot.

The successful foot for free-motion quilting across the knit fabrics was the convertible free-motion foot (above right). It does not hop when quilting. The presser foot height was set so the foot just hovered over the quilt top without dragging on the fabric. (Be sure the presser foot is down/engaged when adjusting height so you can see how close the foot is to the fabric.)

Close-up of quilting and scrappy binding.

Binding: regular (woven) quilting cotton was used for the scrappy binding which was attached by machine with a blind hem stitch.

Shrinkage: After washing, only the cotton binding showed signs of shrinkage. The quilted knit fabrics looked the the same before and after washing the finished quilt.

Finished quilt: 28" x 24"

The flannel backing is an all-over cat print.

Flannel cat print backing.

Kitty Approved!

Stan Leigh approves!

This was a good experiment. Now I have notes and experience for future quilted projects that include knit fabrics. Give knit quilts a try! Just think through the process and it won't be as difficult as you might presume.

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