Fabrics 101: Quilter's Cotton


Fabrics 101: Embroidering on Quilter's Cotton


If you're like a lot of embroiderers, you may not have given embroidering on quilter's cotton any special consideration. After all, it's just "regular" fabric, right? Not so fast. Quilter's cotton is a soft and lightweight fabric, made to be cut, pressed, and sewn easily, as well as cozy to the touch. You can get great results embroidering on it - as always, your embroidery will look the best if you get to know your fabric first.


Choosing Your Materials


FABRIC: Quilting is so popular these days, the quilter's cotton section of your local fabric store probably needs its own zip code. Not all these fabrics are created equal. Feel the fabric with your hands and hold it up to the light to see how flimsy or hefty it is. The more stable the fabric, the better it will stand up to embroidery.

Part of the fun of quilter's cottons is all the fun shades and prints that are available. As with any embroidery project, if you choose a printed fabric, make sure it will complement the design, not compete or clash. There are lots of subtle "textured" prints that would make a fine backdrop for embroidery - don't be afraid to experiment!

If you can, spring for Kona cotton. This fabric has a higher thread count than average quilter's cottons, giving it more body. It might be a bit more expensive than others, but it will yield better results for embroidery because it's more stable.

No matter what fabric you choose, pre-shrink it thoroughly. The challenge with quilter's cotton is to avoid puckering - you don't want to embroider a perfect quilt only to have it shrink and pucker in the wash.

DESIGN: Choose designs that are small and light enough that the quilter's cotton can support them properly. Lightweight designs like redwork and toile are always a good bet, but you don't have to be limited to these! We've found that filled designs up to about 6" across can stitch out well on quilter's cotton. For this example, we chose one of the Art Nouveau Floral Squares, with a mix of open areas and heavier filled stitching.

NEEDLE: Use a 75/11 sharp needle to get a crisp design.

STABILIZER: Always use a cutaway stabilizer. For lighter designs such as redwork or toile, a very light stabilizer such as Sulky Soft 'n Sheer or Floriani No Show Mesh is a good choice. For heavier, filled designs, use a medium weight cutaway stabilizer.

Since quilter's cotton is fairly thin, you may be worried about cutaway stabilizer showing through the finished project. If this is an issue, try leaving the stabilizer on the back of the entire quilt block. This will make the quilt a little stiffer than it would be otherwise, but it's an effective way to eliminate show-through. Pick your priorities.

We don't recommend using tear-away stabilizer with quilter's cotton. Tear-away stabilizer is meant to come apart easily so that you can tear it - so it will also gradually fall apart with everyday wash and wear. As this happens, you can get little "lumps" of stabilizer under the fabric. Since quilter's cotton is so thin, any broken-down stabilizer will be visible through the top. To keep your embroidery looking smooth in the long run, use cutaway stabilizer.



Embroidering on Quilter's Cotton


HOOPING: Spray your stabilizer generously with spray adhesive (I use Gunold KK100), then smooth the fabric on top. Hoop the two layers together as tightly as possible. Using spray adhesive is especially important here because it will help you hoop the layers together tightly. Firm hooping, along with a well-chosen stabilizer, will help avoid puckering.

Embroider the design.

FINISHING: Either cut away the stabilizer close to the design, or leave it so the stabilizer covers the entire back of the quilt block. Leaving the stabilizer is an option if you're worried a cut edge will show through the thin fabric, but it will make the fabric slightly stiffer.


Here's an example of a design with heavier filled areas stitched on quilter's cotton. Quality fabric, sturdy stabilizer, and tight hooping are the keys to success.


When stitching lighter designs such as redwork, use a lightweight cutaway stabilizer for a natural, quality appearance.

Stitching tips for quilter's cotton:

Needle 75/11 sharp needle; an embroidery needle may also be used
Stabilizer Cutaway (2.5 ounce)
Design Choice Choose designs of low to medium complexity

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