Saturday, July 2, 2016

Bay Springs Lake, MS

I started piecing the Pretzel Twist top. First I cut all the scrappy strips and neatly piled them up. Then I pulled out the tiny heart background fabric yardage and cut off a chunk so I could iron it easily.

Instead of gliding easily over the fabric like it should on 100% cotton, the iron had that slight "stickiness" and distinctive smell of a polyester blend.

Oops. That's not what I wanted. I try to only buy 100% cotton.

Since I buy most of my fabrics used, I do occasionally end up with some odd pieces that weren't properly identified. I've mostly learned to pass on anything listed as a cotton blend, or at least to ask the seller if they know for sure that the fabric is all cotton. This one slipped through the system, darn it!

The general consensus in the quilting world is that "good" quilts "should" be 100% cotton, so in the past I've gotten rid of anything containing any polyester. But I really had my heart set on using this heart print. What to do, what to do? I hit Google and started researching online.

The main reasons to avoid polyester blends seem to be:

1. It doesn't breathe as well as cotton so the quilt will be "hot."
2. It doesn't shrink so the quilt won't crinkle up properly.
3. It doesn't hold a crease like cotton, so it will harder to press quilt blocks properly.
4. It doesn't stretch along the grain as much as cotton, so there isn't as much leeway in piecing blocks.
5. It's significantly stronger than cotton so it will tear the cotton seams apart somehow.

Hmm, interesting. In my limited experience:

1. There are lots of polyester blend battings on the market, offered by all the reputable batting companies. Surely the batting has a much more dramatic affect on how warm a quilt is?
2. I have mixed pre-washed, pre-shrunk cottons with unwashed, unshrunk cottons in the same quilt with absolutely no mis-matched crinkling, so I suspect a poly blend would also work fine. Crinkliness seems to be much more affected by the density of the quilting design. I've also used poly batting, which doesn't shrink much, with no crinkle issues.
3. Poly does iron differently (see stickiness and smell above), so block pressing is something I'd have to try for myself.
4. Accurate piecing should mitigate most issues with lack of stretch.
5. The relative strengths of the two materials seems to be a complete nonissue to me. If you're yanking on your quilt so much that the seams split or the cotton tears, blaming the polyester content is disingenuous. That kind of force will part the weakest link, so don't abuse your quilts.

What I also found online that is the sites that clearly stated that polyester blends should not be used were usually sites that were selling cotton fabrics. On forums where quilters actually asked each other about different fabrics, many people said they had successfully used polyester blends in their quilts for years. In fact, they said those quilts wore better and washed up brighter, without fading over time.

So clearly, the answer is that I need to try it for myself. And as you can see from the top photo, I cut up some tiny heart background pieces and started sewing. This is a scrap quilt, so if it really turns out badly I won't have sacrificed much.

Isn't it a sweet little print? The fabric is actually quite thin and smooth, like fine shirting material. It's almost impossible to tell which is the right side. When I work with batiks, I also have trouble telling right from wrong side, so I just don't sweat it, and that's what I'm doing here.

So far, the piecing is going just fine. Each unit being sewn together has at least once chunk of 100% cotton, so there's a little give and stretch. It is definitely true that the poly blend isn't holding a crease as well, but this block only has a few seams that need to match, so we'll see how that plays out when joining blocks later. For now, I'm just concentrating on how I need to press the ones that allow any block to join to any other block properly.


In other news, we passed through the 4th tallest lock in the United States, the Jamie Whitten. It was kind of eerie to be at the bottom of this dark canyon before being lifted over 80 feet back into the sunlight!


  1. The heart fabric is so sweet. I'm with you on the smell when ironing polyester fabric.

    I agree with you on the try it for yourself. Of everything you've listed, the one I would pay attention to is the relative strengths of the fabric types. Only in that if I was mixing fabrics I wouldn't do stitch in the ditch on seams that are mixed fabric types - that where you would get stress that over time (years and years....) could lead to higher than normal wear and tear. Other than that I can't see where it would make a difference in a quilt.

    I'm curious to hear the results of your experimenting.

  2. My Mom used cotton/ ploy blends and they have done nicely. It is true about that little strech to help in piecing. An over all quilting pattern that crosses seams should help with any stress on the seams. And with kids quilts there is a lot is stress. I just repaired a quilt I made my son about 25 years ago. It is also. Interesting to see how each fabric has stood up over time. It is necessarily the most expensive that has not faded or withstood stress. 😊 Love the picture of the lock. 80' is a long ways how to rise.

  3. That's quite a lock! I really like that cupcake fabric. Surely it's time for a little dessert! ;)

  4. If you love it, I'd use it without a doubt!

  5. For me it is the smell when pressing that keeps me from using the poly-cotton fabrics. I had enough of them when I did custom dressmaking. As far as shrinkage and crinkling, I think the back of the quilt's shrinkage creates the crinkling, not necessarily the fabrics in the top.


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