This is a general informational sheet brought to you by StudioE Fabrics. Our line of shot cottons, calledPeppered Cottons, has been selling well and we thought a how-to might be a smart idea. Feel free to post this in your shop and share it with your customers.
What Peppered Cottons are. These are 100% shot cotton fabrics that almost fall into the solid color category. The term ‘shot’ means the weft is “shot through” the warp but uses a discernibly different color thread. Because the warp (lengthwise threads) and the weft (side to side threads) are different colors, the resulting shades are muted and variable combinations of the original colors. For instance, a black warp thread plus a blue warp thread woven together makes for a very dark blue such as Ink color# 45. When a fabric like Ink is viewed from different angles, the blues and blacks produce subtly different visual effects. Above all, shot cottons have a tactile handwoven quality and display deep colors well since all threads are dyed prior to weaving. There is no wrong or right side to shot cottons–a plus for quiltmakers.
Peppered Cottons on the bolt. All shot cottons, when being readied for winding on to cardboard bolts, are folded double, pressed, and heated in a process called calendaring. Calendaring makes the winding process easier and tighter on the bolt. Without washing, calendared fabrics have a sheen and very soft hand. Art quilters, who do not need to wash their fabrics, can use shot cottons straight from the bolt. Most quiltmakers will want to wash the fabric prior to starting a quilt project.
How to Wash. Keeping the fabric in its doubled-form, slightly trim a little angled ‘ear’ from both selvedge edges of the length of fabric. Unfold the fabric. If washing small lengths, put the shot cotton pieces into a lingerie bag or knotted pillow case (give the fabric room to move—not a tight knot). Our preference is to wash in warm water and rinse in cold. Use the same sort of soap or detergent you would use to eventually clean a quilt. If washing multiple pieces, sort into several bags by colors. Wash in a full tub of water and use a Color Catcher ™ in the load. FYI: this step is to capture any excess dye particles. Peppered Cottons are color-fast! After washing, take the fabrics out of the bags and ‘fluff.’ Cut any loose threads at that time. Re-insert the damp pieces loosely into their bags and dry about 20 minutes. Do not walk away and let the fabrics over-dry. Unfold the pieces and air-dry completely. If the pieces are small you may iron them at this time. Most of the time, I snip any loose threads, fold the dry shot cottons yardage, and store on shelves. Then when I’m ready to sew with the shot cottons, I only iron as much as I need of the fabric for that project.
Washed Peppered Cottons. Washed and pressed Peppered Cottons have a slightly different hand than when they are on the bolt. The calendaring sheen rinses out. The weave firms up giving these fabrics the hand (texture + weight) of good-quality unbleached muslin. The brilliant colors also slightly intensify when the light-reflective finish is gone. Because of the finish difference between on-the-bolt and washed Peppered Cottons, the best advice is to purchase all you’ll need for a project at one time and to treat that length of fabric the same. In other words, no un-washed and washed of the same color in the same project. Note that Peppered Cottons are a higher thread weight than most shot cottons and it means these fabrics blend well with regular-weight quilting fabrics. You can mix-and-match Peppered Cottons with fabrics from your stash with the assurance that they’ll stand up to use.
Sewing With Peppered Cottons. Before cutting patchwork pieces from the fabric, give it a light mist of spray starch and press. This step gives the fabric even more body. Align selvedges, especially if cutting with the grain, and cut pieces as usual. When sewing, use a good quality #50 or #60 100% cotton sewing thread and use your normal stitch length. Either match the color of thread to the fabric or choose a blendable shade such as taupe, grey or khaki.
Applique Tips. I like to spray-starch shot cotton yardage twice (spray both sides) when doing applique. Since applique requires a lot of handling, a little extra body never hurts, especially when doing needle-turn applique by hand. When sewing machine applique, sample a block first so you can adjust stitch type, length of stitch, and your preferred weight of thread. In most cases, either #50 or #60 weight thread are good choices for machine applique work.
Pressing. Always use a clean iron. I prefer a lightweight nonstick-coated iron and I seldom use steam. When ironing shot cotton yardage and sewn patchwork, set your iron on Wool the setting just below Cotton. A too-hot iron can cause crinkling at the edges of the cut patchwork. There’s no need to work at any hotter setting than Wool.
Quilting. When machine-quilting, use a new needle and again, a thin strong thread. I like a flat look in my quilts so prefer a thin cotton or wool batting–almost the flatness of flannel. For quilt backing, choose a quilting-weight cotton fabric, rather than more shot cotton, to give more density to the quilt.
Working With a Professional Quilter. If you hire a professional quilter, be willing to work with him/her in the event they have had no experience with shot cottons. Tip: take the quilter a sandwiched block (top, batting, backing) using the same shot cottons used in your quilt top. This sample is so she can test her stitches. Make the bottom layer (backing) of the quilt sandwich a regular-weight cotton. Shot cottons are easy to quilt but sometimes a professional quilter uses the same size needle for all tasks. FYI: you can tell when a too-large needle has been used in machine quilting–when the finished quilt is held to the light, tiny pin-holes appear through which light shines. Hopefully, these miniscule holes close up after use and washing. But to be sure, when quilting a shot cotton quilt, ask that your quilter use a new, slightly thinner needle and thinner thread for the best combination and plan on a non-shot cotton backing fabric. Work together with the quilter so you can achieve the finest final product.
Quilting by Hand. When quilting by hand on shot cottons, use a good quality thread. Thoroughly baste the three layers so they do not shift while working. The usual weight of hand quilting thread is #40. Since quilting stitches show so well on the surface of Peppered Cottons, this is a great opportunity to experiment with contrasting colors of thread or even try Big Stitch quilting using a #8 or #12 perle cotton.
Finishing and Binding. After quilting but before binding, run basting stitches completely around all sides of the quilt, especially if there any cut bias edges that might stretch. Stitch in from the open cut edges of the quilt 1/8th inch. Basting can be done by either machine or hand. Leave basting stitches in place. After basting (which “closes up” the sandwich of top/batting/backing) decide if you want to trim the quilt exactly to its cut edges or leave a little batting/backing to plump up the binding. Cut binding either with the straight of grain or on the bias. If using shot cotton for the binding and cutting bias, another light spray of starch will help you handle the stretchy bias strips better.
We hope you enjoy working with Peppered Cottons and find them a great addition to your quilting palette!