The Free Motion Quilting Project: Wholecloth Questions

Friday, March 16, 2012

Wholecloth Questions

I received a few more questions about wholecloth quilting yesterday after I'd posted Question Thursday so I decided to answer them here and also update the Quilt Along #10 post. Just in case you're starting your wholecloth this weekend, this should clear up any other issues about this project:

What fabric should I use for the top and back of a wholecloth quilt?

If this is your very first wholecloth quilt, it's strongly adviseable to use high quality 100% cotton in a solid color.

Prints are obviously not suitable for a wholecloth because the printed pattern will conflict with the pattern you're creating with quilting. However, if you have a very, VERY simple print you want to use, give it a try so long as it's high quality 100% cotton.

Personally I love to use spray batik fabrics, the kind that read as almost a solid color, but with swirls of lighter and darker color within the fabric. Batiks generally have a tighter weave than most printed cotton fabric, which forms a solid base for both marking and quilting right on the lines.

If you've stitched several wholecloth quilts and are looking to experiment, you can play with silk, satin, and other non-quilting fabrics, but understand that these fabrics will not work as easily as cotton. Often the silky fabrics will easily shift and stretch, causing motifs to easily distort.

How big should the fabric be cut?

The outside square of this pattern isn't the finished size. It's more a guideline for the pattern fitting on the page and being taped together, so if you like, you can make this quilt anywhere from 16" - 18" square.

I cut all my fabric 20 inches square for both the top and the backing, which will give more than enough space to hang onto the edges while quilting, which will ensure good stitch quality throughout the quilt.

Should I prewash, starch, and iron the backing the same way as the quilt top?

Yes! You'll want to treat the quilt backing fabric and quilt top the exact same way. Prewash to eliminate any shrinkage, starch and iron to remove any stretch or give to the fabrics.

What kind of batting do you use for a wholecloth?

This is a great question that is super important to the outcome of your wholecloth quilt. You need a batting that will NOT SHRINK after being quilted and washed. Yes, you will likely have to soak your wholecloth in order to remove the markings on the surface, so there's really not a way to get around this issue.

Most cotton and cotton/poly blended battings will shrink slightly and this can distort the designs you're stitching over the surface.

For best results, I recommend polyester batting. Many professional quilters recommend wool batting, but I honestly haven't tried these enough to recommend them.

I will personally be using Quilter's Dream Polyester Batting in the Deluxe thickness for my Heart and Feather Wholecloth. This is the thickest batting from Quilter's Dream and will provide a wonderful loft to the puffy areas of this quilt without the extra step of trapunto.

What if I find a cotton batting with no shrink?

If you can find a cotton batting with absolutely no shrink, you can use it, BUT ONLY IF YOUR FABRIC IS A DARK COLOR.

This must be stressed: if you are creating a light (white, yellow, etc) wholecloth with fabric that was light enough to see through for marking, this fabric will also be light enough that EVERYTHING will show through it.

This means lint, stray threads and strings, and all those little black dots from cotton batting.

You might not notice the black bits when you look at a cotton batting, but this is an organic substance that originally came from plants and traces of those plants will always remain. Every time I use a cotton batting I find little bits of bark and leaf, so matter how high quality or expensive the batting was.

This is extremely undesirable for a lighter quilt. Once you finish it, soak it, and get ready to hang it on the wall, you will start seeing "things" inside the quilt that look almost like bugs.

So especially if you're going with a light colored wholecloth, choose a polyester batting and mark sure to lint roll all the layers before basting.

Are we not going to trapunto this quilt?

No. In order to keep this project as simple as possible, we're not going to cover trapunto this time.

Trapunto is a traditional element in wholecloth quilts, but it is not a requirement.

I thought about offering optional steps for trapunto, but really it just seemed very complicated and potentially confusing. Look how much information I forgot to include in the Wednesday post!

We will definitely return to this project again in the summer or fall and will cover the extra step to trapunto then.

I think that just about covers all these prep details! Feel free to ask any other questions that pop up!

Let's go quilt,

Leah Day


  1. Thank you so much. I never thought about the batting. I will definitely stop by JoAnn's tomorrow and pick some polyester batting up.

  2. Hi Leah,
    Thank you for answering all questions.

    I don't have any batik fabric. I was initally thinking of using Moda Bella solids or Kona cotton from Robert Kauffman. Are they good quality cotton?
    Or should I go buy some batiks for this project?


  3. Malini - the Moda or Kauffman will be just fine. Both are definitely high quality cotton!



  4. Leah, I have some polyester batting but it's just 'generic' so how thick should it/could it be? Mine is about 1" that TOO thick? Thanks!
    - angie

  5. Great! Then I will use them.
    Thanks Leah!


Help us create more quilting tutorials! Check out our quilt shop at