The Free Motion Quilting Project: Log Cabin Quilt - Prepare Fabric and Cut Pieces

Monday, January 1, 2018

Log Cabin Quilt - Prepare Fabric and Cut Pieces

It's finally time to kick off the Machine Quilting Party and create the Rainbow Log Cabin Quilt! In this quilting tutorial, I want to teach you how to prepare your fabric and square it accurately so it's easy to cut long, straight strips.

Learn how to prepare your fabric and cut the pieces for your Rainbow Log Cabin Quilt in this video quilting tutorial:

Are you looking for the pattern for the Rainbow Log Cabin Quilt? You can find it in my new book Explore Walking Foot Quilting with Leah Day, along with six other quilt patterns and thirty beautiful walking foot designs to quilt on your home machine.

Click Here to find the Ebook Version you can download today!

Click Here to find the print version on (Sorry! We're currently out of print copies!)

When it comes to preparing fabric, my rules are the same for every single quilt, every time - wash it, starch it, press it, square it, cut it. Let's dig into each step a bit to discuss them further:

Wash Your Fabric

Fabrics are either dyed or printed and sometimes excess dyes and pigments are left on the surface. Fabrics are also coated with several chemicals to make them feel and look better on the bolt so they're more likely to sell in the store.

I don't like the idea of working with fabric with these excess chemicals and dyes on the surface. The dyes especially can come back to haunt you after the quilt is finished as they migrate and bleed from one color to another. This happened on my very first quilt which was blue and white. The blue fabrics began to bleed and the white turned a weird blue / gray. Definitely not what I was going for!

To wash your fabric, sort it into piles of similar colors and wash each in their own load. Throw a 10-inch square of white fabric into the washer to test for color fastness. If the white fabric square comes out discolored in any way, wash that load again so the excess dyes are completely removed.

You can also use Dye Grabbers, special sheets designed to pull excess dye from the water. If you're working with batik fabrics, you may need to wash it out several times before it stops bleeding.

I use a mild detergent with my fabrics, but please don't use fabric softener. We don't want the fabric to be soft because that will make it harder to cut accurately.

Yes, there are precuts of fabric available that are too small / thin to be washed. I have washed fat quarters and fat eighths successfully, but you will loose some fabric around the edges due to fraying. I don't wash fabrics smaller than a fat eighth. For those fabrics you just have to cross your fingers and hope for the best!

Click Here to listen to a podcast episode all about washing fabric!

Starch and Press

After your fabric has been washed, it's going to feel very soft. Much too soft to set a ruler on top and be able to cut it accurately.

The next step is to apply starch and press the fabric to return it to a stiff, flat shape. Yes, I know many quilters have been told starch is evil and will doom your quilt for eternity. Click Here to find a podcast episode about that silly quilting rumor.

I love starch and find it's an essential step to making fabric stiff and easy to work with. Spray it on the right side of the fabric, then flip over and give the fabric a massage to encourage it to soak in. Then press from the wrong side. If you're going for gold, spray starch again from the wrong side, massage, and press from the right side.

This extra layer of starch will make the fabric almost paper stiff, with no stretch at all. I like taking my fabric to this stage because it's so much easier to cut and piece accurately. This is also essential for cutting binding fabric into long straight strips that are easier to handle.

When it comes to pressing, it's really nice to use a firm pressing board. They're not hard to build and can make a huge difference when it comes to pressing fabric without distorting it. Click Here to learn how to build a hard pressing board.

I also only press with a hot, dry iron. I don't use steam because it keeps the fabric wet rather than drying the starch quickly on the surface.

Square the Edges

Once the fabric is flat and stiff, it's time to cut. But wait - how do we cut straight strips out of a big piece of fabric? The key is doing the fabric dance and folding the fabric just right so the fibers are aligned square and straight together. Make sure to watch the video above to see this step. It's essential for cutting nice straight strips!

Cut Straight and Square

With the fabric stiff, stable, and square, you're ready to cut. Follow the video to align your ruler and square off the end of the fabric, then flip it over so you can continue cutting with your dominant hand.

Ad: I use Fiskars 60 mm rotary cutter and titanium blades. I love the bigger cutter because it stays sharper for a longer period of time and the titanium blades really do make a difference.

Give yourself the gift of a nice sharp blade this year! You're never going to make an accurate cut if you have to roll across the edge three times in order to cut through the fabrics completely!

It is important to double check your strips. Cut two and unfold one. If you notice a "V" shape or peak lining up with the folds in the fabric, that's a sign the fabric wasn't properly squared. Unfold the fabric, hold it up and do the square dance again, then cut off the edge and begin cutting strips again.

How do you know how big to cut the strips and how many pieces? Just follow the quilt pattern in my book Explore Walking Foot Quilting with Leah Day!

Are all these steps required to make a quilt?

Please keep in mind, this is the method that works best for me! This is the way I work with all fabric, whether it's prepared for a quilt along like this or being sliced up for a baby quilt for a friend.

It's up to you if you want to use this method or not, but I encourage you to at least try it. If you've ever felt frustrated by your pieces not lining up, or your blocks not turning out the right size, these methods will make a big difference.

Quilt-making is a building process so how you prepare the fabric effects the cutting and the cutting effects the piecing. If you start out on the right foot with your fabrics properly prepared, the entire process will come together so much easier!

Are you excited about creating the Rainbow Log Cabin quilt with me? Join in the fun of the Machine Quilting Party Facebook Group so you can ask questions, post photos, and meet new quilting friends from around the world.

Are you wondering about the second quilt we're creating together this month? Marvelous Mosaic posts will be shared on Friday and yes, please prepare your fabric and cut your pieces the exact same way as I've shown for the Rainbow Log Cabin.

Let's go quilt,

Leah Day


  1. Hi Leah. I did your first-ever Quilt-along and have decided it would be fun to try another one, especially as I much prefer using a walking foot to FMQ. Two questions re starching: I agree that starching fabric makes it much easier to handle, but don’t do so very often because it leaves a nasty residue on my iron. Any tips for dealing with this? And any particular sort of starch? I was told not to use one that contains silicone. Do you agree? (Not that there’s much choice of starch brands here in the UK). Thanks. Really looking forward to the coming year!

    1. Hi Anne - The key to starching without it flaking off on your iron is in how you spray and work with the fabric. So spray from one side, massage it into the fabric, then flip it over and press from the opposite side you sprayed. This way the liquid is forced into the fabric and you won't hit big puddles with your iron, which is what usually causes that issue. Let me know if that helps!


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