A Fabric Color Story

As I neared the completion of my ribbon quilt, I started thinking about fabric options for the backing. Unfortunately, I had not obtained enough of the red wide-back fabric to cover the quilt but I thought I could pull in a blue on each side and use the red down the center. But first I needed to prewash my fabric.

In the twenty or more years that I have been quilting, I have never had problems with a fabric color bleeding. I prewash all my fabrics with color catcher sheets to make sure the sheets come out white and show no evidence of a fabric color bleeding. So far I have been lucky. But this red! Oh my goodness, did this red bleed! After the first washing, the color catcher was dark red. I washed that fabric 6 more times, soaked it twice in a utility sink with dishwashing liquid overnight and washed it in the machine another 3 or 4 times. The color catchers faded to a dark pink but still were not clear. To top it all off, the fabric itself was beginning to show white spots, indicating that the color was completely coming out of the fabric!

At this point I knew that this particular piece of fabric would be used for test blocks and would never go into a quilt.  But that left me without a backing. As I browsed my local quilt shop looking for a backing, I mentioned my problem of fabric bleed. I had read a number of quilt postings online that had mentioned two products, called Retayne and Synthrapol but none of them indicated whether one was better over another, or, if one should be used first and then treated with the second. The owner of the shop suggested I try them and report my results back to her. So I left the shop, not only with an experiment to run, but with a wonderfully, wild fabric that would complement the quilt front as well as match the personality of the recipient for this quilt.

Coming from a family with backgrounds in math, science, and engineering, my husband and I decided to use the scientific method to conduct my color experiment. My control group would be a piece of fabric thrown into the washing machine with a color catcher. Another group would be treated with the Retayne per the directions on the bottle, then washed with a color catcher. The third group would first be treated with the Retayne, then treated with the Synthrapol before being washed with a color catcher. The final group would be treated with only the Synthrapol and then washed with a color catcher. I probably should have done another group using the Retayne after using the Synthrapol first but I figured the four samples would give me enough information to reach a conclusion.

Having read some information on the manufacturer’s web site, I discovered that Synthrapol was basically a concentrated detergent that would remove sizing as well as excess dye from hand dyed fabrics. The Retayne was described as a dye fixing agent used on commercially dyed cotton fabrics that tend to bleed easily. Processing this information, I developed a hunch that the Retayne would be the product that a quilter would want to use first.

First I need to find some cheap, red fabric for my experiment. Wouldn’t you know, after washing this fabric the color catcher came out absolutely clean. Now what! I didn’t want to spend a lot of money trying to purchase a fabric that would run, so I turned back to my original red fabric hoping that there would still be enough color bleed left in it to complete the experiment. After running the control I decided that there was enough color still bleeding out of my original red fabric and went on with the rest of the experiment. The next group was pretreated with the Retayne and then washed with the color catcher. It came out absolutely clean. I ran the third group, (using the Synthrapol after the Retayne) anyway just for the sake of completeness and as suspected the sheet was clean. Finally I treated the fourth group with just Synthrapol and after washing this piece of fabric discovered that there was still some color bleeding onto my color catcher.

This proved my hypothesis of using the Retayne as a first measure. It made sense to me since the product was described as a dye fixative and I would want any loose dye to fix itself to the fabric to prevent bleeding. The Synthrapol, described as removing excess dye would still have that excess dye floating around to bleed on nearby fabrics. I might use the Synthrapol on a finished quilt where one fabric color bled onto another in the hopes of removing the stain but it would not be my first choice on new fabric. Going forward I would still use the color catchers as a first pass and then if necessary use the Retayne.

Shortly after this, I had a chance to prove the accuracy of this experiment. I set about washing the vibrant backing fabric for my ribbon quilt and was surprised to find that the color catcher came out a very dark purple. I immediately treated the fabric with the Retayne and washed it again. The color catcher was clean and I had only washed the fabric twice as opposed to more than a dozen time.



Butterfly Gardens and Quilt Shops

Back in April, my daughter and I had participated in the annual Quilt Shop Hop. We had dutifully gotten our “passports” stamped at each shop we visited and mailed them off to the coordinator in May. This would allow us to take part in the drawing for various prizes based on the number of shops stamped on our card. Near the beginning of June, I received a letter from the Shop Hop coordinator that I had won one of the third place prizes. The down-side was that I had to go to the shop to pick it up which was a 2 hour ride from our home.

Since the shop just happened to be near Acadia National Park, we decided to make a day of it and found some moderate hiking trails nearby. We would visit the quilt store first (of course) and then head to the trails. I fully expected that when we got to the shop, I would be given a quilting tool or some fabric and we could go on our way, but when I got there I discovered that I could pick out $100 worth of anything in the store! Wow! This was going to take longer than I anticipated. I was like a kid in a candy shop. I circled the store multiple times, while I selected fabric. My husband encouraged me to go over the allotted amount and increase my stash saying that I always bought too little of what I needed. Imagine a spouse encouraging a quilter to buy more fabric! He really is a keeper. When I was done I had a wide piece of red fabric to back my current project, 3 yards of a blue fabric, 3 yards of a green “fossil fern” fabric and 2 cool red, orangey bundles of 10 fat quarters. Mission accomplished.

After we left the shop, we crossed the street towards the Charlotte Rhoades Butterfly Garden. I had been told about this place by a friend who works at one of the campgrounds near Acadia. He mentioned that he and his wife would get coffee and just sit in the garden enjoying the views. The minute we stepped in the garden, I understood why they liked this little gem. The garden was small but I could just imagine the abundance of blooms and butterflies at the height of the summer, not to mention the benches situated with great view of the water.

We wandered around for a few minutes admiring the early Spring blossoms and the sculpture of a rather large caterpillar sitting on a boulder before continuing on towards the trail.



Except for a very few warm days, May was very wet and cold. So much so, that hiking and other outdoor explorations were pretty much nonexistent. I don’t often plan a quilt during the summer months but with the weather not cooperating, it was the perfect time to plan a new project.

After delivering my last big quilt project to friends during our April trip to Long Island, I decided that another friend was due for a comforter. During our visit she had mentioned changing her domestic colors to more “tropical and sunny” colors to remind her of Florida. So a few weeks ago, I casually tried to discover her color scheme. Unfortunately when asked, she merely stated that her kitchen would be teal. Huh. Well that didn’t work, so I flat out had to tell her that she was next in line for a quilt and what colors would she prefer. I got “oh, how sweet…..” but no colors. After going around a few more times, I finally got blues, teals and yellows. Now I could begin.

Playing with some designs on my quilt design software package I narrowed in on several designs. First I arranged a log cabin pattern with a star in the center but it didn’t grab me. Then I tried a Rosebud block both in a straight set and on point but I wasn’t feeling it that either. Finally, I started playing with various triangle combinations until I came up with a ribbon design. After adding some appropriate colors to the design I was satisfied. The color choices could lend itself to being named, “tropical adventures”, or “sun, sand and sea”. The ribbon design made me think of “friendship twist”, or given our sense of humor, “twisted friendship”.

The finished size of the blocks proved a bit too large to be able to use my collection of fat quarters, so unfortunately I needed to acquire additional fabric. Somehow, I managed to find a variety of fabrics that contained some kind of sea-type pattern that would fit the theme of this quilt. I was now ready for the construction phase of the project.

I thought that there might be some way to cut and create the quarter-square triangle portion of the block, similar to the method used to create half-square triangle blocks but alas that did not happen. I needed all the dark colors to end up on the same side of the block, but no matter what variation of construction I tried the results were always the same; pieces that were mirror images of each other. The only thing I could do was cut the appropriate size square, divide said square into quarter square triangles and create the necessary finished block piece by piece. If anyone knows of a better way to construct a split quarter-square, half-square triangle block I would be happy to hear about it.

Once I had constructed a few blocks I assembled the first two rows. I must say I was pleased with the design and the color scheme.

Designing a Quilt Back

After completing the quilt top for my big project of 2017, I surveyed the remaining fabric and thought it might be really nice if I could take the remnants and design something for the back. I knew I did not have enough for the entire back but I should be able to do something creative before shopping for additional supplies.

I turned towards my EQ7 quilt design software and reviewed my options under the various libraries. Here, I discovered a quilt layout section that included an option for medallion quilts. I selected a churn dash design  and proceeded to play with fabric placement from my leftover stash. There was enough of the floral print to use as one 35 inch square with fabric to spare for the corners.

Unfortunately, no matter how I arranged the remaining fabrics, I did not have enough to complete the process. If I used the brown in the corners, I did not have enough for the border.  Figuring I would use the brown only in the border, I tried putting the pink or the blue in the corners in place of the brown, but that did not leave me enough for the inside strips of those colors. In addition, I did not have enough of the remaining material to make the binding.

As it happened to be April and the Maine quilt shop hop was in progress, my daughter and I decided it would be necessary to go on a road trip in search of border fabric. The brown would be hard to match, so I decided that maybe I could find a green that might compliment the green from the front of the quilt. This would not be a problem since the two greens would be on opposite sides of the quilt. We visited three quilt stores that day and I successfully found a perfect color at one store and a suitable fabric for binding at another shop.

The next day I finished the backing but now I had no place large enough to take a decent photograph. One of the advantages of taking on large projects in the winter is that the snow serves as a nice back drop for these types of photos. While crocuses were in full bloom, coltsfoot flowers were peeking through the earth and the yards in the rest of our neighborhood were devoid of snow during this second weekend of April, our property still had plenty to spare. It was enough for me to get my picture.

The assembly was now done and ready for quilting. I think this one will be the first quilt I send out to a professional longarm quilter. Fortunately, my daughter fits the bill for that.

Design to Construction

After spending time playing around with my EQ7 quilt design software and creating test blocks to determine the accuracy of the software’s cutting measurements, it was time to move on to the construction phase of this year’s big quilt project. I still was uncertain about the amount of fabric required for the border, but I figured I would construct the bulk of the quilt top before tackling the border problem.

I’m not sure if it was the thrill of the quilt design package or the sudden awareness of accurate measurements but I found that I proceeded with extra caution during the construction of the blocks. I needed four different blocks to create this quilt and with each block, I took additional time with measuring before and after cutting. I have found that the more pieces needed to construct a block, the greater the chances of ending up with the finished block being the wrong size, so when I approached the nine patch block, I measured and trimmed during each part of the assembly process. Finally, the blocks were assembled. Miracle of miracles, they all measured within acceptable tolerance of 11.5 inches. Hurrah!

When I laid out the blocks to prepare for the final assembly, I found that something just didn’t feel right about the design. Something seemed a little disjointed with the flow of the pattern. I studied the quilt for a minute before rotating the corner pieces so that the blue fabric made a continuous circular path around the outer edge of my creation. This one little change made the whole thing more aesthetically pleasing. Now it was time for the final assembly.

Once the rows were constructed, I proceeded on to the inner borders. Everything was going according to plan. It was now time to figure out the outer border. I measured the green fabric once more and decided to lower that outer edge by an inch to a final border of 5.5 inches. After cutting the necessary strips to construct the border, I was left with two one inch strips of green fabric. Very close, but still enough to complete the quilt top.

After completing the top, I studied the final product once more. I must say I was very pleased with the results. I surveyed the fabric left over from the construction and decided I would try to do something with the remaining pink, brown, blue and floral pieces for the backing. But that must wait for another posting.