Education Sampler Sew-A-Long

Sampler Quilt Shopping

It is time to do your Sampler quilt shopping! Be sure you take the tool list with you from the previous post /sampler-sew-along/. Take advantage of any sales and coupons at your local fabric stores to purchase fabric for this sampler! I recommend you read this post to the end, so you have a firm understanding of fabric value when choosing the fabrics for this quilt. I will explain how to calculate backing fabric. Prewashing your fabric may or may not. I apologize for the length of this post, but it is all important.


There are as many types of thread as there are opinions on what brand/weight/content of thread you should use.   All-purpose thread is fine, especially for your first quilts.   Neutral thread color works well regardless of the color of the fabric when piecing.  Neutral colors are whites, off whites, cream, light grays, ecru.

Fabric to Buy When Sampler Quilt Shopping

100% cotton fabrics are recommended.  You will be purchasing four different fabrics. I chose a set of four fabrics for all twelve blocks. If this is your first or one of the first quilts you have made, I suggest you do the same. There will be plenty of time to go scrappy on other quilts!

A reminder that all 100% cotton fabric is NOT created equal.  Rely on your sense of touch to help select quilt worthy fabric.  Steer away from loose weave fabrics and on the opposite end, tightly woven fabrics like bed fitted sheets.  Shop around, compare prices, use coupons, buy online.

Don’t be shy about asking employees to point you in the right direction to the fabrics you should be auditioning for your quilt. They can show you batiks and what is considered a small geometric design. In directional fabric prints, all objects are positioned the same direction across the width of the fabric. When you view the print, you see there is a definite direction. An example would be a print of dogs and all dogs would be standing/sitting upright no matter where you looked on the fabric. Non-directional fabric is the opposite of directional. Sticking with a dog fabric, it would appear the fabric and however they landed was how the fabric was printed.

At the Cutting Table

These are the measurements to give the person at the cutting table. It is important for you to read the part of this post on prewashing fabric.

  • Fabric #1:  2/3 yd medium dark fabric -print, batik, small geometric design (in blocks)

  • Fabric #2:  1/2 yd dark fabric – small non-directional design, tone on tone, batik (in blocks)
  • Fabric #3:  1 1/2 yd light fabric – tone on tone, solid, non-busy pattern (blocks and inner border)
  • Fabric #4:  1 1/3 yd medium light fabric – non-directional design print, batik, geometric (blocks, cornerstones)
  • Additional Fabric: 1 1/2 yd solid color fabric for the sashing and outer border. The color should complement other fabrics in the quilt, but not match.  The purpose of this fabric as sashing is to show off blocks, not distract from them.  As the outer border, it will act as a frame of everything and should not demand attention but help focus on blocks. Value will depend on what you feel would work best with your block fabrics.

Shopping and Choosing Fabric for the Sampler Quilt

Choosing fabrics can often be the most difficult part for many quilters.  One approach is to find a fabric you really like.  Next pick 8 to 10 other fabrics you think will all go together.  Don’t worry about the sashing and outer borders yet.   Stack your choice bolts on top of one another dark to light.  I make the stack on top of bolts standing upright or balanced on my cart.  Step back several feet, take a color picture of them and then switch to a gray scale and take a picture.  Gray scale will clearly show lights, darks, and mediums! Restack per the gray scale photo.  In this quilt top, all fabrics will be right next to each other in at least one or more blocks. Start eliminating those you decide really don’t work that well until you end up with four fabrics to represent fabrics 1-4 above. 

Sample Fabrics

The four sample fabrics above are placed to show dark to light value.

Samples of my selections and some potential sashes and outer borders may help you when trying to decide value.

I also wanted to audition sashing and outer border fabric.  Which would you pick?  The dark solid (on the far left) will be subtle and frame each block so that block stands on its own.  Keep in mind the inner border will be the light background floral.


The center photo shows the backing fabric chosen.

A busy pattern/print for backing fabric hides any less than perfect quilting.  The quilting on a solid fabric is all there is for the eye to see.  Purchasing the backing fabric does not have to be at the same time as you purchase the piecing fabrics. You may want to make the quilt larger by adding more or wider borders.  Just the opposite, you could opt to not put on borders and/or skip the sashing. These decisions will alter the amount of fabric required for the back.

How to Calculate Backing Fabric Needed

Most quilting cotton chosen for piecing is 44″ wide. The usable portion discounts a half-inch to an inch for removing the selvages on each side. It is common to leave 4″ of backing fabric and batting on each side of the quilt top. So, you take the estimated size of your quilt top, add 8″ to the width and 8″ to the length. If the width final calculation is 44″ or less, you will only need one width of backing fabric. If the width of the top is more than 44″, you will need to sew two lengths of fabric together. Add 8″ to the estimated length of the quilt, divide by 36″ and that will become the length times two you will need to purchase. You may need more if the print, plaid or stripe has a specific repeat you would like to match when seaming the two backing pieces together. The fabric store person assisting you should be able to determine the print repeat and calculate

Either way you will have a seam in the back. Determine if more fabric is needed to match the prints at the seam. An all-over busy print would not require matching like a plaid or stripe or specific repeat.

Don’t forget the batting while Sampler quilt shopping!


You will need to purchase batting to be at least 8″ more than the width and 8″ more than the length of your quilt top. 80/20 cotton/polyester blend is a nice weight and does not require as close quilting stitches as some other battings.

Binding – Nothing to Buy Sampler Quilt Shopping

There should be sufficient backing fabric left to bind the quilt.

Prewashing Fabric – Yes? No? Maybe?

While Samper quilt shopping the fabric was purchased. Now you must weigh the pros and cons of prewashing. Should you?  I don’t.  Many quilters do.  Some do sometimes.  It is easier to get crisp cuts, therefore piecing is more accurate if I don’t prewash.  If you prewash, you should wash all fabric going into the quilt, including the backing. Add a dye catcher or two to the washer just in case the fabrics release some dye. You can find dye catchers in most market laundry aisles.  I recommend you use spray starch when ironing to put the body back into the fabric before cutting.  Remove wrinkles by ironing before cutting to not get any distortion in the pieces.  To keep your ironed fabric from getting fold creases, roll your fabric lightly.  I’ve heard if you have a pool noodle they are great to roll the fabric around.  I just roll them loosely without a center.

Cotton batting will shrink. I don’t recommend washing it, but a good tumble in the dryer will get rid of wrinkles and creases.

These links reference previous posts and the next post in this Sampler quilt-a-long.

Sampler Quilt-A-Long – the introduction to the quilt-a-long

Before You Start Cutting – some tips before actually cutting

Quilting Vocabulary – reference

Email me with any questions at I check my emails a few times throughout the day and will respond as soon as possible.