How Quilt Fabric is Made - Who Knew?

Recently I spent a lovely evening with the Evening Star Quilt Guild. I listened with fascination to their guest speaker, Ken Gamache, President of Quilting Treasures as he explained the process of quilt fabric manufacture. I had no idea what all went into the delivery of new treasures for my stash!

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First Ken told us that Quilting Treasures is the oldest fabric manufacturer in the United States, dating back to 1807! They have tons of sample books of the fabrics they’ve made over the years, and he showed us a few samples. As a person who loves both modern and reproduction fabrics, this was quite a treat! Oh to browse through those sample books! (Please forgive the blurry photos…I was in the back of the room without a zoom lens--oh well.)

Ken went on to explain about the traditional method of printing fabric, which involves multiple rollers, each for printing a different color. As you can imagine, each of these rollers must be precisely aligned or the final print will look smudged and blurry.

He showed us photos of the design process, including how designs are worked out on computers. After a design is set, a sample or strikeoff is made. This is done manually by applying each color through a screen using a squeegee. Here, first blue, then yellow, and finally other colors were added one at a time to create this cute kitty border.

This adorable fabric is called The Tale of Two Kitties. How cute and colorful!

Once the sample is approved, it’s time to print fabric. Fabric is rolled on a conveyor belt through a series of ink vats where different inks are applied one at a time through a screen. I think he said that there is a rubber mat underneath the fabric that holds it in place so the printing is precise. Anyway, this process is similar to the manual method in that color is applied one at a time, and a kind of mechanical squeegee is involved. I say similar except that well, it’s automated so none of that manual stuff. Here is how a cute Minion banner panel was printed. I think we're seeing blue, then red, then orange being put on the panel here.

And here's the finished panel with all it's colors. I think the panel is called simply "I Won't Bite," and it's part of the Minion collection at Quilting Treasures.

Those colored dots you see on the selvage of your fabric show you each of the individual inks that were applied in the printing process.

Next, Ken talked about digital fabric. Imagine a large printer with a print head that rolls back and forth over a section of fabric, digitally printing the fabric image. To me, it reminded me of my printer at home only a whole lot bigger!

After fabric is printed, whether in the more traditional way or by digital printer, Quilting Treasures applies several special finishes to the fabric to set the ink permanently and create a soft, lovely hand or finish.

Fabric is then doubled, or rolled onto fabric boards that are sealed in plastic and ready to ship to your local quilt store.

i hope you found this as fascinating as I did, despite the blurry photos. Perhaps if you squint...<grin>

At the end of the meeting, the talented team of editors, sample makers, longarmers, and pattern designers that I work with got to meet with Ken and chat for a while. He couldn’t have been nicer. What a great guild meeting!

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Tell me…have you ever wondered how fabric is made?

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