Printing on Fabric

There are many reasons why you might want to print on fabric. For example, you might want to print a photo to use in a quilt or print text for a quilt label. To print on fabric, you need four basic things:

  • An ink jet printer (not laser)

  • Fabric that’s been prepared for printing

  • A method of stabilizing the fabric so you can run it through a printer without getting all jammed up

  • A way to set the ink once you’ve printed on it so it doesn’t bleed or fade

Ink Jet Printer

Sorry, but a laser printer won’t work here because of the way in which ink is used. Although you can always give it a try!

It also helps if the paper is run through the printer in a straight path, rather than a path that curves back on itself. This isn’t required but it almost should be because a straight path really helps to keep the fabric paper from jamming.

The most important thing is to load the paper properly. For some printers, this means loading the paper with the fabric side down; for other printers, you load it with the fabric side up. Check your printer manual for help or run a test sheet of paper through the printer to double-check if you’re not sure.

Another thing you might want to know about your printer is whether or not it uses waterproof ink (pigmented ink rather than dye-based ink). If it does, you can use regular fabric for printing because your inks won’t run. To test this, print something on paper then moisten your finger and rub it across the printing. If it doesn’t smear than your ink is waterproof.

Note: Your printer may use waterproof ink for black but not for the colors, so you may experience fading with some of your inks and not others.

Fabric Prepared for Printing

There are many commercial fabrics you can buy for printing. All of them are designed for use in your ink jet printer. These fabrics have been stabilized with paper on the back so you can load them into your printer without jamming. You can find fabric for printing in your local quilt store or online. Here are a few types.

Note that you can also find commercially prepared fabric sheets on 8-1/2” rolls. I love these because I can cut them to the size I need and not waste the fabric. After cutting the roll fabric to size, I simply tape it to a piece of paper and run that through my printer. Works like a charm!

There are also commercially prepared fabric sheets in non-cotton, such as these organza sheets. Aren’t they wonderful?

You can prepare your own fabric using a commercial product called Bubble Jet Set. After printing, you fix the ink by using Bubble Jet Rinse. I’ve used both of these products with great success. Be sure to purchase the type of Bubble Jet Set you need for your printer!

There are homemade recipes on the internet for making your own Bubble Jet Set using washing soda (not baking soda), fabric softener, and Alum; I haven’t used this recipe though and have no idea how well it work.s Likewise, there are some on the internet that suggest using a vinegar rinse to set your ink but for many this does not work. I suspect it all depends on your printer and the ink it uses.

Personally, I’ve had best results with commercially prepared fabric sheets versus the ones I’ve prepared myself—less fading and no smearing after washing. If you don’t plan on washing your finished item, you could try just printing on high quality cotton and heat setting it with an iron, but you will still get fading. Personally though I’ve never had the results run when I’ve tried this so it’s relatively safe although you should test it before using unprepared cotton for printing.

Stabilizing the Fabric for Printing

If you use commercially prepared fabric sheets, they will come stabilized with paper on the back. After printing you peel off the paper and your fabric is ready to use after you’ve set the ink following the manufacturer’s instructions.

If you’re using your own prepared fabric, you can stabilize it easily by fusing it to the back of freezer paper. Simply place the freezer paper, shiny side down on the back of your fabric and iron it with a medium hot iron. Then cut the fabric sheet to a size appropriate for running through your printer (such as 8-1/2” x 11”). Use your rotary cutter for this; you don’t want any stray threads along the edges of the paper that might jam your printer.

If needed, iron the edges of the fabric paper right before printing. It’s important that the freezer paper has adhered completely or it might jam when printing.

Tip: You can purchase freezer paper sheets precut in 8-1/2” x 11” size. I find these really easy to use!

Tip: You can fuse a double-sided paper (such as Heat n Bond) to the back of your fabric to stiffen it. The advantage here is that your printed fabric is immediately ready for fusing if that is your intention. In addition, since the paper fusible is fused to the back of your fabric you won’t run into any problems with it coming off the fabric at the edges (as with freezer paper). You probably have some double-sided fusible in your sewing room right now, whereas you might not have any freezer paper so this might be your “good to go” option.

Printing

If you want to print a photo onto fabric, use a higher resolution image (200 to 300 pixels) for best results.

When printing your image on fabric, be sure to select High print quality, Standard printing. I know, some people say to use Photo printing but the problem for me is that too much ink is used and it just seems to smear on the fabric. So I choose Standard/ Vivid or High Quality.

You might want to choose Grayscale if you’re only printing text; use the regular Color settings if you’re printing something in color.

Remember to run a test paper first so you’ll know how to load your fabric sheet. Than load it fabric right side up or right side down depending on your test results. Load only one fabric sheet at a time. Stay near while printing so you can stop the printer if it jams. Now that your image is printed, it’s time to set the ink.

Setting the Ink

With commercially prepared fabric sheets, you should always follow the manufacturer’s directions for setting the ink after printing. Typically, this involves waiting a bit (such as an hour or two) then heat setting the fabric with a hot iron.

With fabric you’ve prepared yourself using Bubble Jet Set, use Bubble Jet Rinse to set the ink. You’ll still experience some fading but results are pretty good especially if you use the right Bubble Jet Set for your type of printer.

If you wish, you can rinse your fabric after it is set in cool water and then let it dry. This should remove any excess inks, making it safe for use in a quilt.

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Making a Quilter's Knot

A quilter’s knot is a simple and easy knot you can make at the end of a piece of thread or floss. Use a quilter’s knot to secure your stitching, whether you’re trying to hand quilt, bind, or sew down a sleeve on a quilt. A quilter’s knot is also useful when adding embroidery to your quilted pieces.

1. wrap the thread or floss around your needle three times.

Cut a piece of thread or floss about 18” long. Thread your needle. Use a needle threader or a self-threading needle to help you.

Hold the threaded needle in your left hand. Pinch the end of the thread/floss under your left thumb. With your right hand, wrap the end of the thread/floss three times around the needle.

2. Pinch the wrapped threads against the needle, using your left thumb

Use your right hand to gently pull the needle up, holding tight to the wrapped threads under your left thumb. The wrapped threads will slide down the rest of the thread/floss, eventually forming a quilter’s knot at the end of the thread/floss.

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How to Use the Blanket Stitch (Embroidery)

The blanket stitch is an embroidery stitch that is both decorative and functional when used along the edges of an applique.

Thread the needle

Use 3 or 6 strands of floss, depending on how dark you want the line to be. Thread the needle and knot it at one end using a quilter’s knot.

To make a quilter’s knot, hold the threaded needle in your left hand. Pinch the thread under your left thumb. With your right hand, wrap the end of the thread three times around the needle.

Pinch the wrapped threads using your left thumb and forefinger, then gently slide them down off the needle and to the end of the thread. A knot will form at the end of the thread.

Bring the needle up along the outside edge of your applique

Bring the needle down in the applique

Bring the needle down about 1/8” down from the place where you brought the needle up, and about 1/8” in from the edge of the applique.

Bring the needle up at the edge of the applique

Bring the needle up along the edge of the applique, directly across from where you came up in the applique. Make sure that the point of the needle is above your thread as shown. I hold my thread with my left thumb to make this part easier.

Pull on the thread to form a loop

Bring your needle down in the applique as before

Repeat steps 2 to 4 to finish the edge of your applique with blanket stitching. End your stitching by tucking your thread under a stitch on the back of your work.

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How to Use the Stem Stitch (Embroidery)

The stem stitch is an embroidery stitch that’s similar to the backstitch in that it can also be used to embroider a straight line.

Fuse some lightweight interfacing to the back of your fabric to stabilize it

Thread the needle

Use 3 or 6 strands of floss, depending on how dark you want the line to be. Thread the needle and knot it at one end using a quilter’s knot.

To make a quilter’s knot, hold the threaded needle in your left hand. Pinch the thread under your left thumb. With your right hand, wrap the end of the thread three times around the needle.

Pinch the wrapped threads using your left thumb and forefinger, then gently slide them down off the needle and to the end of the thread. A knot will form at the end of the thread.

Bring the needle up from the back at #1 and down at #2

Start your stitching at the right end of the line you want to stitch. Then take a small stitch towards the left.

Bring the needle up from the back at #3

Notice that #3 is a tiny bit back towards the right, towards #1. Bring the needle up just below your first stitch (not through the stitch, but beside it).

Bring the needle down at #4

Take a small stitch to the left, bringing the needle down at #4

Repeat steps 2-4

End your stitching by tucking your thread under a stitch on the back of your work.

Outline vs Stem Stitch

To make an Outline stitch rather than a Stem Stitch, you follow the same steps but keep the thread above the stitching line.

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Raw-Edge Fusible Applique

For me, raw-edge fusible applique is the simplest type of applique to use. Basically, fuse the back of some fabric, cut out some shapes, then iron them to fuse them to a block. Stitch along the edges of your appliques and you're done!

Tip

The only downside to raw-edge applique for me is that the edges can unravel. To prevent that, I use the Crafted Applique method, which tells you to apply fabric Mod-Podge to the edges of your applique to seal them so they can't unravel.

Trace your shapes

Start by tracing your shapes onto the backside of your fusible web. I trace shapes in groups, grouped by the same fabric. So for the snowman, I traced the black shapes together as a group, to make it easier to fuse them to the back of the black fabric later.

I prefer Heat n Bond Light because you don't have to use steam to fuse it but I've also used Steam a Seam 2 and Wonder Under with great success.

Before you trace them, make sure the applique shapes are reversed--the opposite of how they should appear in the block.

Cut out the shapes roughly

Cut the applique shapes out of the fusible roughly, outside the dark lines. If you've grouped them, cut out the group roughly. For example, I cut out my black coal eyes and smile together.

Cutting out 3.jpg

For large shapes like this ornament from a different Christmas block, you can make the resulting applique more supple by removing all that fusible from the center of the applique shape. (You only really need fusible along the edges of your appliques.)

Fuse the shapes to the back of your fabric

Fuse the shapes to the back of your fabric following manufacturer's directions. I like to use a pressing sheet to protect my ironing board and my iron from the sticky fusible.

Tip

If you get fusible on your iron, you can remove it with a used dryer sheet on a warm iron.

Cut out the shapes exactly

Cut out the shapes exactly on the dark outline.

Fuse the shapes to the block background

I recommend cutting a larger block background than you'll need. For example, if you want a 12-1/2" block, cut your background 13-1/2". After you fuse the applique shapes and then edge-stitch them in the next step, the background often shrinks up just a bit. By cutting your background larger than needed, you can trim it after everything is done to the exact size required.

Arrange the shapes and fuse them to the block following manufacturer's directions. If you are fusing a complex image such as this angel, you can fuse the parts together on a Teflon pressing sheet, then move the fused shape to your block background for positioning and final fusing. To help you assemble the image, trace the pattern on the back of the applique template sheet included in your pattern. Place the tracing underneath your pressing sheet, and use the lines to arrange and fuse the parts of your complex image together.

Edge-stitch each applique shape

To finish the raw edges of your applique, you edge-stitch them (stitch along the edge). You can use a straight-stitch, small zig-zag, blanket stitch, satin stitch or other decorative stitch for this purpose.

Match the color thread to the color of the applique shape.

If you decide to satin-stitch the edges of your appliques, fuse a light-weight wash-away stabilizer to the back of your block. The stabilizer will help prevent the block from gathering up under the weight of the tight satin stitching. Remove the excess stabilizer after stitching.

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No Waste Flying Geese

For a long time, I’ve preferred the stitch and flip method for making flying geese. Lately though I’ve been using the No Waste method. It uses less fabric than the stitch and flip method and unlike stitch and flip, you’re not wasting any. It’s also a pretty easy method to use! I should note that with this method, you end up with four identical flying geese.

First, Figure out your fabric requirements

Flying geese have two components—the “goose” and “the sky”.

For this method, you’ll need (1) goose square and (4) sky squares. To figure the size of the goose square needed, add 1-1/4” to the finished width of your flying geese. If you want to make flying geese that finish at 2” x 4”, then you’ll need (1) goose square that’s 5-1/4” (4” + 1-1/4”).

To calculate the size of the sky squares, add 7/8” to the finish height of your flying geese. Using our example, you’ll need (4) 2-7/8” sky squares (2” + 7/8”).

Sew the first two sky squares on

Draw a diagonal line on the back of the sky squares. Place (2) sky squares, RST (right sides together) on opposite corners of the goose square. Sew 1/4” away from the line on either side.

Cut on the drawn line. Press the sky squares back.

Sew another sky square on

Place a sky square on the unsewn corner of one of the units. RST. Sew 1/4” away from the line on either side.

Cut on the drawn line and press the sky square back. Repeat with the other units.

Trim

You now have four identical flying geese! Isn’t that cool? Be sure to trim your flying geese as needed before sewing them into your block.

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Turned-Edge Fusible Machine Applique

There are lots of different ways you can applique by machine, and this method is one of my favorites! The next time you need to add applique to a quilt, consider adding this method to your quilting toolbox.

This method results in a finished edge (rather than a raw edge which can fray in time). For me, this method works best when used with large shapes because I find it difficult to turn the edge of smaller shapes. Try it and see for yourself!

Trace the applique shape

Trace your shape onto the non-fusible (the non-shiny) side of lightweight fusible interfacing. The shape you trace should be the reverse of the finished shape as you want to appear on your quilt. Roughly cut out the shape.

To hold the interfacing in place while you trace, use a quilter's sandboard.

Pin the fusible interfacing to your fabric and cut out the shape

Pin the fusible interfacing, fusible side (the shiny side) down on the right side of your fabric. Yep, you want the fusible stuff touching the right side of your fabric. Seems wrong, but trust me, this is right.

Pin the interfacing in place, the cut around the shape roughly, leaving at least a seam allowance.

Sew the applique shape

Sew on the drawn line completely around your applique shape. Use a slightly smaller stitch length to make a good strong seam.

Trim your seam allowance

Trim the fabric and interfacing, leaving a scant 1/4” seam allowance. Clip outer curves to make it easier to turn the curve. Clip into inner curves such as the V in a heart shape. Trim the tip off points close to the seam to help keep them sharp after turning.

Cut a slit in the interfacing

Pull the interfacing away from the applique shape and cut a small slit, being careful not to cut into the applique.

Turn the shape right-side out

Turn the shape right-side out by pulling it through the slit. Carefully poke out any curves or points until the shape is completely turned. Finger press the edges of the applique to flatten them but do not iron or you’ll fuse the applique to something you don’t want to!

Fuse applique in place

Because the applique process may cause your background fabric to shrink up a bit, you should cut the applique background square larger than needed, and then trim it down after appliqueing. Place your applique in position then fuse it in place following manufacturer’s directions.

I always cover the applique with a pressing sheet to protect my iron from the fusible glue but I didn’t do that here so you could see what I was doing.

Pin stabilizer to the back of the applique

The stabilizer will prevent the applique edges from puckering when you stitch the edges down. Stabilizers come in lots of varieties—tear-away, wash-away, and cut-away—and it doesn’t matter which one you choose. Just follow the manufacturer’s directions for attaching it to the back of the applique and to later remove it after stitching.

Set up your machine for applique stitching

Even though the applique is fused in place, you should stitch along the edge to permanently attach it. You’ve got a lot of options here: you can use a straight stitch, zigzag stitch, blanket stitch, satin stitch, or other decorative stitch to finish the applique edge.

To prepare my machine, I change to an Applique/Sharps 80/12 needle and thread my machine with either 50 or 60 wt. cotton thread. You can go with a thread that contrasts, or use a thread that matches the color of the applique. I use the same thread in the bobbin.

Since I normally piece with a straight-stitch throat plate, I switch to a zigzag stitch plate if I’m going to use a zigzag, blanket, satin, or other decorative stitch. I put on an open-toe or zigzag foot and I’m ready to go!

Stitch the edge of the applique

Stitch the edge of the applique with a straight stitch, zigzag stitch, blanket stitch, satin stitch or other decorative stitch.

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