A Material Difference: Working with Metallic Fabrics

metallic fabrics

There are some marvelous metallic fabrics out there, especially around the holidays. Christmas fabric (like in Decked with Holly) and Hanukkah fabric are just perfectly suited to gold and silver embellishment.

Christmas fabrics, like these in Decked with Holly, feature some of the best uses of metallic embellishment.

Christmas fabrics, like these in Decked with Holly, feature some of the best uses of metallic embellishment.

But metallic accents are being used in many other collections, these days, not just for holiday prints.

Not just for the holidays any more! These pink flowers shimmer and shine . . .

Not just for the holidays any more! These pink flowers shimmer and shine . . .

Glimmer Glow and Follow Me both work with the same fabric line, an ombre collection scattered with varying densities of gold metallic dots.

These two quilts use the same fabric collection, which features ombre color, as well as ombre metallic dots.

These two quilts use the same fabric collection, which features ombre color, as well as ombre metallic dots.

Melanie Greseth and Joanie Holton have provided a couple of quilt patterns that play with metal accents, such as Midnight Wind Chimes and Twilight in the Garden.

Purple quilts with glints of gold—glamorous and majestic!

Purple quilts with glints of gold—glamorous and majestic!

In fact, when Twilight in the Garden was featured on the 2900 series of the “Fons & Porter’s Love of Quilting” television show, Melanie and Joanie told us a bit about metallic fabrics.

The metal in this metallic element, they said, is made with crushed copper. And because it’s actually metal, your needle and blades will dull more quickly than with standard cottons, which is something to keep in mind.

Metallic fabrics can use the metal to different degrees. Some fabrics have a light embellishment, others a medium level, and others can have the metal densely applied.

Golden Galaxy uses a fabric with a complete metallic coverage—gorgeous with that blue!

Golden Galaxy uses a fabric with a complete metallic coverage—gorgeous with that blue!

The gold fabric in the lattice of Golden Galaxy, for example, is very dense—a complete coverage, in fact.

Working with Metallics: Tips and Techniques

I decided to sew some samples in the sewing studio—a print with a light coverage, medium coverage, and complete or dense coverage. (I used fabrics from the Jubilee collection by Amanda Murphy from Contempo Studios, FYI.)

One the design wall, I have swatches of fabric featuring light, medium, and dense use of metal application.

On the design wall, I have swatches of fabric featuring light, medium, and dense use of metal application.

For starters, the “hand” of the fabric varied, quite dramatically. The print with the light coverage has the same drape and feel as standard quilting cotton, but the print with the medium coverage was a little stiffer. The complete coverage had very little drape and felt slick, reminding me a little of leather, but not really.

The fabric with the dense coverage did seem to have some “scuff” marks, which I imagine would increase as the quilt was used or washed. The directions say wash cold, delicate cycle, mild detergents, and tumble dry low, and also recommend pre-washing; I totally disagree with the pre-washing. I’d rather have my wall hanging sewn and unwashed rather than risking damaging the fabric. I haven’t tried it yet, so I can’t say for certain that washing would damage the dense metallic fabric, but I’ll take my little samples home to launder, and will report back.

Metallics for Wall Hangings

In general, these metallics are best for wall hangings or quilts that get little use, or should be used sparingly, as accents in the pattern.

(Do I still want to make a queen-sized Cleopatra’s Fan quilt using nothing but gold metallic fabrics? Yeah, I sort of really, really do . . . )

I chose to spray starch and press from the wrong side, and it worked just fine.

I chose to spray starch and press from the wrong side, and it worked just fine.

I felt most comfortable pressing from the back, maybe because the right side looked like it wouldn’t absorb starch. The wrinkles pressed out well on all of my samples, and aside from a mishap due to an unclean iron (looks like we need a tool-cleaning day…), they didn’t scorch or press any differently. The more dense the metal, the more they held heat, but not to a crazy degree.

They cut just the same as quilting cottons.

They cut just the same as quilting cottons.

Real-Metal Metallics

The fabrics cut the same as any other quilting cotton, though—as mentioned earlier—the crushed copper in the metallic application will eventually dull your rotary blades and needles.

I tested sewing each sample to one another, and it felt right to have the denser metallic on bottom as I fed it under the needle. You could use a ballpoint needle or one of those metallic-specific needles, but for the metallic quilting cottons, you don’t really need to.

Look at this example I deliberately mis-sewed for you! The puncture holes do linger in the denser metal.

Look at this example I deliberately mis-sewed for you! The puncture holes do linger in the denser metal.

One drawback was that the puncture holes from the needle remain more visible on the dense metallic as compared to the light metallic. Even with steam, they don’t close up as nicely, as you can see from the example I “deliberately” mis-sewed. (This is why I need a quarter-inch foot, folks.)

Interestingly, the denser metallic didn’t fray as much, which makes sense to me.

While the different levels of metal application feel different, the fabric sews together great.

While the different levels of metal application feel different, the fabric sews together great.

When pressing seams, the denser metallic is more insistent, so I found myself pressing to the light side, rather than the dark. This worked just fine for my little Four Patch, but may be a concern in more elaborate patterns.

There is nothing like the shimmer of metallic, so as long as you keep a few things in mind, don’t hesitate to play with a little bit of glamour.

Happy quilting!

Vanessa

Get glamorous with the patterns in McCall’s Quilting Go Glam issue!

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