Of Dreams and Nightmares: Quilting Plush Knit Fabric

It finally happened. I’ve got three quilts to quilt, and they all have a plush knit fabric to use as a backing. You know the fabrics I’m talking about. The fleeces. The minkies. The super-soft, irresistibly cuddly, mildly evil plush fabrics. It’s the stuff of nightmares and dreams.

I’ve been dreading this moment ever since I started longarming, having heard so many horror stories about working with these knits. Because of this dread I’ve had, you could say these quilts are starting to pile up on me. Pun intended. I’ll be here all week.

I’ve always said to people, “It’s your quilt, do what you want.” If someone wants to use a knit plush, who am I to say no? Clearly, I have a terrible opinion of what it’s like to work with this fabric (even though it’s glorious to touch and feel), so as I do whenever I have a strong opinion about something, I asked my friends about it on Facebook.

This time, I turned to the wonderful folks in the Professional Longarm & Machine Quilters (PLMQ) group. What a treasure of knowledge and helpful advice there! After consulting with them on this topic, as well as getting some additional advice from the folks at Shannon Fabrics, I came away with a newfound appreciation for plush knits and no longer have such strong, negative feelings about them.

If you’ve shared my love-hate relationship with the idea of using plush knits, say no more. I’m here to walk with you down this path and will help you (and your longarmer) get over your fears, so let’s talk about what you can do to happily work with these fabrics going forward.


Every time someone mentions these plush knits, the first thing you hear about is how messy it is to cut. It’s like glitter—once you cut it, the fibers get everywhere and it’s a mess to clean. Nobody’s got time for that!

I got an invaluable tip from Chris Wilk in the PLMQ group: use painter’s tape before you cut!

Her technique for squaring goes like this:


Step 1 & 2

  1. Unfold and lay the knit fabric out flat, with the selvage edge lined up evenly on your cutting mat or table.
  2. Place a strip of painter’s tape along the cut width of fabric, selvage to selvage. It doesn’t need to be perfectly straight, but try to eyeball it so that it’s close.

    Step 3

  3. Using a straight edge, line up your ruler so that the cut side of the ruler falls within the painter’s tape boundary. In my photo, the 3” line on my ruler is aligned with the 0” line on my cutting mat.

    Step 4

  4. Cut the fabric through the painter’s tape. No mess at all!

Leave the tape on to help you with the next tip.



Even Loading!

Some of these knits stretch in one direction, along the width of fabric (crosswise) only, while others will stretch in both directions, along the length and width. The former is known as one-way stretch, while the latter is known as two-way (or four-way) stretch.

Fleece is an example of a two-way stretch, while minkies can come in both one- and two-way versions. Shannon Fabrics’ regular Cuddle® plush is one-way, while their Cuddle® Dimple is two-way. You can test the stretch by holding the fabric in your hands and gently pulling along the crosswise and lengthwise grains to see if it stretches in one or both directions.

For one-way stretch fabric, it’s best to attach the crosswise grain to the leaders, so that the selvage edges are on the left and right sides of the frame. This will help to minimize any stretching as the quilt advances on the frame. Leaving the painter’s tape on the cut edge prevents that edge from stretching, so attaching it to the leaders evenly is easier.

Of course, sometimes we must load the backing the opposite way by attaching the selvages to the leaders. It’s more challenging to get the backing to roll evenly, and additional care is needed when advancing to prevent overtightening the leader poles.

I also found it helpful to use full-width leader clamps on the sides, rather than individual clamps, such as the Red E Edge Clamps by Renae Haddadin. This keeps the side from sagging and distorting. As with the advancing, the idea is to gently clamp rather than pull the sides taut and stretch them out of shape.



Side Clamps!

If you’ve been piecing and quilting with woven cottons, odds are you have an assortment of sharp needles in abundance. However, once you introduce knits into the picture, you need to add ballpoint, or stretch, needles into your collection, for both your domestic machine and the longarm.

Sharp needles—such as topstitch and quilting style—pierce through cotton fabrics and cut the fibers as they enter the fabric. This isn’t a problem with wovens, but for knit fabrics, you can cause it to run. Ballpoint needles, which are made for knit fabrics, push the fibers aside instead of cut them.

If you need to piece widths of knit together, switch to a ballpoint needle and change to a stretch stitch. It looks like a very narrow lightning bolt. This provides give in the stitch, so that when the fabric moves, the seam doesn’t pop.

When quilting, some plush fibers can migrate, or pop, to the top side of the quilt. There isn’t a surefire way to prevent this but matching your thread color to the plush fabric will disguise any of the fibers that do show.

Are you ready now to confidently tackle those knit plush backings? I know I am. Happy cuddling!

Have you quilted with a plush knit fabric? TELL ME ABOUT IT
Tag @lovebugstudios on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook with your comments!

This feature appears in the July/August 2018 issue of Quilty.

Leave a Reply