Tips for Sewing Red and White Quilts

Explore tips for sewing red and white quilts in this blog

Red and white quilts are my kryptonite. Pieced or appliqued, I can spend hours online fangirling over photos and fantasizing about the designs I want to sew next (or at least once I get through my current UFOs). The striking contrast of red against white and the timeless appeal, mean red and white quilts are always in style. And while generations of quilters have successfully sewn these high-contrast designs, quilting with red and white fabric does present some challenges, including the simple fact that darker red fabrics can bleed and show through white cloth.

In her new book, Red & White Quilting, author Linda Pumphrey shares her secrets for keeping red and white quilts from looking or even turning pink. Here’s a snippet from Red & White Quilting to help make your next two-color quilt a success!

– Jodi Butler, Book Editor

A red and white quilt by Linda Pumphrey called Winter Time Quilt

Winter Time Quilt by Linda Pumphrey

1. Prepping Fabric in Advance

Because the sizing in fabric can help with the cutting and sewing process of making a quilt, some quiltmakers choose not to prewash their fabrics. However, vibrant colors, such as reds and purples, tend to bleed more than others when washed. If you don’t prewash your fabric and bleeding occurs, it can damage the finished quilt. But knowing when to prewash is an important part of the equation.

When Should You Prewash Fabric?

If you’re concerned about colors bleeding, prewash your fabric. In a two-color quilt, especially a red and white combination, it’s good to be cautious and prewash your fabric. Or at least test your fabric for color fastness. To test your fabric, cut a small colored square, about 6″ (15 cm), and rub it against an all white fabric square of about the same size. Do both a dry test and a wet test to determine if any color transfers.

Simply Touching Stars Quilt, a red and white quilt by Linda Pumphrey

Simply Touching Stars Quilt by Linda Pumphrey

Dry Test

Perform a dry test to make sure the fabric color does not crock (transfer color) when rubbing the darker fabric against the lighter fabric. Rub the fabrics together about ten times. If you see any color transfer, then you will need to prewash your fabric.


Wet Test

Perform a wet test to make sure the fabric color does not bleed. Wet both the light and dark fabric squares and set them against each other for about fifteen minutes. Again, if you see any color transfer, it is advisable to prewash your fabric.

Note: If you are concerned about shrinkage, you should prewash fabric. (Note: All 100 percent cotton fabrics shrink, some more than others.)

Preparing Fabric for Prewashing

Fabric can fray giving you stringy edges and sometimes fabric waste when washing, so it is helpful to prepare fabric before washing it. You can:

  • Cut the edges with a pinking rotary blade or scissors
  •  Sew the raw edges with an open zig-zag stitch
  •  Serge the raw edges of the fabric prior to washing

Sizing will prevent the fabric from stretching during the cutting and sewing process. If you do end up prewashing your fabric, you may want to add sizing or starch when you iron the fabric or before you cut it.

The Our Village Green Wall Hanging by Linda Pumphrey

The Our Village Green Wall Hanging by Linda Pumphrey

2. Preventing Shadowing When Piecing Blocks

Shadowing occurs when a darker fabric shows through a lighter fabric, which can detract from the overall appearance of your quilt. Shadowing especially occurs when working with two high-contrast colors, such as red and white. Whenever possible, press darker fabric toward the darker side. If it is not possible, press seams open so the light seams are on the lighter fabric and the darker seams end up on the darker fabric. If you must press to the lighter side, trim the darker seam by 1⁄16″ so it is slightly smaller than the lighter seam and less visible.

“You have to be diligent about pressing,” says Linda. “It’s laborious. But when you’re done, the effort is totally worth it.”

X Marks the Spot Quilt by Linda Pumphrey

X Marks the Spot Quilt by Linda Pumphrey

3. Preventing Shadowing When Appliquéing Blocks

Shadowing can also occur when appliquéing a lighter fabric on top of a darker fabric. Lining your appliqué shape with a very lightweight fusible interfacing is a great way to prevent shadowing. When using the needle-turn method, cut the fusible interfacing the size of the template. Cut fabric 1/4″ larger than the template to allow for the turned-under seam allowance.

For more tips on sewing red and white quilts, check out Red & White Quilting by Linda Pumphrey. And don’t forget to add a copy to your bookshelf today!

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