We've all been there: you make a beautiful quilt top, then you quilt it, and it ends up stiff. No thanks! We are here for the cuddle factor, baby!
There are a few of my early quilts floating around that my family refuses to use because "they just don't cuddle like they should." I get it. I made them when I was young (ahem, we won't talk about HOW young) and doing the best I could. I've since learned a few tricks to getting a super drape-y quilt, even on a budget.
What is drape, exactly? The technical definition is "the way the fabric hangs under its own weight." Us quilters know it as the cozy-ness of a quilt. When you lay under it, does it hug your body, or does it stick up like a little tent, creating an air pocket above you? Nobody wants an air pocket tent; we want our quilts to feel like a hug!
Ready to dive in and make super drape-y quilts?
Here are the five ways you can give your quilts that "ahhhhhh" drape factor that makes you want to stay in bed all day (as if we needed an excuse!):
1. Use higher thread count fabric.
My husband's grandmother once told me "when shopping for fabric or food, buy the best quality you can afford. If you really love a fabric, buy the whole bolt." Ironically, she never told me to buy food I love in bulk, because #priorities.
I can assure you I'm not buying whole bolts of fabric since I prefer scrap quilts, but I did take her to heart on buying the best you can afford. The reality with fabric is that you get what you pay for. Quilt shop quality fabrics are sooooo much nicer than what you get at Walmart or Joann. They have a higher thread count, which translates to a better drape factor. Quilt shop quality fabrics also tend to be much more colorfast.
If you have a variety of (unwashed) fabrics in your stash, go take out a few that you bought from different places. Feel them. The cheaper the fabric, the more sizing starch you'll feel in it. They have to use all that sizing to keep the low thread count material from getting distorted on the bolt. Once you wash it, it'll soften up, but it won't ever be as soft as quilt shop fabrics, and the lower thread count will invariably affect the drape as you use the quilt.
On the extreme end of the fabric spectrum: think about burlap. It's the lowest thread count material, and it is ROUGH. While Egyptian cotton sheets are smooth as buttah. Thankfully, quilting cotton doesn't vary this much, but it helps to think about it in these terms.
2. Use wool, silk, or bamboo batting.
Much like fabric, the kind of batting you use makes a difference. Wool and silk batting provide the BEST drape and an oh-so-perfect loft, but they're pretty expensive. Bamboo batting is a cheaper (and vegan-friendly) alternative that's also super-drapey. Wool, silk, and bamboo battings also don't crease when folded, unlike cotton.
I don't recommend polyester or poly blend fabrics for any quilting application. They are durable, but not drape-y, and are an ecological nightmare with all the plastic and glue. If you are on a budget, you can use cheap fleece as batting. It's still made of polyester, but the drape is so much nicer than the poly batting. Just remember not to touch your iron to it!
3. Quilt farther apart.
I use to think that dense quilting was the mark of being an expert quilter. All those gorgeous show quilts had so. much. quilting.
But those were show quilts. Nobody was sleeping under them, so the cozy factor didn't matter very much. My quilts are made to be loved, not hung on the wall, so cozy is definitely prioritized over elegance.
See the following chart for maximum quilting distances. You'll notice the battings with the most drape require the closest quilting distance. Don't be dismayed! 3-4" quilting distance is perfect for most quilts that you plan on using and washing! It's not recommended to quilt 10" apart though, even if that's what the batting allows. You generally want your quilting as far apart as the smallest piece of fabric in the quilt top. So if your smallest piece of fabric is 2," you should quilt no more than 2" apart. Quilting less than 2" apart will start to make your quilt stiff.
4. Straight-line quilt in one direction.
Again, I use to think more quilting = better. Not the case. When I started making quilt coats, I realized how much the quilting affects the drape. Quilt coats that had straight-line quilting in only one direction hung so much more nicely than ones with crisscross quilting patterns. Same goes for quilts: simple, straight-line quilting in one direction makes for a very cozy, drape-y quilt.
If you want to straight-line quilt both vertically and horizontally, do it a little further apart than you think you need to, about 4" is good.
5. Use bigger stitches when straight-line quilting.
Last but not least, another bit of Grandma wisdom, this time from the other Grandma. She told me (ever so kindly) "Honey, one day you will learn to use bigger stitches."
Just like the dense quilting, I'd always thought tiny stitches were the mark of excellent craftsmanship. Turns out, they just make for a very stiff quilt!
Increase your stitch length by at least .5mm from what you use when piecing. I use a 3mm stitch when straight-line quilting, and my quilts are very drape-y, even when I quilt densely. It also helps to use a slightly bigger thread, so it sits on top of the fabric instead of sinking in.
Want one more tip? This one's my favorite!
Skip a few lines of machine quilting, and hand-quilt those spaces instead. Not only is it a lot of fun, but it gives your quilt a beautiful, heirloom look and feel. You don't need to do a lot of hand quilting (we're all busy, I get it!), just enough to break up the stiffness of the machine quilting.
Do you have any more tips for getting super cozy quilts? Leave them in the comments!