How to Work with Peppered Cottons by Pepper Cory

Peppered Cottons are 100% shot cotton fabrics that almost fall into the solid color category. The term ‘shot’ means the weft is “shot through” the warp but uses a discernibly different color thread. Because the warp (lengthwise threads) and the weft (side to side threads) are different colors, the resulting shades are muted and variable combinations of the original colors. Above all, shot cottons have a tactile hand woven quality and display deep colors well since all threads are dyed prior to weaving. There is no wrong or right side to shot cottons--a plus for quilt makers.

All shot cottons, after being woven, go through a finishing process where they are washed, dried, and calendared (a heat-plus-pressing process which imparts a subtle sheen and a soft hand to the cotton fabric). Calendaring disappears after washing. Art quilters, who do not need to wash their fabrics, can use shot cottons straight from the bolt.

How to Wash Peppered Cottons:

Keeping the fabric in its doubled-form, slightly trim a little angled ‘ear’ from both selvage edges of the length of fabric. Unfold the fabric. If washing small lengths (1/2 yard or less) simply do a sink wash with soap and warm water and rinse several times in a clean sink full of water. If washing in the machine, put the shot cotton pieces into a lingerie bag or knotted pillow case (give the fabric room to move—not a tight knot). Our preference is to wash in warm water and rinse in cold. Use whatever soap or detergent you would use to eventually clean a quilt. Wash in a full tub of water (put in some towels or sheets to take up room) and use a Color Catcher ™ in the load. FYI: this step is to capture any excess dye particles. Peppered Cottons are color-fast! After washing, take the fabrics out of the bags and ‘fluff.’ Cut any loose threads at that time. Re-insert the damp pieces loosely into their bags and dry about 20 minutes. Don't let the fabrics over-dry. Fold and store on shelves when dry--cut and iron only as much Peppered Cottons as you need for each project.

Washed Peppered Cottons:

Washed and pressed Peppered Cottons have a slightly different hand than when they are on the bolt. The weave firms up giving these fabrics the hand (texture + weight) of good-quality unbleached muslin. The brilliant colors also slightly intensify when the light-reflective finish is gone. Note that Peppered Cottons are a higher thread weight than most shot cottons and it means these fabrics blend well with regular-weight quilting fabrics. You can mix-and-match Peppered Cottons with fabrics from your stash with the assurance that they’ll stand up to use.

Sewing With Peppered Cottons:

Before cutting patchwork pieces from the fabric, give it a light mist of spray starch and press. This step gives the fabric even more body.

Applique Tips: 

Spray-starch shot cotton yardage twice (spray both sides) when doing appliqué. Since appliqué requires a lot of handling, a little extra body never hurts, especially when doing needle-turn appliqué by hand. When sewing machine appliqué, sample a block first so you can adjust stitch type, length of stitch, and your preferred weight of thread. In most cases, either #50 or #60 weight thread are good choices for machine appliqué work.

Pressing Tips:

Always use a clean iron. When ironing shot cotton yardage and sewn patchwork, set your iron on Wool the setting just below Cotton with no steam. A too-hot iron can cause crinkling at the edges of the cut patchwork. No need to work at any hotter setting than Wool.

Quilting Tips:

When machine-quilting, use a new needle and again, a thin strong thread. I like a flat look in my quilts so prefer a thin cotton or wool batting--almost the flatness of flannel. For quilt backing, choose a quilting-weight cotton fabric, rather than more shot cotton, to give more density to the quilt.

Working With a Professional Quilter and/or Machine Quilting:

Use a new needle when machine-quilting Peppered Cottons. If you hire a professional quilter, be willing to work with him/her in the event they have had no experience with shot cottons. Tip: make the bottom layer (backing) of the quilt sandwich a regular-weight cotton. Shot cottons are easy to quilt but often a thinner needle works best. FYI: you can tell when a too-large needle has been used in machine quilting--when the finished quilt is held to the light, tiny pin-holes appear through which light shines.