Avoid Shadowing in your Quilts

Shadowing occurs in a quilt when a darker fabric shows through a lighter fabric.  The National Quilting Assocation considers this an issue of quality in their summary of quilt judging criteria.  In evaluating general construction as part of overall workmanship, judges will be checking to ensure that there is “no shadowing of dark fabrics under light”.

How can we avoid shadowing in our quilts?  When it comes to patchwork, the first suggestion is often taught right in the beginner quilting class.

Press Seam Allowances toward the Darker Fabric
Quarter-inch seams in quilting patchwork are most often pressed to one side, rather than pressed open as in garment construction.  Where there is a choice, pressing those seam allowances towards the darker fabric will prevent shadowing near the seam.

This isn’t always possible, especially with butted seams.  Butted seams occur where two seam allowances meet at the same spot.  By pressing one seam allowance to the left and the other to the right, the bulk is evenly distributed in the new seam helping the intersection to line up perfectly and the patchwork to lay flat.  Butting two seam allowances may mean pressing towards the lighter fabric.

Butted seams pressed towards light fabric

Grade or Trim Seam Allowances
If pressing towards the lighter fabric creates shadowing, try removing a bit of the darker fabric in the seam allowance.  Trim the darker fabric by carefully cutting away a sliver of the ¼-inch seam allowance – just enough that the darker seam allowance is narrower than the lighter.  Or, grade the seam allowances by cutting them on an angle such that the darker ends up slightly narrower than the lighter.

Trimmed seam allowances

Even though it was an appliquéd seam, I encountered this situation with the dark purple fabric framing the blocks in Instruments of PraiseCarefully trimming the dark fabric away from the seam allowance ensured that it didn’t shadow through the paler background fabric.

Shadowing is even more likely to occur with appliqué, when a light-colored patch is stitched on a dark background or overlaps an adjoining dark patch.  To avoid shadowing in my appliqué, I employ a different strategy.

Line Appliqué Patches
A second layer of fabric beneath a light-colored patch – a lining– will successfully prevent darker fabrics from showing through.  Plain white fabric or muslin works well for the second layer.  This lining can be added a number of ways, depending on the method of appliqué.

For fusible appliqué, the lining can be fused to the light-colored appliqué fabric first to create a bonded two-layer sandwich.  Then, the individual appliqué patches can be prepared as usual – although the wrong side of the appliqué fabric is now the lining fabric. 

Lining Fusible Applique

I used this approach with Stormy Seas: The Puffin to prevent the black body of the bird showing through the white face.

For needle-turn appliqué, the lining patch is prepared without a seam allowance.  It is then secured to the wrong side of the appliqué patch with a water-soluble glue stick, so that the raw edges of the lining match the marked stitching lines on the appliqué.  As the patch is stitched, the seam allowance of the appliqué patch covers the raw edge of the lining.

Lining needle-turn applique

This is how the white sails were lined in Stormy Seas: The Sailboat.


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