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Quilt Fabric - Learn More About Cotton Fabric

Originally posted - 8/21/2018
Last Updated - 9/12/2022

We can't make a quilt without fabric and fabric isn't cheap so knowing more about quilt fabric available on the market.  Quilts can be made with a variety of fabrics but for this article, we are going to stick with the traditional cotton fabric.  Also, we are going to stick to new fabric, i.e. not upcycled from clothing.  If I covered all of the fabrics that have been used to make quilts this post would take a week to read and I know none of us have time to read a novel on fabric.  So let's jump into cotton quilt fabric. 

Learn what the difference is between quilt shop fabric and big box store fabric.

This post may contain affiliate links.  Purchasing items from the links cost you nothing more and adds a few pennies to the fabric budget.

Quilt Fabric - Learn More About Cotton Fabric

Not all cotton fabric is the same.  Yes, it is all made from the same fiber cotton but it comes in different quality grades.  Think of it like sheets 100-200 thread count is fine, 300-500 are really good, and 1,000 thread count is outrageously expensive.  I looked up "top of the line sheets" to get an idea of the prices and I think I had a minor heart attack.  If you buy $1,000 sheets send me an email and let me know what they are like.

Fabric Quality 

There are several factors that go into the quality of the fabric.  I will do my very best to keep all of this as simple as possible.  I'm almost as passionate about how quilt fabric is made as I am about vintage Necchi sewing machines.  

The Cotton

The first thing we need is cotton, you can't make cotton quilt fabric without cotton.  The cotton from fields is turned into thread and the thread is then woven.  I found a great video showing how cotton goes from the field to the bale, it's nothing like hay or straw being bailed.

Once it is baled and graded the cotton will be shipped off and pulled into threads, if you have watched someone spin yarn from wool it is a very similar process.  Once the cotton has been made into thread it is then woven into fabric.

Fabric Greige

Greige is pronounced like the color gray and not beige.  Fabric greige is the grading system for the fabric.  The quality of the cotton is one part of the fabric grading equation.  The number of threads used, remember the sheet reference earlier, also plays into it as well as the thickness of the thread used in making the fabric.  If you are interested in more about the process of making the fabric Toyota Industries has a great infographic on it.

The fabric at this point would resemble unbleached muslin.  It then goes to be printed or dyed to become the quilt fabric we know, collect, and love.  There are a few more steps, various finishes are done depending on which manufacturer purchased the fabric greige.  

Why Quality Matters in Quilt Fabric

I know those two sections were kind of boring to most of you but those processes really do matter.  Higher quality fabrics are typically, there are always exceptions to the rules, thicker so you won't get seam shadows.  Those thicker fabrics also tend to wear better and longer than the thinner fabrics.  That means that the project will last longer if taken care of properly.  If you are putting in days to make this quilt you want it to last a while.

Where to Find High-Quality Fabrics 

The fabric we find in our locally owned quilt shops or independent shops online are usually higher quality than the quilt fabric sold in big box stores.  It's like anything else on the market today, big box stores are looking to move volume at the cheapest cost to them and they aren't as worried about the quality.  Those independent shops are worried about you coming back time and time again.  

I am blessed to be surrounded by great quilt shops and each one is just a little bit different but I have learned that I didn't realize just have big of a blessing it is to have three shops 20 minutes from me.  There are several shops online I've ordered from with great success like Fat Quarter Shop.  You can also order from a lot of LQS online.  I'm partial to Overbrook Quilt connection, they have really embraced the online world.  

How Do I know if the Quilt Fabric is High-Quality?

The easiest way is to find an independent quilt shop and go pet fabric.  Learning what good fabric feels like is the best way to learn but if you can't feel the fabric is to learn what brands sell high-quality quilt fabric.  

All of the fabrics above are from my stash.  The top is from Michael Miller, the middle is from JoAnn, and the bottom is QT Fabrics.  They all have a place.  The top and bottom I would use to make anything that I wanted, the middle is actually some from a friend that I used to make myself a small bag.  Now, I will say I've had the bottom fabric for a while, it is in the same line as the fabric from my No Y-Seam 8-point star and I've been saving it to make something special because I don't want to cut it up for something that doesn't mean something to me.

Not every quilt needs to last forever either.  Making a quilt for the teen in your life?  It's not going to be an heirloom, they are going to outgrow the style you make before the quilt wears out.  Save that heirloom quilt for when they get married.

If you are learning, head out to that big box store and save your money.  If you know it's not meant to last for years pick up the fabric where you can but if it's a really special quilt save your pennies and buy from your LQS or a similar online source.

Ready to get your fabric stash organized?  Head over to our how to store fabric post to learn more.

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Ever wonder what the real difference between quilt shop fabrics and big box store fabrics?  How about where you can use which fabric? You'll learn that and more here.

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