How to Choose a Quality Quilting Fabric

How to Choose Quality Quilting Fabric

When I shop for quilting fabrics, I'm in heaven. To me, it's an exciting part of quilting. But I didn't always feel this way. As a beginner, I thought all fabrics were created equally. If it looked great on the bolt, I bought it.

I put this notion to rest after I washed my "discount" fabrics for the first time. By cycle's end, I had a load of frayed and twisted fabrics. This experience taught me a valuable lesson: Always buy quality quilting fabrics.

Many quilters shop at quilting stores because they specialize in quality quilting fabrics. You'll find that these fabrics cost more. Believe me, they're worth it. You don't want to put hard work into a quilt that's going to fall apart. Honor your time and talents by choosing quality fabrics.

So, how do you choose quality fabric at discount and chain stores? That's the purpose of this article. I'm going to show you how to inspect fabric like the pros. Once you learn the secrets, you'll never buy cheap fabric again.

NOTE: If you're a visual learner, please read the illustrated version of this article.

Hands down, most quilters use 100% cotton fabric. Fabrics made from natural fibers like cotton are easy to sew, iron and quilt. They also fray less than blended fabrics. Muslin, calico and broadcloth are good examples of cotton fabrics.

Most cotton fabrics come in 44"/45" widths. Always check the label to be sure. Keep the width in mind when you're figuring out how much quilting fabric you'll need. While you're at it, write down the care instructions, the name of the manufacturer and the name of the print. File this information with a swatch of your fabric. Refer to this if you need to buy more fabric.

Turn the fabric to the wrong side. Does the vertical grain run straight up and down? Does the horizontal grain run straight from side to side? Do both grains cross at perfect right angles? Does the weave run parallel to the selvages? If so, you fabric is "on grain." That's what you're looking for. If the grains aren't straight in both directions, avoid the fabric.

Quality quilting fabrics have higher thread counts. Thread count means the number of threads woven into a square inch of fabric. The magic number lies between 68 and 78. Quilting fabrics in this range are thicker and more durable. They also shrink less, sew better and last longer.

Unfortunately, manufacturers don't list the thread count on the label. But, you can decide if you're looking at quality quilting fabrics by examining the weave.

Are the threads loosely woven? Can you easily pull them apart? Does the fabric look thin? Hold your hand behind a single layer. Can you see the outline of your hand? If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, the fabric has a low thread count.

Even if your fabric has a straight grain, the print might be off. Look at the cut edge, the fold and the selvages. Does the print look even against these edges? If so, that's a good sign. If the print looks crooked, put the fabric back on the shelf.

Have you ever walked by a row of quilting fabrics and noticed a strong odor? Beware. You're smelling chemicals. Some manufacturers try to disguise inferior fabrics with heavy layers of starch or sizing. This makes the fabric look thick and stable. But it's only temporary. Once you wash out the chemicals, you're left with thin, limp fabric.

Grab a corner of fabric between both hands. With generous pressure, rub back and forth with a rapid, scrubbing motion. Now, smooth out the fabric and feel it again. Has the fabric lost its stiffness (body)? Does it feel thin and limp? If it does, you know you're dealing with junk.

When you "scrubbed" the fabric in the previous test, did the color rub off on your hands? "Crocking" happens when the dyes in the quilting fabric aren't sealed (a sure sign of inferior fabric). If color transfers to your hands, it's not colorfast. If you don't see the word "colorfast" on the label, test the fabric yourself. Here's how:

Cut out a small piece of white cotton fabric, about three inches square. Wrap it around your finger. Rub your finger back and forth on the fabric you're testing. Now, look at your white piece of fabric. Do you see any color? Even if it's slight, don't buy it.

Find a table and unfold the fabric so you can see several yards. Are there any spots where the pattern overlaps? Check the fabric carefully for other occurrences. If you see it once, you'll probably see it again.

Now, check your fabric to see if the design skips. While you're at it, make sure the color doesn't fade or disappear in certain areas.

Manufacturers add a final finish to quality fabrics. This seals the dyes and gives the fabrics a softer feel or "hand." But cheap fabrics don't get a final finish. So, they feel stiffer and they wrinkle more easily.

Take a corner of the fabric and squish it tightly in your hand. Does it feel stiff and crinkly? Does it have a lot of wrinkles? If so, don't buy it.

If you study my quilting fabrics checklist, you'll save a lot of time and energy. To make it easy, print out the following list and take it shopping.

  1. Thin fabric
  2. Stiff Fabric
  3. Strong Odor
  4. Color Rubs Off
  5. Loose Threads
  6. Grain line Crooked
  7. Print Doesn't Align with Grain
  8. Pattern Overlaps or Skips
  9. Colors uneven or dull

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Posted May 03 2012, 03:36 PM by Barbara
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