Simply put, thread count is the number of threads per square inch in the fabric. It determines the quality and weight of the fabric.
Threads are counted for both the length and width of the fabric.
First there are the threads that span the length of the fabric and run parallel to the selvedge. This is the straight grain of the fabric.
Second are the threads that run from selvedge to selvedge. This is the cross grain of the fabric.
|Straight grain and cross grain is how the threads of the fabric are woven to create the piece.
The bias runs cross-wise to the straight grain and cross grain.
The straight grain and cross grain have some stretch to them, but they should not stretch much. However, the bias will stretch a fair amount.
Thread count is the number of threads per square inch in the fabric. It determines the quality and weight of the fabric.
Threads are counted for both the length and width of the fabric (i.e., straight grain and cross grain). And often you can find a bolt of fabric with the weave marked on it.
The weave will be shown as two numbers - 68/68 would represent a fabric that has 68 threads per inch in both the straight grain and cross grain. A count of 68/56 would have 68 threads per inch in the straight grain and 56 threads per inch in the cross grain.
If there are the same number of threads in both directions, the fabric is an “even weave.” They are easier to work with as you make a quilt, since the fabric will have the same amount of “give" in both directions, and the fabric will not fray as much as fabrics with uneven thread counts.
If the thread count is uneven, not only will the fabric be more difficult to work with, but it will stretch and shrink at different rates, and you may end up with rectangle patches instead of square patches.
If you have a fabric you love that has an uneven thread count, by placing the the denser side to the side that is less dense, you can even out the shrinkage.
Uneven thread counts will also cause trouble when you are hand quilting or even machine quilting. Because the holes between the thread strands aren't evenly spaced, it will be almost impossible to get short, even hand quilting stitches. And, because the fabric stretches unevenly, as you machine quilt, the fabric will shift around differently as you guide it under the needle of your machine.
Quilting cotton is generally 68 x 68 threads per square inch, higher than average fabrics. Fabrics with lower thread counts, those around 60 x 60 per square inch are too lightweight for quilts. They tend to ravel excessively, they will shrink more, they will be less durable, and batting will come through the weave in your finished quilt.
High thread counts and extremely tight weaves can be difficult to work with, especially if you are hand quilting. Although it is tempting to use a sheet for the backing of a quilt, the finish and thread count may make it very difficult to work with.
I remember one year I was very excited to find some high quality Pima cotton. I bought a bunch of it, in all different colors, and made a beautiful quilt. It was an Amish-type Ocean Waves. Cutting the fabric was a dream. These were the days before rotary cutting, and I was cutting the fabric with scissors. Sewing the fabric on the machine was wonderful. Basting it was great. Then came the quilting.
Hand quilting was not pleasant at all. The thread count was so high, that quilting was almost a nightmare. I tried everything – smaller needles, sharper needles, bigger thimble, whatever I could dream up. But nothing made any difference. I just gutted it out, and finished it, because I loved the feel of the fabric and the design of the quilt.
I love the quilt, but won’t ever use Pima cotton again for a quilt I will hand quilt.
Roxanne International has a handy little tool that will tell you what the thread count is for any fabric. It's called the R.O.S.E. and is available at Roxanne International.
May 03 2012, 10:51 AM