There is much discussion among quilters concerning using quality fabric for quilting. Many quilters only use quilt shop quality fabric for all their projects and others will only use discount store fabric. It is a choice that needs to be made by each individual quilter and the choices depend on the projects end use.
If you are going to make a craft item or a "use-it-up" quilt or another item that you might not want to keep for a long time, you might find the less expensive fabric would work well for this purpose. If you are going to make an heirloom or a wedding quilt that you would like to keep for a long time, you might want to use top quality fabric from the quilt store.
Here are some simple pointers for purchasing quilting fabric.
1. Support your local quilt shop. If you are making a wedding quilt or another quilt that you will consider an "heirloom" use the best quality fabrics that you can afford. Your local quilt shop will provide you with good quality designer fabric and tone on tone and background fabrics that are made to quilting industry standards. Your local quilt shop will also help you figure out how much fabric, batting, and backing you'll need for your specific quilt. They will help you with color selection and any number of quilting services that you might require. Be sure to sign up for the newsletters of the quilt shops you visit regularly as they will announce classes, sale specials, and new product updates.
2. Your discount chain fabric store. These stores might carry some higher quality fabrics in some sections of their store. If this is what you wish to buy you will need to find the location of these fabrics in your store. The chain stores also have a lot of fabric selections that might not be of a quality wanted in an heirloom quilt. Also chain fabric stores usually don't have enough staff to give a quilter individual help. If you shop at the discount fabric stores, and purchase less expensive fabric, be sure to wash your fabric and check for shrinkage and bleeding. Many notion items can be purchased at chain stores that are identical to what is available at the quilt store such as cutters, mats, rulers, and other items. Be sure to sign up for mailings and email announcements as many of the chain fabric stores offer regular mailings of percentage off coupons.
3. Your large discount craft store. One major chain craft store stocks quilting and other fabric. They have a nice selection of better brands available and have great clearance prices. They also carry less expensive quality fabric. The craft chain stores selection is smaller than the fabric discount store because they only dedicate a small amount of store space to quilting and sewing. Their staff is also limited so individual attention is minimal.
4. Your discount department store. One major discount department store chain also sells fabric and a large portion of their selection is mid-priced and medium quality fabric. But a quilter must make careful selections as some of the inexpensive fabric sold on "sale tables" is inferior and of poor quality. They also have excellent prices on notions. Their staff is also limited so individual attention is minimal.
How To Know If A Chosen Fabric Is Of Good Quality
A quality fabric will be firmly and closely woven. If you hold it up to the light it will not be easy to see through. If you were to take a magnifying glass you would see the weave is close and even. It will have a smooth feel. There won't be variations in the weave or lumps in the threads.
Much of the inexpensive fabric may feel stiff. This is because sizing is added to the fabric in processing. This makes inexpensive fabric look better in the store. Once the fabric is washed and used it will be very limp. Lower quality fabric will have greater shrinkage.
Many fabric manufacturers process the same print on different qualities of griege (pronounced gray) goods. I observed this several years ago when I purchased a novelty printed cotton fabric at the local quilt store and then found the same print at the discount fabric store. I compared them before washing and then I washed both fabric cuts and compared. I discovered that the discount fabric was a looser weave than the quilt shop fabric. The color in the discount fabric was not as brilliant or clear. The fabric may have been printed by the same manufacturer but the difference in the greige goods made the difference in how the fabric accepted the printed colors.
Fabric specialists often refer to the "hand" of the fabric. This is a term for how the fabric feels in your hand. Usually a good quality fabric will have a nice "hand" or a nice feel. If you have quilted a long time and purchased a lot of fabric, you will have a "feel" for fabric that is good quality. This "feel" comes with experience.
Why Is Good Quilt Fabric So Expensive?
Some quilters might wonder why some designer fabric is so expensive. In the first place better fabric is printed on better greige goods. Also the price is according to how many different color dyes are printed on the fabric. Multicolor prints would be more expensive than the prints with one or two colors. Most of our modern fabric is silk screen printed on large rollers. If you look at the selvage of your better fabric, you will see the small registration dots. Each one of these dots signifies a different color. Each time there is a different color the entire roll of fabric has to go through the printing or silk screen rollers at the factory. I have seen as many as 17 registration dots on a piece of first quality fabric. The addition of a metallic design would be an additional expense. Adding gold or silver metallic dye increases the retail price of a yard of fabric an additional dollar.
How Fabric Is Printed
Greige goods are large bales of cotton cloth as in comes from the factory where it is woven. It is not printed or finished in any way. It is usually 48" wide and is sort of a gray-beige color. It comes on a "bale" that is about one thousand yards long. When it arrives at the printing factory, it is washed and the cotton seeds are removed. Then it is bleached and/or mercerized. Once it is dried it shrinks to about 42".
Mercerized Cotton Fabric
This is a treatment with caustic soda to open the fibers so they will receive the dye more readily. Some authorities state that the difference is so small that the average quilter would not notice the difference between mercerized and un-mercerized printed fabric goods.
The long rolls of griege goods are sewn together and they are fed through the engraved rollers or silk screen rollers for printing. Have you ever seen the overcast joining of the fabric in a bolt at the fabric store? This seam is where the manufacturer joined large rolls of greige goods. Usually these portions don't make it to the quilt store as they are cut away at the factory but occasionally you'll see one. Most stores simply cut the fabric and discard the seams but occasionally you'll find a remnant with a seam.
Remember each roll of fabric needs to be printed by each dye color. The fabric will pass through the rollers one time for each color printed. The more expensive fabric would have more colors printed on it.
Much of the fabric sold in the United States is printed overseas. There are only a few mills producing fabric in the USA at this time. Because of this there is also the expense of shipping finished fabric from the factory all over the world. This also adds to the final price of fabric.
Which Way Is Up On The Fabric
This is a question I have had for years. I always wanted to feature a special fabric in the direction the designer intended rather than just guessing. Some fabrics are obvious such as animals or trees but others seemingly have no direction.
I finally contacted some fabric "converters" -- companies that print fabric. They told me if you place the fabric on the table with the printed selvage on the left -- the top of the fabric is away from you and the bottom of the fabric is toward you. Now you know!
The Basic Different Types Of Fabric Prints
Calicos -- Today the word "calico" refers to very small flowers with leaves or sprigs. Some still consider calicos to be all prints used for quilting.
Florals -- Florals are pictures of flowers -- literal or stylized, tossed or directional, large or small florals.
Geometrics -- Geometrics are designs that have been drawn by a draftsman rather than an artist and include stripes, plaids, checks, and polka dots.
Overalls -- Overalls include squiggles and other imaginary shapes that are printed all over the fabric.
Conversational prints -- Conversational prints include images that include the whimsical, humorous, or scenic.
Tropical -- Tropical fabrics include jungle, palm trees, big game, etc.
Ethnics -- Examples of ethnic fabrics are African, Japanese, and Central American,
Border prints -- Border prints include fabrics with many striped motifs across the fabric or fabrics with one border along the selvage for dresses and skirts
If you are buying fabric to use as a repeat pattern such as fussy cutting or stack and slash you need to count how many times the design on the fabric repeats over a yard and multiply to get the number of repeats. Some individual block designs take six repeats and some would take eight. You might be able to count the repeats in the wording on the selvage but counting a prominent motif of the fabric near the selvage would be more accurate. I have seen prints that have a repeat from about 6" to 27".
Colorway -- The term colorway is a particular combination of any particular print. For example, this teacup print and coordinating fabric comes in three colorways, a pink colorway, a blue colorway and a lavender colorway. Many fabric lines today are available in several different colorways.
One-Way Designs -- these designs are printed in one direction. For example all the cats in a cat print would be printed in the same direction. Usually parallel to the selvage.
Two-Way Designs -- A two-way design is printed in two directions. For example half the cats would be printed in one direction and half the cats would be printed in the opposite direction.
Tossed Designs -- In a tossed design the motifs are placed in a mixed way so they appear to go in all directions. For example a tossed cat design would have the cats facing all different directions.
I am hoping the information included here will give you the information necessary to shop for your quilting fabric needs and to choose the best quality fabric available for your project.