Choosing Quilting Fabrics
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.
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.
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.
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 two graphics on the left. In the first example, the dots are straight along the selvage, the fold and the cut edge. That's what you want to see.
In our second example, the print angles to the right. Notice the crooked design along all the edges of this fabric. This print is off grain. Don't buy it.
Have you ever walked by a row of quilting fabrics and
noticed a strong odor? Beware. You're smelling
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 fabrics 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
Find a table and unfold the fabric so you can see several yards. Are there any spots where the pattern overlaps? The graphic on the left shows an example of this problem. Check the fabric carefully for other occurrences. If you see it once, you'll probably see it again.
Now, look at the second graphic. This shows an example of a design that skips. Again, check your fabric to see if it skips in other places. 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.