Fabric quality is so important when choosing fabrics for quilts. The better the quality, the better the quilt will look and the longer it will last. While there are many choices in fabrics for quilting, knowing what to look for in a quilting fabric can really make or break the final result of all your hard work.
While you can certainly buy cotton squares for quilting in most craft stores, quilter’s fabric can make a world of difference when it comes to the quality of your quilt.
So what is quilter’s fabric? Quilter’s fabric is a 100% cotton fabric, with some special characteristics that make it look and feel more premium than other types of cotton. There are also some quilting fabrics with names like Essex Linen or Quilter’s Linen. They are also made of cotton or cotton-blends.
In this article, we’ll discuss more about quilter’s fabrics and how they differ from other types of fabrics commonly used in sewing.
Characteristics Of Quilting Fabric
Quilting fabric is a 100% cotton fabric, with some special characteristics that make it look and feel more premium than other types of 100% cotton fabric. There are some quilting fabrics with names like Essex Linen or Quilter’s Linen. They are also made of cotton or cotton-blends but are named that way because they have the linen look.
The differences between quilting fabric and regular fabric are mainly in the thread counts, stable length, weave, printing (of the pattern in fabric), and finishing of the colors.
These differences are fairly subtle, so if you are not a fabric “expert,” you may wonder why two pieces of fabric, both 100% cotton, can have vastly different prices.
Yes, quilting fabric is usually more expensive than other fabrics that you can find in craft stores. However, the price definitely matches the quality once you understand all the different ways that quilting fabric is more “premium” than other types of fabric.
1. Thread count
If you are familiar with fabrics, then you probably know that the higher the thread count per inch, the softer and more luxurious the fabric will feel.
While regular cotton fabrics have very low thread counts, with 60 being the most “premium” thread count that you can find in the craft store, quilting fabric usually has very high thread counts, anywhere from 75-200.
The higher thread count means that the fabric looks finer and smoother compared to fabrics with lower thread counts. When you hold fabrics that have a higher thread count to light, you won’t be able to see through the air gaps in between the weave. If the light is still able to come through the fabric, then the thread count is probably very low.
2. Staple length
The stable length refers to the length of the cotton fiber that makes up the warp and weft threads in the weave. Premium cotton, such as Pima or Egyptian cotton, usually has a very long stable length (3.5 cm or longer). This length allows the threads to be stronger and smoother, leaving less lint in the wash.
Quilting fabric is usually a woven fabric with a plain (1×1) weave or an even weave (2×2 or 4×4), which means that there is an even number of weft and warp threads. This construction allows the fabric to resist fraying while looking very neat and uniform.
Some quilting fabric even has different colors on the warp and weft to create different patterns and textures for your quilts. When buying quilting fabric, pay close attention to the weave because it will surely add interest and dimension to your quilt.
If your fabric has a printed pattern, then the difference is even more noticeable. Quilter’s fabric usually has more high-quality printing, which is often seen in the vibrancy of the colors and how many colors are used in print. You can tell how many colors are employed in print just by looking at the single threads in the weave.
Some quilter’s fabrics even have complicated engravings in the fabric, which is the result of the careful design process that requires flatbed presses instead of the mass-produced printed fabrics that you often see in the craft stores.
You’ve heard of finishing in woodworking, but did you know that printed fabrics need finishing too? Finishing a printed fabric will help set the colors so that they won’t fade or bleed in the wash later on.
If the fabric has been finished in a chemical bath, then the surface of the print will feel smoother and silkier, plus the colorfastness will be far superior to other types of fabrics.
Other Benefits Of Using Quilting Fabrics
Having quality quilting fabric is just as important as choosing the right pattern. If you want your finished project to look fancy and high-quality, matching the investment and the craftsmanship that you have invested in the quilt, then it’s crucial that you get the best quality fabric.
Since quilting fabric is designed for quilting, you can count on it to be really easy to work with. In comparison, other types of loosely woven fabric can be difficult to cut, pin, and sew. If your printed fabric hasn’t been finished properly, then the print can even bleed in the wash, ruining your quilt in the process.
In this sense, quilting fabric will definitely last longer than other types of cotton fabric. In addition, the construction and finishing also mean quilting fabric can resist shrinkage, despite being 100% cotton.
Best Type Of Fabric For Quilting
If you are convinced that quilting fabric will improve the final look of your quilt, then take a look at some types of quilting fabric below.
1. Quilter’s Weight Cotton
Quilter’s weight cotton fabrics have all the qualities we have described above and are generally the best choice when it comes to premium quilting fabrics.
While we have established that quilter’s weight cotton is less likely to shrink compared to regular, cheaper cotton options, 100% cotton is still prone to some shrinkage in the wash. When working with this fabric, it’s best to pre-wash the fabric before cutting so that your quilt won’t shrink after you have finished it.
When looking for high-quality cotton, finding anything with the phrase “Quilter’s weight” in its name is a good indicator of the quality. Some craft stores have started to carry quilter’s weight fabrics, and you can find quilter’s weight cotton in most quilt shops.
2. Home Decor Weight Cotton
If you can’t find any quilter’s weight cotton, then home decor weight cotton is also a great option for quilting fabric. This fabric is heavier cotton and has a sateen finish. It is usually heavier, designed for home décor projects, such as pillows and bags.
Since it doesn’t drape well, it’s for those wanting a little extra body in their quilt. When you work with this fabric, make sure to use light batting so that the quilt won’t become too stiff and bulky.
Voile is soft, lightweight cotton that has a slightly transparent appearance. It is commonly used for clothes such as dresses and skirts, and it has also become a favorite among quilters.
There are several ways to use voile in your quilt. Because it is so lightweight, you can mix and match voile with quilter’s weight cotton to create an interesting look. In addition, voile can be used as a backing for your quilt so that the quilt will look and feel soft but not too bulky.
4. Essex Linen
Essex Linen is actually a cotton and linen blend that has the texture of linen that can add depth and interest to your quilt. This fabric brings a natural, rustic feel to your quilt and is perfect for summer projects.
5. Quilter’s Linen
Quilter’s linen is made from cotton, but its texture and appearance resemble linen. Many quilters don’t love mixing cotton and linen since the different types of fabric can make caring for the quilt more complicated later on. Linen is also more high-maintenance than cotton in many ways.
This fabric allows you to get the best of both worlds – the look and feel of linen and the low maintenance of cotton.
6. Cotton Flannel
Flannel is a woven fabric that can come in so many varieties. It can be made from cotton, wool, or polyester. It can be loosely woven or tightly woven. It can have a plaid pattern or none at all.
What makes flannel really special is that it is a woven fabric that is brushed on one side. The brushing raises the fibers of the fabric, making it feel really soft and snuggly, which is why it is most often used in baby quilts.
For quilting, we recommend cotton flannel with a medium thread count, which can give you the best of both flannel and quilter’s weight cotton. This type of fabric will feel soft, drapey, snuggly, perfect for fall and winter quilts, and especially baby quilts.
Keep in mind that cotton flannel is very prone to shrinking in the wash, so before you work with this material, you should wash the fabric to get in front of the shrinkage before sewing with the material.
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