Many people do not understand the factors behind choosing quilting fabrics. There is a difference between the quality quilt fabric you’ll find at Barb’s Quilt Nook and what you can order online or find in one of the big box stores. Read this page to learn how our fabric makes the difference in the quality of your quilt. As always, if you have a question, or need guidance, stop in and see us, or call us anytime. We are passionate about quilting and love helping our quilters solve challenges.
Difference in Quilting Fabric
One of the most common questions people ask is what they should look for when choosing quilting fabrics. The answer is two-fold, but is really more complicated than we can answer on this page. First, there are three major things to consider when choosing quilting fabric: Thread Count, Type of Cotton, Cotton Finishing.
Many people hear the term thread count, but don’t understand what it means. Thread count is the number of threads that make up a square inch of fabric. Standard thread count is considered 60 X 60. That simply means there are 60 horizontal and vertical lines of thread per square inch of fabric. This is often referred to as “60 square.” Much of the fabric sold online and in big box stores is 60 square. At Barb’s Quilt Nook our normal quilting fabric is 300 thread count, with some ranging much higher.
Thread count is one of the most important metrics in measuring quality quilt fabric. If the fabric has a low thread count the thread it will likely bunch up when sewn, washed, or simply as a result of the natural aging process. This, of course, affects the life and quality of your quilt.
Types of Cotton
Just because you see 100% cotton does not mean you are getting the best fabric for your quilt. There is a biggest difference between high quality quilting fabric you’ll find at Barb’s Quilt Nook in Kingsland, Texas, and what you’ll find online or in a big box store. There are three staples of cotton: short staple, long staple, and extra long staple.
Short staple cotton thread shrinks more than long staple cotton thread, and does not hold color as well. If you see a label that only reads “100% Cotton,” then you are almost certainly looking at short staple cotton. Short staple cotton is used for such things as bed sheets, clothing, and the like. Short staple cotton wears out quicker than longer staple cotton, but is densely weaved to extend the longevity of the product. About 85% of the cotton grown is short staple. the fiber of short staple cotton is an inch and an eighth long.
Long staple cotton thread holds colors better, longer, and reduces the bleeding of colors as the cloth ages. It is only an eighth longer than short staple cotton. It produces less lint, and requires less material to manufacture fabric. Fabric made from long staple cotton costs about 50% more to manufacture than fabric made from short staple cotton.
Extra long staple cotton is at least an eighth longer than long staple cotton. This is the newest, and best, cotton on the market. It costs about 50% more to manufacture than long staple cotton, but retail prices vary widely. Fabric manufactured from extra long staple cotton lasts longer, and holds color better than any other cotton on the market.
Cotton cloth goes through the greige (“grey”) process before final processing. Greiging is simply the process by which manufacturers test how the material will receive and hold color in the dying process. This fabric used to be sold as sack cloth, but is now sold as scraps or factory seconds online and in big box stores. It is often unfinished, so will not last as long, or hold colors as long as cotton that has undergone the finishing process regardless of what length of fiber is used.
Hot cotton is cotton that does not undergo the finishing process. Hot cotton is less expensive to manufacture, and is often sold at lower prices because manufacturers do not intend for it to be used for long-term projects – such as quilting. Unfortunately, there are no standards that tell consumers whether the cotton they buy is hot cotton other than the price. Manufacturers may dump large amounts of hot cotton on the market in order to get rid of stockpiles of cotton, or to keep their employees working during slow seasons.
Selecting Quilting Cotton
Here is the take away from this page: When you buy fabric for your quilting project you need to make sure you buy high quality fabric that will stand up over time. Even if you’re making a quilt that will only be hung on a wall, the color of cheap fabric will fade regardless of whether it is exposed to direct sunlight or hung in a dark closet.
The only reliable measure of the quality of cotton is price. Short fiber cotton is the lowest grade, regular-priced cotton fabric on the market. Long fiber cotton is the medium-priced cotton, and extra long fiber cotton is the most expensive. Most cotton you buy online or in a big box store is likely short fiber cotton, and may even be hot cotton that has not undergone the finishing process.
Come by our store and let us teach you about fabric before you begin your next quilting project. Choosing quilting fabric is an important first step to creating a quilt that will become an heirloom for generations.