Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The quality of Cotton

Over at Chasing Cotton, Quilting 101 classes have started.  Today's lesson is about fabric.  Rebecca has some good information to share.  I decided I wanted to add a bit about cotton quality and the difference between big box cotton and quilt shop cotton.  I will share some great links at the end of my post so you can go check out my sources for yourself.
I work exclusively with cotton right now.  I use 100% cotton fabric and thread.  I simply decided I don't want to use any more petroleum products than I already do, and polyester is a petroleum.  I love the feel of silk and linen, but they are pretty pricey right now, so I will stick with cotton for a while.  That being said, I am getting more picky about what cotton I use.
I, like most of you, am on a budget, and use my stash as much as possible.  However, I don't have a large stash and it doesn't include much in the way of yardage.  This means I have to purchase fabric now and then for borders, backs, and bindings.  When I first started quilting, I was fine with big box fabric.  By big box, I mean the chain fabric stores like JoAnn Fabrics.  After a short time, I discovered that there is a reason their fabric is less expensive.  It is all about quality.

Quality fabric is more expensive because it is made better.  Cotton fabric is woven in what are called greige (pronounced gray) lengths.  This the the raw fabric before dying and coating.  With quality fabrics, the thread count is greater than 60 x 60 threads per square inch.  If you purchase bed sheets, you will always see higher thread counts on more expensive sheets.  The cotton fibers are also different on quality fabric.  The diameter of the fiber is larger and they are longer.  Egyptian cotton is known for its long, strong fibers.  You can feel the difference when you run your hands over the fabric.  With cotton flannels, this difference is even greater.
The other important difference is in the dying process.  Higher quality fabric patterns are made using more screens and colors.  While the colors might look the same on big box fabric, they are made with fewer passes and are more subject to fading.  One of the things I have noticed between batiks from big box stores and those from quilt stores is that the colors seem to be muddier at big box stores. 

I don't mean to put down the big box fabric completely.  There is a place to use these fabrics on items you don't expect to last a long time.  Quilts and clothes for growing children are well loved and used, so using expensive fabric for something that will probably get glue or glitter paint on it seems like a bad idea.  On the other hand, if you are making a quilt that you hope will be loved and admired for generations, it is advisable to choose that higher quality fabric. 

To learn more about fabric quality for the quilter, here are a few links: for fabric identification tips. for information about cotton, including definitions of the different kinds of cotton available. for quality information.  The last letter on the page has very good information.
Quilting For the Rest of Us is an informative podcast about fabric quality and the difference between quilt shop fabric and big box fabric.
Cat's Quilt Chat for a well written piece about today's topic.

Joyful quilting, everyone.


Val said...

Loved your information and plan to visit those sites you listed.

Bec said...

Oh Miki, Thank you Thank you.. for such an amazing and informative post. I hope lots of people pop over to read up and learn from you. I really appreciate you participating in the class... Your info is invaluble. Thanks again... and i hope your planning more tutes for this class!!! xxx

sewinglady said...

Great information! Thanks for sharing.

Lynne said...

Thanks for those links at the end of your post - very helpful.

Having just made my first quilting projects from Big Box cotton, I know just what you mean! We live and learn!