How To Buy Cotton Quilting Fabric?

Purchasing fabric for quilting looks like it ought to be pretty straightforward. And to tell you the truth, when I first started quilting, it was very easy. At least I was able to do it in that fashion. In the course of my exploration of the fabric store, I came across some material that appealed to me on multiple levels: the pattern, the color, and the design. In most cases, however, I purchased fabric simply because I liked it.

As a direct consequence of this, my stockpile of quilting fabric consisted of a wide variety of fabrics, including those made of 100 percent cotton, 100 percent polyester, cotton/polyester, rayon, and even some wool.

I learned the benefits of using a variety of fabrics after a few unsuccessful attempts at quilting, during which I experimented with the craft. When I think about purchasing fabric, I now take a variety of factors into consideration.

In spite of the vastly increased availability of fabric options, I continue to gravitate toward those made from natural fibers. Most likely, it’s a desire to feel a connection to quilters from years gone by. It’s also possible that a comment made to me many years ago about “wrapping a baby in plastic (polyester)” just stuck with me in a negative sense and has stayed with me ever since.

Even though I favor natural fibers more, I have made some fun quilts that include lame, as well as the occasional polyester or poly/cotton blend, because these materials offered some design benefit that I wasn’t able to find in cotton, such as a sports logo.

This is the first of several articles that will be written about the various kinds of fabric that quilters use in their creations. Cotton, wool, and silk are the natural fibers that I will concentrate on for the sake of simplicity. I have tried each one of them (although not in the same quilt). You will, therefore, benefit from my first-hand experiences and insights. Simply a matter of one’s own opinion.

I’ll let others do the describing about the fascinating way fabric is made and dyed because you can go online and find plenty of articles and websites that describe the process, and I’ll just focus on what quilters want to know, which is how it will be to work with that type of fabric.

Let’s begin with 100 percent cotton fabric because it is, hands down, the most popular choice when it comes to quilting fabric.

Quilters typically favor using 100 percent cotton for a variety of reasons, including the following:

  • Cotton is a material that is simple to manipulate. After you have completed stitching a seam, you can simply use your finger to press the seam allowances in the direction that you desire. (This indicates that your fabric will not shift even if you do not press it at each stage of the process.)
  • While you sew your pieces together, cotton tends to stick together. Because polyester has a tendency to slip and slide, you will need to pin or baste your patches to prevent them from being sewn in a crooked position.
  • Cotton, in contrast to synthetic materials, has a certain amount of “give” to it. Because of this, you will have the ability to pull and tug a little bit (as well as bunch it up a little bit) in order to get the seams to match and make your corners square.
  • Cotton is able to breathe. Making a quilt out of fabric that is 100 percent cotton will allow air to circulate while still retaining the warmth of the quilt. This is true whether you are making a baby quilt or a bed quilt. It is completely beyond my understanding how this operates, but it does appear to be the case.
  • Cotton has a greater capacity for absorbing the dyes. It’s possible that my perception is off, but the patterns seem to have more depth, and the colors seem to have more life to them.
  • Cotton is durable. It has withstood the test of time and has been put through rigorous use.
  • Cotton is capable of being torn (or ripped). This means that you will be able to determine exactly how the fibers line up, which can be either a benefit or a drawback depending on how you look at it. Due to the fact that it will not rip across the threads, you will be able to “square up” the edge that was just torn.

Because I don’t want to get too technical here, I’ll spare you all of the details, but suffice it to say that even with fabric that is entirely made of cotton, there is still a lot of variety.


Cotton can be woven into a variety of fabrics, including poplin, chino, chenille, and velveteen. These fabrics are typically thicker than conventional quilting fabric, and their finishes may have a distinct texture, such as velveteen with a fuzzy surface.

It is not recommended that you attempt to cut any of these fabrics into strips measuring exactly half an inch in width because they work best when cut into larger pieces. The density of the weave is something else that you need to keep an eye out for. Fabrics with a looser weave are more likely to fray and come apart than fabrics with a tighter weave because of the looser weave.

Good Quilting Fabrics

Cotton broadcloth or plain-weave is an example of a fabric that is easy to sew due to its medium weight, which prevents slipping and sliding while also allowing for smooth (as opposed to bulky) seam allowances.

The term “homespun” refers to a type of fabric that is woven using threads that have already been dyed. The majority of the time, these textiles are solid colors, plaids, stripes, or checks.

Flannel is a type of quilting fabric that is woven using a thicker cotton thread, and the resulting fabric can have a fuzzy appearance. (This quilting fabric would be nice for a baby or for a chilly night during the winter.)

Chintz is a type of fabric that is characterized by a high thread count as well as a glazed finish. It may pucker as you sew, and pins and needles may cause permanent holes, which is not very attractive in a finished quilt. Although the thread count does add some interest to your quilt, it does present some challenges to hand quilting.

Pima is a type of cotton that is of an extremely high quality and ranks right up there with Egyptian cotton in terms of popularity. The high thread count of the Pima cotton that I used to make it gives it a luxurious and distinctive appearance and feel. Pima cotton or a fabric that is very similar to it is used in the production of many batiks. It may be somewhat more challenging to quilt them due to the high thread count of the materials. However, after being quilted, they turn out to be beautiful quilts.

Homespun Fabric often has a loose weave. They are beautiful and soft, but may fray and fall apart in your quilt.Batik Fabric – Many Batiks have a Pima cotton weave, making them difficult to hand quilt.Flannel is great for a Quilt as You Go project as well as a traditional pieced baby quilt.

Thread Count

You could become very knowledgeable about all of the different thread count numbers and learn everything there is to know about statistics. If the numbers on the end of the bolt are present, then you will have some idea of what they mean when you look at them. My research has shown that the bolt ends do not always include those statistics.

Alternately, you could spend ten minutes conducting research in a fabric store and compare the results to see the difference. There is a wide variation in the number of threads that are packed into one inch of fabric. When one small section of the fabric is held up to the light, it is possible to see through other sections of it. These are woven in a very loose fashion. Although they might be quite lovely individually, when put together they rarely produce an attractive quilt. Most of the time, they are very easy to disassemble.

Fabrics that have a loose weave are never purchased by me because of this policy. The most notorious offenders in this category are flannel and homespun fabrics. There are a few of them that have such a loose weave that it feels as though they are going to fall apart while I have them in my hands. If the weave is not tight enough, the quilting stitches will cause the threads in the fabric to break, which will result in holes being created in your quilt.

There is also the possibility that the batting will “beard,” which means that the fibers of the batting will begin to migrate to the exterior of your quilt through the threads. This ends up producing a quilt with hairs on it (a beard). There is not a lot that can be done to change that.

On the other hand, hand quilting can be more challenging when working with fabrics that have a high thread count. They work just fine for quilting with a machine.

Front and Back of the Fabric

The majority of fabric gets its color from a printing process that’s similar to how newspapers are printed. If you look at the back of the fabric, which is called the “wrong side,” it might be completely white. I will not purchase such fabric because, in my opinion at least, it is likely to be low-quality quilting fabric that will either continue to be rigid after being used in a quilt or will come apart while being used.

Because the dye on printed fabric can occasionally penetrate all the way through to the reverse side, it can be difficult to determine which side should be considered the front and which the reverse. This type of fabric is one of my favorites!

Then there is the quilting material known as batik. The fabric is submerged in vats of dye during the dying process for batik, and the color is absorbed by the fabric threads (except where wax is applied to prevent the color from absorbing).

Because homespun fabric is created from threads that have already been dyed, both sides of the fabric have the same appearance.

In the images that are located above, there are some examples of batik fabric as well as homespun fabric.

This fabric looks the same on the front and the backThis fabric is almost white on the back – compared to the red front

Consider the Quilt

When selecting the fabric for your quilt, it is helpful to think about the finished quilt you intend to create. Because both sides of the fabric will show in the exposed seam allowances when making a rag quilt, I was once asked by a quilter if she should restrict herself to using only homespun fabric when making the quilt.

This is undeniably a factor to take into account. If this is something that is important to you, then you should only use fabric that was spun at home. It’s possible that the white on the reverse side of the fabric will lend the fringed seams a certain amount of visual appeal.

Above all else, keep in mind that this is your masterpiece; create it in the way that you prefer.

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