Quilt Fabric – Learn More About Cotton Fabric

We can’t make a quilt without fabric and fabric isn’t cheap so knowing more about quilt fabric available on the market. Quilts can be made with a variety of fabrics but for this article, we are going to stick with the traditional cotton fabric. Also, we are going to stick to new fabric, i.e. not upcycled from clothing. If I covered all of the fabrics that have been used to make quilts this post would take a week to read and I know none of us have time to read a novel on fabric. So let’s jump into cotton quilt fabric.

Learn what the difference is between quilt shop fabric and big box store fabric.

This post contains affiliate links. If you click one and make a purchase, I earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. It helps support the site so I can continue to offer great content to you! Read my full disclosure statement.

Not all cotton fabric is the same. Yes, it is all made from the same fiber cotton but it comes in different quality grades. Think of it like sheets 100-200 thread count is fine but aren’t going to last, 300-500 are good and will last longer but not a lifetime, and 1,000 thread count are amazing and your grandkids will probably be using them. The fabric you buy at stores like Walmart is going to be similar to 100-200, big box craft stores like JoAnn and Michael’s is going to be similar to 300-500, and the fabric you get at independent quilt shops are going to be like the luxurious sheets that will last a lifetime. The prices typically go up as the quality goes up as well.

Fabric Quality

There are several factors that go into the quality of the fabric. I will do my very best to keep all of this as simple as possible. I’m almost as passionate about how quilt fabric is made as I am about vintage Necchi sewing machines.

The Cotton

The first thing we need is cotton, you can’t make cotton quilt fabric without cotton. The cotton from fields is turned into thread and the thread is then woven into fabric.

Once it is baled, ginned, and graded the cotton will be shipped off and pulled into threads, if you have watched someone spin yarn from wool it is a very similar process.

Fabric Greige

Greige is pronounced like the color gray and not beige. Fabric greige is the grading system for the fabric. The quality of the cotton is one part of the fabric grading equation. The number of threads used, remember the sheet reference earlier, also plays into it as well as the thickness of the thread used in making the fabric. If you are interested in more about the process of making the fabric Toyota Industries has a great infographic on it.

The fabric at this point would resemble unbleached muslin. It then goes to be printed or dyed to become the quilt fabric we know, collect, and love. There are a few more steps, various finishes are done depending on which manufacturer purchased the fabric greige.

The higher grade of the greige the higher quality the end product will be and typically the more expensive the fabric will be. Lower-end greige sells for a lower price so it will be cheaper on the bolt.

Why Quality Matters in Quilt Fabric

I know those two sections were kind of boring to most of you but those processes really do matter. Higher quality fabrics are typically, there are always exceptions to the rules, thicker so you won’t get seam shadows. Those thicker fabrics also tend to wear better and longer than the thinner fabrics. That means that the project will last longer if taken care of properly. If you are putting in weeks or even months to make this quilt you want it to last a while.

Where to Find High-Quality Fabrics

The fabric we find in our locally owned quilt shops or independent shops online is usually higher quality than the quilt fabric sold in big box stores. It’s like anything else on the market today, big box stores are looking to move volume at the cheapest cost to them and they aren’t as worried about the quality. Those independent shops are worried about you coming back time and time again so they will have higher quality fabrics.

How Do I know if the Quilt Fabric is High-Quality?

The easiest way is to find an independent quilt shop and go pet fabric. Learning what good fabric feels like is the best way to learn but if you can’t feel the fabric is to learn what brands sell high-quality quilt fabric. You can go check out the shops in the links above. The most common names you will see will be Moda, QT Fabrics, Northcott, Riley Blake, Robert Kaufman, Free Spirit, and Clothworks. There are other brands and most of the linked brands have sub-brands and some of the brands have designers that might be more well known than the company making the fabric. Most quilters know Tula Pink but did you know her fabric is made by Free Spirit?

Every quilter will also have an opinion on which company makes the best fabric. You will quickly find the one that you like the best, be the finish, the patterns, the pre-cut sizes, or whatever makes you fall in love with a quilt fabric company(s).

When To Use Each of The Quality of Quilt Fabric

Each fabric has a time and place and knowing when to use each quality of quilt fabric will make your life a little easier.

Quilt Fabric From Discount Big Box Stores

I typically steer clear from fabrics from WalMart and Dollar Tree. They are just too thin, too rough, and won’t hold up. It will rip when you take a seam out wasting fabric and causing unnecessary frustration.

Now, if your WalMart has fabric on the bolt that tends to be better than their pre-cut fabrics. I’ve made a couple of skirts with WalMart fabric and I’ve made some bags with it. They weren’t items that I cared if they lasted or not.

Big Box Craft Stores Quilt Fabric

JoAnn Fabrics is a bit of an odd duck because you can get legitimate Liberty of London fabrics there. I have not used that fabric, it is too expensive for my budget but I know there are quilters who are big fans. They also carry Kona Cotton which is from Robert Kaufman and they carry some Robert Kaufman fabrics. When digging deeper it appears that they are selling older lines of fabric or at least not the same ones found in quilt stores. I have used JoAnn fabrics to make quilts and home decor projects. These are projects that will last for awhile but aren’t heirloom pieces. Not everything needs to be heirloom quality and if you need to count pennies can be a great option to stretch your budget.

Both JoAnn and Michaels have a larger selection of licensed fabrics, think Disney. Most of the time you aren’t going to be using that fabric for heirloom quilts because the love of a certain character doesn’t last.

Independent Quilt Shops

The fabric you find at independent quilt shops is your heirloom quality of quilt fabric. It’s also going to cost you more money. The average cost of a yard of fabric in 2023 is $13.50. So if you need to watch your budget you might only use quilt shop cotton fabric for quilts that you want to last a long time.

There are ways to stretch your budget with higher-quality fabrics though. While the smaller shops won’t have weekly sales they will have a clearance section. Some will even do a bigger discount the more you buy. Some shops will have a loyalty program where you can cash your points in for discounts. When you find your shop, ask if they have a program.

Ready to get your fabric stash organized? Head over to our how to store fabric post to learn more.

Want to learn more about quilting, vintage sewing machines, and me? Sign up for the newsletter and you’ll get to peek behind the curtain at everything we are doing.

Pin the image below so you’ll be able to find this again when you need it.

Ever wonder what the real difference between quilt shop fabrics and big box store fabrics? How about where you can use which fabric? You’ll learn that and more here.

Melissa Shields

After fighting her DNA Mel accepted she was a quilter with a love of vintage sewing machines. Now she shares that love with everyone on the internet.

Similar Posts