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The 3 Best Types of Quilting Fabric for Looks and Durability

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I have been quilting for over 50 years. The fabric that I used for my first quilt wasn’t something that I went out and bought. In fact, my first quilt was made much like those made by the early settlers of this country who made their quilts by cutting up old clothing into squares which were then sewn together to make quilts. To be honest, I made many quilts over quite a few years without actually knowing what quilting fabric really is.

Quilting fabric is 100% cotton fabric that is of medium weight, has a thread count that ranges from 60 to 75 threads per square inch for good quality and up to 200 threads per square inch for higher quality fabric, is made of long-staple cotton, and has a plain or even weave.

In the following paragraphs, we will discuss in more detail the various components or characteristics of quilting fabric and why those characteristics are important.

What is Meant By the Term 100% Cotton Fabric?

Many of the fabrics made today are blends of two or more different types of fibers like polyester and cotton, polyester and rayon, or a wool blend. But, the term 100% cotton fabric means just that, there is no other type of fiber contained within the fabric except pure cotton.

There are many advantages to using cotton fabric, some of which are that these fabrics are durable, breathable, a comfortable weight, are hypoallergenic, and are pleasant to the touch.

Using 100% cotton fabric for quilting is beneficial to the quilter in the following ways:

  • It is easier to work with and to handle for quilting, 
  • It does not stretch easily, 
  • It will have less shrinkage than other fabrics,
  • It does not fray easily, and 
  • It is finished to the extent that it is much more colorfast than most other fabrics.

Here is a 100% cotton fabric quilt I made:

Anne James made quilt for fundraiser 100% Cotton Broadcloth
I donated this to a fundraiser

What is the Weight of Fabric?

The weight of quilting fabric is generally heavier than fabric primarily made to be used for clothing because the weave is denser and the thread count is higher. It is lighter, however than fabric used for upholstery which would be too heavy to quilt when added to the other two parts of the quilt sandwich.

Quilting fabric generally weighs 3-5 ounces per square yard, while clothing fabric can weigh from 2 to 3 ounces per square yard.

What is the Thread Count of Quilting Fabric?

The thread count of quilting fabric will range from 60-75 threads per square inch for a good quality fabric to 200 threads per square inch for high-quality quilting fabric. Batik fabric which is often used in quilting has 200-220 threads per square inch. However, please note that Batiks are not as colorfast as quilting fabrics.

The thread count is not normally listed on fabric bolts. But, by lifting the fabric to the light, if you can see the light through the fabric, it is more than likely a lower thread count. The higher thread count fabrics are much more tightly woven and do not allow light to filter through.

Finished Bargello Quilt Batiks
A Bargello Quilt I Made With Batiks

What is Long Staple Cotton?

Quilting fabric is made of long-staple cotton, which means that the cotton fibers used in manufacturing those fabrics are 1¾” long. Long-staple cotton is often labeled as Pima or Egyptian cotton and is much stronger than other fabrics. Other fabrics have cotton fibers that are 1¼” long.

What is Meant by the Fabric Weave?

The fabric weave is determined by the number of threads in the length, which is called the warp of the fabric, and the width, which is known as the weft. Quilt Fabric weave is generally a plain or even weave which means that the number of threads for the length (warp) and width (weft) are the same. This ensures the fabric will handle well and will not fray during cutting, sewing, and quilting. It is also stronger and more durable and will feel soft to the touch despite being a heavier fabric.

Quilt Fabrics are also made with different color threads on the warp and weft, so the color will appear different and will shimmer and move based on how the light falls on the fabric.  Different weaving patterns will also add interest to fabrics for quilting.

What Are the Best Fabrics to Use For Quilting?

I personally have made quilts from discarded clothing, from the cheapest cotton fabric that I can find, from the most beautiful Batiks available, and from the best quilting fabric on the market. I have used a lot of cotton broadcloth and many different flannels, and based on my experience with quilting, this is my list of the 3 best fabrics to use for quilting.

  1. 100% Cotton Quilting Fabric- Quilting fabric made of 100% cotton is the best fabric for quilting. This fabric will be much easier to work with for the quilter and will hold its shape and make the most durable quilt that will last for many years.
  2. 100% Cotton Broadcloth- Broadcloth was originally made from either cotton or wool, but is now available in many blends. This popular fabric is primarily used in making clothing, especially shirts, dresses, sleepwear, and playwear. It can also be used in quiltmaking, but it is best to use the 100% cotton broadcloth for quilts. The price for 100% cotton broadcloth makes it popular in quiltmaking, because it is much more affordable than the quilting fabrics.
  3. 100% Cotton Flannel- The 100% cotton flannel is very popular in quiltmaking, especially for baby quilts and quilts to be used in areas where the winters are very cold. One of the drawbacks to using flannel is that it frays, but this can be remedied by cutting it with pinking shears.
Quilting Fabric Made From Cotton
Cotton Quilting Fabric
Cotton Broadcloth For Quilting
Cotton Broadcloth
Flannel For Quilting
Cotton Flannel

Just keep in mind that any fabrics can be used in quiltmaking, but certain things are important to remember:

  1. Use the same type and weight fabric for the entire quilt. Quilts with fabrics of different weights will shrink or stretch at different rates when washed.
  2. Use fabrics that are colorfast and will not bleed into other fabrics in the quilt after washing.
  3. Fabrics that are light and thin like voile will not be as durable in a quilt as the sturdier cotton fabrics.
  4. Avoid using knit fabrics in quilting because they stretch so easily. If, however, you are making a t-shirt quilt, be sure to use a good fabric stabilizer.
  5. It is better to use the same kind of thread as the fabrics you are using.
  6. Any fabrics can be used in making quilts, but the natural fiber fabrics like 100% cotton will handle much better and will be much more durable.

What Are the Parts of a Quilt?

The parts of a quilt include the quilt top, the batting, the lining (back), these first three parts forming the quilt “sandwich,” and the binding.

  • Quilt Top: The quilt top is normally the most “showy” part of the quilt and requires the most time for preparation. Kinds of fabric, colors, and a pattern must all be selected.
  • Batting: The size of the quilt and your preference for the kind of batting (cotton or polyester) and the thickness of the batting will determine your batting selection.
  • Lining (Back): The lining or backing of the quilt can be either a fabric that matches the quilt top, a coordinating fabric, a contrasting fabric, or it can be made from a fabric of neutral color. The width of the fabric to be used for the lining will determine whether the lining will have a seam. The lining can be pieced out of any type of fabric or there are quilting fabrics available that are 108” wide that will allow you to make a quilt lining without a seam. In addition I have on many occasions used a flat bed sheet for a quilt lining without a seam.
  • Binding: The binding joins the three parts of the quilt sandwich together and gives the quilt a finished look. There are many different ways to bind a quilt. If you are using fabric from the quilt top, the extra yard to a yard and a half of fabric must be added to the amount of fabric needed for the quilt. Pre cut binding strips and satin for binding are also available if you do not want to make your own binding.
Quilting Frame with Quilt Sandwich
Quilting Frame with Quilt Sandwich

Steps to Planning a Quilt Project:

When planning a quilt project, quite often the first thing that comes to mind is the question of what kind of fabric should I use for the quilt top. But, this is not the only part of the quilt that has to be planned nor the first step in the planning process. Let’s take a look at the various parts of the quilt that require planning and the logical order of the planning process.

  1. What is the purpose of the quilt? Why is this quilt being made? Is it for a gift, is it just because I want to make another quilt, or is it merely a way to use up certain fabrics that are on hand?
  2. What size quilt will I make? Will this be a baby quilt, a twin, a full, a queen, or a king? Or, will this be a special size?
  3. What pattern will I use?
  4. What colors will the quilt be?
  5. What fabric or fabrics will I need for the quilt top?
  6. What fabric will I use for the lining or back of the quilt?
  7. What kind of batting will you choose? Are you going to use a cotton batting or the more readily available and less expensive polyester?
  8. What kind of binding will you use? Are you going to bind the quilt with fabric from the quilt top, a coordinating fabric, a contrasting fabric, or are you going to use a ribbon binding?
  9. How will the quilt be quilted? Are you going to hand quilt or machine quilt your new project? Or, are you having the quilt professionally quilted?
  10. How much and what kind of thread will you use? What color, size, and type of thread will you use? Will you use regular thread, dual duty, hand quilting, or machine quilting thread?
  11. How much of each type of fabric will you need?

Where Can You Buy Quilting Fabric?

Quilting fabric can be purchased from your local fabric stores, from chain fabric and craft stores such as Joann Fabrics, and online from many Internet fabric stores such as Etsy. And prices of quilting fabrics vary widely, depending on the source, the type of fabric, and the fabric manufacturer.

For those new to quilting, going into a local fabric store or a chain store and actually seeing the wide variety of fabrics available and being able to touch those fabrics would be the logical first step in buying quilting fabric. It is quite difficult to choose fabric online and be sure it is the quality fabric that you believe to be purchasing until you become more familiar with choosing fabrics. 

Proper Care and Storage of Handmade Quilts

Care

Here are three tips for caring for quilts:

  1. Handmade quilts should never be dry cleaned as the chemicals used in the dry cleaning process can damage them.
  2. Wash quilts only when necessary, only in cold water, and on a gentle cycle. 
  3. Always line dry handmade quilts, never machine dry.

Storage

Proper storage for antique and more delicate quilts includes textile storage boxes and tissue paper to place between the folds of the quilt. 

I like to store my quilts in a pillowcase that allows the fabric of the quilts to breathe while protecting them from dust and other foreign matter.

Store quilts in a cool dry area away from extremely high or low temperatures and away from direct sunlight.

Quilting Frame with100% Cotton Broadcloth Lining
My trusty quilting frame lined with broadcloth

Should Quilting Fabrics Be Prewashed?

Whether fabrics should be prewashed before starting a quilting project is one of those highly debated topics in quilting circles. I never prewash because I like the look of the finished quilt after using new fabrics that have never been laundered. Once the fabrics or the quilt itself is washed, it doesn’t look like a new quilt anymore.

The other side of this prewashing debate calls attention to the fact that if the fabric is going to do any shrinking, stretching, or if the colors are going to run, it is better that all those things happen before the quilt is made. And, this theory certainly has merit.

My answer to the quilters who insist that fabrics be prewashed is that if the same type and weight of fabrics are used together in a quilt, then those fabrics are going to shrink, stretch, or run in the same manner and will not affect the integrity of the quilt. 

In my opinion, all quilters have to make the decision for themselves as to whether quilting fabrics should be prewashed.

Final Thoughts

Quilting, which has been traced back to Medieval Times, has been practiced in every culture throughout the world and is still flourishing today. Art quilts that are being made from many different types of fabrics and materials are spectacular and are indeed works of art.

My mother was a quilter so I have been around quilters and quilting all my life. As a child, I played under the quilts my mother quilted by tacking them to four boards which were nailed together to form a square frame which she hung from the ceiling for quilting. As I got older, I helped my mother on occasion with the quilts she was making, but I did not actually start making quilts on my own until I was in my early 30s. 

Even though it is possible to make quilts from any type of fabric, the quilts that will be the most durable and will maintain their shape and color for the longest period of time will be the quilts that are cared for properly and that are made from the best quilting fabrics available.

Here are a few quilts that I made recently:

100% Cotton Quilting Fabric wBaby the Black Cat
Cotton Quilting Fabric
Finished Quilt Made With Batiks
Batiks
Quilt Made With Batiks
Batiks
Quilt Made With Batiks
Batiks
Finished Quilt Made With Cotton Broadcloth
Cotton Broadcloth
Finished-Quilt-Made-With-Cotton-Broadcloth
Cotton Broadcloth

For more, don’t miss 4 Best Storage Containers for Quilts (And How to Store Them).

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