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Understanding Quality and Discount Fabric

Collecting fabric can become a passion.  After a few years, you KNOW fabric!You know the names of the designers and the manufacturers.  You can easily distinguish between a Thimbleberries fabric and one designed by Debbie Mum.  You know when you see a fabric on sale for 50% off if it is truly a bargain.

Unless you have an unlimited budget, the quality of fabric that you want to buy depends on what you are planning on doing with it.
 

There are "Utility Quilts", meant to be used until discarded, and "Heirloom Quilts", which can last for years and be passed down several generations.


What makes a quality fabric, and what should you expect to pay for different types of fabric?

You can expect to pay a full retail price of $8-10 a yard for quality fabric at a quilt store. 100% cotton fabrics and calicos and other discount fabric is usually priced upwards of $2.99 a yard.

If you are on a budget, like most of us,  quilt shop fabric is only purchased on sale in a quilt store store or online.  So for many the challenge becomes finding less expensive fabric that is still good quality fabric.

Here are some things to look for:

100% Cotton

While occasionally a quilter buys a fabric with some polyester in it, 100% cotton is the fabric of choice.  Cotton wears well, is easily pressed, quilted, and sewn.  You can often mark it by just finger pressing in a crease.  The is useful when you want to fold the fabric in half to find the center and mark it to match with another piece.  The grain is usually straight, and you can nip the edge of the selvage and evenly tear the fabric.  This comes in very handy if you want a very long 2-inch strip.

Thread Count

Quality fabric is tightly woven.  As a general rule, the higher the thread count (number of vertical and horizontal threads in a one-inch square) the better the fabric.

Discount fabric comes in a wide range of thread counts.  If you can see through a fabric, it is poor quality.  You will soon learn to recognize a sufficient thread count by the feel of the fabric.  If the fabric is very stiff, it probably has a low thread count.  Look for density in the fibers, and a soft, supple feel.  It is also a plus if the design goes through the fabric to the back.

Calico  fabrics are popular with quilters, although they often have a low thread count, and can be very stiff. 

When you pre-wash fabric an inferior fabric with a very low thread count, the threads will ravel and the fabrics will become twisted and knotted in the washing machine.  It will also come out VERY wrinkled in the dryer.

Ideally, you should dry your fabric until is is barely damp, and then finish by pressing it dry.

Pattern and Color

A quality fabric will have the pattern evenly placed on the fabric grain lines.  The pattern will also show on the back.

Finishing

All fabric has been treated with chemicals and given finishes.  This  is why you often can't tell the quality of a fabric by touch.  After you wash your fabric, the sizing and other chemicals will come out.  The more economical fabrics will seems a lot lighter. The better fabrics have had more care taken with the fibers and are not as heavily impacted by washing.

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