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Picking Fabric

HisChildBeth | Posted in Quilting and Home Decor on

I would like to buy all these glorious, wonderful fabrics that I see in the quilt stores, but quite frankly, I’m not that flush in the money department.  I have found a mill outlet that all the local decorators use that carries really nice stuff like Waverly.  They are huge and have every kind of fabric imaginable.

I found some top of the line quilt fabric companies (like Fabri-Quilt and Moda) there and was able to buy some nice yardage at $3.50 a yard.  I pulled out the fabric length I wanted and looked at it on both sides to see if I could see any flaws, I looked to see if it looked like it was printed straight or if the fabric seemed pulled or crooked.  I looked to see if the design seemed to printed correctly or if it had light spots like the fibers hadn’t taken the dye well.

This outlet suffered some of the same”cheap tricks” like I had seen at JoAnn’s so I wonder if part of their stock was bolts or pieces that JoAnn’s couldn’t even sell. Not all of the fabrics in JoAnn’s are cheap, though they may not be as good as the quilt stores. Now none of these “cheap tricks” that I found were on bolts that were marked Fabri-Quilt or Moda, or for that matter, were they fabric that I would have thought would be quilt store quality.

One of the “cheap tricks” the manufacturer used was that they had taken two runs of fabric and serged them together and hid the join in the middle of the bolt.  I also saw what looked like some inspector had tried tearing the fabric on the cross-grain several times tearing into the fabric an inch or so and stretching it.  Again, the “cheap trick” was hidden way down the bolt length.  What are other things that I should look for when I am shopping outlet fabrics and sales?

Fons and Porter say in their Guide that you can tell a good fabric if:  “Fabrics that would make a comfortable, durable blouse or man’s shirt are the right, texture, weave and weight.”  That sounds easy enough, but with all the starch, fillers, etc. how can you tell what a fabric will feel like after you wash it?

I am not ready to begin an heirloom piece yet.  Anyway, I don’t want to start out using expensive fabric when I’m just beginning.  Everything I have been reading about fabric says you have to buy really expensive quilt store fabric, and they never discuss that it is probably better for a beginner to start with a lesser quality fabric until they have good skills. They almost make it seem like sacrilege to use fabric from a chain store.  For now I’ll work with the a lesser quality fabric until I am comfortable with my skill.

Is there anything else about fabric that I should be watching for while I’m shopping for the best quality I can afford?



  1. NY2NZ | | #1

    Hi Beth,

    I feel your pain.  Here are a few tips, and I hope they help:

    1.  When shopping for fabric, hold it up to the light to see how much comes through.  The amount of starch or sizing is not going to substantially affect this light filter test.

    2. hold you hand underneath and pull it tight to see if it feels "thin" (i.e. if its very stiff, but supposed to be a quilting cotton, and fails test #1, put it back).

    3.  I find the best fabrics on auction sites....I love to get dressmakers stash to use for quilts and fashion sewing.  The older fabrics are just better in terms of quality.

    and lastly,

    for quilting, I've gone to the salvation army and thrift stores to get old sheets, tableclothes and clothes to cut up.  

    Good luck.

    1. damascusannie | | #2

      Beth--It doesn't surprise me that you didn't find any problems with the Moda you "tested"--Moda is consistently good quality fabric. After so many years of quilting, I have developed an automatic "feel" for good fabrics. I used to have to buy cheap fabrics because that's all I could afford, and I've got a quilt on the bed right now that's about 8 years old and it's still going strong, so don't assume that you can't use lower-end fabrics. They probably won't last decades, but they will last a long time. I do advise you to stick with 100% cotton. I really don't recommend that you go out and spend a fortune buying expensive fabric at this time. After all, you don't even know if you'll LIKE quilting yet! I held a free-motion quilting retreat in February and one of the ladies went home saying, "Well, now I know--I HATE free-motion quilting!" The other 5 ladies enjoyed the retreat and have been practicing, but it just wasn't the right thing for that gal. I have taught quilting for about 10 years, to all age groups from 10 yr olds to adults and I know from experience that many people who appreciate quilts, really detest the process of making them.

    2. HisChildBeth | | #3

      I had not thought about trying to look through the piece.  I've got some really good, and then some good so I'll go and try that test on them.  I'm assuming the less light shining through means that are more threads to filter the light.  Correct?

      Thanks for the tips! 


      1. NY2NZ | | #4

        You got it!

        Nancy :-)

      2. jjgg | | #5

        When fabric companies make fabric, they start with what is called "greige goods" (pronounced Gray goods) This is the blank fabric - no print on it. There are many different qualities of greige goods. What you find in a quilt store for $9.00/yd is high quality, what you find in Wallmart or outlet stores is low quality. Moda, and many other fabric companies will print the same pattern on different quality greige goods. That is why you can see the same fabric at a high end quilt store and wall mart. They ARE NOT the same Quality. The thickness of the fiber, the length of the cotton fiber that they start with, the number of threads per inch etc all have to do with quality. You get waht you pay for!Now, as far as having 2 lengths of fabric spliced in the middle of the bolt is not all that unusual. It is not COMMON, but, when the manufacturer is making a bolt, and the length of fabric runs out, they do splice them together. you will find this occasionally on all sorts of fabrics - silks, wools etc. It is not something they are trying "to Hide" it just happens when they get to the end of a length of fabric off the loom.As for the other flaws you noted, I'm not sure what they are from, but, at least you did learn to evaluate fabric and now you know that what is sold at discount places is often discount fabric.
        JudyA really good book that will help you understand all of this stuff is "From Fiber To Fabric " by Harriet Hargrave. It's a classic, jam packed with very good information, It's probably out of print but I'm sure you can find it on ebay or amazon

        Edited 6/8/2008 11:52 am ET by jjgg

        1. HisChildBeth | | #6

          Thanks for your reply.  I am learning about fabric and will see if I can find the book you mentioned.  It may be awhile since I pretty much have maxed by sewing budget for the next 6 months!  It sure adds up fast when you are starting out.

          I would love to be able to buy wonderful, first quality material all the time, but financially I can't.  So I do what I can to buy the best quality fabric I can with what money I have.  Sometimes that means buying JoAnn's, but I will probably steer clear of Walmart.  They have some really cute kids fabrics and flannels that I haven't seen elsewhere.  As you read through this note I have found another source for fabric shopping that you may or may not have heard about.

          When I get good enough at quilting, I will probably splurge on one or two projects a year made with really good fabric.  My other problem is that I have no family and no friends close to where I live now.  There is only so much room in your home for the stuff you make.  It is sort of like planting too many tomatoes and squash in the summer.  The neighbors see you coming and close the blinds and duck in and out of their cars as fast as possible.

          I am going to plan on doing baby quilts, and other smaller projects that will sell well at Christmas craft shows as a donation for the Church.  I'm going to concentrate on the small gift items, home decoration type pieces, that are not too expensive to make so that I can keep the cost down.  When I go to these shows I'm always looking for the $10-20 gift items.  So that is what I would like to focus on making.

          Being unable to get out on my own any more is really life changing and difficult.  I had to find an affordable, creative outlet.  I think that is why God gave me the idea of quilting for Moms in need.  I was there once.  I still have a beautiful crochet baby sweater, hat and booties tucked away in my daughter's baby box.  That is the type of memory I'd like to make for someone else.

          Have you heard of FabHopShop.com?  If you haven't, or you haven't checked it out in awhile, you should go pop over there.  It is an advertising vehicle for it's member fabric and quilt shops.  If you are searching for fabric with cats, or fabric by a certain designer, many kinds of crieteria, you can sort on those criteria and come up with several shops that carry what you are looking for and go check them out.

          They have wonderful sales where you get high-end fabric and other goods for a very good discount.  Right now they are having a contest called the "FabHopShop" where you "visit" the member stores and find a certain logo that you register when you find it.  This way you are viewing some of their offerings.  Depending on how many stores you visit you are then entered in a drawing for either the Grand Prize or 1st or 2nd prizes.  The Grand Prizes this time are a Brother sewing machine and a really nice personalized sewing caddy - there are two winners.  In the other categories are multiple winners too.  You have a month to "visit" the stores.  The member organization, FabShopHop, is the only one that contacts you, not each store you visit unless you sign up for their newsletter. 

          I have learned so much just reading the information available on the various sites.  If you like a shop you can sign up for their newsletter.  I have found out all kinds of neat stuff that you can do with quilting that probably would have taken years for me to discover.  Most shops seem to have a niche in quilting that they focus on like reproduction fabrics of older years, chenile, applique, all types of clothing, home decorating items, etc.  Sometimes they have a "branch" of their store that has nothing to do with quilting, but is another avenue of artistic endeavor like the jewlery they make and sell.  The things I have seen that I am interested in I'm keeping in a file to refer back to with the store where I became interested.  I see lots of fun things in the future if my fixed income will tolerate my desires :-)

          Again, thanks for your suggestions and for taking the time to let me chat.


          1. jjgg | | #7

            Shopping online is a very good idea, you can get good quality fabrics at lower prices.If you are making baby quilts, look at the cost of a king size batting vs the crib size and see if thats cheaper - I'm not sure how many crib size you would get from a king, but it might work out cheaper.Resale shops are another good idea, I've often donated fabric to a local resale shop, they love getting the fabric and says that it sells very well.good luck in your endeavor.

          2. HisChildBeth | | #8

            I didn't know you could get plain fabric at resale places, but when you think about it why not.  I am so sick of trying to yard sale everything.  Must be people who sew a lot who have a stash that is out of control.  Fabric is addicting.  I'm at a point in life where I have accumulated so much STUFF and I don't want stuff anymore.  I love giving it to others who need it.  That is also why I want to give quilting gifts to others because they just become more STUFF even though I love being creative.

            Our local Goodwill has the clothes lined up in colors.  You can see them clearly from the road and it is very attractive.  Maybe it is just fabric calling my name :-)  When I get a better hand at fabric then I'll probably do more resale shopping.

            I found out you can sew pieces of batting together with a zig zag stitch.  That is a great way to use pieces.  I hope I don't have to do it by hand like the article talked about.  I have lots of wonderful stitches on my machine I want to use and save time.

            I was lucky enough to get Warm and Natural on sale at JoAnn's during the Memorial Day sale for 60% off!  I had to "borrow" from the next two months sewing budget, but I bought 10 yards.  I'm hoping that will hold me awhile.  I prefer the feel of the natural stuff even though it is EXPENSIVE!  I just have to wait on good sales and keep making tops until I have money for more batting.

            I've got a new project that is a reversible baby quilt.  It looks like it will be easy, so I hope so.  My start up has been rocky doing it all alone with no classes or help.  I figure that I ought to be able to get at least 10-15 projects out of that 10 yards of batting.  Maybe I can make it last for a year.  I don't get much done in a day.  I tire out too fast.

            Chatty Cathy must run and fix dinner.

            Thanks for all your help!


          3. damascusannie | | #9

            I just read an article about a quilter who uses almost exclusively thrift store clothing for her fabrics. She started doing this in college and just kept going with it. She makes gorgeous quilts and her fabric costs next to nothing. She is careful to buy only garments that don't show wear and you do have to read your labels so that you know what you have. For instance, synthetic blends have to be pressed on a much lower temp than 100% cotton.

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