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Quality Cotton Quilting Fabric

by Judy Cozon
(Charlotte, NC)

What, in your opinion, is the best quality white there one manufacturer that is better than another? What would be the ideal weight? Is 220 thread count white muslin as good quality as say a white "Moda"? What is your white fabric of choice for free motion quilting?

Many thanks - your answers are always very helpful.


It'll take just a bit to get to my "final answer". Please bear with me.

Quality Cotton Quilting Fabric

The quality of a cotton quilting fabric is determined by the thread count, the quality of the threads/yarns used, and the finishing processes.

Thread count

Good quilting fabric has a thread count of at least 60 square or 60 threads per inch each on the crosswise and lengthwise grains.

Fabrics with a higher thread count feel "finer" to the touch. They are smoother and last longer. The fabric designs printed on these higher thread count fabrics is finer and more detailed.

It is for this reason--better image quality--that you use a higher thread count fabric for photo transfer. The resulting images are crisper.

I create hand dyed fabric on pima cotton (133 x 72 thread count) and cotton sateen (150 x 80 thread count). These are fine fabrics and my personal choice for quilting, piecing, applique and free motion machine quilting. For fabrics like this, you'll want to use a Microtex Sharp needle and then choose the needle size based on the type of thread you use.

Thread Quality

Just like quilting thread, long staple cotton fibers produce less lint. And long staple fibers are a better quality and, thus, more expensive than short staple fibers. (Just like your Aurifil or Masterpiece is a better quality thread and lints up your bobbin case less.)

The Finishing Process

Better quality quilting fabrics are put through several finishing processes to set the dyes to prevent or minimize bleeding. The final product is also softer to the touch. Fabrics that go through little or no finishing feel "board-like" and stiff. They are more prone to bleeding and fading. And thus, cost less.

So What Do I Like?

First, for me it must be 100% cotton quilting fabric (unless it's one of those faux metallics that are a cotton/nylon blend). I like what I can do with cotton. So that means no polyester/cotton blends.

I rarely use plain "white" fabric. If it's white, it's probably a conversation print. I have a whole box of this type of fabric that I have bought over the years, some from as long ago as 1995. What's interesting to me now is that some of fabric in those prints is pretty flimsy. Probably less than 60 square. Because not fun to work with because it stretches more than other fabrics. I pre-wash, so shrinkage is irrelevant.

If I'm looking for a solid cream fabric, I'll generally go with a Kona cotton (60 square). I can find it in many quilt stores, so if my LQS runs out of the color I'm looking for, there's a good chance I can still find it locally.

There is a muslin (68 square) that I like for reproduction quilts, but I've found it only in one store. When I run out, I have to mail order it or drive 308 miles round trip. Not fun when you're in the middle of a hot quilting project.

Plus with the Kona or muslin, I can't inadvertently use the wrong side, and find out only after I've finished the quilting.

If the quilt is destined for a lot of tiny free motion quilting like my current project, Rogaland Rosemaling(do scroll down on that page to see the pebble background fill work up close), I opt for my own hand dyes with the higher thread counts (133x72 and 150x80). I like the finished quilt better. If there's going to be a lot of time spent machine quilting, I want to work on something I REALLY like.

I no longer buy white on white fabrics where the design feels like it is painted on. I don't care for the feel of the fabric, nor do I like to quilt through it.

The Final Consideration

After everything is all said and done, it comes down to what YOU like to quilt with and what you can afford.

I do not purchase any fabric any more from the big box stores. I much prefer the quality of the fabrics I find at my LQS or the fabrics I dye.

If money was the issue, I'd buy the best fabric I could, because I love to quilt, love the process. It'd be at least 60 square (if not more) and no paint or "board-like" feel to it. really is your personal decision in the end.


Julie Baird

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