Sunday, November 24, 2013

Choosing The Right Quilt Fabric--Part 2: Field Check for Fabric Quality

This is the second installment in our series entitled Choosing the Right Quilt Fabric. The series is about helping quilters make better decisions about the fabrics by providing information about fabric.

Field Check for Quality

We've all heard the comments: "All fabric is the same"; "Fabric is fabric"; and "Some companies just charge more!"  Some of us have even made those comments--including me.  In fabric none of these statements are valid.  The quality of one fabric is not the quality of another.  Fabric has different weights (as we learned in the first installment entitled Know Your Thread Count).  The cost of fabric is directly related to thread count and the manufacturers process.

So how does a quilter choose the right quilt fabric?  One way is to conduct a field check for fabric quality!  Sounds complicated but it's in fact quite easy.  You may get a few looks for fellow shoppers and clerks but don't panic!  Others may be curious enough to ask questions giving you the opportunity to provide them with a fabulous education.

The Crumple and Wrinkle

The first field test on quilt fabric should be to take a corner of the fabric you are looking at and crumple a bit in your hand.  Hold it there for about 15 seconds then release the fabric.  Does the fabric stay hopelessly crumpled or does it slowly regain it's shape with minimal wrinkling?   This is important as a good quality fabric should retain it's original shape after being crumpled.  If it remains a wrinkled mess in the yardage then walk away.  Can you imagine what a 15 second crumple can become in a quilt that is made to be used by others?  Do you want that to be the signature of something you painstakingly made either as a gift, a commission, or a show piece? Remember that there may be a small amount of wrinkling in making this test but significant wrinkling is not a good earmark for a quality fabric.

The Sniff Test

Yes, you read this right...the sniff test is next.  Hold the fabric to your nose and inhale.  Does the fabric have a distinct or strong chemical odor?  This signals that the fabric has been chemically treated with stabilizers or sizing to make it appear to heavier and more stable.  If you smell heavy chemicals beware.  Once you wash this fabric it will possibly go limp and reveal a very thin fabric. To field test a "smelly" fabric grab a corner and place a hand on each side of the fabric and rub it with a rapid scrubbing motion between both hands.  If the fabric loses it's luster and stiffness once smoothed back out it is a poor quality fabric the manufacturer has tried to disguise as quality yard goods.

The Rub

As mentioned in the first installment of this series, Know Your Thread Count, thread count matters. You can field test for thread count, since this is not generally listed on the bolt end. Simply place a spot of the fabric you are considering between your thumb and index finger and rub the two back and forth together. Now check the spot where you rubbed. Does the fabric fibers appear to be separating? Does the fabric fibers appear to have separated and now the spot looks then? If you answer "yes" to these questions then the fabric is probably a low thread count and would not make the cut as a good quality quilt fabric that would yield and long lasting quilt.

The Wrong Side

Open the fabric you are considering for purchase just enough to look at the grain running both length-wise and cross-wise. Do the length-wise threads appear to be running from one edge to the other in a straight line? Do the cross-wise threads running up and down appear to be running straight? This will tell if the fabric in "on grain" or not. Also, look at the selvages. The threads should be running parallel to the selvage. A good quality fabric will have the threads at perfect right angles. If the fabric is "off-grain" and this can be spotted on the wrong side of the fabric then the fabric is not a good candidate to produce a top-quality quilt.

The Results of a Field Check for Quality

Checking your potential fabric purchase by doing a field check for quality may appear strange to other shoppers and clerks. Those who understand what it takes to create a quilt will also understand that the quality of the textile goods is the first step. Ignore the stares and giggle to yourself as you rub, smell, crumple and inspect the yard goods you are considering purchasing. Giggle even louder when you observe someone else doing the same. It's become like a secret society in which you hold membership. It's the club of knowing how to make quality wise decisions about the quilt fabric you are purchasing.