This is the third installment in our series entitled Choosing the Right Quilt Fabric. The series is about helping quilters make better decisions about choosing quality fabrics. In this segment we will look at how to judge the color, printing and finish of quality fabric.
In Part 2: Field Check for Fabric Quality we talked about The Rub or the process of rubbing the fabric between your fingers to check for separation of threads. The Rub can also be used to check color. When you "Rub" the fabric between your thumb and forefinger if you have color come off on your fingers this means the fabric color is not sealed. This typically is a sign of inferior fabric or processing. It also means the fabric is not colorfast meaning when you wash the fabric the color will bleed. Check for the word "colorfast" on the label.
Another color check process is to wrap a small piece of white cotton around your finger then rub it back and forth across the fabric. Look to see if color has transferred from the fabric you are testing onto the white cotton. Even if the color found on the white fabric is slight it is better to avoid purchasing this fabric. The color will not remain bright and vibrant when washed over and over.
Color or Pattern Overlap
Unfold the fabric so you can see a yard or so. Look at the pattern to see if there are overlapping points of image in the fabric. Check to see if the design skips or if there is ghosting of the pattern meaning the pattern looks like there is a slight shift in the pattern away from the rest of the print. Do the patterns overlap one another? Or do you see where the pattern skips from time to time? Does the color fade or disappear? These are all signs that the manufacturer may be using an inferior process to apply the color and pattern to the fabric. Your colors and pattern should be crisp and free from unintended shifts during the process of applying the design to the fabric.
Another test for the quality of the fabric you are considering for purchase is the feel or "hand" of the fabric. In the final process of applying color and design to fabric goods the manufacturer often applies a final finish that seals the dyes and makes the fabric softer. Cheap or inexpensive fabrics don't get the final finish. This makes the cost of manufacturing of the fabric less expensive but also cheapens the quality as the fabric will be stiffer and will not hold it's color well. This would be a fabric you want to avoid. To test the finish you simply need to feel the fabric and crumple it a bit. If the fabric feels stiff and when crumpled remains wrinkled then this is a fabric that has not finished. Don't waste your time using this type of fabric.
Why Color and Finish Matter
When spending the many hours required to make a quilt you don't want to be disappointed with the end product. You don't want to get your blocks or pieces together and discover flat points in the colors or skips in patterns. This lessens the beauty of your quilt. You also don't want to have your quilt bleed during it's first, second and/or third wash. The results will be a lackluster quilt. Checking the quality of your fabric choice and ensuring it is free of process defects and finished properly will help ensure you are pleased with your choice when finished.
A good quality cotton quilt fabric should be soft, with vibrant or distinct coloring. The pattern should never skip, ghost or disappear and the color should be colorfast.