Sunday, December 15, 2013

Choosing The Right Quilt Fabric--Part 4: Choose Your Fabric Store and Products Wisely

This is the fourth and final 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 source quality cotton fabric, make informed choices and learn about avoiding pitfalls in purchasing quilt fabric.

Where to Buy Quilt Fabric

Where you purchase your quilt fabric can have an impact on the type of quilt fabric that is available to you. A true "quilt shop" often understands the need to have top quality goods available to a quilter. This is so the quilter has the best fabric to ensure a higher quality final quilt product. All the things discussed in previous articles would be a concern to most quilt shop owners. They are in the market to assist their customers in making purchases that will yield satisfaction.

Before you can know if your quilt shop of choice is offering good quality product you must first know a little about the fabric lines offered in these types of shops. There are many labels/manufacturers and all are not equal.

Learn more about the manufacturers who make our quilting cottons. View their current fabric lines and read more about their designers. Here is a list of some of the more prominent textile manufacturers. Click on the name to go to the company site.

ArtGallery--Includes Angela Walters
Cloud9 Fabrics
Hoffman Fabrics
Maywood Studio Fabric
Red Rooster Fabrics
SouthSea Imports 
StudioE Fabrics 

  • Free Spirit--Includes Tula Pink and Joel Dewberry 
  • Rowan Fabric--Includes Amy Butler and Kaffe Fasset lines 
  • Ty Pennington 

Ask Questions

Don't be afraid to ask questions of the shop where you plan to purchase your quilt fabric. Some of the questions you might ask are:

1) Are your fabrics all first quality or do you also carry seconds?
  • If they carry seconds or thirds ask where they are located so you will know up front what to avoid. 
2) What fabric lines do you carry?
  • Most store buyers have favorite lines they carry. It's good to know what they are so you can make a decision about whether you like that line. This is especially true if you have found something online you like by a particular manufacturer and you want to find out if it's available to you locally. 
3) Do you ever have sales on your fabrics?

Get Feedback From Others
Every time you speak to a new quilter or visit a new quilt shop ask for clerks, owners, and other quilters' opinions. What are their favorite fabric manufacturers and why? In time you will see several companies emerge as favorites over and over. As a quilter I have my tried and true favorites. Typically, I will look for Westminster Fabric lines, Moda, Timeless Treasures and Hoffman Fabrics. Their lines fit my designer choices and their quality of fabrics are in keeping with my desire to create heirloom quality quilts. By doing your research you will also develop favorites and come to know where to purchase these.

Avoiding Attractive Pitfalls

Sometimes the need to take advantage of a sale or a really catchy print overwhelms the desire to be practical and make quality choices about your quilting cotton. If you favorite store, or any quilt shop, has a sale offering folded flat goods ask if these were shipped from the manufacturer as flat fold goods. They may be bolt ends that a store has flat folded for convenience but often flat folds shipped from the manufacturer are not first quality goods.

Between the 1920's - 1940's textile mills would test their prints on low quality (greige) goods. The products produced on these low quality goods would later become feed sacks. The feed sacks sometimes would be the only cottons available to home quilters, especially during the depression. Today, this first, or test run, is sold to discounters in the form of flat fold goods that you can purchase in discount stores. These may look somewhat like the finished product but they are often produced on lower quality greige goods to save money in the set up for final printing. Sometimes they are printed on good fabric but the colors and design are not up to the manufacturer's specifications. Some flat fold fabrics are deliberate knock-offs of popular designs. Expensive fabric in the form of flat folds have often missed some of the final finishing of good quality fabric. Unless you are purchasing fabric for a craft or product that will not have much use or will be somewhat disposable, avoid flat fold goods whenever you wish to create a quality product. It old adage of "you get what you pay for," rings true over and over in the world of choosing quality cotton fabric.

Last, but not least, avoid box stores for your quality fabric. Many will run sales over and over using pricing from quality yard goods then discounting these to make you feel like you are getting a good deal. In fact, the goods do not compare to what you will find in an established quilt shop. Many box stores are actually selling seconds and lower quality goods but are making these sound like first quality. If you use the field test on fabric (Choosing The Right Quilt Fabric--Part 2: Field Check for Fabric Quality) you will quickly discover the difference.


The production of quality cotton goods is complex. Designers and manufacturers work together to create concepts and designs up to a year in advance. Once complete these designs are sent out to the mills where they are test printed and await the final approval. As a rule, almost all fabric is now milled overseas in Korea and Japan. Having the final product milled overseas does not equate to a lower quality fabric. This process has kept the yard goods pricing affordable for quilters. The point is to a quilter, looking for quality goods, do be afraid of textiles printed overseas.

Spend time to know your quilt fabric vendors and stores as well as your manufacturers. This will lead to a higher quality of quilt and one that will withstand time, as we all hope our quilts will. You will ultimately be a great resource to other quilters and have the opportunity to share what you know. Your friends, family, and fellow quilters will appreciate your time spent seeking the best product you can buy for your money as the quality of your product will show.

Happy buying quality cotton for quilting and most of all happy quilting.

To read previous posts in this series, click on each article below: