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Quilting fabrics. What is best for quilting?

Quilting fabrics seem to confuse many, especially newcomers to the craft. Here I explain the difference in cottons and why it is generally best to stick to quilting cottons for quilting.

Quilting fabrics
Freedom fabrics quilting cottons

COTTON

Cotton is a fibre that is processed into different types of fabrics. Some are more suitable to quilting than others and are known as quilting cotton fabric. This is generally to do with weave and weight. Quilting cotton is a medium weight fabric that tends to hold its shape without undue stretch. This makes it perfect for quilting, usually without the use of starch. It is stable and less likely to fray.

Even within the category of quilting cottons you will find slight differences in weight. Generally speaking quilting fabrics have a thread count of at least 60 – 65 per inch. I love Moda fabrics and many of their fabrics are of a slightly lighter weight, but very easy to use as quilting fabrics, for which they are intended.

Quilting fabrics
Moda quilting cottons Voysey collection

Cotton Lawn is another lightweight fabric that is also useful for quilting. Think Liberty Tana Lawn.

Just remember that not all cottons are equal and not all cottons are suitable for quilting. Cotton fabrics vary greatly in quality and price.

Poplin is more suited to dressmaking. In general you need to avoid high thread count such as Egyptian cotton and most cotton sheeting. Tight weaves make quilting more difficult, especially hand quilting. Quilting cottons generally shrink less than some other cottons. Fabrics are also less likely to bleed, so it is worth seeking out quilter’s cottons and paying a little bit extra for them.

Avoid sateen finish. Sadly most of the digital printers now enabling home designers to print their own fabric seem not to supply quilting cottons. I would also avoid polycottons. Quilting takes a lot of time, buy the best fabric you can afford.

On the home printer you can buy cotton sheets to print from your computer. I have a number of designs that I print in this way and feature in my quilts.

quilting fabrics
Moda William Morris metallic fabric

ALTERNATIVE FABRICS

There are a number of other fabrics which are suitable as quilting fabrics. You might wish to try a linen and cotton blend or a silk and cotton blend. My favourite alternative fabric is to buy quilting calico and hand dye it.

Pure wool is another alternative that is mostly used in folk type quilts and applique.

If you can afford it, silk is a wonderful quilting fabric.

BACKING

It is worth making a special mention for backing fabrics. Not least because there is a common misconception amongst quilters that the back of the quilt does not matter. However, this is the part of the quilt often against your skin, so just because it is not seen, does not mean that it does not matter. I pay equal attention to front and back. I am very fond of double sided quilts.

Generally speaking if your quilt top is pure cotton, then your backing should also be pure cotton and preferably of the same make and manufacture to ensure the same behaviour with regards to washing and shrinkage. Some manufacturers make extra width so that backing can be cut as a whole piece if desired. You can join pieces when needed.

quilting fabrics
quilt back using the same cotton fabrics as the front with a different design

MIXING FABRICS

If you mix fabrics, make sure they behave the same and shrink at the same rate. This also applies to any embellishments such as ribbons that are on the quilt. Mixing fabrics is often better when applied to art quilts as opposed to bed quilts.

You can see the quilt patterns, kits and designs on the website

Words, work and images copyright Karen Platt 2021