The Difference Between Chain Store Fabrics and Quilter’s Grade Fabrics

by Jim Salinas

I’m often asked, “Is there really any difference between the printed cotton quilting fabric found in chain stores for $2.99 to $5.99 per yard and those found in quilt shops and the best mail order catalogs for $7.99 to $9.99?” You bet there is!
local quilt store

Premium quilting fabric brands start with high quality greige (gray) goods. Premium greige goods have a thread count of at least 60 by 60 threads, and most have thread counts higher than “60 square.” Higher thread counts produce a silkier hand, less bearding when quilted, longer fabric life and better printing definition.

Most chain store cotton prints are made from less expensive greige goods that have 60 square construction or less. In chain stores, 60 square construction is considered to be the benchmark of high quality.

In addition to thread count, fabric quality is also determined by the diameter of the yarns used, the size of the cotton filaments and the length of the cotton staple. Although premium raw materials are more expensive and add to the final price you pay, you get a far superior finished product.

premium quilt fabric
Premium brands typically make use of a higher number of screens (the number of colors used in the print) and more complex and sophisticated engravings. High screen counts and complex engravings require using slower and more exacting flat bed presses than the high speed rotary presses used by domestic printers for most chain store fabrics.

Once the greige goods are printed, they have to be “finished.” The printed fabric is placed in a chemical bath that sets the dye into the cotton fibers. Unfinished or poorly-finished goods bleed badly and have a very coarse, “boardy” hand. Premium brands are finished using more time-consuming and expensive processes that create the silken hand of quilters’ grade fabric in addition to superior colorfastness.

It is, of course, an over-simplification to divide the cotton print industry into chain store brands and quilt shop/mail order catalog brands. Indeed, chain stores often carry a limited range of premium brands. But, generally speaking, chain store offerings are price driven. They cannot easily sell the higher priced fabrics to their clientele. As a result, chain stores tend to carry the lower priced (and therefore lower quality) cotton fabrics.

red quilting fabric
Red quilting fabric at the Keepsake Quilting store in New Hampshire store.

Consider also the element of design. Premier designers tend to design for premium fabric companies. The technical aspects of the use of premium greige goods, printing many screens with fine definition, creating a silken hand through more sophisticated finishing processes – all these elements enhance a designer’s efforts. World-class design brings a unique dimension to premium, quality fabric. It comes with a price, but it adds immeasurably to the special nature of quilters’ grade fabric.

cutting quilting fabric
Heather loves to cut kits.

There is one more point that should be addressed. That is the issue of service and expertise.  Most quilt shops and mail order quilting catalogs–the prime sources of premium fabrics–are well staffed with knowledgeable, friendly, quilting experts. Most shops provide classes and expertise unmatched by the chains. Quilt shops and mail order catalogs generally do not sell jobber goods. They offer only first quality, premium brands at fair prices. These firms deserve your support.

In conclusion, there is most definitely a difference in fabrics. You get what you pay for. Premium brands offer a vast quality advantage over cheaper alternatives for just a modest increase in cost, especially when you consider the effort, skill, and love that will go into your use of the fabric.

Printed with permission of Moda Fabrics.

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145 thoughts on “The Difference Between Chain Store Fabrics and Quilter’s Grade Fabrics

  1. Whenever I go to quilt shops they’re always saying things about how their fabric is better and they don’t explain why or why it matters so thank you for writing this. Still think I’m going to buy what I can afford though- sometimes from the quilt shops and sometimes from chains

  2. One lady, Marjory, stated “It is important to know that sometimes you see the same print from a quilting store & a chain store. That doesn’t mean that it is exactly the same fabric quality.” If this is the case, then we as consumers should have a way of knowing the difference. There are enough sewers & quilters out there, that we should be able to demand that the manufactures, have to supply a code on the end of the bolt of fabric, indicating the thread count & the grade of the cotton used in it. Years ago thread was being sold, & the manufactures were not giving the content, so the law required them to supply it on the label. I say ladies we have the power to change this. When I find poor quality fabric being sold as quilting fabric, I leave it on the shelf. If enough of us do this, the manufactures & the stores selling it will get the message.

  3. I work in a chain store with fabric. As I unroll fabric I see instances of dye bleeds into salvaged, uneven dyes in fabric prints and surging together of fabric to get enough yardage on a bolt which if a single long cut of fabric is needed can create a problem. I have had customers come in to get more of the same fabric for a quilt and the print has changed or the dye lot is different or it is discontinued. Flaws in print, dye or texture may not be seen until working with the fabric. There is a difference between chain store and quilt store fabric. Purchase what you like, need and what is in your budget.

  4. recently the quilt shop fabrics are as thin, stiff, and rough to the touch as the fabric at Walmart. I’m thankful for the stash of fabric I have from many years ago. The manufacturing process is apparently worse than it used to be.

  5. The very first quilts I made were with JoAnn fabric. One was for my Grand-daughter. It didn’t last long. In fact, when I was making it I noticed that my fresh needle was occasionally piercing and breaking threads in the very stiff “boardy” fabric that was printed with tiny bears. Once finished and being loved and washed dozens of times….those threads began to open. Each time I saw the quilt I was horrified to see those openings getting bigger and bigger and eventually worn holes. All that work on something I hoped that she could keep for the long haul. Never again.

    Since then, the quilts I have made have become more and more complicated and time-consuming. But I love it. AND they have lasted through all the tough love they have received from the grandkids.

    I’m retired now and I realize that $10-$12 is a lot to pay for most of us. But like Josie said above, collecting fat quarters over a period of time makes it much easier. And I don’t need much, so when the holidays come, I suggest just gift cards to my local shop or favorite website like Keepsake.

  6. But for quilters with very limited funds to spend I am glad there are alternatives to $12.00 a yard fabrics! Otherwise there might be people who are great quilters who would never have the chance to make their first quilt! The article, while informative, comes across to me as disparaging to those who can’t or won’t, spend $12 a yard on fabric. Brings to mind the thought in which someone who sews on a machine that cost $300 cannot possibly sew as well as someone who has a high end $4000 machine. Most of the younger sewists I know have a very limited budget and simply cannot afford ‘quilt shop quality’ fabric!

    1. Ann, we simply have had to find the sources for these premium fabrics at a lower cost. There are stores that specialize in the “mill ends,” that is the left over fabric after the manufacturer has fulfilled the requested mill run. These stores also buy the left over collections from major fabric companies. I know because I shop at one in southern California every time I get to visit the area. Those of us with very limited funds also shop our local quilt shops when they have sales. Those cheap fabrics will thread apart and fade from the sunlight.

      1. Hi Karen,
        Can you tell me where this shop is in southern California? I will be going there soon, and would like to visit!
        Thank you!

      2. help please can you recommend high quality quilter flannel brand names or sites that sell them and sometimes have sales?? I was heartsick to spend lots of hours making a rag quilt for my first granddaughter and having it look gorgeous till washed when 80% of the pieces were pilled and made it look shabby….I was embarrassed to gift it

        1. The best flannel is MAywood. If you start using their flannel you will get spoiled and not want to use anyone else’s. Henry Glass also put out a good quality flannel – watch the names. AE Nathan and David textiles are a lower price point but you get what you pay for…. Expect to pay $12.00 per yard for good quality flannel.

      3. Most fabric manufacturers are tightening up on their orders so they do not have left overs. Also, more and more the close outs that are available are first offered to their good customers then sold to distributors who spread them out to quilt shops across the U.S. to use for sales and events. These stores that specalize in “Mill ends” are not long for this world.

    2. I agree with what you are saying about the fabric, however, a $300 machine may well sew as a $4000 machine using the proper thread and needles. Be cautious with your lower priced fabric as they may fall apart after a few washings and all your hard work will fall apart as well.

      1. I have used fabric from Walmart, and the quilts are years old and look just as good as when I first made them, I hate fabric snobs, women will tend to buy what is promoted, Moda, etc. you want to pay that much for fabric then it’s your choice, women will buy just about anything that seems to be the fad for the time,

    3. So very true. I agree completely. Once you learn to recognize quality fabric, you should not pay more for it than you have to. The first paragraph states quilt shop fabrics are 60×60 thread per square inch, then go on to say that chain store have 60 square as their premium. Isn’t 60×60 and 60 square the same thing? Also, chain store fabrics have the number and colors of all the screens printed in the selvedge just like at the quilt store. Buy what you like, just make sure that whatever your budget, buy the best you can afford.

    4. I agree with you in this …I feel it times when I say I but from Walmart that some quilters sewers look down on the fabric ,I don’t care I quilt on ..

    5. I understand where you are coming from. I spend many, many hours of my time making a quilt and I want it to last so that is why I use only the premium fabrics. I would rather make less quilts of greater quality but that is my preference. I believe this article was written because so many quilters (especially new ones) don’t know about fabric making, greige goods, printing etc. Yes, when one starts making quilts I can seen using the cheaper fabric but one should know that it might not be a color fast, thinner, and less threads so it might ball up, unravel etc.

    6. I agree with you 100%.. I worked for a large chain store that had fabric. We even had quilt shop owners come in and buy fabric by the bolt, take it to their stores and mark it up. Also I feel that a large chain store that buys in huge quantities has a price break that the smaller stores don’t have. Thank you Ann for offering the “other” side of the story.

      1. Donna, I think maybe your missing the point of this education……has nothing to do what people charge for it……it was explaining the process between quality fabrics and how they are manufactured…………for me Bleeding is a Big issue………but I can shop anywhere and pick out the better fabrics……….if I but the less quality I just make sure I pre wash………I Do Not Pre wash my normal stash, there simply is no bleeding……..but if I find a fun fabric of any quality I just treat it the way it should be treated.

    7. Ann, I understand where your coming from… experience quilters we can feel fabrics and often times we do not need $12 yard fabrics………but I do get the feeling they are dissing us…….I thought the article was great in explaining the difference in manufacturer of each types of fabric…the thread counts, the bleeding etc…….I take the info as that…..good info in my file of learning………as far as machines we all know any machine makes beautiful heirloom quilts……..having better machines just make it easier for us to do it…….nothing more.

  7. What griege goods today ….. resembles antique greige goods from historical quilts? Does antique greige good most resemble the fabric from box stores or quilt shop quality fabrics. This has been a question on my mine for years. I however do not have access to antique quilts.

    greige (gray) goods

  8. I buy 95% of my fabric from quilt stores. I must say however, that I have recently been disappointed in the theme material I bought. It was fabric with Eric Carle’s characters on it, and it definitely fit the chain store quality model. I bought it because of the beautiful designs, but would have been happy to spend more for better quality fabric. This will be a child’s quilt, and I will use quilting fabric on the back to help prolong its life.

  9. I made the mistake of making my first bed-size quilt from chain store fabrics. While it looked beautiful, the first time I washed it, I had several places that the fabric simply unravelled and I had a very difficult time repairing it. At the same time, I understand the need for buying chain store fabrics because the quilt shop fabric prices have gone through the roof and not everybody can afford them.

    1. My father used to say. “It takes as long to paint a house with good paint as it does to paint a house with cheap paint.” And when you’re done?

      1. I doubt that the women in the pioneer days had Moda or Benetrex, they used old clothes, feed sacks, etc. and the quilts are still around, they did not worry about the thread count, etc. fabric snobs can take their Moda fabrics and Kona cottons and put them where the sun don’t shine.

  10. As a long arm quilter I notice such a difference between quilt shop and chain store fabrics. Most quilt shop fabric quilts wonderfully and I often have problems with chain store fabrics – My advice to my clients is spend the extra money and make a quilt that is going to last when you put all that time, energy and love into it and especially if you are spending the extra money to get quilted professionally.

  11. What’s the difference between Keepsake Quilting fabric that I bought in New Hampshire and the same name I buy in JoAnn fabrics?

    1. “Indeed, chain stores often carry a limited range of premium brands. But, generally speaking, chain store offerings are price driven. They cannot easily sell the higher priced fabrics to their clientele. As a result, chain stores tend to carry the lower priced (and therefore lower quality) cotton fabrics.”

      1. Lower quality doesn’t always mean poor quality. You have to watch and be knowledgeable no matter where you shop. Buy what you like.

      2. I get 50% off coupons in the mail weekly from Joann’s fabric store. If I don’t have one I can print it off the Internet. I don’t know why chain stores can’t sell higher priced greige goods. Anyone can buy quilting fabric with a coupon. The big chain stores do sell Kona cottons which are top quality.

    2. Yes I’d like to know too. I often see the same fabric in both kind of shops where I live. I bought fabric in Joanns when I was in USA recently. It is good quality and I love it. I know what good quality is and have never had any ‘chainstore’ fabric unravel. I think too many people like to spend lots of money but there are those who can’t afford too and their quilts are beautiful and last.

      1. I agree with you. IF you know (pay attention) to the fabric you are using, all will work out. A loose weave cannot be patched with 1/4 inch seams. (for example)

    3. The cheap stuff that looks identical to the Keepsake stuff was the “practice run” (first draft) for that fabric, using cheaper fabric (called greige [pronounced gray] goods) to start with. The purpose is to see how the planned design looks on actual fabric. After all the bugs are worked out, it is done on the good fabric. They aren’t going to use the good stuff to practice on. A ‘first draft’ of something NEVER looks like a ‘final copy’.

      How I wish I had known this before I spent hundreds of dollars on fabrics with top names (Jenny Beyer, etc.,) at discount stores. You’ll never buy a Cadillac at WalMart.

      1. Well how many bolts made in “practicing?” If those “first draft” bolts have flaws, they would have to be “irregular” and be in the bargain bin … in the back. I don’t understand the logic in your explanation.

      2. but a Chevy will get you to the same place as a Cadilac, it’s not about the name on the Fabric, you have to know what you are buying, and educated on what good fabric is, just because it has a name brand does not ake it better

    4. Some designers will print their patterns on greige goods of differing quality. So they may look very similar, but the quality of the greige goods that they start with are vastly different from each other. The pattern printed on the inferior greige goods are sent to JoAnn’s and the superior one is sent to the quilt shop.

    5. they are NOT the same. I worked in Joann’s and Keepsake is their standard quilting line. It’s OK, not the worst and not premium. It’s usually marked 60% off so you end up spending around 2.99-3.99 a yard. So many people use their coupons to bring the price down. The premium fabrics are starting to be showcased more. They do have a nice hand but I never see Robert Kaufman or Quilting Treasures there. They have their own labels, Two Sister, etc. They are probably the minimum 60 square but no better than that.

    6. Did you not read the article? As someone who does a lot of hand quilting, and also a lot of hand applique with 1/8″ seams, I always avoid using “cheap” fabric. The edges ravel as I handle them, the fabric doesn’t quilt well because it lacks the silkiness of finer fabric, and the colors fade with washing and time. After years of quilting and garment sewing, I can pick up a piece of fabric and tell you the quality, 99% of the time. I am willing to pay higher for quality materials for something I really want to last. If it’s a kid’s blanket to drag around the house, cheap fabric is fine. If it’s something you are putting heart and work into, get the fabric it deserves!

    7. Some manufacturers get a license for a commercial icon. Because of the contract requirements and the commission costs they are forced to print some specifically for chain stores. Now, most of the time these are printed in different color ways and using less screens, so the image is not as sharp. Also, if it is printed for a chain there might be 4-3 skus in the line where the QS is offered 15+ pieces with several focus fabrics and small, medium and large scale prints that coordinate.

      Print concepts has a lot of licenses for pro ball teams, colleges and other commercial icons. Some Q/S will order these due to the demand in the area – example I sold Husker fabric to every store in Nebraska due to the high demand – it was the exact same fabric as the chain stores. Q/S have access to all fabric lines if they want it – chain stores cannot buy from most Q/S quality manufacturers.

  12. Thank you for this excellent explanation of the differences. I am only just starting my quilting journey so will be careful of what I purchase from here on.

    1. Don’t be fearful. Buy what you like but pay attention to it. If it is a cheaper fabric, but you MUST have that color or that pattern, just be aware of it’s possible weaknesses. Example: If it’s not a good tight weave, then don’t use 1/4″ seams; use wider ones. Not all fabric is created equal, but all fabric is wonderful and can be useful… if you pay attention and get to know what you are working with. (Quilting since 1975) And I think it helps to remember our grandmothers who made their quilts from shirts and dresses and flour sacks… and hoarded every scrap that came their way.

  13. I considered taking a class from an internationally-famous quilter whose supply list includes a great amount of fabric. I inquired as to where I could get fabric to meet the specifications, and the teacher recommended a well-known chain store selling fabric and craft supplies. I was astonished. However, I’m also finding quilt shops carrying a lot of fabric with loose weaves that are pretty readily apparent, so perhaps ‘quilt shop quality’ is becoming a thing of the past even as the price continues to increase.

  14. Interesting article with good info. Chain stores can in fact provide good quality fabric. I have done same testing on red solids purchased at a variety of stores and the one that shredded most was Moda Marble. None of the red solids faded (hancocks, joanns, michaels, local quilt shop, Walmart). I have purchased fabric at Paducah from a wholesaler that felt like cardboard and guess what? upon first washing it faded horribly. I have a stash dating back 15 years and I can tell by feel what is old (not quality based on what I didn’t know back then) and what is GOOD fabric. It IS in the feel of the fabric. And if a fabric is cheaply priced, then likely it is cheaply made.

      1. Interesting. I have only used Moda a few times and have not been impressed. I am only a two and half year old quilter. Been sewing for 50 years though. I was very disappointed in Kona and how it shreds too, but it is not as bad as Moda.

          1. Missouri Star Quilt Co has the best fabrics, pre cuts I have found online for the best prices I have found online.

    1. Hi Maria,
      Other than Moda, do you know of any reputable stores that sell higher quality quilting cotton that are online, not big box? Thank you so much.

  15. Thank you the information for those who were uneducated in the fabric quality differences.
    My only question is what do quilters who can’t afford the higher prices offered by quilt shops and catalogs?

    In my experience, the prices in quilt shops of anything more than solid colors usually runs $9.99 to 11.99/yd or more for batiks. Yes, you can wait for a sale but that can be difficult for some like the quilters who live far from a shop and/or may be trying to match or coordinate another fabric.

    Before I became a quilter I was and still am a seamstress. In our early years of marriage there was no money to purchase new fabric. So, I went to Goodwill and Salvation Army stores to look for still good quality garments that would yield enough fabric for me to make something.

    I was lucky one year to find red corduroy yardage and was able to make my brother and nephew sport jackets for Christmas. They were 11 and 7 y/o. Yes, I scrimped a bit on meals that month as $5.00 was a lot to spend, but it was worth eating a few very simple meals to give them something so special.

    Now there are garage sales that we can peruse looking for something we can recycle.
    Thee are ways, usually, to find what we need if we’re willing to look in unexpected places.

    1. you’re lucky, in Canada the quilt store prices are 15.99 to 22.99, so yes sometimes you have to go back to the cheaper fabrics, I have found Northcote fabrics on sale & snapped it up so we’ll see if that was a good buy.

    2. I’m glad you posted this response. If a young woman wants to make herself a quilt and can’t spend a fortune in the pretty specialty shop, then she should be encouraged to “channel” a bit of the grandmothers who didn’t have the wonderful quilt shops that have sprung up in recent years. NO ONE should be shamed about where they find their fabric.

      Of course, it is a good thing to understand “quality” and blends and types. That’s also the fun of quilting: learning so much more about textiles. And I appreciate information like that delivered in this informative piece.

      I made some of my earliest quilts from old prom formals that my friends had lying around. They were beautiful, works of art (hand quilted in those days). Which reminds me of the treasured and valuable Crazy Quilts, antiques which are made from every little scrap of something pretty. My quilter friends and I still keep our eyes peeled for a perfect pattern or color in a lady’s dress or a man’s shirt…in thrift shops we drop into.

      I think the bottom line is: use everything and anything, but understand it so you can use it right.

  16. Years ago I was told that chain stores have different grades of fabric, like 1,2,3. The chain store (JoAnn’s) here in Surprise, AZ have prices ranging from 3.99 up to 8.99 and less if they have a sale. I prefer the quilt shops for quality.

    Thank You for the detailed information.

  17. I have always noticed chain store fabrics are lesser quality. It can be seen with the naked eye. I’m glad to know the technical reasons. Love Keepsake!

  18. Thank you for a great article!
    When you put your heart into making a quilt the quality of the fabric is so very important. When people want me to make something for them I always say only if I the fabric is purchased at a Quilt Shop…I do Not sew on other fabrics.

  19. Thank you for a great article…the color and the feel of the fabric is SO different….When you put so much time and love into a quilt using the best fabric is very important.

  20. BUT, If ALL one can afford is chain store fabrics this is OK! Don’t let it keep you from quilting, sewing etc. Sure there is a difference but you know what? MOST people don’t know the difference! If I’m making a baby quilt, a charity quilt, a quilt for my sister’s kids I’m not going to pay $10 – $12 a yard for the fabric. Sorry if this upsets anyone but I feel this type of thing makes some people not even start a quilt because their fabric isn’t *good enough*!

    1. I agree- prices have gone crazy in the quilt stores. The important thing is to enjoy what you are doing, make it with love and those you make it for will love it also.

      1. I agree!!!! I also remind my recipients to wash in cold water on gentle cycle with a mild detergent. The Love never washes away!

      1. If the fabric is good enough to hold up in the used clothing, it will also hold up in the wuilt!

    2. I agree! A child is happy with a quilt that ‘speaks’ to him or her… the character or print could be just what they love! Also it’s a good way to learn about sewing or making blankets or quilts… start there and work your way up if you enjoyed the experience… Also chain store fabric is great for other sewing projects besides quilts as there are lots of fun items to sew with ‘craft’ fabric! There’s a place for all of it ..

    3. The ‘quilt police’ sometimes get a wee bit radical. I’ll find fabrics all over the place, from thrift stores to chain stores to online. My stash is well over 20 years old (please let me live long enough to make a dent in it.) You can generally ‘feel’ the quality of a piece of fabric, and know if it’s stiff with dye you’d better give it a good wash before you try to use it. I refuse to send more than $10/yard on fabric, and I’m not the least bit trendy so don’t need to have the latest designs and styles. I’ve got my favourite go to places online for fabrics that usually cost no more than $5/yard.

  21. What I like about independent quilt stores is participating in a Quilt Shop Hop. My sister and I have participated in several. In October we will be attending her son’s wedding in Southern California and creating our own “Shop Hop,” both on the way to the wedding and the return trip home. You get to see so much more in what’s available in quality fabric this way. While on a ‘shop hop’ participating stores mark your passport and frequently have “specials.” My sister won one of the prizes, so although she previous wasn’t a quilter, she has now become one! I’ll be advising her on the making of a wedding quilt to commemorate her son’s special day as I made one several years ago for my daughter and SIL.

  22. I made a baby quilt using flannel from one of the chain stores. I washed it, and it literally fell apart at the seams. There was no fixing it, so I had no choice but to just throw it out. What a waste of time and money.

    1. I’ve had the same experience. I made flannel baby quilts for the same grandmother. she bought at a chain store. Even with a fat 1/4″ seam, they raveled. I had her come by and feel the difference in some flannel I purchased at a quilt shop in Vermont. there was no comparison. tighter weave, much heavier fabric and a joy to work with.

  23. If your eyes are sensitive, they will spot inherent differences between chain store, and specialty fabric shops at first glance. Usually the dyes used in the prints of chain store offerings are terrible in appearance. Oh, once in a while, if one hits it right, a quality fabric in a chain store is high, worth buying. Usually a trek through the offerings of chain stores is disappointing, a lesson causing me to not go there in the first place. Unfortunately, when one lives 160 miles away from the nearest fabric store, perusing is a rare treat, especially if the store is a specialty shop. On the way to my daughter’s home in southern N. H. I often swing by Keepsake Quilting, must take miles of winding, narrow roads, for 6 to 7 hours to get to that store. The trip is worth it. Once inside time passes unnoticed. It is a feast. Always a treat to see, to feel the luxurious fabric offered. Thank goodness for the charge card!

  24. I’ve read similar explanations before, but I had to laugh (and double check the date) when he quoted the prices for premium quality fabrics. The shops in our area all charge $11.00 to $13.00 a yard so I have to wait for sale days to stock up.

  25. I’ve seen Jenny Byer and Moda fabric in my local Wal-Mart. Is this an example of a store purchasing “higher end” fabric, or do these lines make “knock-off” as well as premium fabric? If the latter, how do we tell the difference?

    1. Fabric companies often do the initial runs using lower quality griege (the base fabric before any printing or dyeing) to test the design and screens. So although the print may look identical the fabric is poorer quality. Often fillers and sizing are added to the resulting fabric to stiffen it. Once washed out the fabric is limp and thin.

      1. If you doubt the quality if a fabric, wad a bit of it in you hand until it wrinkles. When you let loose, does it fall back into a fairly smooth piece or do the wrinkles stay? If it stays wrinkled it has lots of sizing and will not hold up as well as one that keeps its shape when released.

  26. Premium fabrics for $9.99? My shops are selling fabrics for $12.99-14.99 yd. I make charity quilts and it’s hard to pay those prices. I have to look for bargains. I do shop at my local shops for my personal quilts and to keep them in business. So many are forced to close because of big box stores and on line shopping.

    1. I agree, we need to support our local quilt stores. There is nothing like walking by the rows of bolts and touching the fabric to determine the hand of a fabric. Being a new quilter, I purcased yards and yards of patriotic fabric on-line from to make wounded warrior quilts. When it arrived, I was extremely disappointed at the poor quality and stiffness making it completely unacceptable for a quilt.

  27. Excellent, informative article. My one suggestion is that when using terms specific to the fabric making industry include a definition. There were several words that I am still unable to find a good definition. GREIGE is one of terms that I am unfamiliar with.

    1. greige goods. (textiles) Raw fabric before undergoing dying or bleaching. Describes the process in which partially prepped and assembled pieces are sent to factories to be finalized.

  28. Those who went before us would take the best parts of old coats and dresses to make quilts. They were recycling.
    I like that and the memories of the clothes that were worn. Now days I use old jeans to make quilts and blankets. I think T-shirt quilts are also a good way to preserve memories.

  29. I would like to see information on the difference of quilt fabric made strictly in the United States vs. that which is made by other countries. I find that the material we have in our US stores today ravels more than it did when I first started sewing 50 years ago. Back then most of our sewing material was made right here in the United States. I would like to see that concept brought back. The United States growers of cotton probably ship more cotton out of the country than what stays; then it is shipped back to our country as fabric and/or clothes. It’s time to bring back the process of making fabric and clothes to America!

  30. One of my first quilts was a black background with red Christmas flowers arranged in wreath blocks. Because it was the second quilt I made, I decided to use a big box store fabric. I did not think it would matter as this project probably would not turn out very well with my level of experience. When I finished piecing the top, I had it professionally quilted on a long arm machine. I used an Amish black fabric purchased from a quilt shop for the back. It was a king size for my personal use on my bed. Today that quilt is still used om my bed —- in the summer months because it has been laundered so many times (at least once a month) in the past 12 years that the batting in thin. I must say that the big box store fabric on the front has held up without tearing however the difference between the front and the quilt store fabric on the back is extremely noticeable. The front fabric is very faded and the black is now ashy grey. The quilt store fabric on the back is still very black. Now, I never use chain store fabric for any project that I expect to last.

    1. Your quilt is on your bed with the top side upward (just assuming) and is exposed to light. The back is not. Not a surprise that the front faded and the back didn’t.

  31. I have wondered about this for a long time. Thank you so much for explaining! Recently, the chain store near me has started a bolt section called “quilt store quality fabric” with higher prices than their regular goods but still not as high as the quilt stores in my metropolitan area. Sometimes there are bolts with the same print design as at the quilt store.

    Are these goods really quilt store quality? Most of them turn out to be narrower in usable width of fabric than quilt store goods.

    Is there a way to discover the thread count from the bolt end or fabric selvedge? Thank you.

  32. You can definitely feel the difference in the fabrics. I’ve had some inexpensive fabric from the big box store that has faded on the folds, even though it’s not been in the light. I’ll use that for crafts, but not quilts. Learned that lesson.

  33. I have been quilting for 50 years and still going strong. The fabrics I have used over the years have been many, I found the cheapest material would stretch and shrink. And the quilts did not do well in the wash. I now use top shelf fabric and love it. Quilters, stick with the best, and your quilts will be beautiful and last a life time.

  34. I like your idea of washing one piece of fabric and then comparing it to a non-washed piece of the same fabric. I always tell my beginning classes about the difference, but showing them and letting students “feel” the difference is a much better learning process.

  35. I have found a remarkable difference between “bargain flat goods and chain store fabrics.” Some manufacturers have different greige goods for each location that do not wear the same.

  36. I have been saying this for years, and I am called a “fabric snob” for doing so. Thank you for a concise description of fabric quality – or lack thereof!

  37. There is definitely a difference in the quality of some fabrics. I shopped at a store that carried quality quilt fabric for around $4.00 less per yard than the quilt shop. Same fabric. I went back again and the store had raised their prices and said the reason was the MODA rep that they were ordering from told them if they didn’t raise their prices they would quit coming and supplying them with Moda fabrics. Forcing stores to set higher prices is WRONG in my opinion. Just because quilting and crafting has become a popular hobby everything is priced higher. Not everyone can afford $12.00 a yard fabric.

  38. My question is this, I enjoy using the New Traditions and Made in America solids to promote our own industries. I buy them at Jo Anns, they are the only shop in my area that carries the Made in America brands. Are these as good as the premium brands by Moda and others?

  39. I bought some Moda from a well known mail order company and was truly disappointed. Course, rough, and just not pleasant to feel. Now I will use it sparingly in scrappy quilting. I’ve heard people rave over Moda. No more for me.

  40. I will use chain store fabric for disposable projects, things like placemats that will be stained or things which will be hung and affected by the sun, but for heirloom quality projects, I will only use quilt shoppe fabric or fabric from quality mail order vendors.

  41. I love your catalog! We will be at your store late next week on our trip from Michigan to Nova Scotia. I keep explaining to people why I use quality fabric. I taught a neighbor to quilt last Spring and I insisted on supplying the fabric for her first quilt and after seeing her wonderful results, she is a believer.

  42. It is ever so nice to learn of the requirements of modern quilting. The quilts of several grandmas are shown and used with pride in our home. These ladies were trying to save money by using fabric scraps, usable parts of worn garments, and, here and there, maybe an old flour sack. They had their own standards for quilting grade material, and didn’t particularly worry about a high quality “hand” or too much “bearding” either. You will be pleased that their fabrics never came from any big box store, but theirs were warm quilts, not art quilts.

  43. This is a good article. It is also important to know that sometimes you see the same print on fabric from a quilting store and a chain store. That doesn’t mean, however that it is exactly the same fabric quality. The chain store fabric is most often printed on a lesser grade of fabric even though the same printed design is used. I have seen quite a few instances of this in chain stores. Sewing with quilting store fabric is so much more enjoyable and the end results more satisfying.

    1. True! I bought AZ Cardinals fabric from Walmart, washed it in cold water and I could not believe how bad it faded. I had planned on making coasters and skull caps out of it to sell in my Etsy shop but after washing it I changed mind because it looks old and faded.
      I had previously bought AZ Cardinals fabric at JoAnn’s and it withstood the wash without fading.

  44. Can anyone tell me how to tell the difference between quilt shop fabric and bargain fabrics after they are purchased? I have bought from both in my stash and would like to separate them.

  45. oh! son realmente hermosas las telas,los diseños y los colores perfectos para patchwork si pudieran poner una sucursal en Ecuador seria fantástico

  46. I found this just at the right time as I will be teaching some classes at a quilt shop in Springfield MO this fall. Thanks for your well worded thoughts!

  47. I learned this lesson the hard way. After all the piecing and hand quilting, there was purple faded onto
    white and other light colors. Always buy quality fabrics now.

  48. The number of quilt shops closing, especially The City Quilter in NYC, indicates to me that while you are advocating using high end fabrics, the average quilter has to look at the budget and buy accordingly. I have purchased less than fabulous fabrics from quilt shops and been disappointed by the printing not being with the straight of grain or shrinkage and fading. Quilt shop owners will not refund the money for poor quality fabric any more than the big chain stores will. I haven’t ordered fabric from either online sources or catalogs because I like to see and feel the fabric before buying. Friends have reported good experiences from several online sources, I am waiting for more reports. Quilting is a pleasant experience for most people; let’s concentrate on passing it on to our grandchildren.

  49. What about Is that a chain store? It is owned by Amazon which certainly seems to be competitive with a store the size of Hobby Lobby or Joann’s, yet they sell premium quilting cottons. So aren’t these fabrics actually available at a chain store or its equivalent, and a discounted prices?

  50. Hmm, I saw the invoice from a fabric distributor at a quilt shop and the quilt shop quality fabric cost the shop less then $3 yard per bolt. Most were under $2.50. The shop was selling it for $9.99 and up per yard. A high price doesn’t mean better quality. Learn the feel of good fabric. Good fabric can be at discount stores.

  51. Thank you so much….I’ve already stopped buying fabrics at the “J” store and W-mart…..I have to quilting shops within driving distance. I frequent those shops. I put a lot of time and effort in my projects, so I want the best I can afford.

  52. Sometimes high-end designs are printed with fewer color screens for the chains. Look at the little colored circles on the selvege; that will tell you how many screens were used. If you see a fabric at a chain store that isn’t on its original bolt board, that’s probably a more cheaply made version. If you see the ‘same’ print at a chain and a fabric store buy some of each, wash them, then hold them up to a window. The chain version will be also sheer. You can spend 500-2000 hours making a quilt; whether it will last will depend on the materials.

  53. I am a sewist, quilter and doll maker. I learned long ago to only use good quality fabrics in my projects. Dolls where I skimped and bought cheaper goods did not stand up to wear and my reputation took a big hit. Since I live in a rural area I do shop for fabric online and I always choose brands that I trust, like Moda and Kona cottons. My peace of mind (and reputation) are worth so much more than saving a few dollars.

  54. I construct my quilts with high quality cotton, which is unwashed. My thinking is that the quilt can be washed with a dye catcher cloth tossed in the washer the first several times the quilt is laundered. Is my reasoning logical? What are your thoughts about washing all fabrics before sewing them into a quilt?
    If you do feel pre-washing fabric is essential, what settings and water temperature do you use? I am concerned about fat quarters and other smaller cuts of fabric fraying excessively during this pre-washing process. Would you wash all similar colors together with a dye catcher product?
    Thank you for your thoughts,

    1. Pre-washing fabric serves several purposes. First, pre-washing will reveal whether or not your fabric is going to bleed. Bleeding fabric has ruined an unaccountable number of quilts. I use a dye fixative product to permanently set the dyes, especially in reds. Second, most cotton fabric will shrink to some extent. I’d rather have my fabric shrink BEFORE I CUT than after the quilt is assembled, quilted and the quilt bound. One has to remember that fabrics don’t shrink exactly the same. To prevent the raveling which does occur, you can either zig-zag on the cut edges or run it through a serger. It’s amazing what a difference that makes.

    2. I’ve never used a dye catcher cloth and wouldn’t expect anyone buying my quilt to use one.
      I don’t pre wash the fabrics for quilting unless I’m using a red flannel fabric. That is the only fabric that ever ran color onto my other fabrics.
      I always wash my quilts as soon as I am done sewing them. Never give someone an unwashed quilt. Although, the fabric will be softer and not as stiff as when you bought it, the batting will be fluffier after washing the quilt and the over all feel is so much better than the unwashed product.
      I did wash all my fabrics once before cutting for a quilt, ENORMOUS waste of time!

  55. Thank you Jim Salinas! Thanks to you for believing in us starting out 5 years ago to become the best quilt shop in rural East Texas. Our Moda orders keep coming and we pride ourselves on selling top quality fabrics thanks to your guidance. Happy Quilting, Jim & Dorrie Hall in Warren, TX.

    1. Dorrie & Jim — I’ve enjoyed seeing your shop grow. You have a wonderful selection of fabrics, and I look forward to each visit.

  56. I am so excited to be visiting Keepsake Quilting in a couple of weeks during our 25th wedding anniversary trip! I first visited during our honeymoon and have been a quilter ever since.

    1. Happy Anniversary Lefa. Enjoy your visit to Keepsake and give yourself plenty of time to take in all their beautiful fabric. It’s like being a child in a candy shop when you are there.

  57. I made a quilt that I thought”it wouldnt matter” to use the chain store fabric…I usually use the better quality. WELL …sometime later I stayed at that house slept under that quilt…. and the quilt offered absolutely no warmth! Some days later I sewed a fleece backing on the quilt and the owner likes it a lot better.

  58. I taught the same principles in my “Beginners Quilting” class years ago. I purchased fabrics from chain stores, quilt stores, and mail order. Cut each in half & washed half of each. Students were AMAZED at the difference between the washed & unwashed…shrinkage, running, and fading verses not. As I told them, there is a time & place for all fabric. You just have to consider the use, time you want a piece to last, and how much time you are going to put in making it before you decide which fabric to purchase.

    1. I agree with your comment Liz. There is a time a place for all fabric (well I do have a stiff piece of hideous pink fabric that I just can’t find a use for but that aside…) I try to use good quality quilting cottons in my quilts because of the superior quality and long life. Some years ago I bought a quilt from an online store that was inexpensive but pretty. The colours didn’t last and I couldn’t believe how fast the fabrics wore out, with holes appearing and wearing through on edges and corners. I think of that quilt when I pay higher prices for my quilt cottons.

      But something like a Halloween costume….that’s when I go straight to the chain store. Wild colours, dazzle, whatever you want for a one or maybe two time wearing. Worth it in that case to go cheap.

    2. I made a quilt once with chain store fabric. After it was quilted, the quilter noticed that there was a word misspelled on the fabric with words. Now everyone I look at that quilt, I look at that word

    3. Keep in mind that if you watch the quilt shop sales, you can often find half price or less specials on nice fabric. For us older people, $10 a yard is pretty staggering on a Social Security budget. But if you like to make patchwork quilts, you can have fun buying an assortment of Fat Quarters over time.

      Gppd luck!


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