Quilting Cotton. What is that?
Quilting cotton is the most popular medium for fabric crafts. It may look similar from the outside but you will certainly feel the difference. Quilting cotton, a.k.a. ‘craft cotton,’ is typically made of quality 100% cotton and medium in weight around 4 oz per square yard making it stiffer and heavier than Poplin and other apparel lines.
The most important consideration when selecting fabric for your quilt project is buying from a reputable Quilt Shop. This will help ensure the product is the genuine brand, and of good quality. After one too many horror stories from buying fabric on marketplaces and box stores, the best way to protect your investment is to stick to reputable businesses to source any fabric, notions, and sewing supply tools. There is nothing worse than coming home with a basket full from a big box fabric store only to realize AFTER the labor of love that your flannel is junk and won’t hold up with daily use from it’s recipient. That happened!
Ok, so how do you know what type of fabric to buy?
Now here’s the fun part.. There are no rules and you can quilt with anything that inspires you, but there are some considerations to keep in mind for machine piecing and quilting.
As a general rule, try to buy fabrics that are 4 oz per sq yard or higher. Can you use a 3.5 oz chambray or Batik? Yes, you certainly can. Artizen Batiks are made of 100% combed Cotton making them very soft yet sturdy making them great for both quilt tops and backing.
If you are using a loose weave fabric with a low thread count you will want to give yourself enough of a seam allowance to help the fabric not fray.
For delicate fabrics that lack density or are prone to catching on things like a Bubble Gauze, I like to use a technique I like to call ‘pre-patch.’ I do this by putting a layer of quilting fabric (or flannel) underneath to prevent the batting from being exposed should the delicate fabric ever start to rip or fray. What’s cool about this method, is that the patch acts as insurance with the bonus of a peek-a-boo surprise that will create visual interest. In art and rag quilts, these techniques are sometimes used intentionally. So you can have fun playing with unconventional fabrics as long as you secure the integrity of your quilt, mitigating against years of wear, tear, and washing. Why not make it built-to-last?!
Can you mix and match fabric types and weights?
Absolutely! It can be delightfully delicious, depending on what aesthetic you are going for. This is particularly nice for Art Quilts and Fabric Arts. That being said, if you are going for an heirloom quilt, you may want to stick with complementary fabric lines of the same or similar weight. For example, pairing Moda with Kona Cotton.
What kind of fabrics are used in heirloom quilts?
Quilts that are handed down from generation to generation are typically made of 100% woven cotton and sometimes silk or linen is used for textural effects. Something to note is that historical quilts used 100% cotton batting (no poly-plastic!). This is what gives them that feeling of substance that when folded, creates a nice heavy block. Batting with a full 1/2 pound of cotton per square yard is what’s preferred for show quilts to give the quilt volume to show off the beautiful quilting. My favorite for this is the N6 Supreme Dream Cotton by Quilters Dream out of Virginia. They are the only USA company I have found that is committed to using only the highest grade fibers that are free from toxic scrims, resins, or binders used in most other batting on the market. I personally like to keep my bedding nontoxic.
Will my quilt still look good if I use thinner batting? What’s the difference?
It sure will. The thick batting may be used in show quilts but many quilters go to the opposite extreme and use something like the N3 Natural Dream Cotton Request which is only 3 ounces per square yard. The 3-ounce tends to attract long-arm quilters because it is easier to load on the machine.
Personally, I like a little more loft so gravitate to wool batting. It is very light, warm, and great for allergies due to wool’s natural antimicrobial properties. For those who like extra loft, some people add a second layer such as cotton or bamboo.
- Tip: If you want extra loft and are using a lot of white in your design, consider adding a layer of white batting on top of the wool or natural cotton to help make your whites pop bright.
I reached out to Quilters Dream directly and asked which lofts were most popular with quilters and she said the 3- and 4-ounce took the lead and was about a 50/50 split between the natural and white.
So, for wearables, table runners, hot climates, or a desired drape, you may want to consider the 3-ounce. The 4-ounce is an all-purpose mid-loft batting that is also good for wall hangings. That extra ounce will help your stitches be seen giving your quilting more definition. Both the 3- and 4-ounce versions are good for hand-sewing.
For Quilters Dream fans, the Dream Bamboo Midloft feels, looks, and is said to be comparable to the Natural 4-ounce Dream Cotton Select. This one also contains silk, cotton, and botanic Tencel in its blend. This one is preferred by quilters who go to shows because of its drape. Quilts tend to crease less making them more presentable upon arrival.
When talking to Quilters Dream about what their customers prefer I was surprised to learn that the Deluxe 6-ounce and Supreme 1/2 pound weren’t as in demand.
The N6 Natural Dream Cotton Deluxe 6-ounce is considered a high-loft. It is weighty yet still has a nice drape. It will provide extra warmth and most importantly, provide exceptional volume to show of your quilting. I love the padded effect for free-motion quilting which is why I personally gravitate to higher loft batting.
The N8 Natural Dream Cotton Supreme is the highest loft they offer in the cotton and is referred to as being hefty and dense. Uses are great for kitchen crafts, show quilts, ironing board covers, and of course that quintessential heirloom heavy warm quilt.
What about the polyester batting? Sacrilege! So, never. To put it plainly, I finally realized that polyester is just a fancy term for plastic. I really don’t like the idea of putting plastic in my quilts. I try to live nontoxic and plastic-free where ever I can.
Can you quilt with linen?
Yes, yes, and yes! Linen adds texture and natural beauty that can really uplevel a project. For quilting, it is easier to work, and my personal favorite, the Essex Linens by Robert Kaufman. These are a hybrid blend using only 55% linen and 45% cotton. What is great about that is the fabric is a lot sturdier and is less likely to fray, therefore less protective measures are needed. I am obsessed with these fabrics and pre-treat them before use. What I like to do is wash and dry on a hot setting. This pre-shrinking tightens up the fabric making it a little more dense similar to a canvas, albeit lighter. For 100% linen, you will want to give yourself a .5″ seam allowance and ideally pre-surge or finish the edges with a zigzag stitch to protect your seams from unraveling. Linen is one of the more exquisite fabrics and looks stunning. They are harder to work with however so not the best fabric to start out with. I would consider Linen intermediate to advanced due to the required workarounds.
Can you quilt with Chambray or Denim?
Denim is one of my top favorite fabrics. It’s rugged, it lasts, and there are so many fun applications. For traditional quilts, light denim or chambray would be best so you don’t end up with bulky seams. Try to stick under 5 oz. Denim is excellent for rag quilts and is a lot of fun to pair with flannel and other quilting wovens. Rag quilts are great for any skill level and can be as simple or as complicated as you wish to make it. The rich indigo colors can be very stunning. Denim is also great for those who have pets and are worried about claws ruining their creation.
Is quilting hard?
Hard like a Suduko puzzle at times sure, but doable for a beginner, yes indeed! Quilting is fun. I find that if you keep a fun mindset and enjoy the journey through intention, you will enjoy it. What makes it compelling is the satisfaction of making something special. It’s a great feeling to see the look in the eyes of the recipient or to cuddle on the couch under your labor of love. Quilts, made with good materials can last many lifetimes bringing decades of smiles, gratitude, and pride.
One foot in front of the other, keep taking steps, you WILL finish your quilt, and be proud. Kinda like a 1000 piece puzzle.