March 7, 2009 in This n' That
Is there really a difference in the fabric found in the local quilt shop? That is an excellent question. One thing is for certain, the fabric in a quilt shop is generally more expensive. Before we can get into the details, let’s review how fabric is actually made.
Cotton fabric is weaved from cotton yard at a textile weaving mill. This is the actual manufacturer of fabric; how it is weaved and the quality of the yarn used determines the quality of the fabric. Fabric from the weaving mill is called Greige (“Gray”) goods; this means that nothing has been done to the fabric yet, no dying or patterns, just straight off the loom.
Fabric Converters purchase these greige goods. A converter is a company that designs the patterns for the fabric. They also make the decisions on what to sell and how much to the store. Some converters do their own printing, other send the greige goods off to a textile printing factory. In the end the converter sells the finished product to the quilt shops or chain stores.
Many things can make the difference in the fabrics offered from store to store.
Greige Goods – when a converter is first testing a new pattern, they will use a lower quality greige good. In the past, these “throw away” test pieces were used for utilitarian uses and not sold for sewing. Now, they are sold to discount fabric stores; even if they are sold as flats (off a bolt) the discount store can put them on bolts to give the appearance of a better quality fabric.
Downprinting – Big chain stores often buy the same pattern printed on a lower quality greige good so they are able to sell it at a lower price.
Seconds – sometimes during printing, mistakes happen. The pattern may be off just a little or the fabric had a minor flaw. Discount fabric stores will buy up these pieces up and sell them.
Different Inks – different textile printing companies may use different ink or methods. This can affect the quality of the fabric.
Sizing – sizing can make a cheaper fabric feel and look like a more expensive one.
The local quilt shops usually only sell the higher quality items and they have the experience to spot a problem fabric. This is not to say that discount fabric stores and big chain stores don’t have a place in our craft. It is not in everyone’s budget to spend $10-$20 a yard for fabric. But like the old adage goes, “you get what you pay for”. Consider the project you are working on; how many times will it be washed, is it going to hang on the wall or is a toddler going to drag it around, is it a practice or heirloom piece?
A good rule to keep in mind when deciding where to buy your fabric is that a discount fabric may only last a few years with regular use and a quality fabric may out live you.