Cotton fabric vs. Cotton fabric.
Selvage edges are created during the weaving process. They contain extra threads for strength. These edges are along the grain of the fabric.
The top pictured fabric does not have as pronounced a selvage as the lower. There are only a few extra threads woven into the edge because the smaller threads in a close tight weave hold the shape of the fabric in place.
On the back of the lower pictured fabric the lighter edge of the selvage shows clearly. It is easily four times the width of the other fabric's selvage. Extra threads in selvages make them behave differently than the body of the fabric. Selvages tend to shrink when laundered and have no 'give'.
All selvage edges are unsuitable for use in a quilt top or back. Even the small selvage on the top pictured batik fabric can cause distortion, and must be removed. *Note the tiny puncture wounds left by the looming process. These may appear beyond the selvage edge and must also be removed.
Cotton fabrics can vary greatly in the size threads they are created from, the number of threads used per inch, (called thread count), and how colour or design is applied. Understanding the differences in cotton quilting fabrics will greatly help a quilter use fabrics that are best for their chosen project.
The two fabrics pictured show a distinct difference in the size of thread, weave and application of colour. The top fabric (bright green) is a 'batik'. True Batiks are noted for small diameter threads in high counts.
The tightly spun batik threads tend to be less 'fluffy' than their thicker cousins. Batik is often reversible as it can be thin enough that the colour saturates both sides of the fabric evenly.
The lower pictured fabric is a traditional quilting cotton which has a larger thread and fewer threads per inch. This fabric tends to feel softer and thicker than a batik. There are many variations that fall somewhere in between these two examples. Have a look at fabric with a light source behind to clearly examine the weave.
Homespun (not pictured) is usually the most loose -even floppy- weave sold as quilting fabric. These tend to be inexpensive, they wear and fade quickly. Homespuns are worth considering for the back of a quilt or on a quilt that has a short life expectancy.
Why does the thread count etc matter? For complicated patterns with sharp points or curves, batiks tend to create a more crisp line. For a bed quilt pattern that has right angles, pieces larger than an inch wide and simple piecing techniques , traditional fabrics are ideal.
Batiks have the advantage of not fraying easily and also tend to have a more vibrant appearance due to the way the threads are finished. They are excellent for hand appliqué work, and because of the tight weave can tolerate slightly smaller seams. Individual and small pieces tend to hold their shape well. For raw edge appliqué, the structure of this fabric is helpful.
Batiks have the disadvantage of being thin. Mistakes or wobbly seams show up easily with batik fabric. They do not have much 'give' so when trying to marry two seams that don't quite match, tucks and bobbles may occur. The limited palate of colours/prints available from any one source may cause frustration.
Because the thread count is high, hand quilting is more difficult, with more resistance on the needle. Thread tension is a precision exercise when using batiks.
Traditional fabrics have the advantage of being forgiving, soft and supple. The seams of traditional fabrics look well-defined without being overly sharp. They have more 'give' to them and can tolerate a bit of 'easing' if seams don't exactly match without packing a sad. They tend to be readily available in a wider variety of colours and prints, and wear well.
The disadvantage of traditional fabrics is the looser weave tends to fray, making a quarter inch seam the minimum necessary to prevent seams splitting. For fine piecework, appliqué or bias cuts, pieces may stretch or distort easily.
Obviously beautiful quilts have been created for centuries using a wide variety of raw products. Today's quilters are spoiled for choices. The key is to choose a fabric that most suits the chosen project. Understanding the materials used in a quilt can greatly enhance the end product.
Next on Novice News: Dyes and prints and how these affect quilt fabrics.