You’re buying a one-of-a-kind item. You won’t see it in any other bedroom, hanging on any other wall, or thrown on anyone else’s couch.
But they’re so expensive you say. Yes, that’s true. A king size quilt can take up to sixteen yards of fabric and four yards of batting. Well, I’ll just toddle off to Wal-Mart or a sale at Joann’s. That’s, unfortunately, some people’s only option. Or, there’s a movement to use old clothes, which I applaud, but if I’m going to spend all that time designing, piecing, and quilting, I want to use quality fabrics.
If you’ve ever had a chain store fabric in one hand and a quilt shop fabric in the other, you’ll notice the difference immediately. Premium quilting fabric brands start with high quality greige (gray) goods that have a thread count of at least 60 by 60 threads. 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.
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. Once the greige goods are printed, they are 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.
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.
Batting is the same. I use a quality 80% cotton 20% polyester for my quilts, but I’ve just recently discovered organic cotton. The hand on that almost feels like a silk scarf; it begs you to wrap yourself in that quilt. I have yet to try wool batting. First, wool is a renewable & sustainable natural fiber. Harvesting it from sheep doesn’t harm them, and it grows back. Wool is warm, but breathable, so it’s great for bed quilts. It’s super-soft and drapes beautifully.
And then there’s the design. Modern quilt design is based on several factors, including modern art, modern design, nature and architecture. I like bright, bold colors, the heavy use of solids, expansive negative spaces, asymmetry and improvisational piecing.
I also like to make pieced backings, also known as “back art”. I think it adds interest and is sometimes more fun to make than the front!
As much as I’d love to have a long arm machine, I have a very talented friend at Cambridge Lane Quilt Studio who owns one and I do take a few quilts there for magnificent results. I machine quilt on my domestic sewing machine and love domestic machine quilting. I’ve taken a Craftsy class from Jacquie Gering on straight-line quilting. There are also several techniques I’ve learned from other quilters I admire.
Finally, the quilt is squared and ready for binding. There is magic in seeing a quilt bound. During those hours of hand sewing I can start dreaming of my next project.
In this day in age when one can go to a big box retailer and purchase a manufactured quilt for $50 or less – without question – there is a huge pricing gap comparing store bought vs. handmade quilts. Quilting is an industry that can be difficult to understand unless you do it.
Not everyone can afford handmade. When you do buy a handcrafted quilt, you’re buying workmanship, high quality fabrics, and a quilt that will last through generations.