What's the most important characteristic to consider when choosing quilting fabric? Durability — how well will the fabric stand up to heavy use and washing? There are other important factors to take into consideration as well, including design and texture, but durability is the big one. To determine it, consider the thread count. Simply put, fibers of lower thread count fabrics break easily when stitched.
To check thread count, hold a piece of folded fabric to the light. If light shines through, then the thread count is low and unacceptable for heavily-used quilt patterns. If the quilt will be a wall decoration, then lower thread count material like homespun or muslin can suffice. Flannel and other 100 percent cotton materials with high thread count are commonly used for blanket quilting because they're long lasting.
What are the other big differences between your choices for quilting fabrics? Take a look at the list below.
Cotton: light-to-heavyweight fabric made of woven cotton fibers. Many quilters prefer cotton fabric because it's easy to work with and long lasting. Warm air can circulate under the material without escaping, making it ideal for quilted bedding.
Flannel: light-to-midweight fabric made of woven cotton, wool or cotton blends. As you may know, it gets softer with use. Be aware of thread count when buying flannel since it varies drastically.
Batik: mid-to-heavyweight fabric made of woven cotton with a higher thread count than most quilting fabrics. Typically it features similar dyed patterns and colors on both sides of the fabric.
Muslin: lightweight fabric made of woven cotton that's often unbleached or white cloth, and commonly used in dresses or curtains.
Broadcloth: light-to-midweight fabric made of woven cotton, cotton blends, silk, or wool and generally used in fine suits because of its velvety texture.
Homespun: light-to-midweight fabric made of woven cotton material. It has a looser weave and lower thread count than other quilting cotton.
Chintz: mid-to-heavyweight fabric made of densely woven cotton or cotton blends with a shiny finish and is characteristically printed with flower patterns.
Pima: light-to-midweight fabric made of woven cotton; it uses one of the best grades of cotton fiber and is commonly used in expensive bedding and clothing.
Polyester: lightweight fabric made from refined petroleum. While polyester will not shrink or fade, it's a slippery material that has a natural stretch. However, using it in sewing machines will be a challenge.
Cotton blends: light-to-heavyweight fabric made from woven cotton and a synthetic or man-made material, like a cotton/polyester. Blends can be difficult to stretch if pieces are not precisely sized, as can be done with 100 percent cotton fabrics.