"You get what you pay for" is one old saying. A better one may be "quality in - quality out."
I have been quilting for almost 35 years, so I've seen a huge improvement in the quality of quilting cottons. Those first calico's I bought in the 1970's weren't great and there were so few from which to choose!
I recently pulled out the first quilting project I started in 1982 to take as a humorous "ice breaker" for the guild talk I was giving. It is a hand-pieced Grandmother's Flower Garden partial top...Y seams (no English Paper Piecing)...pretty ambitious project for a beginner. I will share a picture...no judgin'...LOL!
My grandmother had just given me her last quilt, finished with hand-quilting help from community ladies before she passed away from cancer. That quilt consists of flowery scraps from my dress sewing (I thought she wanted my scraps for her community quilting bee!). Apparently, she started hand-piecing it about the time she got the diagnosis.
Here's a photo of that quilt...Weasley thought I was staging a photo session for him and he was looking for his "spot"...
After that, of course, my first quilt was going to be a Grandmother's Flower Garden! Doh! (head slap)
Like my Grandmother, I used mostly scraps I had that were leftover from sewing clothes and craft projects. The electric blue was a remnant cotton/poly blend that was left over from making my dorm room curtain at Auburn University.
Ahhh...the shiny sheen of an overly-processed, seemingly artificial poly/cotton blend...that takes me back to college (War Eagle!!)...
I've kept that old top for years, thinking I would finish it some day for fun. But now, I find that I am a FABRIC SNOB...and proud of it! Let me explain...
There are two reasons I want to work with the best fabric possible. First, I want almost everything I make, especially things I hand applique and hand quilt, to be heirloom quality. I want them to be around in a hundred years. I take weird pleasure imagining a quilt of mine on a bed or wall in the year 2116!
I spend a lot of time making them and it makes sense to use the best materials possible to ensure their durability and beauty.
Secondly, and maybe more important to me, I want to enjoy the process. Poorly milled fabrics with low thread count unravel easily and are the least colorfast.
I chose a black repro fabric recently to make this small, hand-appliqued music clef for one of my 6-inch finished blocks.
It is hard to photograph with my crappy camera, but in corners where I've clipped my turn-under allowance, I get these stray, unraveling, fuzzy, fat threads that make me nuts. This makes me use more glue than I like to use to tame the beasts, then I am taking extra stitches through excess glue, which makes me cranky.
And when I make really tiny pieces with turned under edges...like a kitty cat nose...
...I don't want my scant turn-under allowance to unravel like a bad knitting project.
Fabric companies choose the greige goods (gray) that their fabric designers work with to make gorgeous fabric. "Greige goods" is what fabric is called when it comes off the loom, before it is bleached, screen-dyed and given a finish.
Two things determine the quality of the greige goods...the thread count and the length and number of cotton filaments in the yarn (thread) used to weave the fabric.
You are probably most familiar with thread count concerning bed sheets. Thread count is determined from looking at one square inch of fabric. Most muslins have a thread count of 150, 75 threads going side-to-side and 75 threads going up-and-down.
The industry minimum standard for the thread count of good sheets is 180 (90 threads in each direction), but we can all tell the luxurious difference when we are sleeping on 400-count bed sheets.
Higher thread count gives the fabric a silkier, softer hand or feel. It is also preferred by fabric designers who draw more intricate, sophisticated designs. When multiple screens are used to dye the fabric, the design is crisper with a higher thread count greige good.
Some lower end, cheaper fabrics only have a thread count of 120 (60 fabrics in each direction). They can feel course and when cut, the edges ravel badly.
And don't be fooled by someone claiming 600 or higher thread count bed sheets. Consumer Reports has "unraveled" this mystery and determined that there is some funny math going on in the industry. There are only so many threads you can cram into a square inch of fabric. C.R. thinks the claimed higher number is determined by the number of strands or fibers going into the yarn.
The courser yarns are also harder to remover excess dye, etc. from in the finishing process, therefore they run like crazy!!
I certainly don't want fabrics to run at this point in my process...when I am soaking out the glue, pressing and trimming my background to my desired size. I wash or at least soak and spin all my new fabric...and dry on high heat. I want to give them a chance to bleed and shrink before I start fooling with them.
There are some reds I've treated with some vinegar...and I do like those color catchers, but for the most part I've been pleased with washing before using. I also seem to be sensitive to the chemicals used in the finishing process of making fabric.
It is also true that batiks have a high thread count, which is why a lot of people who do raw edge applique in traditional and art quilts like to work with them. When doing the tiny keys and rods in my music blocks, I employed some batiks...especially on the woodwinds. They are a little harder to needle when stitching, either applique or quilting (due to the tight weave), but worth it to me in some cases.
On my last post, I used a new kitty block to demonstrate some of the finer points of the applique method I use (now all stitched except for some embroidery details...). I had named the new block "Strange Fruit," totally ignorant to the fact that name also belongs to a Billie Holiday song concerning lynching and other horrors of our past. I appreciate being alerted by a couple of you, and I am terribly sorry about this. I did not mean to offend anyone and I have changed the name of the block to "Still Life With Cat."