How Is Quilting Fabric Made? (Explained For Beginners)

It can be an exciting adventure to gather fun and colorful fabrics for your next quilting project.

However, not all fabrics are created equal. Quilting fabrics are made in a certain way to perform well during the quilting process and beyond. 

Here Is How Quilting Fabric is Made:

Quilting fabric usually starts with cotton fibers woven into a raw, high-thread-count fabric. Next, the material is printed and dyed, giving it colorful and appealing patterns. Finally, a special blend of additives is applied to enhance its quilting-friendly characteristics.

Where Is Quilting Fabric Usually Made?

Quilting fabric can be made just about anywhere. Some brands pride themselves on 100% American-crafted fabrics. 

Other brands outsource the printing and dying of their material to other countries. By outsourcing, companies might be able to use more advanced technology or take advantage of lower production costs.

Moda, an industry leader in quilting fabrics, manufactures its materials in Korea and Japan. Robert Kaufman Fabrics, another known name in quilting materials, uses Japan as its base of operations. 

It might not always be easy to find where your quilting fabric is manufactured. Less expensive fabrics may be using less than reputable labor practices to print their fabrics. 

However, fashion industry production methods are being scrutinized, so information is becoming more available. You can ask your local quilting shop for reputable recommendations if the source of your fabric is important to you. 

It might be far more clear where they are coming from when it comes to specialty fabrics. If you are a fan of batiks, you might purchase directly from Indonesia. 

These beautiful, colorful fabrics originated in this island nation and are still predominantly crafted there. 

The process for making these materials is quite extensive. The fabric can be dyed countless times as different colors are introduced to the pattern.

Wax is used to create resistant layers, preserving the color underneath while the fabric undergoes another round of dye. 

What Materials Is Quilting Fabric Commonly Made Of?

Pure cotton is the go-to material for most quilting fabric. Raw cotton provides the source material transformed into a 60 square (or higher) greige good. 

A “greige good” is a name used to describe raw, unprocessed material when it is fresh off the loom. The number, like 60, refers to the specific thread count found in a square inch of the fabric. 

In a single square inch of 60 square fabric, you will find 30 warp threads and 30 weft threads. 

The total is 60 threads, giving you the “60 square.” You can commonly see square counts of 70 or even higher with quilting fabrics.

The higher the number, the stronger and denser the fabric.

Other Popular Quilting Fabric Materials

You might also come across woven cotton quilting fabric. While this fabric also contains a minimum of 60 threads per square inch, the dying process is done before the weaving. 

Pre-dyed threads are used to construct the fabric. The result is a fabric with an identical front and backside. You will often find crisply striped or plaid patterns with woven quilting fabric. 

Batik is another popular type of fabric used to quilt. These colorful fabrics are commonly made from cotton or even rayon. The cotton versions are usually stiffer and a better match for a quilter’s needs. 

Flannel is another minimum 60 square fabric that is commonly used for quilting. This material goes through a special process to give it a soft feel.

However, it is still a durable option for quilting construction. It makes a great choice for a soft and snuggly baby quilt. 

Finally, you might come across some hybrid quilting fabrics. You might see these under quilter’s canvas or quilter’s linen.

To make the material a bit stiffer and fuller, some manufacturers replace a percentage of the cotton blend with other stiffer threads, like a flax thread. 

Is Quilting Fabric More Expensive?

You can usually tell what fabric is for quilting by the price tag alone. Quilting fabric is more expensive than other all-purpose fabrics.

Its higher price tag comes from all that goes into making this specialty fabric that is ready to last for generations. 

From the higher thread count to the specialty additives, several additional costs go into making this fabric. However, you can think of its price tag as an investment.

This material was built to perform and endure and is ready to be turned into a long-lasting quilt for your home. 

What Is The Difference Between Quilting Fabric and Apparel Fabric?

Quilting and apparel fabric maybe 100% cotton, but they are still very different materials. 

Quilting fabric is specially designed to perform well when made into a quilt. Quilts can last for decades and be passed down from generation to generation. The fabric used must be specially designed for this task. 

Quilting fabric is created to resist shrinkage and other wear and tear. It is also designed to maintain its color and print exquisitely.

Because of these attributes, it is a more heavy-duty fabric compared to what is commonly used for clothes.

If you hold apparel fabric up to the light, you will likely be able to see some light through it. This is a sign of a lower thread count and a thinner material. 

If you do the same thing with quilting fabric, you will likely see nothing through it. The intensity of the weave and the higher thread count makes quilting fabric stronger and more opaque. 

Finally, quilting fabrics will contain a specific blend of additives for ideal performance. Before hitting the shelves, quilting fabrics will be treated with a softener, a stain and sun guard, and even a stiffener. 

How is Quilting Fabric Processed?

How quilting fabric is processed also contributes to the differences between it and other apparel fabrics. 

First up, the material will be dyed or printed to give you a wide range of appealing, colorful patterns. The coloring and printing process can take place on large rolls or digitally.

Printing fabric on traditional roles comes with some limitations. There are only 29 Pantone colors that can be utilized when printing this way. 

Digital printing, on the other hand, is expanding the range of color palettes possible for quilting fabrics. You can print any color combination with greater crispness and clarity. 

Both printing processes will deliver the same end quality. The colors won’t run or fade, and the details of the pattern will be ready to withstand generations of use.

What marks the greatest difference is in the additive stage. Quilting fabric manufacturers each have a unique recipe for their additives.

These are not applied to thinner fabrics intended for apparel.

These additives enhance the material’s ability to stay crisp and easy to work with. They are also designed to protect against running colors and preserve the original look and feel of the material over time. 

Can You Use Any Fabric For Quilting?

You might struggle if you choose apparel fabric for quilting.

Light cotton with a low thread count will struggle to hold its shape as you start to work with them. It is far easier to be precise with a stronger, more stable quilting fabric. 

Even if you manage to work with some alternate materials, your efforts might be in vain. Quilting fabrics are designed with durability in mind. 

If you use apparel fabrics, you might find that these sections of your quilt are prone to shrinking. If you use a mix of quilting and apparel fabrics, your finished product might shrink unevenly after its first wash.

The lifespan of your quilt will be uncertain when you use any fabric for quilting. Regular materials can wear out more quickly and will not be able to withstand the demands of holding up a quilt.

You might find rips and other wear and tear in the sections where you used regular materials. 

Do You Have To Wash Quilting Fabric Before Sewing?

You do not have to wash your quilting fabric before sewing.

Quilting fabric manufacturers all have a special blend of additives they carefully add to their products. These additives help make the material the best performing fabric for your quilting project. 

When you choose not to pre-wash your fabric, you maximize this additive finish’s effectiveness. It can help your fabric be easier to work with as you piece it and quilt it. 

There was a time when pre-washing was very common in the quilting world. After the first wash, quilters were worried that unwashed fabrics could bleed their colors into neighboring fabrics.

However, if you are using fabric specifically designated for quilting, this is highly unlikely to occur. 

Fabric companies have improved their printing and preserving processes to ensure their dyes no longer bleed. Even with riskier colors like red, manufacturers generally apply special additives to avoid any risk of color bleeding. 

If you choose not to pre-wash your fabrics but are still concerned about potential color bleeding on the first wash, you still have options. 

You can purchase color catcher sheets and use them in the washing machine for your quilt’s first wash.

These are designed to prevent color bleeding and can be a great way to achieve an extra level of protection.

Final Thoughts

Quilting fabrics are a specially-engineered category of fabrics ready for your quilting project’s long lifespan.

Quilting fabrics are not your average material, from their high cotton thread count constructions to the special additives for durability and performance.

They may come at a higher cost, but they are a worthy investment for a quilt built to last for generations to come. 


Apparel Search: What are greige goods?

Craft Tribe Online: Why is Quilting Fabric So Expensive?

Stitched in Color: Where Our Fabrics Are Made

Suzy Quilts: How is Fabric Made?

The Quilt Show: What are Batiks?