The Art of Choosing: Types of Fabric

Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Art of Choosing is a series discussing fabric, color, and the fabric selection process! Here's what's been posted so far:

1. Recognizing a Fabric's Overall Color
2. Folding
3. Stash Storage
4. Organizing Your Stash by Color
5. Building a Well Rounded Stash
6. Supplementing a Fabric Line
7. Reader Stashes
8. Building a Scheme Around a Single Fabric
9. Building a Scheme Around a Photograph
10. Light vs. Dark
11. Warm vs. Cool
This Week: Types of Fabric

This week we're going to take a step backwards and talk about what probably should have been one of the first posts in this series! A little overview of the different types of fabric we can sew with! Please bear with me, it's a lengthy, image heavy post! I am by no means an expert, so if I've misspoke, please let me know! I am mainly talking from my own personal experience with basic fabrics, which in some cases is limited!

Vintage Feedsacks

The Art of Choosing, originally uploaded by jenib320.
Vintage feedsacks were popular in the early to mid 1900s, most especially during the Great Depression. They are literally sacks that one purchased their feed, grain, salt, flour, sugar, and meal in. Originally they were mainly white or tan, perhaps with the company's logo on it. As producers realized that women were reusing these bags and sewing with them, they started printing patterned sacks. In general they have a loose weave, but are quite sturdy. Many fabric patterns we see today were inspired by/copied from feedsack patterns.

Vintage Quilting Cottons

The Art of Choosing, originally uploaded by jenib320.
Vintage quilting cottons are not much different from modern quilting cottons. They came in a variety of colors, from bright to muted. They do seem in general to be slightly stiffer than modern quilting fabric, but mix well with new fabrics. The one major difference is that earlier quilting cottons were only 34" wide instead of today's standard 44" wide.

Vintage Linens

The Art of Choosing, originally uploaded by jenib320.
It has recently become popular to reuse vintage bed linens for sewing projects and quilting. Most especially bright, bold patterns from the 1970s. The idea of repurposing bed linens is nothing new, many quilts throughout history have been made from recycled materials. The key is to use a sharp needle and change it often when sewing or quilting! For more on sewing with vintage linens see my guest post on whipup! Vintage tablecloths (and new ones for that matter!) are a great way to get good sturdy yardage. Just make sure they don't have any food stains!

Clothing, Suiting & Apparel Fabrics

The Art of Choosing, originally uploaded by jenib320.
Fabrics generally associated with clothing can be great fabric options in your sewing projects! Corduroy, denim, velveteen and jersey (t-shirts!) could all easily be pulled from most of our closets. So as you're spring cleaning your closet, keep that in mind! While I don't think I'd want to quilt with denim (although it's been done!), it is great for bags and other projects requiring some sturdiness!

Suiting and other apparel fabrics can add great texture to just about any project! Also nice for adding a professional look to a project. Just be mindful when mixing different types of fabric, as they will shrink differently if the item will be washed!


The Art of Choosing, originally uploaded by jenib320.
To be perfectly honest, I was generally unaware of this beautiful fabric until Anna Maria Horner's Little Folks line hit the stores. It's very lightweight fabric that has a wonderful feel! It is a popular apparel fabric but has also become popular in quilting. Denyse Schmidt's Greenfield Hill features voile prints and rumor has it Joel Dewberry's new line will include voiles as well.

Cotton Lawn

The Art of Choosing, originally uploaded by jenib320.
Cotton Lawn is similar to Voile in that it is lightweight and somewhat sheer. It has a wonderful silky feeling. In my mind, cotton lawn is primarily associated with Liberty of London. A beautiful fabric for clothing and quilts!

Double Gauze

The Art of Choosing, originally uploaded by jenib320.
I have never actually sewn with Double Gauze so I don't know too much about it! It was the basecloth of choice for Heather Ross's Far Far Away I and Nani Iro by Naomi Ito. It is very soft and lightweight!


The Art of Choosing, originally uploaded by jenib320.
Linen in quilting and sewing projects has become very popular. There are a wide variety of options when it comes to linen. There is 100% linen, many different cotton linen blends, and now even quilter's linen (100% cotton that looks like linen!). There are also different weights of linen. Echino and Kokka fabric manufacturers produce their fabrics on a cotton linen basecloth.

Crossweaves, Shot Cottons, Chambray

The Art of Choosing, originally uploaded by jenib320.
Beautiful woven cotton fabrics, often with different colors used in a single fabric. These are beautiful in apparel, quilting, and home decor items, really giving a lovely dimension to any project! They tend to look different in different lights!

Home Decorator Cotton

The Art of Choosing, originally uploaded by jenib320.
Home decorator cotton is handy for a lot of projects, most especially home decor projects! Within home dec fabric, there is traditional canvas as well as home dec weight cotton sateen. There are many more types of home dec fabric as well!


The Art of Choosing, originally uploaded by jenib320.
The first project that comes to mind when I think of flannel is Pajamas! In addition, flannels are great for quilting (especially as backing!).

Quilting Cotton

The Art of Choosing, originally uploaded by jenib320.
The modern quilting cotton we all know and love! Wonderful for quilting, and all other types of projects!

Premium Cotton

The Art of Choosing, originally uploaded by jenib320.
I don't know what else to call these lovely fabrics. If you've ever felt fabrics from Westhill or Mendocino by Heather Ross, Prints Charming fabrics, or Art Gallery Fabrics, you know what I'm talking about! These fabrics have a wonderful hand. They're smooth and silky. I haven't been able to find out much about this type of fabric, from my simple assumptions it seems to be simply higher thread count cotton. If anyone has any insight on these beauties, please share!

There we are! A very, very brief outline of the different types of fabrics out there available to the average sewer! This is by no means a complete list, simply the ones I'm familiar with! :)

I love working with quilting cotton (of course!), premium cotton, shot cottons, and vintage sheets!

What are your favorite types of fabric to work with?


  1. I recently bought one of your scrap packs - and after I bought it, I started to thinking...

    "They" always say NOT to use sheets for your quilt backs b/c of the thread count. Are vintage sheets of a lesser thread count? I think the higher thread count makes quilting more difficult. Any thoughts?

  2. Great post Jeni! I had a neighbor who is in her 70s or early 80s and she told me that they used to have feed sack swaps - so that you could get enough in the pattern you wanted to make a dress - I wonder how many feed sacks that took!

    Also - my mom sews, but doesn't really quilt. The quilts she does make are always denim (from old jeans she buys by the bale). She always adds a batting and uses a flannel back. They are excellent in the cold weather, but I always put them away when it starts to warm up. Super warm!

  3. You would have to look at the weave up close to see, and I'm not sure if this is true or not, but some of the nicer, softer "premium" cottons could be a sateen weave. Instead of the warp to weft ratio being 1:1, it's 2:1. But most of it is probably just what you said--higher thread count. Great post!

  4. Thank you for such a great post! I have often wondered about all these names and labels (yep, I'm a newbie!) and now I feel like I know a little more. Thanks very much for helping me!
    Jacque in SC
    Your bloggie thinks I am my husband, since he has the google account, and I have the yahoo! LOL

  5. When my FIL died last spring I took all his old clothes and cut them up to make quilts for his three kids. I washed everything (wool suits included) in hot water first so they would do all their shrinking before I started. And with his favorite suit, the one he wore to everything I made four little stuffed animals for his granddaughters. Sewing with his clothing was the most meaningful project I've ever worked on. Here is a pic of one of the quilts ( and here are two of the softies ( I even cut up his favorite tie and made little tiny one's for all four, which was a LOT harder than I expected! Great post by the way. I am loving this series of yours. I'm in the process of reorganizing all my fabric. It looks SO SO much better. So thank you!

  6. Love George in the bike basket! Will he be going on rides with you?

  7. Katie Jump Rope had a really nice hand too. If you compare kona cotton to a "designer solid" you can even see the higher thread count, but it's hard when you're buying online to know if something is printed on that premium cotton or not. (The last time Heather Ross was on Martha Stewart she gave her a piece of an earlier fabric and the Spoonflower reprint and Martha could definitely tell the difference!)

  8. Great series of posts. Always love fabric info. Just wanted to point out, that your "premium" fabrics, are actually pima cottons. Or pimatex (brand-name, I believe). They do have a wonderful feel. And are great for quilts, although I do not enjoy them for garments, because they do not have the drape I like for dresses and blouses.

    Again, thanks for the series of posts! By the way, this is the first time I've read your blog, and I really like it! :D



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