Quilting Fabric loves a purpose

Quilting fabric is available in a variety of colours and fibres.  Quilting originated out of necessity, and the quilters of the olden days certainly didn’t have much choice in the fabric they used.  The advantage of those days were, however, that they didn’t have synthetic fibres.  They used silks, linen and cotton, mostly the remnants of old clothing.  Let’s take a look at different fabric types and how they can be used in quilting.

Quilting fabric has a purpose

Quilting fabric is generally limited to 100% cotton, unless you are making something like the Family Ties quilt.  There are different weights in 100% cotton fabric.  Some are more suitable for different projects e.g. home decor and upholstery fabric.  When deciding on your fabric, consider the fact that you want it to last, and stand up to some heavy use.

Quilting fabric should have a good drape.  Quilters cotton will have less shrinkage due to its high quality.  This fabric also has less likelihood of “bleeding” i.e. when the colours run during a wash cycle.  It tends to be more expensive, due to the quality and because it is an imported fabric in South Africa.  You can use a cheaper fabric, but expect greater shrinkage and potentially colour runs.  I use the cheaper cotton to practise on my long arm quilting machine.

Quilting Fabric manufacture
Fabric manufacture


Novelty prints provide interest.  Large prints can be fussy cut and used as applique.

A smaller print will hide stitching and stippling.

Tone on tone fabrics are same colour fabrics with a slight different in the printed tone, again providing interest when the light catches it at different angles.

Batik has different patterns and subtle colour changes.  You can get these hand-painted as well.

Then there are panels which have a scene or design on it, which does not require any patchwork and is ready to be quilted.

Quilt Panel
Cool Cats quilt panel by Loralie Designs

One can get interesting effects when combining different fabric types in the same colour.  Light is reflected differently off different fibres, producing interest when looking at your quilt from different angles.

Fabric fibres


Velvet is available in both matt and glossy varieties.  It is made from either cotton, satin or synthetic fibres.  It does make a lot of fluff, so you will need to clean your sewing machine more often when using velvet in your project.  Velvet is also available in different weights, so it will be better to use a lighter weight for quilting.


Japanese and Indian silk are particularly interesting to use for your quilt.  They tend to be shinier than silk from other countries.  When you work with silk in your project, it should be stabilized on the back, else it will slip and make accurate quilting difficult.  Silk is also well suited for shadow work.


Wool is a high quality, expensive fabric.  If you choose to use wool for a quilt, make sure to preshrink before you cut it.  As soon as you steam press this fabric it will shrink, making patchwork and quilting very frustrating.


Lace can be very interesting on a quilt, but must be stitched to another fabric.  Your batting will peek through the gaps and obviously ruin your quilt.

Synthetic fibres

Quilters experience a lot of frustration when using synthetic fabrics.  It may not press properly, thus not giving you a nice crisp fold in your patchwork.  It can also be slippery, making it difficult to work with.  Again, stabilizer may make it easier.

Choosing fabric

Things to consider when choosing quilting fabric

The choice of quilt fabric is likely the hardest decision to make when starting a quilt.  What do I use?  Which colours?  Do these fabrics match?  Is there enough variation?

These are the questions that I still face when I start a quilt!

Fortunately, I have a large stash, so I can generally take out a few pieces and audition them on my cutting table.  I have a little viewfinder in my toolbox, that allows me to view the fabric and evaluate value, contrast and variety.

First of all, colour plays a big role in your quilting.  I have a post about colour choices for quilting here.


This is the lightness or darkness of a colour.  A mixture of light, medium and dark colours produces the most visually satisfying result.  There are lenses available that can help you with determining the lightness or darkness of your quilt fabric.


A few things can provide contrast in your quilt fabric selection:

  • Warm vs cool
  • Light vs dark
  • Print vs plain
  • Large print vs small print


Similar to contrast, a variety of prints helps to make your quilt fabric interesting.  Look at:

  • Small prints and larger ones
  • Florals and strips
  • Geometric and curves
  • Plain with busy prints

New quilters, and seasoned ones, use fabric collections if they are unsure about their colour choices or to get hints on what to use.  The fabric collections have been painstakingly selected by fabric manufacturers and take the guesswork away for you.  They will have found the perfect blend of colour, value, contrast and variety.


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