Toucha Toucha Touch Me Fabrics

Monday, January 26, 2015

I have a shamefully shamelessly confession to make: I'm 24 years old and I still sleep with my baby quilt. It's far from display worthy, but even after all the lovely quilts I've cranked out, I can't go to sleep without it for one simple reason: it's the softest thing I've ever felt. Woven from the hairs of a unicorn and moonbeams. It's probably the years of wear that made it that way, but it's fueled my obsession with finding fabric with a super soft hand. It's totally my fetish.

When I first began purchasing designer fabrics, the higher price (comparable to Jo-Ann's stuff) was instantly explained once I touched the stuff. All the fabric I've purchased from the big box craft stores just can't compete. Not all designer fabrics are created equal though, and I have some strong opinions on my favorites and not so favorites.

All ratings are based on my personal opinions of the manufacturer's quilting cottons. Ratings range from ★ (meaning I wouldn't want to snuggle this fabric) to ★★★★★ (meaning I want this fabric all over me). Also be aware, these ratings are based on fabrics I have in my stash which may be older or newer. Manufacturers may have changed mills or materials which could result in different product quality.

Art Gallery Fabric: ★★★★★

Art Gallery Fabric's slogan is "Feel the Difference" for a good reason. The first time I purchased AGF, I had never heard of the company. I just remember picking up a fat quarter and going, "damn that's some softy goodness." I've noticed a lot of quilters regard it as the holy grail of softness in the industry, and I can't argue with them. Right off the bolt, they are soft as can be.

Michael Miller Fabrics ★★★★★

Michael Miller's fabrics are totally underrated in my opinion. Right off the bolt, AGF feels slightly softer, but after a wash, they come out ahead. The blouse I made for Patty Sloniger's blog tour is buttery soft. For clothing and things that are going to be washed a lot, MM's cottons are dreamy.

Clothworks Organics ★★★★★

Clothworks only has a few lines of organic quilting cottons (mostly those by Penguin & Fish), but they are super soft off the bolt and even softer after washing.  For organic fabrics, they're also very affordable (only $10.95 per yard on Hawthorne Threads). My crazy cat lady dress was made from this cotton and it's probably the softest garment I've made from quilting cotton.

Windham Fabrics ★★★★½

Windham is another unsung hero in the softness arena. It has a nice fine weave and feels comparable to MM off the bolt. However, it doesn't dramatically improve with washing like MM's cottons. 

Cotton + Steel ★★ 

Cotton + Steel is taking over my stash. I've used it for quilts, dresses, accessories, etc. and it falls in the middle of the pack with a lot of other manufacturers. It's a little thicker than my top three, but average thickness for quilting cotton. It softens up nicely after washing and I like that it does have a little more weight to it for some garments. Besides, C+S has amazing cotton lawn and double gauze so they bring out the big guns for snuggling with those substrates! 

Cloud 9 Fabrics ★★★ ½

Cloud 9's quilting cotton is a little quirky. Off the bolt, it feels a little unusual. It's smooth like Windham but has less drape. It's more pronounced on darker prints which makes me think it's the result of the sizing or some part of the printing process. Whatever it is, it disappears in the wash and is comparable to C+S post-washing.

Free Spirit Fabric ★★★

Free Spirit's cottons are tricksy. They feel smooth and silky off the bolt (I'd put them on par with Windham), but post-wash, they fall behind C+S. They're by no means poor though. They're solidly average in terms of softness.

Alexander Henry, Andover, Blend, Moda & Riley Blake ★★★

These manufacturers are solid average in softness with no surprises after washing.

Robert Kaufman ★★½ to ★★★

I'm not sure if it's my imagination, but I feel a difference between the Kona cotton solids and printed designer fabric from RK. The Kona feels a little stiff off the bolt, but feels fine after a trip through the washing machine. The designer prints on the other hand feel somewhat coarser both pre and post-wash. 

Dear Stella ★★½

Dear Stella's quilting cotton doesn't feel that much nicer than Jo-Ann's Fabrics in my opinion. It has a finer weave, but the overall quality doesn't match up to the rest of the above brands.

Birch Fabrics ½

Birch is definitely my least favorite of the designer pack. After I got my Acorn Trail bundle, I noticed the fabric felt completely different from Fort Firefly, which had a great hand. I send an email to ask about it and this is the response I got:
"The quality of the woven cotton itself I can assure you is the same quality that we always used. Except for the first Teagan White collection Fort Firefly which was printed in China instead of India on greige goods from Pakistan. That is the only time we ever used a different quality from our original quality."
It turns out my baseline comparison was a complete exception to the rule. Welp, that sucks. Their standard quilting cotton feels more like a cheap poly-cotton blend to be honest. It's strangely stiff despite its thinness, meaning it has poor drape. It also has a odd texture to it that's altogether hard to describe. Like a humid, sticky feel? I used mine for one bag so far because I refused to make a quilt with something so un-snuggley. I'm not sure how it feels post-wash so I'm not sure if that would change my opinions. To add insult to injury, it's the most expensive at $16/yard.

What about you? Do you have a favorite brand of quilting cotton?


  1. I have some fabrics from Blend in my stash and they are surprisingly soft. I've only used them in my dad's quilt so far, but I would totally order them again. I agree with the MM comment, so buttery soft!

  2. Great post! I've been slowly discovering this for myself but never put it together in such an organised way. What we should try and figure out now is if there's a difference in how they hold up over the long term? Does softer hand mean less durability or not? Plus we'd be able to define peak softness, after x washes... Too far?

  3. Thanks for the helpful post! I've also been really disappointed with Birch fabrics. I used a line of theirs to decorate my son's entire nursery, including a quilt (, and while I can say the fabrics definitely softened up post-wash (the quilt and my son's sheets are quite soft), they're not as soft as a lot of other fabrics I used, and pre-wash, they were quite stiff, starchy, and almost rough. Also, I found the designs to be printed really sloppily, with almost all of the linear prints printed crooked in relation to the selvage and with a lot of gaps and misalignments between the colors. I also came across a few not small holes in the middle of my yardage. Considering what I paid, I was really disappointed. It's unfortunate because they make some really cute designs, and I'd love to support a company making organic cottons, but I'm extremely hesitant to buy anything of theirs again.

    1. Woah! That really stinks! I'm surprised to hear about such quality issues with their fabric. I thought my Acorn Trail situation was a one-off thing. Maybe that's why I don't see it in almost any quilt shops or online stores. You'd think their prices would at least be competitive with other organic lines considering all of that.

  4. Oh dear! I just ordered $200 worth of expensive Birch fabrics! I assumed that at $16/yd it must be the most perfect quilting fabric. I purchased it for the Lunden Designs Star Gazer pattern. Now, I read that it is harder to sew curves than Windham fabrics. What now?

  5. Yikes! I just ordered $200 worth of Birch fabrics for the Lunden Designs Star Gazer pattern. Now, I read that it doesn't sew up on curves as nicely as Windham and that at $16/yd, that it's of inferior quality. I assumed that at $16/yes it must be the most perfect quilting fabric on the planet.

  6. Well, my $200 worth of Birch fabrics arrived and I wouldn't even think of using them in a quilt. They must have a very low thread count. Well, to be honest, only some of them seem to have a low thread count. But, there is no consistency from one line to another. For $16/yd, they should be the best fabrics, not the worst.

  7. The reason Birch is more expensive than other organic lines is because they print mostly in India, instead of China. They also follow GOTS standards, ensuring factory workers utilized in the manufacturing process are paid fairly. Monaluna does the same. In terms of both Birch's and Monaluna's cotton, it's meant to last and get stronger with each wash, like a linen would. They want it to hold-up in kids' clothing. I carry all three of the organic brands and Birch is my favorite; I never get a chemical smell opening the plastic, their newer staff members offer exceptional customer service (this hasn't always been the case-so grateful for the changes!) and the illustrators they contract with are mostly ones who write fiction with positive messages for little girls. I do eat some profits in my shop with over saturated areas, however Birch is now cutting printways with quality control issues. They just cut out a much anticipated panel canvas because they couldn't get the color right. Respectfully, I think it's only fair to compare with comparable. Since Birch and Monaluna are the only two organic lines who've made the switch and promise to no longer print in China, I think it's only fair to compare those two together. I don't expect my 'Biokleen' to work the same as 'Mr. Clean'.