Quilting cottons - or just "medium weight cottons" to some - are fabrics often used for home and accessories sewing - think cushions, bags and of course quilts. They come in an array of beautiful designs and quirky prints, and - crucially - tend to be stiff rather than drapey. This stiffness puts many stitchers off using quilting cottons for sewing clothing. Another school of thought, meanwhile, fully embraces this kind of fabric for apparel - some of the bigger quilting fabric designers even produce sewing patterns designed to be used in tandem with the cotton. Personally I sit somewhere in between, believing they can work amazingly well with some projects, but could be disastrous for others.
So when is it okay to use quilting cotton for sewing apparel? Of course part of this comes down to personal preference, but the guidelines I tend to follow are these:
1. Determine how much drape or stiffness your project needs
Quilting cottons tend to be fairly stiff, so won't cling or flow over your body. I learnt the hard way in my early days of sewing that quilting cottons make super crisp blouses that stand away from your curves. While it didn't work for my Sencha blouse, this feature can be an asset for certain projects - think full skirts that look great with a bit of body, like my Life's Too Short Skirt above, or A-line skirts with a bold structure. The stiffness of the cotton works really well on the ruched bodice and full skirt of Roisin's Chantilly dress (below left).
Images courtesy of Roisin aka Dolly Clackett
2. Avoid projects with sleeves
I'm not saying it should never be done, but personally I wouldn't sew sleeves in quilting cotton. Armholes and sleeves need to be flexible enough to allow you to move your arms and shoulders comfortably, and stiff fabric could make this annoyingly uncomfortable. Sleeveless dresses or skirts would be much more wearable. Roisin has made herself a stunning selection of sleeveless dresses in gorgeous prints, like Simplicity 2591 in Joel Dewberry fabric (above right).
3. Be realistic about what prints you are likely to wear
I must admit I can happily spend hours playing an unconscious game with myself of find-the-quirkiest-fabric-imaginable while browsing online fabric shops (see right for some of my favourites). But before you buy 3 metres of that squirrel print fabric, ask yourself honestly whether you will wear a squirrel print dress. If you will, great! But it's worth considering whether you'd get more use out of a make up bag or cushion, for example. You can appreciate a fabric without having to wear it!
4. Consider adding a lining
Adding a silky lining underneath the cotton will allow the garment to glide over your body a lot more easily. Plus it'll feel much nicer against your skin. Yes, it takes a bit more time, but it can be well worth it, as I learnt with my Autumn Maples Skirt.
5. Experiment and embrace!
Quilting cottons are easy to sew, widely available and come in so many gorgeous designs... it seems a shame to save them just for quilts! Take an informed risk with what to make with them and you might just surprise yourself...
What about you? Do you enjoy sewing clothing with quilting cottons or avoid them like the plague? Have you made something really great with quilting cotton? Do share!