12 July 2012

Sewing Clothing with Quilting Cotton: Hints & Tips

The pretty prints beckon... the cute colours call to you... sometimes their allure is just too strong to resist. Yes, we're talking quilting cottons.

Quilting cottons - or just "medium weight cottons" - 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 feel stiff and hold their shape, rather than hanging softly. 

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:

When it's Okay to Sew Clothes with Quilting Cotton - Tilly and the Buttons

1. Determine how much drape or body your project needs

Quilting cottons tend to have quite a lot of body to them, so won't cling or flow over your curves. I learnt the hard way in my early days of sewing that quilting cottons make super crisp blouses that stand away from your body and just look a bit odd. While it didn't work for my blouse, this feature can be an asset for certain projects. My lobster Picnic Blanket Skirt, for example, looks great in a quilting cotton (especially when it has lobsters on it!) as it holds the shape of the skirt really nicely. A-line skirts can also work nicely in this kind of material as they hold the bold structure well. 

 
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 quilting cottons 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). Gorgeous!

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! (I wear lobsters, which is obviously waaay more classy.) 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!

Lined Delphine skirt - sewing pattern in Love at First Stitch

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. Read more about adding a lining to a 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!

66 comments:

  1. Great post! sums up pretty much how I feel too. And your Autumn maples skirt is just lovely -- good call on the lining.

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  2. I sew with quilting cottons all the time. Most recently this dress http://ellynsplace.blogspot.co.uk/2012/05/bebe-dress-pattern-review.html for my daughter which came out terrific! You do have to select your pattern style carefully.

    Many quilt fabric designers are coming out with lawns recently which have a softer drape & work terrific for blouses & flowier dresses. I have enjoyed working with those too!

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    1. Yes, there are some pretty lawns too. They're relatively hard to come by over here, but good for blouses when you can find them.

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  3. Thank you for this very useful guide. Would you consider using quilting cottons for something quite fitted I.e. a pencil skirt or a sheath dress?

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    1. I used quilting cotton for a pencil skirt - my Autumn Maples Skirt - and, with a lining, it turned out really nicely. A sheath dress could work too, although as I say, it is down to personal preference, so you could think it's great or you could feel your movements a bit constricted. Worth a try?

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  4. Nice summary! I'm a sucker for a cute print... I have whales and hippos and kookaburras and popart flags and paint splodges (though the last one was kind of fancy dress).

    I wear some, but the lime green hippos tend to live in the wardrobe.
    http://button-lover.blogspot.com.au/2012/04/herman-sorbetto.html
    I'm trying to reign in the cute fabrics until I have kids. Trying :S

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    1. I love whales too! Love the way your hippo blouse matches the cushions :)

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  5. Great post, I think there is a lot of snobbery about using quilting cottons but like anything else, use the right product in the right way and it will work well. I've made quite a few a-line skirts from quilting cottons and love wearing them in the summer, these were some of my first makes and I still wear them now but I hadn't discovered the benefit of lining then so I can't wear them with any kind of tights as they just ride straight up my legs. I'm planning to revisit that pattern soon and make some with lining to wear through the autumn.

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  6. Great tips Tilly, especially adding a lining and omitting sleeves. I've had mixed results with quilting cottons - in my experience, A-line skirts have come out well (the best one with a lining, interestingly) and fitted tops have been a disaster. Not all quilting cottons are created equally either, some are light and some are ridiculously thick. I made a Sencha blouse out of a thick cotton and it virtually stands up by itself, like a suit if armour! I've seen some gorgeous version of the Sencha in drapey fabrics though, so I think it's definitely a case of choosing your pattern carefully! x

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    1. That's true, weight does vary, but you can't tell what it's going to be like from most online fabric stores, so I usually expect the worst!

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  7. Great post! May I add that when you use quilting cotton to sew clothing, you have to be super careful about how much fabric you buy, as quilting cotton tends to be narrower than apparel fabric. I made the mistake once or twice that I liked the fabric so much that I forgot all about the width and didn't end up buying enough fabric... :-\

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    1. Ooh noo, how annoying that must have been!

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  8. There's a lot of stunning quilting cotton online. My only issue is that I want to rub it between my fingers and assess it for softness, and I rarely have the patience to order swatches when online shopping. So I only have myself to blame that I don't work with more quilting cotton! Great tip about sleeves - I hadn't thought of that.

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    1. The amazing designs often result in impulse purchases and don't lend themselves well to prudent swatch-ordering, it's true!

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  9. To be honest, I don't like sewing apparel with quilting weight cottons, apart from the lack of drape, they need to be ironed soooo much and I hate ironing. Saying that I have an excepetion, Alexander Henry - Day of the dead. The prints in this range were far too much for me to resist.

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    1. I NEVER used to iron anything... until I started sewing, now I pretty much iron everything apart from undies!! Quite sad :)

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  10. The weight, drape and thread count of quilting cotton varies enormously, and cheap cotton is often full of size to make it feel better quality. This can make it feel stiff. Quilt cotton should always be pre-washed, or shrinkage and removing any size. I bought some Japanese dress fabric recently that I thought was a crepe from how it felt, but after washing it came out like a heavy voile! The roughness wasn't crepe texture, just size. Ouch. My mother now has it.
    If buying quilt cotton for garment making, I suggest getting to know what type of cotton each brand uses as it tends to be the same :) So next time you fall for a Martha Negley fabric (and her stuff is pretty irresistible!) you'll know it will feel like your autumn leaves skirt.
    Quilting cotton can be just fine for sleeves, and I really wouldn't use 'stiff' as a description of it. There are many stiffer fabrics around. Sure it is crisper than a voile, but with washing it can soften a lot. :)

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  11. I think there are some things that work really well with quilting cottons. If you can get the fabric for a good price they also make great trial garments that can be wearable as well. I have a dress pattern that I make from 1m of quilting cotton. I get great prints for $4 a metre + a zip and I have a great summer dress. I should blog it one day. I like your idea about lining. Sometime the cotton can stretch and get a little baggy. I am sure lining will help.

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  12. I tend to avoid quilting cottons although I do tend to like the designs they sport. I just don't like to iron that much...and I find they fade in the dryer. So between hanging to dry and ironing, they cost too much in time.

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  13. I am totally drawn in by quirky prints when I go fabric shopping, and use thicker fabrics for dresses.

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  14. I'm in love with some of the quilting fabrics at my local fabric shop but have resisted buying mainly as I have no idea of what to make - was concerned about too much pattern near my face. I might have to give in to temptation though and go for a skirt or maybe the pattern Ellyn suggested.

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  15. Thank you for the tips! I've used quilting cotton for a skirt and it was much too wrinkly and felt too thin because it was unlined. I'm happy to know it can still be done, just with different styles!

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  16. I've had good luck using quilting cotton to make loose-fitting sleep pants. I love the quirky prints, but often find them too busy for daytime attire. I also remember reading somewhere that cutting quilting cottons on the bias gives them a drape that is more conducive to clothing.

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    1. That's a good tip about cutting on the bias. Personally I still wouldn't use the thicker fabrics for a blouse with sleeves because of the weight, but they could certainly make quite flowy skirts that way.

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  17. I have never used them yet but do envisage using them for a skirt with some structure. A bit like the African wax prints which are popular. I can't wait to make them into a structured A line. The fabric speaks for itself.

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  18. I adore using "quilting cottons" and have never understood an aversion to them from other sewists! Yes, they can be stiff but I need a little help in the "keeping clothes crisp" department so I actually prefer the stiffness. Sometimes the prints are just too cute to pass up, and I won't be talked out of them! ;)

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  19. I agree with you completely! Quilting cottons have such amazing prints (and there are so many and in every color of the rainbow!). My local fabric store has really good remnants (like up to 2 yards, which I can do a lot with) and sometimes I don't even know what kind of fabric I'm buying. I've made a couple of skirts that I love from remnant fabric only to see the bolt later on in the quilting cottons section.

    I've also discovered that if you wash your fabric first (which aren't we supposed to anyway...except that I don't always, oops), it really softens up the stiffness.

    Kari
    www.sewmagnifique.blogspot.com

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  20. Great post and suggestions! I love the prints and even the weight of the fabric you can find in quilting cotton and I've used it to sew clothing. My most recent make in quilting cotton was the dress for Sunni's 2 in 1 Shirtdress Sew-along (Simplicity 1880). I put sleeves in mine and no problem, there was ample room. I'll even admit to sewing clothes from fabric I found in the drapery/home decor section. I love shopping in there too.

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  21. Great post! I'm a big fan of quilting cottons for garments, but as you say, be mindful of the required drape. I've found that washing it first and using fabric softener sheets really take some of the stiffness out. I made this dress using quilting cotton from Joanns and I don't think it suffered for it. http://sickofitcindy.blogspot.com/2012/06/and-were-back-i-have-been-sewing.html

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  22. Great advice. It's really sad a lot of reproduction prints get printed on quilting fabric. I had to learn the hard way with quilting cotton. Like you've said, I tend to go with less fitted, sleeveless styles if I'm using quilting fabric.

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  23. I agree that not all quilting cottons are created equal. I felt some that are super soft and lend themselves really well to sewing garments, and some that are like cardboard. I definitely think they can be used in the right circumstances. I've made several skirts from quilting cotton but I always underline with something else. But I do hate the ironing aspect.

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  24. Tilly, quilting cottons vary muchly depending on who made them. Not all of them are stiff and some have fabulous hand and drape. The so-called "designer" quilting cottons are a great example. I've bought quilting cottons that honestly remind me of silk in both drape and hand.

    The stiffness ins some of them comes from sizing. It's meant to make them easier to piece, but texturally makes the fabric kind of icky. Even when I'm quilting, I tend to avoid those!

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  25. Before sewing garments for myself I was a quilter/stitcher. I worked and still work a lot with quilting fabric. I can tell you that there are huge differences between the fabrics, depending of the manufacturers. As Liza Jane is telling, some quilting fabrics (and I don't mean the voiles) are very thin, have a high thread count and also a little drape and work well for some type of patterns. I often sew sheath dress with lining, or dresses from the 70's (without lining) and they always look nice and are easy to wear. I have also sewn shirt dresses with these fabrics and they are a breeze to wear and look always good.

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  27. Thanks for this post, it's great timing. I've just signed up for a skirt class at Raystitch, and I wasn't sure whether I should think about quilting cotton for my first clothing project. I'm still not sure, but I've got a better idea now!

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  28. I love using so-called quilting cottons for garments, because of the limitless print options available. I've made plenty of tops with sleeves from this kind of fabric, no problem. If a top has a particularly tight-fitting sleeve, I cut the fabric on the bias so it will have a little more "give."

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  29. I do try to avoid them. try. :) I made a top with a quilting cotton, and I absolutely adore the print and colors, but after a few wears, I've noticed how uncomfortable it is around the arm hole/sleeve, and I haven't worn it in weeks now... But I completely agree, it works just fine for certain sleeveless dresses and skirts!

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  30. Thanks so much for this post!! My first attempt at clothing was a gathered skirt and not knowing anything about fabric I bought quilting cotton. Of course the skirt didn't turn out the way I had planned and I ended up turning it into a handbag. I've avoided quilting cotton since. I'm getting ready to make the Sassy Librarian Blouse @ Craftsy (sleeveless version) and after reading your post I think I'll use some of my quilting cotton stash after all.

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  31. I've sewn a few things with sleeves in quilting cotton (mostly button up shirts) with no problems. It can be helpful to cut the sleeves on the bias if you would like a snugger fit though.

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  32. Great timing on this post I have been looking at those quilting cotton at my local fabric store thinking why can't I use for clothing. With these tips I can make the floaty skirt I have been dreaming of.

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  33. I have always used quilting cottons for dresses and I love it because of the extra body. I personally wouldn't use a medium weight cotton for a top of most kinds, as I think a fine lawn is usually better suited. But I do think it's down to personal preference.

    I should own up, though, and mention that when I was first sewing dresses with Amy Butler cottons (for instance) I had no idea whatsoever that there was such a thing as quilting cottons! It wasn't until I started using Liberty Tana Lawn that the penny dropped.

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  34. Yes! Thank you! I've totally used quilting cottons (I think everyone probably makes their first sewn project out of this... it's a rite of passage!) and I will add that they work great with puffy sleeves. I used a quilting cotton on the BurdaStyle JJ pattern, and it was great for the ruffles and puff sleeves.

    I'm glad you posted this because I've been debating using a certain recently-purchased quilting cotton for the Colette Truffle dress, and it calls for something with a little body-- I also have some really nice lining and now I think I'll use the two together! Thanks so much.

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  35. I've used quilting cottons for making fun summer jackets - I will underline the whole jacket with a knit lightweight interfacing - this will give the jacket some needed body, and the interfacing will allow the jacket to slip on and off without "sticking" to your clothes and the added bonus, the interfacing will help prevent so much ironing of just straight cottons

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  36. Great tips! I had to laugh as I was reading this because I just altered the first garment I ever made, a dress from quilting cotton. The sleeves always bothered me, so this past weekend I cut them off and used fold-over elastic (LOVE this stuff) to tidy up the edges. Now I love the dress! Good to know I can just make that a general rule!

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  37. I made this dress in a quilting cotton!:)

    http://fridajosefin.blogg.se/2012/may/fler-bilder-fran-forsta-maj.html

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  38. I use quilting cottons to make my husbands scrubs, and I also use them for pyjamas and Sorbettos to sleep in. As scrubs are oversized the stiffness in the sleeves isn't an issue, and as they are 100% cotton are much more comfortable than the usual polycrap blends that scrubs are usually made from. They do require ironing but I am one of those insane people who actually like ironing so it isn't a problem for me.

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    1. Scrubs in quilting cotton sound so much more comfortable than the 100% polyester I loathe wearing!

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    2. Great idea to use quilting cottons for scrubs! I loathe the plastic-y feel of the standard polyester ones.

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  39. There are some quirky prints I just can't resist that can only be found on quilting cotton. My latest favorite can be seen here

    http://susiehomemakerdeservesacocktail.blogspot.com/2012/06/i-didnt-go-to-prom-but-i-have-prom.html

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  40. Such a timely subject! Thank you so much for this post!! I have made a couple of things with quilting cotton, but then always felt a little guilty... like "the REAL sewers wouldn't do this....." Guess I was wrong! I do like having some basic guidelines though. I made my daughter a sleeveless summer dress (halter style) and it turned out well. I will be aware to avoid sleeves. The idea to line skirts makes a lot of sense. Any suggestions for what to use for the best results? I have never lined a garment before, but I am ready to make the plunge.

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  41. I'm so envious of other sewists and their quirky-cool prints, but I always feel disapointed by my end results with quilted cotton- it never stays bright and crisp for long. But it's so enticing!!

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  42. I used quilting cotton for the first time a couple of weeks ago. I loved how soft it was. I am no expert but drape must vary. I agree with you about considering whether you would wear a given print...to often I get drawn by pretty colors and designs...but then they don't really fit my style and where I live

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  43. check out my page I made a dress for my daughter with a very cool..tattoo print fabric... it looks awesome www.facebook.com/roxcrafts

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  44. I've had some good and bad luck equally with quilting cottons and I adore your suggestions! Yay you are helpful as always.

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  45. What great timing! I know they have fantastic patterns and are just so much of a pull, but have hardly ever sewn with them. I've just found a local shop which is packed to the rafters with quilting fabric and I was only upset that it was closed when I found it!

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  46. I am so glad I am not the only one who chooses quilting cotton to sew with. I think I choose it because it is most familiar to me, but I am trying to branch out and try new fabrics. I do find it can drape strangely sometimes, but I love how straight forward it is to cut, pin and sew. No slipping. But lots of fraying. I just finished a striped dress out of quilting cotton. It was a heavy material for a hot summer's day, but lots of fun to wear. Thanks Tilly.

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  47. I disagree that quilting cottons are unsuitable for shirts. Their crispness makes them perfect for the 50s clothes so many people are making. And a nice fitted camp shirt for summer is much better in a crisp cotton. I also don't see any point in lining a perfectly smooth fabric, as many quiting cottons are. If anything you'd be ruining their summer-worthy quality. But perhaps you're confusing quilting cottons with upholstery fabric, which can indeed have a pretty nasty texture, especially on the inside?

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    1. Each to their own, M-C! No, I'm not confusing quilting cottons with upholstery fabric. I find that the silky-feel lining feels much nicer on my skin than the cotton, plus it eases movement which is important in a pencil skirt as tight as the one I made :)

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  48. Thanks for the info ~ as a newer sewer I am always searching for informative blogs - I will be following from now on :)

    I've done a couple of things in that type of cotton which can be seen here - jennysews2.blogspot.com

    I'm still learning and enjoying every step :)

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  49. I made a pleated skirt of my own design a couple of years ago using quilting cotton (http://bloodsweatshoptears.wordpress.com/2011/09/19/ukiyo-e-skirt/). The fact that the fabric was well-suited to the design was a complete fluke :-)

    I found a nice smooth quilting cotton to make another iteration, and it turned out nicely as well (http://bloodsweatshoptears.wordpress.com/2012/08/19/purple-floral-skirt/).

    I'm using prints and I find that wrinkles aren't particularly noticeable. I never iron these skirts - just toss them in the wash. (French seams or selvages throughout so no fraying.) The skirts do creep up when I wear tights, so I think a slip is in order. (A lining would work too, I just don't care for one on this particular skirt.)

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  50. Nobody ever seems to mention that quilting cottons have selvedge-to-selvedge stretch. At least, the expensive quilting fabrics I find at quilt shops are like that. I find that this characteristic makes it difficult for me to use quilting cottons for dresses or tops. I have not noticed that characteristic in woven cottons that are intended for apparel sewing. Those fabrics tend to be quite stable and stretch only on the bias.

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  51. Hello, I loved your post. I am new to sewing and I was just wondering, what should I sew apparel with then? I have learned that yes, quilting cotton is not it - I just finished a shirt for me, and it just kind of feels to heavy for a spring-like shirt, and my 4 year old can never take off the shirts I've made for her because they're too stiff. I feel like when I go to fabric.com (I live overseas so I do all fabric shopping online) even when I select apparel fabric I still end up with a lot of cotton that shows up under quilting. Any tips?
    I know this is an old post of yours, but I'm hoping you'll address it for me. I just found you via Google.

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    1. Hi Melissa - it totally depends on what you're making. If you're ordering online, try voile or lawn for drapey blouses and dresses, linen blends for skirts... I'm writing a post about online fabric shopping tips soon so watch this space!

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  52. Hey Tilly, found this old post whilst googling why people have an aversion to using quilting cotton for dressmaking. I've only been sewing for 6 weeks but have whipped up 18 Emery dresses mostly in quilting cotton. I love how the skirts hang, the bodices are nice and fitted plus I have added sleeves to all of them and don't find them at all uncomfortable. I've blogged a few of them, playing catch up as I didn't expect to be making three a week! The lovely Roisin gave me a crash course and I now totally have the bug :)

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  53. Before quilting cotton there was calico, which was much poorer quality generally. It's now labeled "quilting cotton" as a marketing tool because quilting is generally more popular than clothes making as a hobby and therefore that label of "quilting cotton" is more lucrative for fabric manufacturers. The one thing to look out for when purchasing cotton is that since quilting is popular, there is a premium now on color and some of the bigger label manufacturers are making cotton fabric with dyes that are thick and bright and make the actual cotton appear higher quality than it actually is. If you find "quilting cotton" at antique stores (like 60s, 70s, 80s or even vintage 90s) the quality is often much better and a garment made from that will be more durable and lasting though the colors aren't often as pretty. "Quilting cotton" from specialty shops (rather than Joanne's) tends to be very good as well though more pricey in general so wait for a sale! I have found that material marked "made in Japan" tends to be very high quality. Finally, quilting cotton can look iffy to some people when used for garments because we are used to seeing manufactured clothing where the bottom line is number one and many corners are cut to make as much as possible for the lowest prices. Making your own clothing is an opportunity to make a more thorough garment that is both durable, comfortable and satisfying to wear. Many people feel shy about standing out from the crowd but you would feel the same way with a high end designer garment as well! See my new etsy website here for examples: https://www.etsy.com/shop/BurgundyLaceBoutique?ref=hdr_shop_menu

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