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.

Consider using quilting cotton to make the Megan dress from my book Love at First Stitch or the Miette skirt pattern.

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!

Try making the sleeveless version of the Francoise dress in quilting cotton - it's a great shape for showing off a bright and bold print.

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 and lining a dress.

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!