I continually get questions from people who have worked very hard on a project but have been disappointed in the results. Usually it is because of the quality of the fabric or products that they have used. In attempting to “save” money, they have produced a product that is the quality of the fabric that they have purchased.
“My question has to do with fabric quality. I am looking for resources on how to determine differences between fabrics and is there really any difference. Why is fabric so much higher priced at quilt stores but less so at the chain fabric stores. Is there really any difference. Sometimes the prints are exactly the same and the manufacturer on the end of the bolt is the same. Can you help me with this question or suggest resources? thank you so much.”
As far as your question on quality – that is a hot topic on the professional quilt lists I am on. Textile mills test fabric runs on what they call “griege” goods. Those griege goods end up in Walmarts and other places as flat folds which may or may not be on bolts. Sometimes the griege goods are perfectly fine, sometimes they run or shrink or fade badly in the sun. I wouldn’t voluntarily use griege goods unless it was for something I didn’t care about lasting or staying the same color. Quickly outgrown childrens clothes, for example.
This is a very simplistic explanation – for more information you might want to buy a copy of Harriet Hargraves’s From Fiber to Fabric.
Does that help?
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There is considerable difference in quality of fabric and in general the higher the price the higher the quality. However, there are many other factors which also affect price. Since the question asked is specifically directed at the difference in price between quilt shops and discount fabric stores, I will address this issue.
What I have found in shopping discount fabric stores is that if the fabric is first quality, first print goods, the regular retail price will be higher than a quilt shop. This allows the discount operation to then mark the fabric down and still cover their operational expenses.
Many of the companies we buy from do not sell to discount operations unless the fabric is either last season or contracted to be printed specifically for the discount operation on lower quality goods. In any case the discount store negotiates to purchase the fabric at the lowest possible price with the longest payment terms. Some suppliers do not sell to them at all and others who do, have separate print lines for quilt shops only.
Most fabric suppliers would prefer to sell to quilt shops because they pay a fair price for the fabric and pay their bills promptly.
Now, it could be there are operations which are selling first quality goods at discounted prices, but not many we have seen. Furthermore, if they do this, our experience (15 years) is that they do not stay around forever. The truth is this is a labor intensive business and actually needs a good margin between the cost and the sale of the fabric in order to pay the overhead of being in business.
Although, Quilt shops are seldom large enough to negotiate lower prices, they offer classes and services beyond what is generally offered in discount operation and provide a community for quilters too. This is expensive to do. Owners in this business work very hard. They support the local community as well as local quilds and continuosly provide a place for new quilters. I personally think what a quilter pays for fabric in a quilt shop will come back to her in many other ways, all of which have value.
In my opinion…
Most quilt shops and mail order companies are owned and operated by people who are quilt makers themselves. They know from experience just what fabrics will enable you to create a quality quilt. You will find a larger selection and better quality of fabrics. Chain stores must carry a variety of fabrics in order to cater to a wide range of customer requirements. Most do not specialize in fabrics for quilts.
Most small, independent, quilt shops and mail order companies can not compete with nation wide chains who can purchase hundreds of bolts at one time. This amount of yardage guarantees a discount on the per yard cost. The resulting savings can be passed on to the customer. The small quilt shops must charge a higher price per yard for the same fabrics in order to make a profit. You should not judge the quality of fabric by the price alone. You have found prints, patterns, and colors exactly alike in both quilt shops and chain stores because most fabrics are purchased from the same domestic manufacturers.
So in conclusion I must say you should patronize your local quilt shop or mail order company. They need your support. There you will find the latest fabrics, a variety of batting, great tools, supplies and valuable information, tips on quilting, and of course quilt classes.
You Asked: How can it be that some of the fabrics at chain stores look the same as the fabrics at the quilt stores, have the same markings on the end of the bolt but seem lower in quality and lower in price?
The main problems with consistency are threefold.
1. Downprinting for chains. This is where a line of fabrics are reprinted on cheaper fabric to achieve a lower price. This is done mostly for chains who want the look and name of better fabrics, but want to compete (unfairly in my opinion) by selling poorer goods to the unsuspecting.
When a converter sells fabric to a quilt store, they are often selling smaller quantities of fabric per order than with a chain store order. A quilt store may order from 5-100 bolts approx. from each converter while a chain store may order thousands of bolts.
The power of buying in volume often gives the chain store an edge on price. The chain store may further cut the price and take a smaller profit to develop more business in that department.
Sometimes, a chain store will ask for pricing which is not possible on the normal quality of of quilt fabric. The converter may choose to “Downprint” the design to a lesser grade of fabric, making possible, impossible pricing.
There is ongoing controversy about this practice of downprinting. Some converters refuse to do it altogether, some separate design lines between quilt and chain business, so each market/territory is respected and can have what it wants. The best answer is to become familiar with each converters policy and practice in this regard. A very few give the industry a bad name.
2. Different printer means different fabric.
If the production is moved to a different printer for whatever reason. (better price, turnaround, etc) The pattern will have to be re engraved and printed from new screens/cylinders on the fabric that is in stock at that printer. The engraving may not be as good as the first and the printers stock of fabric may be worse too. (it might also be better)
3. Quota exceeded, select another similar weave.
At the beginning of the Quota year, converters and printers reserve their stock from the too small world supply of cotton to be produced.
If they figure wrong, or have a runaway best seller, their quota may be used up. The converter and printer is often forced to compromise on similar weave for successive print/dye runs. In my experience most consistency problems are quota/production problems, only some are downprints and they tend to come from the same sources.
You asked about fabric quality and why fabric is so much higher priced in quilt stores but less so at chain fabric stores. Is there a difference?
You bet there’s a difference. The truth is that all fabric is not created equal. Fabric is made from a basic greige (pronounced gray) good. Greige refers to the unfinished fabrics in their raw state. As you might well imagine, all aspects, including construction, design, color and finish are determined by the buyers specifications. The companies determine what quality of goods they will use and provide the design and colors. So if a print starts out on a lesser quality greige good, then the end result is lesser quality. When you see a print in a chain store for a lower price and in a quilt shop for a higher price–EVEN THOUGH IT LOOKS THE SAME–the quality of the greige good may be different and therefore the end result will be different. Obviously, the lower quality greige good with its lower thread count, no matter what it looks like, will not hold up as long, and will not last as long as fabric of higher quality greige good.
Sometimes fabric from a chain store is what is known as a “second”–fabric where the registration of the print may be off just a bit, there might be minor flaws, etc. This can result in a lower price as well. Prints may also be a blend (polyester and cotton) and therefore less expensive. In the long run, however, the polyesther threads will break down the cotton threads and the fabric will wear out faster.
When you purchase fabric from a quality quilt shop, you are getting the very best 100% cotton fabric available. The price is higher because the greige good thread count and the quality of the fabric is greater. But there is possibly another reason the fabric is more expensive and that has to do with education. Quilt shops go out of their way to learn as much as they can about the fabrics they carry, to educate their staff, and to attend seminars and markets where they gain knowledge regarding the product that they carry. They then pass this information along to you the consumer and are able to help you make informed decisions about fabric and color choices, etc. They can teach you which threads and battings to use for different projects–depending on what you intend to be your end result– and they can assist you with the latest techniques and tools. (II have actually been in chain stores where clerks have had to ask me how many inches is in 1/3 yard of fabric or who did not know what a selvage or grain line was, so I’m sure that they were not receiving this same type of education.)
For a detailed look at the process of quiltmaking textiles, you might want to read Harriet Hargraves “From Fiber to Fabric” by C&T Publishing. Harriet goes into every aspect of how cotton fabric comes about, how to test your own fabrics, the difference in threads, looks at nonwoven textiles, and showsthe care of completed quilts. This book is an absolute “must-have” for those who are interested in learning more about fabrics and fabric quality. This book is available in fine quilt shops throughout the United States. We carry it here at Grandma’s Attic for $29.95. It is a hardcover book with a spiral binding for easy reference. Harriet herself is a quilt shop owner and oustanding teacher.
Here at Grandma’s Attic Sewing Emporium, we’re all about “preserving the past with an eye toward the future”. We know that we are the grandmothers and “aunts” of the next generation, and believe that just as our own dear grandmothers may have passed down their talents and their quilts to us, it is our turn to “step up to the plate” and provide the next generation with the same. In handing down legacies, I personally don’t want to see my quilt disintegrate 10-25 years from now because I did not use the highest quality materials and forgot to avail myself of the latest information and technology available!
If I can help you learn more about fabrics, please don’t hesitate to let me know. I dearly love fabrics–a passion which I hope shows in our shop!
A Question by Judith, Answered by Sewing Shops and Sewing Professionals:
Kris – Quiltbug
Cheryl (Little) – The Cotton Club
Jeffie Johnson – Sew Fabulous Fabrics
Michael ‘REDANT’ Mrowka – Lunn Fabrics
Rachel Greco – Grandma’s Attic Sewing Emporium, Inc.