Fabric Shops, quilting, Sewing

Quilt Shop Quality -vs- Chain Store Quality Quilt Fabric, Is there really a difference?

This question was recently a subject of conversation on the Quiltville Open Studio Facebook page.  And you know me.  I can’t leave well enough alone.

I mean, the question is valid.  Is there really a difference between what we buy in the Quilt Shops compared to what we buy in the Chain Stores such as JoAnn Fabrics, Hancock’s and Hobby Lobby?

Is it true that you can find just as much difference in quality at each of these stores?  I would say, just from my 30 plus years of shopping for fabric the answer is YES and responded as such on the Facebook page.  But was I right?

So I set up a little experiment and I’d challenge you all to do the same.   DSCF9044

I have fabric from everywhere so it was actually quite easy to pull these out.  The contenders on the left are from JoAnn and Hancock fabrics.  For those of you outside the U.S.A., these are two prominent chain fabric shops with hundreds of stores we can find in nearly every state.

1. Brown.  This was a piece of fabric I used for a costume.  It has a lovely soft hand and was found in the quilting cottons section.  I’ve been using the scraps in several quilts, most recently the Roll Roll Cotton Boll quilt.

2. Yellow.  This was purchased at Hancock along with the teal next to it.  This is for a quilted rucksack I am making for my niece.  She picked out the fabrics.  This particular yellow was in the blender section of the quilting cottons.

3. Teal.  Also purchased at Hancock for the quilted rucksack.  This was located in the quilting cottons section as well.

4. Rose print.  I have just scraps of this left but I’d thought I’d throw it in with this experiment because of that in your face label “Designed and produced exclusively for Jo-Ann stores.   I made a night gown out of it and have been using the scraps in quilt projects.


For the Quilt Shop contenders I had these at hand as well.  The colors are pretty similar to the above mostly because these were the colors of the quilts I’ve most recently been working on…it just worked out that way…

1. Brown.  This is a Marcus Fabric.  I believe I bought this as a fat quarter at a Peaceful Gathering, a local quilt shop here in northern Illinois.

2. Yellow. This is a Kaffe Fassett print by Rowan I bought at Quilter’s Destination, another quilt shop here in northern Illinois.  If you are not familiar with Kaffe Fassett he’s very popular to many in the quilting world.  Lots of books, lots of inspiration.  Many quilters collect his work.

3.  Teal.  This is a Moda brand fabric called Birds and Berries by Lauren and Jessi Jung.  This was the only fabric that said where it was made.  Japan.  I believe I bought this at Quilt In Joy (now out of business but was one of my favorite quilt shops here in northern Illinois when it was around) during its going out of business sale.

All three fabrics are what I would call ‘Designer’ fabrics.  Meaning they were designed by a licensed artist for these fabric manufacturers.DSCF9048

For the experiment I first cut a 4-1/2″ square from a template.  The particular size is subjective. I cut this size because that is the size I’m working on but I wanted to cut something big enough that I could compare the weight of each of these fabrics.  The weighing of these will occur at a later time as I do not own a gram scale and will need to most likely use one at work or the post office.  I’m hoping this size is big enough to register a weight but you get my point.  I want a common comparable size to weigh.

Next, I cut 2 one inch squares.  One of the squares I use for my ‘Results’ page…     DSCF9037

…and the other I use to completely remove every single thread…DSCF9040…which I count…DSCF9034…and record on my Results paperwork.

I also keep and study a piece of the selvage…DSCF9035…which I study and compare.DSCF9039

I make note that the fabrics I’ve chosen, both from the Quilt Shop collection and the Chain Store collection have both types of selvages represented, a single selvage and a double selvage.

Here’s a closer look at a Double selvage.  It is wider and thicker than the single…DSCF9032

Characterized by having an added weft thread.  You can see those additional shorter threads at the edge.DSCF9041  So what were the results of all this?


Is there really a difference?

The short answer is NO.  There really isn’t one iota of a difference.  HOWEVER, what I did discover is that the fabrics that had the ‘Double’ selvage, although a lower thread count, do have a heavier feel to them and the fibers appear to be a larger, thicker fiber.  Just something to note.  The thread counts for those ‘Double’ were 120, 121 and 127 threads per square inch.

On the other hand.  For the ‘Single’ selvage fabrics, the threads were slightly smaller but the thread counts were several threads higher, 136, 144, 146 and 147.

I did find that some fabrics felt softer and finer than others.  The one I thought felt the finest was the Brown from JoAnn’s.  The yellow Kaffe Fassett felt about the same as rose neutral from JoAnn’s and all of the other ‘Double’ selvage fabrics felt all the same.  The only one that felt thin and not quite the same was the yellow from Hancocks.  The threads were very thin, even with a higher thread count because the threads were still very thin the fabric is much lighter.  This yellow also had a printing flaw near the selvage.  You can see it right under my thumb.DSCF9039

So there you have it…DSCF9043

Out of the 7 fabrics I would have to say there was really only 1 of these that was of a sub-par grade, the yellow from Hancock’s.

So things to look for in quality quilt fabric.
1. Thread count.  A Single selvage fabric should have approximately 140 threads per square inch and a ‘Double’ selvage should have approximately 120 threads per square inch.  The ‘Double’ selvage, even though a lower thread count, are thicker.

2. Look for errors in printing.  Errors would obviously suggest inferior quality.

3. Hand.  How does it feel?  Is is soft, silky or rough?  I found lots of variation, but the softest was one I found at JoAnn’s.

So in conclusion, without my next step of weighing the fabric squares, to compare them in order to see if there really is a significant difference between these contenders, I’d have to conclude that you really can find quality at the Chain Stores.  Just be educated in what you are looking for and regardless of where you find it, trust your judgment.  If in doubt, you can always run your own little experiment!

Happy Quilting, Happy Experimenting!




9 thoughts on “Quilt Shop Quality -vs- Chain Store Quality Quilt Fabric, Is there really a difference?”

  1. Thank You for the study. I buy fabric at several places and found excellent fabric regardless of where I go…conversely I found poor fabric everywhere, too. The best thing is to shop and compare.


  2. I just like the hedlpful info you provide in your articles.
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    Goood luck for thhe next!


  3. Thanks so much for the info. I buy fabric depending on the color, print, price. I will only buy what feels good and you are correct in that many lower priced fabrics have a good feel and some higher price fabric feels awful. So buy what you like and can afford.


    1. Thank you for the comment Ellen. Now that I am a shop owner and have access to purchasing fabric it is true that the chains get fabric from many of the same manufacturers as the quilt shops. However there are many labels that produce far superior fabrics than others. You really do need to touch and feel the fabrics!


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