Thread Count in Quilting Fabric – What’s the Big Deal?
May 11, 2022
This week I wanted to share a great article from Penny Halgren that we featured in our Premium Online Quilt Magazine last October, where she took a look at the importance of thread count in the fabrics you’re using for your quilts, and why it matters.
For instance, batiks are beautiful, but have you noticed how fine and smooth the fabric is? This higher thread count makes for gorgeous strips and patches in quilts, but hand quilting or appliqueing is a whole other story. You’ll wear out your fingers before you go far!
“Thread count is the number of threads per square inch in the fabric. It determines the quality and weight of the fabric.
Threads are counted for both the length and width of the fabric. If there are the same number of threads in both directions, the fabric is an “even weave.”
Fabrics with an even weave are easier to work with as you make a quilt, since the fabric will have the same amount of “give” in both directions.
Quilting cotton is generally 68 x 68 threads per square inch, higher than average fabrics.
Fabrics with lower thread counts, those around 60 x 60 per square inch are too lightweight for quilts. They tend to ravel excessively, they will shrink more, they will be less durable, and batting will come through the weave in your finished quilt.
High thread counts and extremely tight weaves can be difficult to work with too though, especially if you are hand quilting.
Although it is tempting to use a sheet for the backing of a quilt, the finish and thread count may make it very difficult to work with.
I remember one year I was very excited to find some high quality Pima cotton. I bought a bunch of it, in all different colors, and made a beautiful quilt. It was an Amish-type Ocean Waves.
Cutting the fabric was a dream. These were the days before rotary cutting, and I was cutting the fabric with scissors. Sewing the fabric on the machine was wonderful. Basting it was great.
Then came the quilting.
Hand quilting was not pleasant at all.
The thread count was so high, that quilting was almost a nightmare. I tried everything – smaller needles, sharper needles, bigger thimble, whatever I could dream up. But nothing made any difference. I just gutted it out, and finished it, because I loved the feel of the fabric and the design of the quilt.
I love the quilt, but won’t ever use that fabric in that way again.”
(Batik fabric can be like this too – gorgeous designs and a dream to work with, but not at all suited to hand quilting.)
3 responses to “Thread Count in Quilting Fabric – What’s the Big Deal?”
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Great article. I’m an EPP fan but machine quilt. The night count batik fabrics sometimes cause missed stitches when machine quilting.
That’s a nice article but I’ve never found the thread count on a bolt of fabric. You can’t stand in the store and try to count the threads. Is it on the bolt somewhere?
Thanks for your comment, and you have a good point. As far as I know it’s not printed on the bolt, and for quilting you’re going to have to go by look and feel. A lower thread count will show in a looser weave (you don’t want too loose for quilting), and a higher thread count will be really tight and smooth (like batik). Nearly all quality quilting cottons will fall in the middle of this range, so as long as you buy good quality fabric, you should be right.