Periodically the question comes up on social media groups related to quilting about whether a quilter “should” or “can” use polyester or poly blend rather than cotton fabric or thread in their quilts. This is usually followed by people vehemently claiming it MUST be cotton. Nothing else but cotton, and declaring this as if the issue were settled and can not be questioned. Those who suggest otherwise are mostly ignored.
I have also seen several quilters claim that polyester does not last as long as cotton, which astonished me. So, I have been doing some research. You see, I think with today’s high quality manufacturing a quilter should feel free to use whatever fabric or thread they want to use without feeling they MUST use a specific fiber. So I thought I would write about this and also ask what you think.
First of all, it was pretty easy to find a lot of comparisons of the properties of cotton and polyester fabrics that had a bit of science behind them. Without fail, such sites all said the polyester is more durable than cotton, which is what started me off on this hunt. Cotton is also a wonderful fabric, but it is not true that polyester is less durable. Some people say they have had a bad experience otherwise, and they probably did, but I suspect it was the quality of the fabric rather than the fiber that made the difference.
Additionally, I have been looking into how well polyester behaves in quilting and sewing, because I want to free up the quilting world to love and appreciate all manner of fibers for their quilts. I’ve done some experimentation and talked with other quilters who use polyesters in their work.
I am an expert sewist and quilter…very experienced with dealing with fabrics, having sewn for over sixty years. I had my own business as a fashion designer and tailor some years ago, and have been a show quilter for over 11 years now, as you all probably know. I have won some ribbons in international shows. I have made many of my own clothes and those of the men in my family. Trust me, when I say that I know how fabric should behave.
Years ago I made many special occasion dresses, including wedding dresses, from both silk and polyester. I also made men’s suits in both wool and wool blends, and special needs clothing for professors and business people in all manner of fabrics. For them and for my own clothes, I used both natural fiber fabrics, which I count Rayon as one, and polyesters.
Since I have been quilting, I use mostly cotton or silk because I like the way it looks. But about a year ago Kaufman Fabrics ceased making my favorite quilting fabric, which was a blend of cotton and silk in a satin weave called Radiance.
Since then I have been trying out a few things to take its place. One of those fabrics are various types of polyester satin. I have found that a really good quality crepe back satin makes a fine quilting fabric. It has enough give and take to show the quilting well and not to pucker. The colors are good, the strong colors don’t bleed, the fabric doesn’t shrink. And oh yes, it is about a third the price of Radiance. I love it. I have a polyester satin show quilt planned for this year.
I also think that some of the lighter weight polyesters and different weaves of poly blends are acceptable to use in quilting.
From my own experiences there is a wide range of quality of fabrics of all kind. The quality, no matter the fiber, is really an important factor in determining how the fabric behaves.
Admittedly, when trying to do things like inset sleeves into a garment or piecing a curve, most polyesters will show a slight tendency to pucker. I have not found that to be the case of the crepe back satin and other crepe weaves, however, because I think the crepe weave gives it enough give and take to counter the lack of ability to shrink.
Sometimes, you need to back your polyesters (and your silks too, I might add) with a light weight fusible interfacing to make it behave well.
Silk is a sometimes difficult fabric to work with, will bleed like everything, and sometimes will shrink. But it is so beautiful, that it is worth the effort to make it work. I hand prewash silk using Synthrapol. It makes it less likely to bleed when you use a little starch or some steam on your finished show quilt. But sometimes the bleeding is just too great to use with another color. I also usually back the silk with light weight fusible interfacing. THEN it works as well as cotton.
Cotton does work the best, admittedly, but it needs to be prewashed to contain the shtrinkage and prevent later bleeding. I use Synthrapol for that too, because some manufacturing does not fully set the dye and there may be some lose dye that could even just bleed from working the fabrics, not even involving water.
Now rayon is a fussy fabric and I have never tried to use it in a quilt, but I love it for some clothing. It, however, shrinks! So if you are going to use it be certain to prewash it. I love how it drapes and moves in a full skirt or loose flowing jacket. It’s a wonderful fabric made from trees.
And yes, when it comes to threads, I like them all…cotton, poly blends, all polyester, silk, and wool. Thread is a lovely thing. You just need to buy a good brand of thread and the right needles to use with them. Cheap thread does not do a good job. It can stuff up the inner workings of your machine with fluff, break, pull, shred, and just make a mess, and yes, I have even had it shrink and bleed back when I used it years ago. But really fine quality thread is a dream.
The answer is…you can use the fabric and threads of your choice and have a good result that lasts for many years and you can pass it down for generations. Yes, there are bad fabrics out there that will shred, distort, and make a mess, but it’s a quality issue, not a fiber content issue if you pay attention to the right preparation for the fabric.
Sew you can use whatever you want to make your quilt, even burlap, for that matter, if you back it with fusible interfacing, but I won’t go near it, because burlap makes me break out and sneeze. Hahahaha
Sew happy everyone! Enjoy your quilting and sewing using the products you like and don’t listen to those who think there is only one way to do things because it was what their great grandparent used back before the fabric manufacturing was as advanced as it is today.