Quilting Blog

Can You Sew Garments With Quilting Cotton?

Have you ever looked in your stash of quilting fabric and wondered if you could turn the yardage into a dress? Or, have you ever spotted a cute quilting cotton at the shop but abandoned it because you only sew garments? You’re not alone.

Callie Wearing Blouse Made With Boundless Fabric

When we spotted our very own sewing and quilting expert Callie Works-Leary sporting a top made in Boundless Chelsea Rose fabric (the one you see above), we were surprised! Most garment sewers stick with fashion fabrics, leaving the cotton poplin for quilters. But Callie made us think twice.

So we sat down with Callie to learn the ins and outs of sewing clothes with quilting cotton.

If you’re curious about sewing garments, quilting cotton is actually a great place to start.

While more experienced garment-makers swear off quilting cotton, this fabric is perfect for beginners. First and foremost, it’s much less expensive than most fashion fabrics, which gives you more room for trial and error.

Plus, cotton poplin is very easy to sew with — you’re not dealing with slippery or sticky fabrics, making the pieces easy to cut and sew.

Blouse Collar in Chelsea Rose Fabric

And finally, quilting cottons are just plain fun! “One of the reasons I love sewing with quilting cottons is the variety of prints,” Callie says. “Fashion fabrics are more subdued, and with quilting fabric, you get more fun and funky prints. If you want to sew a dress with puppies, you’ll probably need quilting cotton.”

The key to successfully sewing a garment with quilting cotton is picking the right garment to go with the fabric.

The reason quilting cotton can be difficult to work with in garment sewing is that it has no drape and no real stretch — something many garments rely on. You want to look for garments that have little drape and need little stretch.

Structured garments

The more structure a garment has, the less the garment relies on fabric for its style. Think pleated or gathered skirts and dresses. That said, you want to avoid garments with too many layers (like ruffles or tiers) — cotton poplin is a relatively heavy fabric, and it will weigh the clothing down.

Simple blouses and tanks

Quilting cottons won’t look right on flowy, drapey tops, but they can be a good fit for button-down shirts and some tank tops.

Structured jackets

You can borrow even more inspiration from quilting and use batting and quilting for a warmer jacket that works perfectly with quilting fabric.

Callies Chelsea Rose Blouse

The type of garment isn’t the only thing to look for.

Remember to keep an eye on the fabric required for the pattern. Callie says that while some fashion fabrics are 55″ to 60″ wide, quilting cotton is always 44″ to 45″ wide, which can effect the way you cut the pattern pieces. Be sure to pick a pattern that works well with the fabric size.

It’s also important to know that patterns rarely recommend quilting cotton. Usually the pattern envelope will say just “cotton” or “cotton poplin.” These are typically interchangeable with your favorite quilting cottons.

Finally, you want to take special care of any garments made with quilting cotton.

One perk of working with quilting cotton is that it’s treated well before it gets to your sewing room. Most quilting cottons have been treated with sizing products, so they don’t stretch or shrink. They also have a special finish that gives them a bit of a sheen and really helps the colors pop.

For the most part, quilting cotton is easy to care for: Always wash your garments in cold water and hang them to dry. If you plan to do this, there’s no need to pre-wash your fabric before sewing. However, if you plan to tumble dry, definitely pre-wash and pre-dry the fabric.

If you’re not careful, quilting cotton can get a bit “nubby” after washing. The more you wash the fabric, the more antiqued and faded it looks — that’s not necessarily bad, but you may want to limit your washes.

Want to give it a try?

If you’re brand new to sewing garments, we recommend our Startup Library: Sewing class with Sara Alm. This class was designed with quilters in mind, so seamlessly translates your quilting skills to garment sewing.

Our favorite quilting cottons for your next garment

24 Comments

Nancy Leffingwell

I’ve been making my husband and my son’s summer shirts out of batiks for many years. They love them. My husband loves going to the quilt shop and selecting his fabrics. Men’s short sleeved shirts work very well, and I’ve never had any problems with the fabrics.

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Victoria Hagemeister

I have been making dresses, nightgowns and blouses from quilting cotton for years. Where else can you get such a great range of colors and patterns?

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Cheyl

I’ve been using quilting cottons for clothing ever since I started quilting, 20 years ago. It makes the best nightgowns and pj’s, and children’s clothing. I’m making my granddaughter a dress from it right now. 🙂

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Joy French

Another consideration would be the ironing that is required to keep a garment made from quilting cotton looking it’s best.

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Tara

Get out of my head – I was asking exactly this question two days ago! I’m off to the fabric store to fondle the gorgeous quilting cottons. Thanx – excellent timing!

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Mary

Thank you for discussing this topic. I have noticed that Craftsy carries virtually no garment fabrics recently and it’s disappointing. Quilting cotton is a nice sturdy fabric and definitely has its uses such as shirts and skirts that don’t require a draped for flowing fabric. It would be nice if you would suggest some specific patterns where quilting cotton would shine.

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kammy w

I love shirts made of quilting cotton. They get softer with each wash and are very comfy to wear in the humid Southeast, where i live. Also great for lightweight summer dresses.

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Tamara Hutchinson

I have sewn dresses and tops with quilting cottons since the 1960s. I prefer 100% cotton clothing anyway, and I think quilting cotton works especially well for blouses – and they just get better over time!

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Judy

I never knew that quilting cotton was not an option for garments.

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Linda Mihay

The reason I don’t sew with cotton (any) is ironing. I HATE to iron!

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Marcia

What pattern was used for Callie’s shirt?

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Jackie G

I use quilting cotton for baby/toddler clothing. They outgrow them so fast, they have no time to end up looking nubby, and the baby-sized prints are easy to find!

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Sally

What pattern did Callie use for her blouse? It has nice tailoring details.

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Nonnie1988

You can make anything you want from quilter’s cotton…. but be ready to iron a lot once the garment is done. I had made nurse’s scrub tops but I could never just wear it unless it was ironed before wearing cause it looked like a wrinkled mess.

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Ruth Veley

I also would like to know what pattern was used…my kind of blouse. Too bad it wasn’t mentioned in the article (like the name of the fabric was)

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Catherine

I have been using “quilting” cotton for years to make garments. It is not exactly cheap since most run 11.00 per yard now and I never understood why it should not be used for garments. I see clothes on line all the time in quilting cotton and the look books by the manufacturers are have been filled with clothing examples for years now.

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Eleanor Leap

As a young girl in the 50’s learning to sew cotton fabric was mostly what we had. Loved it then and still do. Cotton garments are always cooler to wear in the summer than poly. When my mother lived at a retirement center for 5 1/2 years I made her seven dresses during that time. She loved leaf designs and many different colors. She really enjoyed the comments from other residents in the center. Quilting cottons have so many colors and different designs.

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Susanna

I used a fat quarter from a sample pack I bought to cut the bodice-lining of a fall holiday dress I made my toddler recently. The main fabric for the dress is a fine-waled corduroy and a coordinated quilting cotton did the trick: same lack of stretch, lighter weight, and pretty inside detailing!

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Kathy G.

I am always looking for 100% cotton because it’s a cooler fabric to wear in hot climates. I go to the quilting section many times because of this and have made garments using this fabric for many years. And it’s easy to put together coordinating fabrics because of the way they display them on the shelves. Easy to sew with too. So have fun finding fun quilting fabrics for your next garment.

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Sonja

What simple patterns do you recommend or have you used with quilting cottons, especially with the beginning sewist in mind (IOW, minimum button holes and other requirements for advanced precision sewing)? Thanks!

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Callie Works-Leary

Hi Sonja! Some of my favorite patterns that work well for quilting cotton include the Tova Top by Wiksten and the Washi Dress by Made By Rae. Made by Rae has lots of great patterns that work well for quilting cotton. Several of Liesl + Co patterns work equally as well, especially the Gallery Tunic which I’ve made out of some Kaffe Fassett fabric. I also like Grainline Studio. Hope this helps! – Callie

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Linda G

I like to use quilting cottons, broadcloth, and calicos for some linings because they are stable, comfortable against the skin, and breathe, unlike the acetate and polyester linings the fabric store pushes, and are less expensive and easier to care for than silk. They sew up easily and usually don’t fray much.

I have found they make good choices for structured shirts (like menswear or western shirts), dresses that don’t depend on a soft drape or can benefit from the stiffer cotton (like shifts and multi-seamed, structured garments where the shaping comes from the design structure), and some sleepwear. They are often the only options available if you want an all-cotton, lightweight, woven fabric, which is a shame since there are a lot of cotton garment fabrics that should be more readily accessible. Sometimes, I shift the grain line to cut this fabric on the bias, giving it a bit more drape and stretch, but this can be risky if not done carefully.

It is important to keep in mind these cottons must be ironed to keep crisp. Because they are often made from shorter-staple cotton fibers than garment fabrics, the surface will soften and roughen faster than garment fabrics, causing the fuzzy surface and some fading of darker colors with repeated washing. This may be desirable or undesirable, depending on your purpose in using the fabric. I always prewash any cotton fabric before cutting. There is always some shrinkage and some change to the feel of the fabric after washing. Just to be sure I have enough fabric, I usually buy slightly more yardage than the pattern requires to allow for shrinkage. Prewashing also gives me an idea of how much and in what way the fabric wrinkles, so I can make better decisions about how to use it.

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Reader

I’ve made a few garments from quilting cotton. The fabric was stiff, had little drape, and the textile degraded in a way I’ve never seen garment fabric do. I treated it very carefully.

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