Fabric – quality or bargain? Let’s compare…

It’s no secret that I love fabric and as I’ve gained experience over the (many, many, many) years of sewing, I have come to know, appreciate and love quality fabrics.  I love sewing on a beautiful imported Swiss batiste, cotton lawn, etc.  But, life is not all about frilly, frothy garments made for special occasions.  Sometimes you just need some regular play clothes for kids.  By regular, well, I’ll admit – my regular may not be everyone’s regular.  I still like cute play clothes.  I know that there are others in the same camp with me!

Lately there has been so much buzz in the sewing community, particularly in the PDF pattern community of seamstresses, about the wonderful new prints carried at some of the Walmart stores.  I’ve seen these and they are very colorful and fun prints.  It is so tempting to grab up an armful at these bargain prices.  However, Walmart has not been known for carrying particularly high quality goods, and their fabric is no exception.  Before becoming completely dreamy-eyed over the cute prints, I wanted to offer a perspective on Walmart (and other bargain) fabrics and to show the difference between the way quality fabric behaves vs. bargain fabric – over the test of washing and wearing necessary for kids clothing.

A few years ago when I was designing for a publication, I was sent a cute piece of fabric – I recognized it right away as being fabric from Fabric Finders – they sell some wonderful fabrics that are much used in the smocking and heirloom realm.  I have always been pleased with their fabrics – they wash and wear beautifully!

I was asked to design something using this fabric.  Because of the fun nature of the print, I chose play clothes – smocked, of course!  Throughout the design and sewing process, the editor gave approval for the design, smocking, etc.  I loved the Matryoshka dolls, however, in retrospect, I would have preferred them on a solid fabric.

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As it neared completion, as was often the case, they requested that I send the garment, instructions, pattern, smocking design, etc. ASAP.  I always did my best to meet deadlines, and this was no exception.  However, I needed a contrast fabric and with no heirloom shops in the area and not enough time to wait for an online order to arrive (not to mention the difficulty in matching colors), I made the decision to try to find a complimentary fabric locally.  My first stop was the local Walmart.  Score!  Found a perfect match.  I was thrilled that I didn’t have to drive an hour away to get something that looked perfect for my garment.

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With the perfect match in hand, I finished the garment.  I thought it was adorable!  Sadly, it never made it into the publication.  It was not a loss, the smocking design was featured on a different fabric in the Sew Beautiful magazine and the pattern was used with a sweet white/ecru linen combination and my granddaughters got to wear the cute, original outfit.

(sorry for the less than stellar pictures – they were taken, not intended for a blog post, but they are all I have of “before washing” pictures)

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I especially loved the back of this outfit!

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This outfit has been worn for 2 summers by 2 granddaughters.  However, it will not be worn again.  While the green print – quality fabric – has held up beautifully, the red fabric looks like a rag.

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My lack of photography skills actually makes the red in the top (in the picture above) look better than it is.  I found a piece of the print fabric as well as of the red fabric still in my stash.  You can see that the print shows very little change in color.  Pictured below is how the fabric really looks. The red fabric is washed out and shows horrible wear on the edges – they are nearly white!

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This is the fabric facing (inside lining) of the garment – the white stripe, which was non-existent when I constructed the garment, was cut on the fold.  This is what it looks like after numerous washings!  Shocking, right?!?!  So glad that wasn’t on the right side of the top.

 

 

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So, the cute outfit is now my sample for explaining the difference between quality fabric and bargain fabrics.  though it is pressed nicely, it does not look good.  The cheap red fabric that was a perfect match has not held up to wash and wear as the quality fabric has.  It is such a shame.  If the red fabric had been quality fabric, this garment could have been worn by a couple more kids.

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I know that there are those that will still flock to the Walmart fabric department to swoop up those cute fabric bargains.  That is fine.  There’s a place for all types and price points of fabrics.  I understand that.  But, be aware that these lovely prints, though they have the same manufacturer name as is sold in other stores and at a higher price tag, are not the same quality as the fabrics by that manufacturer sold elsewhere. Consumers need to know this so that they can make informed decisions.

Just as another example of quality fabrics holding up well, I made the same top with a twirl skirt and used quality quilting fabrics (Kona cotton and Michael Miller fabrics) – this outfit was also washed and worn numerous times.  It also used bright red, but with better results and no fading as happened in the Walmart fabric.  This has already been worn for one summer and is coming out again this summer to be worn again by her little sister – it still looks just as good.

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You can make your own decision about what fabrics you will purchase.  I know what my choice will be.  I am not willing to spend my time and effort working with fabrics and/or trims that will not stand up to wash and wear required for children’s clothing.

Whatever you choose, enjoy your sewing and keep on stitching!

Kathy

24 thoughts on “Fabric – quality or bargain? Let’s compare…

  1. Sally Rifenburg

    Kathy, What a great blog. I totally agree with you. Poor quality fabrics might make it in a Halloween one wear costume but my time on garments demands true quality fabric. The hand of the fabric is and great thing to learn when starting out. What do you want it to do, how do you want it to drape, what will it look like after washings are all good starting points. Thanks for this insightful read.

    Reply
    1. Kathy Post author

      Thank you Sally. I couldn’t always afford to use better quality fabrics. But, when you consider how many children can wear the garments made with better quality fabrics, it actually can end up cheaper to buy the more expensive fabric. that lesson took me a while to figure out.

      I have some dresses that were made for my oldest daughter – when I splurged (for us) at the time and bought better fabric – those dresses have been worn regularly by 6 little girls now and are almost the right size for our granddaughter to be wearing. I expect that they will be worn by several more girls at this point. These are smocked play dresses, not fancy, only worn once in a while type of dresses. Really speaks to the quality of good fabrics.

      Yes, for one time wear as Halloween, I’ve purchased Walmart fabric and it’s been great for one time wearing.

      Reply
  2. Eunice Hayes

    Thank you a million times over for this post! I plan to share this with a few friends just learning to sew. They think Walmart is the “bees knees” because the fabric is so much lower cost… Your pictures are really worth a thousand words!

    Reply
    1. Kathy Post author

      Thank you Eunice. I am hopeful that when the results are “seen”, that newer seamstresses will see the benefit of using better fabrics – not to mention that they are nice to sew with.

      Reply
    1. Kathy Post author

      Thank you Lynn. and thank you for letting me know about the Blend Fabrics. That’s not a brand I’m familiar with.

      Reply
  3. Linda howard

    Thanks Kathy. My sentiments exactly. Those Walmart fabrics sometimes work for Halloween costumes, but I won’t waste my time sewing inferior fabrics.

    Reply
  4. Bunny

    I so totally agree, Kathy. I know from being in retail management many years, fabric store for six of them, that WM will take a popular fabric from a manufacturer’s line and go to the manufacturer and say, “of you can make this for ex dollars per yard price point, we can guarantee a million yard deal, or such. The manufacturer is now frothing at the mouth to get that deal and they print the popular quality fabric on the cheapest goods with the cheapest dyes. We used to see it over and over. Buyer beware! I’ve never seen a quality woven piece of fabric in any WM, IMO. I will say however, that their faux leathers are excellent and much better than most I’ve found in the marketplace. But they are a lot more money too. Those I do recommend but anything, garbahje (with a French accent!). Great post and very informative. Thanks.

    Reply
    1. Kathy Post author

      That’s absolutely how WM does it Bunny – and the price they are willing to pay the manufacturer is one that the manufacturer would lose money making the goods, so they have to go cheaper. Therefore, they will carry products with the same manufacturers name, but not the quality you expect from the manufacturer. This is true with all WM goods, including the Brother and Singer sewing machines – not the same quality that you’d get from a Singer or Brother dealer. And WM doesn’t offer service for their machines when they break.

      I have though that the faux leather looks pretty good. Thanks for the information on that!

      Reply
  5. Terry Collins

    My daughters do not iron. Yet, when the good cotton fabrics are washed, they may not be beautifully pressed and crisp, but they aren’t that bad. Try that with Walmart fabric or the bargain goods from Joann’s. They are usually very stiff and washing doesn’t help to soften them. There is cotton, and then there is cotton. Great post, Kathy.

    Reply
  6. Kathleen

    Thank you, Kathy, for your very informative post. I, too , very much like Fabric Finders ( both designs and quality).
    (Not having ever entered -much less shopped! -in a walmart , I cannot comment on the “quality” of their merchandise.)

    Reply
    1. Kathy Post author

      Thank you. I hope to help educate and this turned out to be a perfect example of fabric quality and differences.

      Reply
  7. Ginger

    Great post Kathy! I looked at fabric when our new Walmart opened and haven’t looked since. I will say that in the past I have used it for muslins for myself. I’ve always wondered about the Kona in quilt shops vs Kona at say Hobby Lobby.

    Reply
    1. Kathy Post author

      I think that the Kona at Hobby Lobby is the same as what you find in quilt shops. Because of Walmart’s business dealings, their products are not the same as what you find elsewhere.

      Reply
  8. Hettie Lynn

    I wholeheartedly agree, Kathy. Thank you for addressing this issue. I hope that your picture comparison will show others just how important it is to know your fabrics. It is a joy to see with good quality fabrics.

    Reply
    1. Kathy Post author

      Thank you Hettie Lynn – I think that sometimes you just need to “see” the results and then it all makes sense. Yes, it is a joy to sew with good fabrics.

      Reply
  9. Nancy

    Kathy you are so right. When I look at the Fabric at Joann’s the selvedge has the makers name and “Made exclusively for Joann’s” I think some people think that is a good thing. I know it means made of much cheaper materials. I haven’t been to a WalMart in years. We have them here but there are so many other options that I rarely go. I wonder do they even sell fabric in the NJ WalMart.
    Cheap fabric is so stiff and never loses that stiffness even after washing a lot. I have used the Joanns quilting stuff to make play costumes and even after years of washing they are still stiff. The play I used the quilting fabric for was set on a poor island so the fading and marking was actually a plus because they were supposed to look like that.
    I just wait till the places with the good stuff have a sale and stock up then.
    What do you think of Fabric.com. It think it is very hit or miss.

    Reply
    1. Kathy Post author

      I’ve only ordered from fabric.com a couple times, but have been pleased with the fabric that arrived. I’ve heard from others that their experience hasn’t been as good, so I do think that you’re right – hit or miss.

      Reply
  10. Jane

    Excellent post. Says it all! I wasn’t always able to afford good fabric either, but it’s such a shame to see people put their time and their love into fabric that won’t last. BTW, where was that cute outfit published? I’m thinking Sew Beautiful, but would love to find it!

    Reply
    1. Kathy Post author

      Thank you! The scalloped top and pants were published in Sew Beautiful magazine – Summer 2011. the Matryoshka was published in late 2010 – just the smocking design.

      Reply

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