The fabric of life

For years, we in the United States have enjoyed very low prices on cotton quilting fabrics–somewhere in the range of $8 to $10 per yard for local quilt shop quality fabrics. However other regions, including Canada and Europe, routinely pay much higher prices. A meter of fabric in Canada is closer to $20 than $10. I have Canadian friends who use every excuse to cross the border just to shop at a U.S. quilt shop. To them it’s like a half-price sale!

If you’ve gone shopping for fabric lately though, you have probably noticed that prices are going up. There are several reasons for this – all of them completely beyond your shop owner’s control.

  • Natural disasters and extreme weather in regions where cotton is grown–including Texas, Pakistan, and China–have lead to a shortage of cotton worldwide. As with any commodity, the rules of supply and demand apply. As the supply goes down, the cost goes up.
  • The U.S. dollar is weaker than it was. In countries where fabric is manufactured, our dollar is worth less and so it costs more to buy the finished product.
  • There are fewer cotton mills that can produce quilting cotton in the quantity and quality that quilters demand.
  • Duties on imported goods have increased.
  • Shipping costs have increased.

What does this mean for you and your quilting? Well, you may want to dip into your stash more than you have in the past. You may want to be more frugal with your precious fabric, keeping smaller scraps than before. You may want to buy cheaper fabrics (including the dreaded polyester blends) for practice projects, tote bags and other accessories, and other non-heirloom quilt projects. Keep in mind though that polyester is made from petroleum and the price of oil is not going to come down. So that “cheap” poly cotton is not as cheap as it used to be.

For people in cotton-growing regions of the world, the rising price of cotton is good news. It means that cotton farmers will make more money providing this now-scarce commodity. As this chart shows, the price of cotton has tripled since the beginning of last year. Only a small fraction of that goes to the farmers, of course, but as this article discusses, they are happy for even a small increase in their very small income.

Cotton February 17 2011 300x149 The fabric of life

Cotton price chart from Benzinga

How will you deal with the rising price of cotton quilting fabric?

About Kelly M. Smith

Kelly is Senior Editor of Quilters Newsletter.
This entry was posted in Kelly M. Smith and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to The fabric of life

  1. Centella Tucker says:

    When traveling in Europe last year, I thought that fabric would be a good souvenir to use in a quilt when returning home. First, it was very hard to find a fabric shop. I found ONE in Florence. Second, a meter of cotton fabric (one meter wide, too) cost 75 Euro — yep, $100. So I bought some ceramic plates.

    In Liverpool, I found some fabric tucked into the back of a department store. The cost was about $30 per yard, and it was Amy Butler prints that I can get in the US for $10. I bought socks for my grand-daughters.

    I know what a bargain we have — and yes, our costs are rising. I agree that we should be good stewards of our resources.

    One more strategy to get the most from your fabric is to share with other quilters. Trade for colors, participate in your guild’s fabric exchange, find a friend who hates your favorite color and is willing to part with it.

  2. Ros Akilapa says:

    I live in London in the UK and most good quality quilting fabrics cost in the region of £10 per metre. I am looking forward to a trip to the USA and Canada in the summer so that I can see a wider range of fabrics to buy. I dye most of my own plain fabrics.

  3. Wow, Centella – $100/meter?
    My friend lived in France for a few years and she was able to find a fabric shop, but it was expensive. She definitely stocked up on fabric when she came back home to visit though!

  4. Karen says:

    One can find fabric for decent prices if you look for it. I go to a lot of the on line shops and look through the clearance and sales. You can find a lot of fabric that way and replenish the stash. It will be hard to spend $10 a yard but I know I will sometimes but mostly I will be shopping the sales and using my stash.

  5. Else Marie Herskind says:

    I live in Denmark, and here we have to pay about 27 – 30$ per meter for “the genuine” patchwork fabric. Even when I include shipping and taxes it is a great deal to buy fabric on the internet in the US.

  6. Pat Hersl says:

    I try to buy at sales only and, every once is a while, the cotton devil takes control and I splurge on something that calls my name. Now I’ll probably do less shopping, work from my very flush stash, and only fill in when absolutely necessary. Just hope the magazines and books take note and give us more patterns with an artistic flair, less reworked ones with the only purpose of showing off a new line. I addition, I would hope that most of the fabric companies out there wise up and delete the junk and poor designs. I look at this as the opportunity to have years of quilts and patterns worth the time and expense involved in their making.

  7. Brita says:

    Thank goodness I have a great stash! I worked in a fabric shop for quite awhile, and never brought home money :-) Now I can shop my stash, and be perfectly content. Oh, um, except for those “modern” fabrics I’ve bought lately. However, now I can buy just a few pieces that I love.

  8. Kitty Piët says:

    If you are in Europe and want to find a quiltshop somewhere, try the website of Arnout Cosman: and you will find the real quiltshops instead of the fabricshops. Here in the Netherlands the prices are not so bad, 16 or 17 euro.

  9. Doreen H. says:

    I live in Canada so am very aware of the difference in cost between buying locally and buying on-line and this is before we even start looking at expected increases. I feel very torn because it is important to me to support my local quilt shops, but also am in retirement so have reduced and fixed income issues to deal with. I think it is important that we support our local shops if we hope them to still be here when things come back to normal. They will be stuck with having the high cost cottons still on their shelves long after prices have come back down and all their customers (us) will be complaining about it. But, at least pray that they will still be there for us and understand they also are going to find this very difficult to stay afloat. I suggest if you are a dedicated quilter you remember that without your local quilt shop, the comraderie, classes, and consultation will be a lot more difficult to access and these things are (or should be) just as important to enjoying your hobby as cost is.

  10. BJ says:

    The one place that I was surprised not to find anyone using,,,,,,,the closet. Yep, the old things that are a little worn or have been out grown. These are usually already your favroite colors, and are bigger than the scrap pile. This was used by our Great Grandparents, and most of the poly will be here when we are long gone. so why not use them in your fav Quilts? I save the jeans and have made jeans quilts with the pockets on them for my college boys, and now my grandsons have them. The price is great too. Already paid for.

  11. lilmouse534 says:

    I have already been informed by family that due to financial strains I will be shopping my stash; but at least I have a large stash and love to make scrappy quilts…so no real hardship here until I go to buy more batting and then I will probably cry!

  12. Pam H says:

    Well folks just be glad you live in Canada and USA. Here our patchwork fabrics are $24-28 and the dollar is on par with the US dollar. We too are buying online and even with airmail postage it is way cheaper!! You are right about travelling Europe. There are very few patchwork shops anywhere. The best I found were in Tonsberg and Oslo in Norway,

  13. Joanne says:

    Applique! It takes small pieces of fabric and a long time to complete a project and yet will keep you busy and make a beautiful project. A fat quarter can last months doing applique though you may need a few of them. Me, I go stash mining for mine. No use spending on things when I have them at home.

  14. sandy says:

    It seems like prices go up everytime we order fabric.
    We have decided to try and buy the older collections
    and hopefully they will be cheaper thus allowing us to keep alot of our products at the lowest possible cost.
    My question to everyone would be do you prefer the newest
    collections or would you buy older ones if they are more cost effective?

  15. Liz says:

    I agree with BJ about using old clothes. I shop thrift stores for clothing to wear and for clothing that can be cut apart for quilts. Once in a while, I’ve even found fabric and uncompleted quilt blocks.

  16. Marcia says:

    Another great place to buy fabric is at yard sales. This past summer, I found some beautiful fabrics at a fraction of the cost and was really able to increase the size of my stash!

  17. Debbie says:

    Here in Australia we pay $24 and up for our fabric. At present our $ is on par with the US$ but our fabric prices never come down. We were paying this amount when our dollar was only worth 70 cents US. We shop online and as a result I regret, we are losing our local quilt shops and their expertise. Someone over here is making money on fabric but I don’t know who.

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