Crafting with Cotton

The real story about cotton fabric

The Mystery of Cotton

Cotton is a wonderful thing.  It’s a word that has been tossed around for so many things in the world that the exact meaning may not be commonly known anymore. Cotton Candy… is not really made of cotton.  Yet, the word is in the name of the food.  Cotton in the fabric industry is just as hard to understand for many people.  Trust us when we say that we KNOW the struggle with understanding cotton vs polyester vs blends vs …. the list can go on quite extensively.  So, let’s dig into Cotton since that is the big talking point these days! This article will only cover cotton in the fabric sense, though, not in food!

Colorful Fibers

Cotton is a Fiber

I could give you the exact details on how the cotton from a plant is turned into clothing, but that is both confusing and time consuming.  That gives you an idea of what cotton fabric is, though.  It comes from a plant originally.  Some other types of fabric come from synthetic sources.  So, the term cotton originally came from the cotton plant because the FABRIC was made from cotton. The problem is that there are many types of fabric that can be made with cotton!  I know, didn’t clear much up, did it?

Fiber vs. Fabric

What is the difference between fiber and fabric?  Well, the fiber is what is made into the fabric. Cotton is a natural fiber that is pulled from a plant and turned into thin strands which are then put together to make fabric. So, when you snag that shirt and you see little strands of fabric, those are the fibers! When people say they want cotton fabric, it makes it a little difficult to pinpoint exactly what they want.  Flannel, batiks, and knits are all made with cotton.

To be honest, it’s the fabric industry’s fault that this is so confusing. They call their novelty cottons just cotton fabric. There are so many types of cotton fabrics out there that it is important to understand what it is you want. So, think about your end result. What are you making? If you are using a pattern, they usually have the type of fabric that you can use, but do not always specify the fiber.  

Cotton Fabric

Common Types of Cotton

It is rather hard to look at something and know whether it is cotton or not unless you have worked with fabric for a while.  If you pick up novelty cotton and compare it to flannel, they feel completely different but are both cotton.  (We’ll cover some information about specific types of cotton in a bit.) Quilting cotton, novelty cotton, flannel, batik, denim… and many more. One of the problems is that each type of fabric that is made has to be named something to distinguish it’s purpose. So, something like pique is made with cotton yard but is named based on the weaving style of the fabric.  That might help a little when thinking about what type of fabric you want to use.  If you want cotton specific, though, make sure to check the label!  New stuff pops up all the time made with a cotton blend.  If you want 100% cotton, look at descriptions online and look at the end of the bolt for information on fabric before buying. 

Regular Cotton Fabric

In reality, there is not such thing as regular cotton fabric.  However, many quilters know that you can go into a store and ask for “regular” cotton fabric.  That is because it is typically called cotton fabric in the craft store.  There is also quilting cotton, novelty cotton, and character cotton. They are all typically made the same way, but some are definitely higher quality than others. Print on demand companies are offering up an even bigger selection of cotton options because they have to use specially made fabrics that can be used with printers to get images digitally printed.  We strive to find “regular” cotton fabric because we know that people love it and are most familiar with it.  You can browse a selection of what we’ve found at CraftyTwinsFabric.  

Other Types of Cotton

Flannel, knit, batiks, etc. are all “other” types of cotton.  Probably more because they are more of a recent style of fabric.  Remember that when cotton fabric by the yard was first coming out, it was used for specific things.  My Grandmother used to make clothes for her kids for years because it was cheaper than buying them. As life changes, though, it’s a little harder to make clothes for all of your kids! The types of fabric available in craft stores has changed drastically over the years.  Just in the last 10 years, the quantity available has increased in most stores (even before the pandemic) because of the specialty needs. Many types of cotton fabrics have been mixed with other fibers to create a new fabric.  Some knits are 95% cotton and 5% spandex to make sure they have a lot of stretch.  You’ll notice that 100% cotton Knits are used in loungewear and tops while cotton/spandex knits are better for tops, dresses, leggings, skirts and loungewear.  

What is the best cotton?

I think by now you know there is no answer to that question.  However, it’s important that you pick your fabric based on what you are going to be making.  It’s probably not a good idea to pick a knit for quilting. Don’t get me wrong, I see t-shirt quilts that are absolutely amazing and many of those shirts are made with knit fabric!  However, if you are making a basic quilt then you might want to stick with the stiffer materials to make it easier to put together.  There are some cotton fabrics that have been designed specifically for quilters that like a certain type of quality. Normally, they are called quilting cottons or if you want flannel then it is a Premium Flannel.  Some brands such as Timeless Treasures also specialize in higher quality cottons that are much more liked by some quilters.  

If you are making baby items such as receiving blankets, burp cloths, crib bumpers, or even pillow cases, pajama bottoms, or toys, then flannel fabric is a great options.  Flannel is another cotton fabric that we specialize in and have spent a lot of time tracking down so many designs.  You can see a large selection by visiting Snappy Baby

What About Masks?

Oh what a topic!  One of the hottest debates in the world was probably over what types of masks to use.  With major shortages all over the world during the Pandemic in 2020, it’s not surprising that cotton fabric was in huge demand all year.  As more and more masks are made, people are noticing that not all are made with cotton. Anything 100% cotton, including flannel, has been acceptable for making masks. However, many companies are making masks that have polyester and other fibers to create cotton blend masks.  It’s hard to know what is the best fabric to make a mask out of because even if testing was done all last year, those test results do not become official until they can duplicate the same results, usually multiple times. Cotton is definitely the “go to” fabric for masks.

Whatever you use, though, make sure it is breathable and covers your face. We know that face mask requirements are disappearing in some areas at times, but I know I’m keeping some of my favorite designs just in case.  If you want to use a blend, try to stay away from super thin fabrics because they are less effective. In fact, some fabrics were so thin that they were only 5% effective at filtering anything!  We have a plethera of shops on Etsy that have been making and selling masks since the Pandemic started, so if you need one, check out Etsy for some amazing masks or even some mask ideas!

Try It Out

Still don’t know what cotton is?  If you really want to know what cotton fabric is, the best way is to pick some up and feel it.  Many craft companies have cotton that you can buy online now because of the higher demand for fabric online. If you have a local craft store that you prefer to visit in person, just check their website and see if they have fabric. (Not all craft stores sell fabric in their physical locations but many will sell it online.) You can try it from a chain store or you can find a small quilting shop and see what the hubbub is all about. Although we think cotton is pretty awesome, there are some other wonderful fabrics out there as well. It’s really hard to know what you want unless you’ve worked with it before. So, try to get your hands on something so you can see what it feels like.  Remember, though, different types of cotton will feel different. Your best bet to figure out if you are using cotton is to check the label or description!

More About Cotton?

If you want to know more about cotton, there are a lot of resources out there.  You can always ask an employee at a craft store. Many of the people that work at the fabric stores enjoy working with fabric. If you have information on cotton that you think we need to tell people, send us a message!  If you have a shop, make sure to send in your shop story so we can put you on the website for other people to find you! We welcome questions, too. If you want us to track down answers about crafts, let us know through the contact page!