There are SO many different fabrics to choose from these days, where on earth do you start...?
What kind of fabric?
Well, quilting cotton is the most obvious to start with. It's a lovely mid-weight cotton that's soft enough to have a slight drape but also has some stiffness to aid in quilting & patchwork. In most fabric shops and haberdasheries this is the most common one that you will find. You don't have to just stick with quilting cottons, you can mix in others too, such as lawns & linens (these will behave slightly differently though, just something to be aware of!). The great advantage of quilting cotton is that there are often coordinating ranges available, meaning you can eliminate the whole "does that print work with the other" dilemma! I have a soft spot for 1930s reproductions as well as Bonnie and Camille ranges for Moda fabrics. Yummy...!
Lawns are also a lovely choice for quilting. They're lighter and softer with more drape (perfect for clothing of you're into dressmaking too). The most well know are Liberty Tana Lawns, who doesn't love a bit of Liberty?! I also managed to pick up some gorgeous lawns for my local haberdashery to make some tops with. I save my "scraps" for quilting.
Linens are a heavier weight with a more open weave. They add amazing texture to quilts when paired with cottons and lawns. I've recently started buying more linen and linen/cotton blends to add another look to my quilts. I've yet to actually use any so I'll update you with my thoughts when I do!
I stick to 100% cottons all the time. The only time I ever use poly/cotton blends is in vintage fabrics as the majority to tend to be a blend rather than 100% cotton.
What I would say is stick to the same fabric - cottons if you want to use quilting cottons and poly/cottons if you choose those. Don't mix and match as they will have different rates of shrinkage...
Shrinkage & the prewash/don't prewash debate!
If you read other blogs/books on this subject, you'll either be advised to prewash or not. It is advised from the point of view that cottons often have a small 1-5% shrinkage rate when washed. If you're buying large amounts of fabric (1m+) it might be an idea to wash, but only do so if you're going to wash all the fabrics you use to avoid shrinkage at different rates. I don't prewash as I tend to buy smaller amount of fabric & then buy larger amounts for backing when I need it. It's entirely up to you though!
I love vintage fabrics & collect fat quarters whenever I see them! I keep ALL scraps & store them in Kilner jars to use for covering buttons or other small projects
Cuts of Fabric
This confused me completely when I started.... Fat quarter, quarter yard, long quarter... Yep, it seems a lot of strange words and no numbers!
Most quilting cottons come in bolts (you'll have seen these in shops, where the fabric is wrapped around an inner piece of cardboard) and tend to be doubled over. These are typically 42-44" (106-112cm) in width and most patterns are based on the assumption that they are 42" (106cm) to allow for selvedges (at either end of the width of the fabric where it is woven tightly to stop it unravelling. They often have the name of the fabric, designer & fabric house on). If you ask for a half metre, it will be measured a half metre along the selvedge and cut across the full width of the fabric. So in essence you will get a piece of fabric that measures 50cmx106cm (20"x42").
Fat quarters are really popular in quilting as you get a decent sized piece of a fabric for a relatively small price, allowing you to buy a few that coordinate rather than sticking with only a couple. Fat quarters roughly measure 18x20" (46x50cm) and are cut from the selvedge towards the middle of the bolt (longer edge) and along the selvedge (shorter edge). I stick to buying fat quarters 90% of the time so I have lots of choice & variation in my stash. You can pick up fat quarters for £2-£4.
Long quarter are the same amount of fabric as a fat quarter, just cut differently! They are 9"x42" (width of the fabric) and cut 9" along the selvedge, and from one side of the fabric to the other. These are a good choice if you're using a pattern that you want to see a full repeat of in your quilt, or need a larger piece than 20" in a fat quarter.
There are also lots of "precuts" to choose from. I love these as firstly, it takes away the worry of cutting and secondly, they come in a full collection of that fabric line. Winner! You can also cut these down to get more sizes and shapes of fabric too.
Layer Cakes - 10" squares, often 42 in a pack & a selection from that range. These are my favourites. You can easily cut these down to make 5" or 2.5" squares. Around £30
Charm Packs - 5" squares, often 42 again & is a selection from the range. You can cut these down too of course & they're great for 2.5" squares and 5"x2.5" rectangles that are used a lot. Around £10
Mini Charm Packs - 2.5" squares, again often in packs of 42. These are great for smaller projects & to use as corner stones (more on those later!). Around £5
Jelly Rolls - another favourite of mine! 2.5" strips along the width of the fabric (42") and usually 42 to a pack although you can get smaller ones too. These are great for binding (as that is generally cut to 2.5") and also making simple strip quilts. You can also use them for sashing around blocks, as well as cutting into different sized rectangles and 2.5" squares. I love them! Around £30
There are lots of other cuts & precuts but these are the most common. Head over to an online fabric shop & have a look through the options that they have.
If you're not a fabric hoarder like me (yes, really bad!) then it might be a good idea to buy a fat quarter bundle from a range of fabrics - that way you know you'll have fabrics that are the same type, size and coordinate. No brainer really! Most shops sell these bundles, and they are either done by the manufacturer or by the haberdashery themselves. Kate at The Homemakery does amazing bundles of coordinating fabrics in small and large bundles so you can get a good selection without breaking the bank! All patterns will tell you the fabric requirements (American patterns will be in yards as well as fat quarters, annoyingly) so you really can just buy what you need.
One last thing before I leave this post for now....
DON'T THROW ANYTHING AWAY!
As a quilter you will learn to love and to use your scraps. Unless they're really tiny (less than an inch square) I keep them. I did used to keep colours together but I've decided that now it would be better to cut my scraps into squares so they're easier to use. I leave anything larger than 4"x2.5" alone so that I can cut those to size when I need them. I'm cutting 1", 1.5", 2", 2.5", 3" & 3.5" squares from my scraps & keeping them in Tupperware boxes to dip into when I need them. I have a larger box for the bigger pieces & also a box for any 2.5" strips that are 10" and longer to use for bindings. I put left over lengths of binding in there too. I'm a bit of an organiser so I love this kind of thing! It's boring yes, but will be great later on.
I think that's enough on fabric for now - it'll definitely be a common theme (obviously!) so if I come across anything useful I'll add it to the bottom of this post as I go along. Like I said, I'm no expert! I'm constantly learning :)