One of the first questions most people ask about rag quilting when learning how to make a rag quilt is, “What fabric do I use?” Originally, rag quilts were all about flannel. However, as more traditional quilters joined into the rag style, they dug into their beloved quilting cottons and found they liked the results. There is also a third fabric often used in rag quilts by beginners, fleece. I can only attribute this to the obsession of the local craft stores with fleece. Walk into any big box fabric store and it is everywhere, usually with giant sale signs attached, beckoning like a siren to new crafters. Much like the siren song of legend, however, fleece leads to ruin in rag quilting as it just does not fray. So, what fabric is best for rag quilts? Does cotton, flannel, or fleece fray better? Check out our rag test below and find out.
For the test we used 6″ squares X’d and seamed around the outside. We joined matching blocks so we could compare inside seams easily.
Rag Test Results
Worst – Fleece
As expected, fleece didn’t rag. The same properties that let you make those tied no-sew blankets, keep it from fraying in a rag quilt. Now, you can pull out each and every one of the cut pieces to make them curl a little, but it will NEVER fray.
2nd Place – Flannel
Flannel frayed very nicely. However, its thicker weave did slow down the process a bit. Expect to have to repeat the wash and dry cycle a few times to reach a full rag when working with a complete quilt. Washing with a few clean white towels will also help speed up the fraying by adding more friction during the wash and dry. It is also worth noting that the selvage edge rags almost exactly the same as the non-selvedge edges. If the selvedge edge isn’t printed or a different color, I wouldn’t worry about cutting it off.
1st Place – Cotton
Cotton, quilting cotton that is, frays beautifully and tightly. But which cotton? Is it name brand, is it local quilt store cotton, what is it? Well, in this example it is a mix. The white was a generic muslin (high thread count, not that cheesecloth looking stuff some stores try to pass off as muslin these days). The plain pink was Robert Kaufman Kona. And the darker pink with rose pattern (the backing, only shows as a darker pink in the ragging from the front) was a generic cotton found at a local quilt store. All three ragged the same. When shopping for cotton fabrics I recommend inspecting the cut edge of the bolt. If you see a few strands separating (pinch the edge between your fingernails and pull down the edge lightly), then chances are it’ll fray really nicely.
Please note that I contacted multiple name brand fabric manufacturers and they all confirmed that their fabrics are the same quality whether you buy them at a local quilt store, a big box store, or a discount store like Wal-Mart. In fact, to sell different products labeled as the same would be considered fraud. In other words, buy where cheapest or where you prefer to shop. If any shop owner tells you that their fabric is somehow better than the same fabric sold elsewhere, they are lying.