At the “Quilter’s Gathering” in Nashua, New Hampshire, I attended a lecture called “Behind the Scenes: The Making of Fabric” conducted by Marianne Elizabeth. I was excited to attend this lecture, because I knew nothing about fabric design or production.
Marianne is a great speaker. She has incredible passion for her vintage designs and spoke for 90 minutes without notes. She also answered a wide range of questions about the fabric design and production process over the last 200 years.
Marianne researches her fabrics at the American History Textile Museum in Lowell, MA. (http://www.athm.org/) Until this week, I did not know that such a museum existed. Her designs are transformed into CAD programs at the mills and printed in Japan.
It was interesting to me that, although we think of fabric companies (Moda, Northcott, etc.) as manufacturers, they are actually known as “converters.” They design and market fabric, but all manufacturers print at the same few textile mills. The quality of the plates and dyes does not vary between quilt shop and mass marketed fabric — but the grey goods used for production (ie the unprinted fabric) can vary greatly in quality.
She said that most manufacturers do one 3,000 yard run per fabric and that’s it. So if you like a fabric — buy it now!
One thing I found interesting was how you make a line work together — but how each fabric must function on its own. Apparently many (most?) quilt stores do not group collections together, assuming they even purchase more than a couple of bolts from a collection. Rather than being grouped together, fabrics are separated and stored with like colors and designs.
As an aside … I think this is one reason I like online shopping. Collections are shown together, and you know that your purchases will match and make something spectacular. I had no idea that, hidden in my local quilt shop, may be several collections that had been divided up.
Although I am not a fan of vintage fabrics, I have to say that her fabrics are beautiful. Yes, I had to buy some for a future quilt.