Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Testing Fabric Samples

Testing Fabric Samples

I like to order white fabric in large quantities, like 50 yards or more at a time.  When I start dyeing fabric or batiking, it seems to disappear faster than my ideas...  Unfortunately, my supplier is having quality control issues, and I needed to find a new supplier. So I set up a test for the following fabrics:

Kaufman white cotton pimatex, 44" wide from my local quilt store (not PFD)
Testfabrics, 58" wide cotton broadcloth, 419W
Jo Anns Legacy bleached cotton muslin, 108" wide
Dharma: merc. combed cotton broadcloth, 59" wide
Dharma combed cotton lawn, 57.5" wide
Dharma sandwashed cotton broadcloth, 60" wide
Dharma PFD (prepared for dyeing) pimatex cotton 45" wide

And since all the fabrics look basically the same before dyeing, I had to devise a system to keep track of them.  You could just write on the fabric with a permanent marker....but I decided to use color coded safety pins with beads.  I put a sample pin with a colored bead (or two!) on a small piece of the original, stapled it into my book, and then put it on all the little 5" squares that I used in the test.
I wanted to dye samples and see which one took dyes the best.  They also had to perform a batik test.  This consists of batiking the dyed fabric, bleach discharging, overdyeing, and then boiling out the wax.  Some commercial cottons cling to wax, horribly, and I did not want to order a big bolt of something that did not easily release the wax. I tried 5 different colors of dye, pink, two red samples, and two orange samples.
You will notice that one of the columns of samples towards the middle that all the squares dyed fairly lightly compared to the others.  So, it does matter which fabric you start with!  Also, I noticed that some of the samples did well with some of the colors, but not with the reds!  Very interesting! That could get complicated pretty quickly, trying to maximize dye color with each type of fabric, so I decided to just pick the one that dyed the most colors the brightest, and there were two clear winners, the muslin from Jo-Anns and the broadcloth from Testfabrics.  Although the others were also close enough that I would consider them as well.  Only one fabric failed the test and I would not choose it, Kaufman's pimatex from my local quilt store.

Next, the batik test.  I also wanted to note that these tests were done on a fat quarter size of fabric.  And because most of the fabrics passed the test, I now have quite a nice stash that will become a new quilt.  BONUS!!  All the fabrics passed the batik test except two.  The cotton lawn, which I loved because it dyed very bright colors and had such a nice light hand to it. The wax clung to it as it was drawn out of the boiling water and was a bit difficult to rinse out in cold water. The muslin from Jo-Anns also failed, it was exactly the type I hoped to avoid, the wax seemed to migrate into every fiber on the sample and not come out.  Very frustrating!

Which fabric will I ultimately buy?  It also depends on cost, which I will talk about on my next post.  I can say that regardless of the fact that the muslin from Jo-Anns failed the batik test, it does come in such a lovely width, 108"!  Wow!  And it takes dye very nicely!  It would be perfect for the back of quilts, or possibly large whole cloth quilts (as long as I avoid trying to put wax on it!!).


linda colsh said...

good on you for doing extensive testing to find the best fabric at best cost for your individual needs!

My shipping circumstances are unique: what has worked best for me is Fiber on a Whim for pima, kona and lawn. They have periodic sales, ship via USPS (free shipping over a certain amount--I think $100). Dharma is also good, but shipping can be high to get here. Dharma's wide lawn is unfortunately discontinued. I will again buy from Testfabrics (very helpful people--individual attention is great) whenever we move stateside again.

Vicki @ DottyJane said...

Very useful information! I'm a new dyer and haven't extensively tested fabrics in this way, so I appreciate you sharing this.


teri said...

Thank you Kathy, for going to all this trouble. Your information is so very helpful!!

Kathy York said...

Linda, sorry your shipping precludes you from using Testfabrics. However, it is great that you have found a suitable substitution! I will check out Fiber on a Whim too!
Vicki and Teri, the testing did not take that long and suits my science background. Glad it can be useful to you, and hoping it will be useful for others!

Carol Soderlund said...

Kathy, are you sure the Pimatex from your local quilt shop was PFD? Robert Kaufman makes Pimatex that is PFD (prepared for dyeing) and Pimatex that is not.

Yours looks like Pimatex that is not PFD. I have tested extensively too (but not with wax--that is very interesting) and Pimatex PFD comes out as dark as Testfabrics 419M.

That said, I love Testfabrics products and have bought a lot from them!

Thanks for sharing your results.

Kathy York said...

You are right, the pimatex from my local quilt store is NOT PDF. I knew that when I bought it. Just wanted to see the difference, and my local quilt store does not sell PDF. Anyway, if you wanted a variety of intensities, you could mix different types of fabrics and get a range of colors. An upside of using fabric that is not PDF. Also, I didn't mention this, but I wash all my fabrics before dyeing. However, I do not use anything special to prepare them for dyeing. I was just commenting how interesting it is the things I choose to be lazy!

Unknown said...

Fantastic Kathy! Thanks for sharing all your hard work. I have been very disappointed with the supplier of the cotton sheeting I use lately too, maybe it's the same one? The thread count went down significantly from what they sold previously and I now have 25 yards of 60" fabric I do not want to use. Frustrating! I am anxious to hear which one you deem the best. I don't like to order from test fabrics because they dont have a direct order easy to use website, I always find myself wanting to place orders late at night or on weekends.

Norma Schlager said...

What an interesting post, Kathy, and thanks for doing all that work for us. I used muslin from Joanne's for years before a I got a free sample of Test Fabric 419. I was amazed at the difference in the color saturation and the color fastness. That's all I use today. However, I do use their 400M, a looser weave than the 419, for backings and for shibori. I can scrunch up tighter on a pole with the 400M.

Vivika said...

Very interesting... thanks!!!

Sarah Ann Smith said...

Thanks so much for doing the testing and sharing the results. I wish I did more dyeing of fabric than I do, and batik is one of those "in the future" things. I have lots of the TestFabric on hand...but for those who don't know them, would you be willing to include item number/ bolt end information and a website link? THANKS!

Kathy York said...

Hey Sarah,
I already put a link on my sidebar to Testfabrics. Tomorrow when I post about prices, I will put a link in my post to them. And give the item number!
Regarding is fun and empowering.. You get to be the fabric also get to let go of control, as the wax can be a bit drippy! But I LOVE it!

Kathy York said...

I did not like the 400M, the print cloth, and I don't know why..Biased to a more substantial weave perhaps? I am learning that one fabric cannot meet all my needs though. So next time I am trying shibori, I will take your advice and try the 400M! Great idea!

Glenda said...

I think all of us hand dyers are sitting with similar problems.

Most of the PFD fabric now available is made in either China or Pakistan and is intended for continuous ( mill) processes. THis means that the fabrics are not mercerised to the standard that is good enough for hand dyers and we see the results in the not so brilliant colours and problems with the reds and possibly with some of the blues.

I have just tested some new PFD which has been mercerised to my specifications and I am a VERY happy dyer!

I have been battling for over two years with the available fabric and have had to make huge adjustments in my formulations. The new fabric with my specs has its luminosity back and the colours are back to where they were when I was getting really well mercerised fabric.

One of my tests for a well mercerised fabric is how well the fabric irons after dyeing. A fabric that is not well mercerised tends to keep its creases no matter how much one irons.

However, everything comes at a price and my mercerising specs will add another $ per meter to the current price so I have to decide whether it will be worth my while in a VERY price conscious market.

Kathy York said...

Thanks so much for leaving your comment. I am curious where you get your PDF now! And thanks for clearing up what mercerized means. I have googled it and still don't have a firm grasp on it's significance. But, I am well aware of the issue with the creases....
Thanks again!

Loris Bogue said...

Great information, Kathy! Have you tested Dharma's sateen? (I recently bought some.)

Kathy York said...

I have not tried the sateen. I'd be curious to see what you do with yours though! Thanks for writing!

Lisa Call said...

I've been wondering why your pimatex didn't dye well and I finally notice your comment about not using the pfd flavor. Bummer as it is a fantastic fabric. Not really and apple to apples comparison - it is not the pimatex that is the issue but the preparation of the fabric.

One thing you haven't tested or compared is how well the fabric behaves when you use it. In my experience heap muslins tend to handle poorly when cut and pieced, especially on bias, but high quality tightly woven fabric like a pimatex handles beautifully. Can you speak to this in a future post? I'm curious how you feel they perform.

Most stores don't sell pimatex pfd so I started selling it from my website from a single bolt (15 yds) up to 200 yards because when I wanted to use it, I couldn't find it in retail stores either. When purchased this way it costs as little as $0.48 a square inch up to about $0.60 (includes shipping costs). So in line with your other samples.

Kathy York said...

Thanks for writing!
Regarding the pimatex pfd. I did use a pimatex pfd from Dharma. And I used one pimatex (not pfd) available locally. The non pfd one did not do well at all (not surprising). The pfd one did okay, but not great. It still did not dye as brightly as the Testfabric broadcloth, at least for the reds. And there are a lot of factors that affect dyes.

For the batik work, I need fabric that is tightly woven. I think the broadcloths work great for this. You are right about the muslin. I am planning to use it just for quilt backs. It tends to unravel a lot, which makes fused edges look messy.
I suspect that my results may not be suitable for everyone. However, it is really interesting to hear about everyone's experiences with different fabrics and different dyes. And it is good to know that you are a source for pimatex pfd!

As for piecing, it is unlikely that I will be doing much of that. But I would be glad to follow up regarding how the fabrics do with quilting.

Lisa Call said...


The only pimatex I've ever used is Kaufman so I can't comment on the one from Dharma. Wonder if they are different? Probably - it's all a mystery :).

Years ago I switched from test fabrics 419 to Kaufman pimaxtex as I preferred how the Kaufman handled when sewing and I liked how it took the dye better.

Looking forward to hearing how you feel the fabrics performed when quilting. Thanks again for doing this testing and sharing your results.

Sarah Ann Smith said...

Thanks Kathy! Love the daisy.... hopefully I'll get life in control enough to dye some fabrics one of these days and actually TRY my tjantjing!

Anonymous said...

I bought some Legacy fabric from JoAnn's in CA last spring to dye. It worked beautifully. I taught a class in MI, in the fall, and bought more Legacy there. It did not take the dye at all. Same technique, same amount of dye. MI samples came out extremely pale. Dyed another brand of fabric using the same technique and it dyed as expected. I won't be buying Legacy anymore. It is too unpredictable.

Kathy York said...

Thanks for your info about Legacy from JoAnns. I bought some recently too, for the backs of two large quilts. It shrank 20% in width, making it just slightly too small for my quilt backs. SO annoying!! It dyed nicely though, but I still had to piece the back, which I was trying to avoid. The problem you had with the dyeing is strange. Did you try to take it back and get a refund? I really appreciate your input, thanks for writing! Also not a Legacy fan anymore....

Claudia said...

What is the difference between 400, 400m 419 etc.? PFD or not. I am aiming for a cotton that will take up the dye well (bright) and will handle well when sewing for quilt making. I am not familiar with TEST but it sounds like that is a very good fabric for dyeing. Can you recommend which of the above #'s would be the closest to what I am looking for. Just for the record, I tried Joann's muslin and it took up the dye beautifully, but as mentioned , it frays a lot... I tried pima PFD cotton and am disappointed with the outcome. The colors are much paler...lacks the intensity. Thank you for sharing all this info, I will eventually be venturing into batik (I have all the materials, wax tjang, etc.) Just need to feel more confident. I will keep referring to your posts as they are so informative. Claudette

Kathy York said...

Hi Claudia V,
Thanks for your questions. It was so long ago now, I don't quite remember why I choose the selections that I did. If you are curious about the 400, 400m, 419 etc., you should call TestFabrics. Their website has a phone number and they can tell you more about their products. I do remember picking one of them just because it came in a 58" width, which allows more fabric for each yard than the standard quilting fabric (42" width). Dyeing fabric can be an inconsistent process. I am not sure on any given day that I will get the exact same color even if I follow the same procedures. Sometimes, the temperature of the water may be different, or the weather may have different temperatures while the dye is processing on the fabric. Even though I write copious notes, it doesn't always dye to the exact color I expect. Back in 2012 when I wrote this post, I really liked tightly woven fabrics because the batik gives a much sharper line (than on a loosely woven fabric). The testfabric, 419W is a broadcloth, which means tightly woven. However, if it is tightly woven, it is in general more difficult to stitch through. I don't notice the difference so much when machine quilting, but can really tell the difference in hand quilting (a slightly looser weave is much easier). Ultimately, you will probably have to try a lot before you find one that is perfect for you. It is good to keep notes though, and samples of your work, to remind you as time goes by. I rarely dye fabric anymore, as I have been drawn into the world of modern quilting, and so many beautiful solid colors are available commercially. I would love to encourage you to go ahead and try your hand at batik. It may not be perfect the first time, but that will be okay. You will never get better skills or greater confidence if you don't start! :)