The Fabric Price Points
Ever wonder why some fabrics in the quilt shops are so pricey when you can pick up others at Wal-Mart on the cheap?
The answer, as it turns out, is all in the process. The main price differences between big fabric chain stores and quilt fabric stores is determined by something called greige goods (pronounced “gray goods”) and what happens to it. Greige goods is the unfinished fabric that has been removed from the knitting machine or loom. After the fabric is woven, it has to go through a number of different processes, such as:
- Scouring: A chemical wash that removes impurities (like seed fragments) and the natural wax found in cotton. This leaves even the finest cotton fibers with a yellow hue.
- Bleaching: If a fabric is going to be dyed or printed with dark colors, only minimal bleaching is necessary. If a fabric is going to be white or a light color, much more bleaching is required.
- Mercerising: A treatment where a caustic soda solution is applied to the fibers causing them to swell. This allows the fabric to take the dye better and makes it feel nicer.
- Singeing: A process that burns off the surface fibers from fabric to produce smoothness.
- Raising: In some fabrics, this is a technique that pulls fibers up off of the surfaces to create a “hairy” feeling such as in flannelette.
- Calendering: A mechanical process where fabric is passed between heated rollers to generate different effects on the fabric (i.e. smooth versus embossed).
- Shrinking: Pre-shrinking the fabric at this stage means there will be very little shrinking after laundering once the fabric is used in a garment or quilt.
- Dyeing: Cotton is very absorbent so dyeing is a popular technique. To make sure the color stays colorfast, more complex chemistry is used during the processing and that makes the fabric more expensive. To keep costs down, a cheaper dye (which may not be colorfast) could be used.
- Printing: Printing a design on fabric may be done over the dye or it may be applied directly to the white fabric. The paste or ink used also must go through colorfast procedures.
- Finishing: Many fabrics have coatings on them to make them feel stronger or softer and to make the colors appear brighter. These finishings often include formaldehyde which helps to preserve the cloth and keep bugs out during the storing/shipping/selling process.
These are the processes that add value to the greige goods. Big chain stores purchase very large quantities of fabric, and because they need to keep their costs down, they generally order fabrics without applying many of the finishing processes. That makes the fabric feel more coarse when you touch it but also allows them to sell for less than the small quilt stores. The reason you spend so much more in a quilt store is that they are buying the better quality fabric (the fabric that has been through more of the processing). In general, the cost of making fabric is divided into direct and indirect costs. Direct costs would include things like: money spent on the raw materials, which accounts for almost 70 percent of total cost. Sizing and dyeing of the fabric takes about 4 percent, and production costs (which does not include worker wages) account for 8 percent. Worker salaries accounts for roughly the same as production cost at 8 percent. The indirect cost include things like: interest on loans, capital, overhead and administrative expenses. These costs usually do not exceed 15 percent.