Counting threads

Last Friday I went to along with Katy, Claire and Rachel to meet Pat Bravo, designer and owner of Art Gallery Fabrics. I've only recently become aware of Art Gallery and hearing Pat talk about the organic process that led up to the birth of the company was fascinating. The number of ranges released in a relatively short space of time, as well as the designers they've brought in with them (Bari J and a soon to be released collection from illustrator, Sarah Watson) suggest it's a fast moving snowball that's getting bigger by the minute.

Katy had told me a month or so ago that she thought Art Gallery Fabrics' quilting cottons may be suitable for dressmaking and she'd be interested to know what I thought. One shouldn't doubt Katy as she really does know fabric inside out...but I did, because I loathe using quilting fabric for dressmaking. But I was wrong and I'll admit that (lines directly stolen from Dirty Dancing - if you can't place them, it's the bit at the end when Baby's father eventually realises that Johnnie was perfect husband material afterall, and now used on my blog at the bit where I have the epiphany that certain quilting cottons can make excellent dressmaking material). Here's why: Art Gallery Fabrics use a 200 thread-count base cloth across all their ranges, meaning that instead of a material with a visible, coarse weave, you just see a smooth, high-quality finish.

I thought I'd try to demonstrate the difference as I know if I hadn't seen it for myself I may still be feeling doubtful. In the picture above, the sample on the left is a quilting cotton from a popular range of solids and on the right is an Art Gallery Fabrics' solid quilting cotton. You can see that the fabric on the left is very clearly what we've come to view as a standard quilting cotton: a coarse, visibly open weave with a low thread count. Even when I'm not considering fabrics for dressmaking, I've often harrumphed about not having a love for quilting cottons - I've never understood why all these amazing prints that are available must be printed onto such a utilitarian, untactile base cloth. I think that most quilters have an innate love of texture and touch, as well as colour and pattern and the current range of base cloths available often feels like an insult to this. I think that manufacturers have fallen back on the argument that quilting cottons need to be hard-wearing, slow to fray, and easy to cut and sew, but Art Gallery Fabric base cloth fulfils all of that criteria and so, I hope, will set a precedent for a better quality of quilting cotton within the industry. Wouldn't it be wonderful if every designer range was available in a form that made it just as suitable for dressmaking as quilting? And that made quilts feel more luxurious?

But back to discussing their use as dressmaking fabrics. When we met with Pat (and Art Gallery Fabrics' UK distributor, Hantex) there were many samples of the cottons made up as dresses, which completely sold me on the idea that these really were suitable for garment construction. The drape is good and very slightly less starchy and crisp than the wonderful 200 thread-count cotton produced by Cloud 9 for their Premium Cottons range. It's a perfect option for more structured dresses, as well as being perfect for dresses you don't feel inclined to line.

In terms of prints, I'm increasingly as picky about what I'll use for dressmaking as I would be if I were shopping for clothing, as things that are overly patterned just don't get worn: I like very reserved, minimal prints and, apart from the solids, very few of the prints in the current ranges fit my personal taste, other than perhaps the one below (although that's not to say that I wouldn't love them in quilt-form or as dresses worn by someone with a more flamboyant style).

However, there are exciting things to come that I really do love.

The fabric above is from the forthcoming range 'Indie' (which I believe Claire may be stocking at Patch Fabrics in the future) and instantly made me think of a Diane Von Furstenberg print (my sister's wardrobe is filled with these, so they feel familiar and instantly recognisable).

And above are some of the voiles. I have completely fallen for the blue one on the left. These voiles are almost identical to those produced by Free Spirit (who manufacture Anna Maria Horner's voiles) - so wonderfully soft, and excellent quality with a lovely drape. From memory, I think the voiles will be available from August or September.

I think Art Gallery are fairly widely available overseas, but if you're searching for them in England, then The Village Haberdashery currently stocks the entire Rhapsodia range.

That was the day that inspired me to begin on some English Paper Piecing as it involved nearly five hours of train journeys. It's odd how it's caused me to set off an entirely different sort of journey in sewing terms. It was wonderful to meet up with lovelies who I'd previously only known online, see strokable fabrics and drink a new flavour of Teapigs (Super Fruit, in case you're wondering - I never drink fruit teas, but this was something entirely different and very delicious indeed).

Florence x


  1. One of the reasons quilting cottons are generally on a more open weave base cloth is ease of needling for hand quilting. The higher the tread count the harder it gets (there are always exceptions to this rule ,such as Tana Lawn). I'd be very interested to try these Art Gallery fabrics and see if they're another exception.

    I'm looking forward to seeing what you make with them too Florence.

    Ruth x

  2. That's really interesting, Ruth, and something I hadn't even considered. I tried to find out what thread count Tana Lawn was before writing this post but failed to turn up anything other than 'very high', but it's not got quite the same feel anyway - Tana Lawn is softer, lighter weight and drapes slightly differently. Do you want me to pop a fat quarter of Art Gallery in the post to you for research purposes?

    By the way, I currently have a stack of Kaffe prints waiting to be turned into a quilt and the glorious colours and prints have totally eclipsed the offensive base cloth for me on this occasion! :)

  3. As a dressmaker, I'm not opposed to using quilitng cottons for dressmaking, but it depends on the type. Art Gallery is definitely up there, so are some Japanese fabrics, so long as you stick to structured garments. :) I look forward to seeing more of your creations with them.

    1. That was my feeling - that they'd be better for structured dresses. I could imagine the new Sewaholic Cambie pattern working well with them as it has a very fitted bodice. I'd be less inclined to use it for smock tops and more free-flowing garments.

  4. Hmm, I've got several yards (yes, yards - annoying Americans!) of various Cloud 9 prints that I really want to wear, but will probably look all wrong as clothing.

    By the way, Florence, yesterday evening I was feeling very tired and decidedly grumpy, and bored of everything on the internet, so I decided to randomly dip into your archives, and it was just the thing. Thank you!

  5. Translating pattern on fabric into clothing is a lesson I have not yet properly learned. My fabric (and yarn) stash is full of fabulous bright colour combinations that I just had to buy yet when I come to think what to make with the stuff all I can think of is quilts and afghans. When shopping for ready made clothes I always make a beeline for soft subtle colours but somehow I just never learn. I am simply not to be trusted in either a fabric or a yarn shop

  6. I've been looking forward to reading this post as I am a big fan of Pat Bravo and Art Gallery Fabrics. I am very jealous that you got to meet her! I like the fact that it doesn't fray too much when having its first wash after purchase. I made a skirt from one of their fabrics a while back and it had a lovely hang to it.

  7. Sorry to bump up an old thread.
    But thank you for all the info on the voile line. It has been difficult to find the differences between voile and their 100% PIMA cotton. Your article was helpful


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Florence x