My Cotton Choices

A few months ago I thought it would be nice to make some ice dyed baby blankets. As with everything new that we try, the process involves experimentation, trial and error, mistakes and mishaps.

Sewing, in general, is a fairly new skill for me and I still have lots to learn.

I wanted to make double-sided blankets. I thought I could use a solid color cotton flannel for one side, and the other side would be an ice-dyed side. First I tried cotton muslin because I had some leftover. It dyed beautifully but isn’t so soft to the touch. That could be a problem for baby.

Then I tried cotton flannel, and granted – I bought the cheap kind at local big box hobby store – but it pilled…a lot. I then set out on a journey researching all things flannel.

I learned that better, less-pilling flannel exists, but it’s expensive. I also learned that there are certain ways to wash flannel…one of which is to wash in cold water. That’s great after the product is finished, but impossible for me in the production phase, because part of my process requires prewashing fabrics in hot water, and setting the colors in hot water.

I looked into rayon and bamboo, but these fibers can break down and lose their strength over time, especially with multiple washings as one is apt to do with baby’s clothes and blankets. They can also be a bit pricey.

So now I’m back to cotton. I like cotton because it dyes beautifully, but it has to be soft – and it can’t pill!

At this point . . . let’s just say that I fell into a rabbit hole. The different types of cotton fabric are just too many to name here. It’s overwhelming to have that many choices.

Perhaps my best bet is to use higher quality cotton sheeting that doesn’t pill…but is it worth it to buy Egyptian or Pima cotton for one side of a baby blanket? Umm…probably not.

What about Poplin? Oxford? Broadcloth? Double-gauze cotton? What’s the difference between all these words?

It’s all about the weave…

Many of these words define how the cotton fabric is woven. In the most basic terms of weaving, you usually have threads, or yarn going in two directions: horizontal (lengthwise) and vertical (widthwise). The lengthwise are warp threads and the widthwise are weft threads.

Poplin and Broadcloth are both high-quality dress shirt fabric. Simply woven in a symmetrical, plain screen-like pattern using fine, thin threads*. The weave is tight, making the fabric lightweight, smooth and silky in texture. The only significant difference between the poplin and broadcloth is that while broadcloth uses the same weight threads going in both directions of the weave, poplin can have different weight threads in the warp or weft.

* In an earlier post I talked about staple length in cotton. Only cotton with long staple length can handle the job of making long, thin threads…which yields the finest, softest fabric when woven together. It also makes the most expensive fabric.

You may have heard of ply in reference to knitting yarns. It’s the same for weaving. Two-ply means two yarns were twisted together to make one. Sometimes, a poplin shirt may be woven with a 2-ply thread on the warp, and 1-ply on the weft.

Oxford is also woven fabric, often used in shirts, but are a little more “casual” in the sense that they’re woven with rougher, coarser yarns. Also, the weave is different. They’re made in a basketweave, with twice as many yarns passing over each other, making a textured appearance.

Pinpoint oxfords are similar but their weave uses a slightly finer yarn and tighter weave, making it a little smoother than regular oxfords, but not as much as poplin. In this image, the pinpoint oxfords have twice as many weft threads as warp threads.

And while all this knowledge is great in terms of making dress shirts, I realized that I probably don’t need to use poplin, oxford or broadcloth for blankets. Like Pima, Pinpoint/Oxford fabric runs about $9-12 per yard.

Double-Gauze Cotton is lightweight, airy, and kind of feels like soft linen. It is so soft! Double gauze fabric is two layers of gauze tacked together with undetectable stitches so you get the weave and drape of gauze without the sheerness. It can be hard to cut/sew with because it slips a little. It’s durable though. I guess the only drawback is that it’s a little more expensive…about $8-11 per yard. Maybe I can find a sale somewhere…

That leaves Kona cotton. I used a lot of Kona when I made orders of table linens last year. It handled well. It had a soft, almost crisp feel to it. Kona is a 100% cotton broadcloth made by Robert Kaufman. It came on the scene in the 80s when quilting made a big comeback. Kona was made with a thread count of 60/60 to be lightweight yet retain its durability. I’ve also been able to find Kona and similar quilting broadcloth for decent prices. Perhaps this is the way to go. Plus, I’ve had so much luck dyeing and washing it.

I posted my question on a tie-dye group and many suggested Cotton Jersey. Why didn’t I think of this? This is what I used to make my reversible gaiters and headbands. It’s easy to dye, and although it’s a little hard to sew because it’s stretchy, it’s a great option. Also, I just happen to have ten yards of it lying around…

Of course…there is one cloth I hadn’t thought of . . . and all babies can handle it. It’s durable, can go through multiple washings, stays strong, doesn’t pill, gets softer over time . . . I’m talking about good ol’ diaper cloth!

Maybe I should try them all!

As for the solid side of the blanket, I’ll probably use an anti-pilling fleece because it won’t be dyed. It just needs to be soft. Not pillable (you can tell I’ve grown to loathe pilling just in the time it took to write this blog post). It will probably be made of polyester, which doesn’t sound very eco-friendly. And it may be a little more expensive, too.

Yet, when I think about life when my own kids were babies . . . just being able to throw their dirties in the wash and not think about it . . . was priceless.



Fabric weave illustrations provided by and