Your (k)ona Might Not Be My Kona® Cotton




A new quilter mentioned today how nice and silky the fabrics in my quilt felt and she also mentioned how bright and clear the colors were and asked about the fabrics.

Like most projects quite a bit of my fabric had come from my stash so I hazarded a guess at the couple of places I could have gotten the fabrics naming a couple of my favorite online places such a Hawthorn Threads and Pink Chalk as well as my beloved local quilt shop Sew Bee It. 

In the process I mentioned the common phrase that "good fabric costs good money" and that with so much of it costing $10-12 or more dollars per yard some of my fabric was more than a couple of years old but keeping those large scraps of Kona sure paid off. ( I buy very wide solids thus they do cost more per running yard but this works out in ease of not having to piece things and the whole quilt work I am doing)

The quilt fondler looked shocked and said that she never paid more than $2 a yard for "kona" on sale and that the prices I was paying were highway robbery!

That is when it hit me... She had been dragged into the abyss of the great "kona" fraud and my mind spun about trying to find a delicate way to tell her this since honestly it never goes very well. In fact I thought about faking a kidney stone to get out of it. ( yeh, not nice)

In the end I went with the truth. There are various companies that use the word kona for their solid cotton fabrics ( I have even seen some that are poly!) but not all kona is created equal. To my mind there are a couple that have nice similar qualities and are most often found at quilt shops. These brands I feel comfortable buying and the biggest tip off is that they cost quite a bit more than the other pesudo-konas.

Side by side there is no comparison. Good fabrics have a smooth hand and a depth of color that you will not find in the other cheaper cottons. They shrink less and are a much better product for quilting that will last.
To my mind you cannot go wrong with Robert Kaufman Kona® Cottons or any solids that you purchase from an independent quilt shop. 

Where things start to get really murky is when you talk about your big chain fabric stores who are slinging their solid fabric for as little as $4 a yard and calling them kona ( notice little ~k~ and no registration mark)  I won't name names but the worst offended rhymes with Bo-Anns

Some of these large stores do carry good cottons but you have to know what you are looking for. First look at the end of the bolt. Do you recognize the name of the maker? If it is not a big name your chance of a quality cotton is drying up. Look at the price.. really good solids will be $6-7 or more pr yard for normal width (44/45in)

Last -feel it. Is it silky smooth, the the depth of color like falling into a vat of dye?  Or does it feel oddly over starched and the color is less vibrant and maybe is a bit dullish.  If so you probably have a lower  quality  fabric that while just fine for costumes might not be what you want to use in a quilt that you hope to be a family heirloom. 

So I told the fondler the truth, she huffed, and puffed and  said I was crazy that all kona is the same and that independent  quilting stores were just trying to over charge  and that she was loyal to her big-chain store for it's great prices.. 

 As the say.. you can't win them all!  But with a little detective work you can have great fabric if you know what you are looking for!

Happy sewing

19 comments:

A Quilters Playhouse said...

Thank you, Maddie. I have been guilty of buying my solids at that store and wondered why their "kona" fabrics were so dull. I thought "kona" was a brand name. Big mistake. Thanks for clearing that up. Do you have wide RK-Kona fabrics?

Gayle

Maddie Kertay- The Domestic Anarchist said...

Gayle, I think it is down right wrong for them to get to use the name but there it is. and the best we can do is to become educated about fabrics and how to buy the best for our money no matter if we have a lot or a little. Thanks for your comment.

Maddie

Katie said...

I know a lot of people that only consider the price. They don't seem to understand that there is a difference between inexpensive and cheap!!

moochie said...

Some piecers just want to make as many tops as they can, as fast as they can...stand up at guild meeting and announce 'I made this for so and so, and that for such and such'. Then after the 10th show and tell they sit down to some flat diet coke and floppy carrot sticks and go home to start all over again..... As a quilter, such disregard to quality materials drives me crazy! It is difficult to make cheesecloth look like silk! ARRRGGGGHHH. Get off your wallet, or invest in making just a few really nice quilts!!

Anonymous said...

Those non-konas will also fade much faster, so that they( the quilters) will get a real shock in just a matter of months to see the difference in a black border that has been left out in the sunlight. Even find that a fold line in much lighter when they go to cut the fabric. I've found that with our community quilts donation bin. Nina in BC

Cowtown Quilts said...

Thanks for the laugh today, Maddie! I overheard a quilter friend of mine (who uses only quilt store fabric) tell another lady when the other lady mentioned she uses chain store fabric... "Well, you've gotta start somewhere." ;)

Hartland Clubb said...

Dear Maddie
May we post a link to this blog post? We are an independent fabric and craft store that is a rural island in the middle of a sea of chain stores and internet sites selling the lower quality cottons. Independent quilt and fabric stores depend on good education and discerning customers.

Anonymous said...

Yes, it is a hard truth that ALL fabrics are not created equal. Thanks to Home Ec/sewing being cast off by the public schools, fabric education has gone by the wayside. Anyone wanting to begin sewing ought to take a simple fabric-educ class if they can find one. That, too, can be elusive! Ya can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. Just doesn't work. Don't buy fabs at big box stores unless you absolutely have to, because in the end you'll be disappointed by shrinkage, color-bleeding, low thread-count, cheap fibers. Woe to the quilter or sewist who purchases cheap fabrics there and expects superior results. Thanks for your column about kona. E. Hansen, Chester Co., PA

jomaj said...

I'm so thrilled you wrote this - and I've heard about "kona" fabrics at big box stores (which I loathe anyway) but never knew they were using a generic term. Good on you - I'll spread the word of this post!

Cassandra said...

It's easy for moochie to say "get off your wallet or invest" but some of us don't always have that luxury. When I started quilting, all I could afford is Jo-ann fabric. On sale. And I still think there's nothing wrong with that. Now I'm using a mix, some fabric from my LQS and some from the sale bin at Joann. It depends on how much money I have at the time and how badly I want to work on something. I don't have the luxury of being able to pull from a stash so all of my quilting happens when I go shopping. We do the best with what we can afford.

This isn't ranting against your blog post, which I think is great. It's important to know what you're buying and to decide if it's worth sacrificing quality for affordability. (Right now I'm piecing a top from two Moda charm packs I won in a giveaway. That fabric is WAY nicer than most of what I've purchased). But in some cases, it really is a choice between quilting with cheaper fabrics or not quilting at all.

Alli said...

Oh wowee, I didn't know "kona" could be a generic name! Thanks for pointing that out! :)

Vicki K. said...

A demonstration from the first quilting class I ever took has always stuck with me...

The instructor took 2 fabrics with the same pattern/print but one was cheap yardage and the other was quilt shop quality. She machine washed them each six times - the difference was shocking! The cheap yardage was extremely faded by contrast to the higher quality one that still looked bright and fully saturated.

I don't know how the strength and wearability compared but the difference above is something to consider when choosing your project fabrics!

Amy Wallace said...

I was gonna say the same thing:-) here in bama in my small town , I only have Wal-Mart:'( and it is tinnyy..lol ..but they do have us a small material section. It is all I can afford. Not only that but I am not gonna buy something that I can't touch first. I make quilt s and my childrens clothes from that cheap fabric and it still looks good after plenty of washin's. In my opinion it is all about how you sew and do your threadin..
:-P.

Chrissi said...

Mum always said that you get what you pay for - and I found that myself when buying sheets and bedding- some she used to say 'you can sift cinders through it' which meant it was such a low thread count that you could see through it I even found some towels are thin like that as well - not that I know anyone who quilts with towelling though

DonnaP said...

I used to work at the local "mart" store that has fabric. Some of their fabric by top name companies were the same design as the same fabric at a quilt shop but not the same quality. It got bought up right away.

Anonymous said...

This subject has been debated endlessly, and Robert Kaufman says it manufactures its Kona cotton in the same quality for all of its customers. You can read it at the source here:

http://www.swatchandstitch.com/all-about-kona/2010/9/21/what-is-kona-cotton.html

lej619 said...

thanks for clarifing!I have not researched this but,i have also heard that the big-box stores get the 3 or 4th run of the fabric. so they can still sell it as "name brand".
thanks

Seamster said...

The entire Kona-Joanne issue seems to be an ongoing debate. I found this post: http://www.trueup.net/2008/q-a/qa-washing-pre-cuts-and-kona-at-joanns/ that addressed it at one point. Maddie, have you contacted Robert Kaufman to see what they say? I'd be curious as to why they just don't put their name on the fabric sold at Joann's, if in fact it is their merchandise. Is there some agreement between Joann's and Kaufman to sell at a lower price if the brand name is not used?

DonnaRae said...

You are both correct and incorrect. There is a difference in kona. But not always is true. Remember don't go by how silky the fabric is. Mistake number one. The large fabric companies use lots and lots of chemicals to get that fabric nice and silky smooth. Real cotton is no way that silky smooth. As a matter of fact neither is silk! Many people also don't wash their fabric. Mistake again. Washing gets rid of a lot of those chemicals. So many quilters and sewers suffer from allergies, sinus problems and more and the majority of these same people don't wash their fabric.

Back to knock offs.
Some major stores sell the same fabric as Kona but at a lesser price. If the fabric (just like clothes) has a mar or goof up we shall say, then the company sells if off for cheaper to different stores. It does not get the high chemical treatment so obviously you will not have that silky smooth feel. Now I could go into how I know all this but to put simply I know someone who was in the fabric manufacturing businesses for forty years. I will end it there. Hope some of this info helps.