Tips and Tutorials

The RST Guide to Cotton Solids: Choosing the Right Brand

There’s no getting around it: if you quilt, you definitely need a good collection of cotton solids. If you sew bags or clothes or home decor projects, you probably do too. But as far as solids go, there are so many choices. Some quilters and sewists swear by a specific manufacturer, while others only pick solids based on the prints they need to match. Each of the major fabric companies has its own line of 100% cotton solids, ranging from less than 70 colors to the now-famous 303 (ALL HAIL ROBERT KAUFMAN), but there’s a healthy assortment of smaller companies that offer high-quality fabric solids as well.

The RST Guide to Cotton Solids

With all the choices out there, I thought, why not consolidate the major companies into a cheat sheet? So I did. It’s sometimes hard to keep them all straight and remember which manufacturer makes the thinner fabrics and which have a slight sheen. Here’s a list of the top eight most popular solids—well, okay, seven plus one I really like—and some defining characteristics of each. (Note: I share some opinions here. YMMV.)

Kona by Robert Kaufman

Number of colors: 303
Color card: $30, widely available
Ease of matching with coordinating prints: 7/10. The sheer number of Kona colors available makes it unlikely that you’ll be able to find a match. However, Robert Kaufman does not publish (at least not on their website) which solids coordinate with each print collection. It seems like it would be easy, and it’s one of my big pet peeves for many of the fabric companies. Some RK designers, like Carolyn Friedlander, do publish solid coordinates for their collections on their own websites, which is nice.
Hand: Medium weight and thickness, with a moderately soft hand. Kona’s not the smoothest choice out there, but it washes up well and is perhaps the best quality of all the options on this list. It’s easy to see why these solids are likely the most popular brand.

Cotton Solids
FEAST YOUR EYES: The Kona #303 color card.

Pure Elements by Art Gallery

Number of colors: 66
Color card: $10, widely available
Ease of matching: 8/10. One on hand, it’s easy to match Art Gallery prints with solids, because the color palettes of the prints all make up one big mega-collection. With only 66 colors, if a Pure Elements solid looks like it will coordinate with an AG print, it probably will. On the other hand, 66 colors isn’t a lot; it can be hard to match AG solids with prints from other manufacturers.
Hand: You either love the feel of Art Gallery fabric or you hate it. It’s very crisp and feels thin between the fingers, with a slickness to it. It’s almost like sewing on paper (which makes it great for rotary cutting). Great for razor-sharp seam lines, not so great for draping.

Cotton Supreme by RJR Fabrics

Number of colors: 197
Color card: $20. I had difficulty finding them easily, but Missouri Star Quilt Co. does carry them.
Ease of matching: 6/10. Meh. The RJR website is not particularly helpful in determining which solids go with RJR prints (though Cotton + Steel provides the ones that match their collections). The printable online color card is a cute idea, but doesn’t work very well; printers and screens can’t match colors exactly, so it sort of defeats the purpose.
Hand: I have not personally tried RJR solids, but everyone I know who has raves about them. They are known to have a medium weight, very soft hand, and lustery finish. (Can anyone else speak to this?)

Bella by Moda

Number of colors: 178
Color card: $20, theoretically, though I have not had success in finding one lately. You?
Ease of matching: 8/10. Like the other manufacturers, Moda does not just up and tell you which solids coordinate perfectly with their prints. Why? I DON’T KNOW. They do, however, have the Palette Builder on their website, which allows you to upload a photo (or, conceivably, use one of their stock images of Moda prints) to determine which solids will coordinate. The accuracy of the match, however, depends on the computer algorithm rather than the Moda people just telling you what goes. I’m as yet unconvinced, but maybe it works? Has anyone had luck with this?
Hand: Moda is more lightweight and a bit smoother than Kona.  Some quilters have reported a slight stretchiness to the fabric.

Cotton Couture by Michael Miller

Number of colors: 150
Color card: $25, widely available
Ease of matching: 10/10. FINALLY. The names of the colorways of each Michael Miller print collection match the names of the solids for perfect coordination. THIS IS HOW IT’S DONE, PEOPLE.
Hand: My personal favorite solid, Cotton Couture is a medium-weight, high-density cotton. It has an extremely soft and luxurious hand without being too slick or stiff.

Designer Solids by Free Spirit

Number of colors: 100
Color card: Free Spirit used to make a color card, but it does not appear that they still do.
Ease of matching: 3/10. [Sad trombone.] Without a color card, it’s really hard to tell which solids match other Westminster fabrics. And with only 100 colors, one might think matching would be easier. Unfortunately, the Designer Solids don’t accurately correspond with all Free Spirit prints. This seems like a lost opportunity here.
Hand: Free Spirit solids have a nice medium weight and a pretty drape. Curiously, there is definitely a discernible “right” and “wrong” side to the fabric; one side has a pronounced luster and crisper feel than the other side, making it like two fabrics in one. Depending on your needs, this can be a blessing or a curse.

American Made Brand by Clothworks

Number of colors: 62
Color card: $10, widely available
Ease of matching: N/A. While American Made is part of the fabric manufacturer Clothworks, they are pretty much their own thang. Clothworks has their own organic solid line that likely corresponds with their fabric, and American Made is marketed toward a crowd more modern than Clothworks’ target, so I wouldn’t have much expectation for coordination.
Hand: American Made Brand solids have a thinner weight and rougher hand than most designer solids on the market. I’ve felt them but haven’t had a chance to sew them up yet, so my comments here are limited.

Spectrum by Makower UK

Makower UK is a British subsidiary of Andover and they produce some lovely solids. I accidentally bought some Spectrum one time, LOVED IT, started a project, and then needed more. Enter a months-long goose chase that took me over the pond to the UK! (And special thanks to Drygoods Design, who helped me finally ID my mystery fabric.)

Number of colors: 63
Color card: Not available, as far as I know.
Ease of matching: N/A. Swatch colors available on the website.
Hand: OMG, y’all. The Spectrum quilting cottons are divine. It’s a slightly looser/larger weave (so more like Kona than Art Gallery, say) but incredibly soft and fray-resistant. It has a lovely sheen but isn’t stiff or crisp. I really enjoyed sewing with these solids and would love to see them have more of a presence stateside. (Andover stockists: GET ON IT!)

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