Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Why I love Kona

I mentioned last week that in my strip-piecing workshops in Cincinnati, I asked everybody to bring Kona cotton solid colors.  One reason for making people buy a specific fabric was that I planned to have them contribute strips to a community swap pile, and that sort of thing works best when all the fabrics have the same weight and hand.

But the other reason is that I just plain like Kona for piecing. 

Here's most of my Kona stash -- still haven't gotten it put away after my workshops.

I know that the choice of fabric is a very individual decision for accomplished fiber artists.  I know many people who won't work in cotton at all, preferring the luster and brilliance of silk.  Most people who dye their own fabrics are monogamously attached to their favorites, and that makes sense, because they  have invested a lot in knowing exactly how a particular dye is going to behave, and that will vary if you switch to a different fabric.

When I first learned to dye, I bought a big supply of Testfabrics 419, a mercerized cotton that is well regarded for its tight, smooth weave and its ability to take dye brilliantly.  I dyed up many, many gorgeous yards of the stuff before I ever figured out how to best use it in piecing.  And when I did, I learned to my dismay that my beautiful fabric really didn't like to be sewed up.  If you had to rip out and restitch a seam, or God forbid take out a quilting line, it was too bad because those needle holes would never disappear.  I never bought pimatex, beloved of Nancy Crow and many others, because I observed the same thing happening in their work.

Meanwhile, when I started using commercial solids almost exclusively in my piecing, I bought whatever brand struck my fancy or had the right color.  At first, that didn't bother me, but as my piecing started to get more intricate and the pieces started to get smaller and smaller, I noticed that combining fabrics of different weights led to subtle differences in how the piecing would press and lie.  Beefy fabrics like Kona would stand up higher at a seam than lighter ones like P&B, and sometimes seams didn't like to press flat because one fabric sewed tauter than another.

And I couldn't help but appreciate the fact that Kona comes in 220 colors!  You won't find them all at your local fabric store, but you can always order online if you need a particular hue, or if you need a whole lot of different reds or blues, as I did last year for two new quilts.

A whole lot of reds!!

So as I used up or segregated out my lighter-weight fabrics, I resolved to buy only Kona when I needed replenishments. 

And I needed a lot of replenishment, because for several years I went to Nancy Crow workshops for two or three weeks a year, and could easily use 20 yards of fabric each time.  Even after I accumulated boxes worth of leftovers, I would buy three or four three-yard cuts before leaving for the Crow Barn, in case I wanted to make a very large quilt with an abundance of a single color.

I like Kona because it's beefy, and thus has some substance, but also because it's not as tightly woven as 419 or pimatex, and thus a lot more flexible and forgiving.  If you piece a tight curve, and it's not exactly perfect, not to worry because Kona will press into shape.  If you have to rip out a seam, the needle holes disappear with a spritz of water and a hot iron.  If your quilt has a bazillion pieces, it will press flat unless you have screwed up terribly.  All these qualities are particularly important for relative beginners, which is why I like to request it for my workshops.  And it's widely available in chain fabric stores, if not in your local quilt shop.

Kona takes dye very nicely, perhaps not as brilliantly as pimatex but certainly adequate at a professional level.  I have bought PFD by the bolt so it's there if I want it, although I haven't dyed anything in years.  Much as I love the look of hand-dyed fabric, when you're going to cut it into pieces the size of postage stamps it seems like a waste.  Besides, I like the flat expanses of commercial solids, much as color field painters like Kenneth Noland used paints straight from the can and concentrated on the design rather than the nuances of mixed colors.

In the interest of full disclosure, I will testify that I am not on the payroll of Robert Kaufman, the manufacturer of Kona.  But if somebody in their marketing department would like to send me a truckload of it, I would sure cut and sew it up with great joy!  Either way, I will continue to tell everybody I meet that it's my favorite fabric for piecing and quilting.


  1. Thanks for this elusive praise of a kind. I have ordered several bolts to try it out for my next fabric club shipment - I have dyed it before and really liked it - and am curious to see which of the cottons I am now trying out over the year will end up as the final selection! This one, I think, is high on the list...

  2. Very interesting, Kathleen. You always inspire me and introduce new (to me) art and ideas. It is always good to hear from other quilt artists on their experience with fabrics.

  3. I have only recently begun using Kona solids, but I love them. My LQS carries mostly Bella solids which are nice, but there is something about Kona that is just better for me. After reading your post, I think it is the weave of the fabric that I like so much.

  4. Kona is my favorite solid color fabric also. I buy Kona Snow by the bolt. I have also dyed a lot of Kona and have been very satisfied with my results.

  5. Your post is exactly what I was looking for: The difference between Kona and Pimatex. Thank you.

  6. Me too :) I've been trying to decide between Pimatex and Kona - I've used and like the results with both. But this next project will require a LOT of fabric manipulation and I am doing a lot of experimenting. That in turn may require more ripping out than usual.
    So Kona it will be! Thanks for the post!

    1. Hope it works out for you! let me know