We know that when we purchase our bed linen the higher the thread count the finer the thread used and the better quality the linen is. Looking at the count in cotton fabrics used in quilting is exactly the same.
When counting the threads in both directions over an inch of fabric you are looking for 68 threads per inch, as this is considered high quality fabric by todays standards. If the count was 60 threads per inch then the fabric would feel thicker due to the thicker yarn used. The price would indicate this as well, as these fabrics are cheaper to buy. A word of caution here as some of the finishing and starching products in the fabric can also cause the fabric to feel thicker.
Knowing the count of your fabric will help you determine how long a quilt will last, whether batting showing through the quilt will happen and the percentage of shrinkage to expect.
Wouldn't it be fantastic if all fabric for quilting had this information on the bolt from the manufacturer!
Four to the inch graph paper
Strong magnifying glass
Sharp pointed tool eg pin or needle
1. Using a 2" fabric square remove a few threads from two adjoining sides (similar to fraying an edge).
2. Place the 2" fabric square over graph paper aligning sides of fabric with the graph paper lines.
3. Using a magnifying glass and pin count the threads in the first 1/4" grid square in one direction. Multiply this number by 4. This is the number of threads for an inch. Repeat the process in the other direction of the fabric.
Here in New Zealand school children from the age of approximately 11 years old (year 7 here) can become involved in Science Fair. This I feel would be an ideal time to choose 'fabric thread count' as a topic to experiment further.
If all this thread counting is not your thing - it is definitely not mine - then buy your fabrics from speciality stores eg your local quilting shop. There you are guaranteed to be buying top quality fabrics. Also there are many great online quilting stores as well all of whom stock top quality quilting fabrics.
Fortunately it's not necessary to count threads these days but it does pay to have an understanding of what makes a quality quilting fabric.