The walls and other areas of Charlotte’s Sew Natural in downtown Newton are lined in a virtual rainbow of colors in at least 4,000 fabric bolts, most of which are 100 percent cotton, a commodity that is seeing a price spike. Cotton has more than doubled in price in the past year, hitting all-time highs, according to the Associated Press.
Cotton is important to quilts, the quilting industry and the clothing industry. Cotton touches many parts of quilting, from the thread to the fabric to the batting.
The quilting industry and other trades dealing with cotton are seeing a surge in cotton prices.
However, Charlotte Wolfe, owner of Charlotte’s Sew Natural, and Charlotte’s Bargain Fabric and Stitchery, both of Newton, would like to caution consumers not to fear; prices haven’t gone up very high.
“Consumers shouldn’t worry about the fabrics’ availability,” Wolfe said. “There will continue to be a variety of beautiful fabrics ... in a variety of price points.”
The prices of her existing stock aren’t going up, she said — just on the new cotton products. Wolfe is seeing about a 10 percent increase right now, she said.
“It’s made the cost of replacing my inventory more expensive,” Wolfe said, sitting in the downtown store’s classroom, surrounded by batting, fabric and quilts. “We’ve had to raise prices at the retail level. ... I suspect from what we’re seeing in the world ... I suspect we haven’t seen the top yet.”
To help offset the cost for consumers, Wolfe such as offering shopper’s cards and punch cards. She also shops for bargains for both stores, and she offers kits for projects, which saves consumers money.
“We cut kits that are (a) more efficient use of fabrics,” Wolfe said.
What’s causing the price increases? Sounds like basic supply and demand — there’s less cotton to go around, so it’s selling at a higher price, according to Richard Gross, CEO of Avlyn Inc. And the higher costs are being passed on to the consumer.
“First, there is a worldwide cotton shortage, now in its second year,” president of the retail division of Marcus Fabrics Stephanie Dell’olio wrote in a statement in December. “The situation was significantly compounded by the flooding in Pakistan, which decimated the local cotton crops. Cotton prices are up over 100 percent from this time last year.”
Cotton prices began their rise in August of 2010 after bad weather cut harvests in major producing countries including China, the U.S., Pakistan and Australia. The price of cotton hit a 150-year high earlier this month.
Dell’olio also wrote there are labor shortages, dollar devaluations and a number of worldwide economic conditions in general, which, all together, affect prices of products leaving China.
“Not only has this created a shortage of greige (textile) goods for printing in China, but adversely affected the cost of greige goods available worldwide,” Dell’olio said in a statement. “While we do print in Korea, the majority of the greige comes from China.”
The president of another fabric company, Jason Yenter with In the Beginning Fabrics, agreed.
“Our suppliers, the mills in Asia, are being hit with huge price increases for cotton and for greige goods,” he said in a statement. “It is somewhat of an unknown as to what the cause for this is.”
He wrote one cause could be people hoarding cotton to inflate the price and another is the cotton crop failure. Another reason could be many farmers in the United States and Brazil changing their cotton harvest fields over to corn or sugar cane to make ethanol, according to Red Hoffman, CEO of Clothworks.
Wolfe also heard of another reason that could have contributed to the shortage. She heard China made a great number of souvenir T-shirts for the Olympics, and that could have contributed.
“I don’t know if that’s true or not,” Wolfe said.
Wolfe also said the cotton prices are affecting all fabric manufacturers across the board equally.
In December, Gross wrote fabric manufacturers were having to pay from 18 percent to 35 percent more than they were paying just a few months prior.
“Interestingly, a similar pricing situation happened long ago (during the Civil War), when the price of cotton increased from 10 cents per pound all the way up to $1.89 per pound,” Gross wrote.
Millions of cotton bales were burned to create a cotton shortage. The high cotton prices lasted about 15 months then.
The difference between what’s happening now and what happened during the Civil War with cotton is the geopolitics, Wolfe said.
“My first sense of concern was last year when they started talking about the massive floods in Pakistan,” Wolfe said, saying her personal radar went up and she thought, “That’s where a lot of cotton comes from.”
Another concern Wolfe mentioned was not only are the prices of the actual items going up, but the cost to transport them to her stores has increased. During the last few years, she’s seen gas prices go up, which affects how much it costs to get items transported by truck from the east and west coasts.
She said quilting is basically a hobby now.
“Because people still need hobbies, we look for ways to satisfy that need,” Wolfe said.

— American Quilt Retailer and The Associated Press contributed to this report.