The very first quilt I made was out of quilt shop quality fabric. It was a Laurel Burch print with a couple of coordinating blenders that I made into a rail fence quilt during a class at Stitchers Crossing in Madison. This was back in 2003. I even knew who I wanted to give it to: some friends who were expecting a baby. However, I was nervous about quilting it myself. That was part of the class, after all, and I didn't want to mess it up.
I had a great idea. I'd give the top that I made in class to a longarmer to quilt, then I'd make a second top to catch up to where we were in class. So I ran out to Joann's and bought fabric to make that second top. Off went my Laurel Burch top and soon I had sewn the new top out of the Joann's fabric. I brought it to class to finish. It worked out just fine. My teacher didn't even blink, but now that I know better, I bet she was taken aback. Shortly thereafter, I got pregnant myself and we ended up using the Joann's quilt for my daughter.
Well, not really. See, after washing it maybe three or four times, it was already showing wear. The colors were fading. The sparkle that had been in the blue was essentially gone. You could see the wear marks where the seam allowances had been pressed under the fabric. It was awful.
Comparing that to the second (quilt shop quality fabric) quilt I had made shortly after the Joann's quilt, the differences were obvious. She still uses that quilt today and she's almost 11. It's been washed literally hundreds of times -- while she was in diapers, she'd leak every single night. It's finally starting to show some wear, mostly on the binding.
The saddest thing is, both quilts look like they've been used the same amount.
I know fabric is expensive, but I cannot stress enough how important it is to buy high quality fabric. Why would you want to put so much time and effort into something that's not going to last? I look at quilts as either functional or art (of course they can be both, but this is for the sake of making my point). If they're art, I want them to last long enough for my daughter's kids to enjoy them. So I want them to be of high quality materials. If they're functional, I want them to stand up to repeated washings. Again, high quality material.
There are ways to get such fabric without breaking the bank. Several local quilt shops have clearance sections. I love the fabric at Quilt-agious so much that I could buy just about everything in clearance and you wouldn't know it was clearance. Maybe you can't make your whole quilt from the clearance section, but you could certainly get your backing fabric there, and maybe your background or a main print. Massdrop is a great way to get brand new, designer bundles of fabric for a very reasonable price. Join a guild; lots of times people bring in scraps or leftovers from projects they've finished. It can be done.