Top tips for Buying Fabric

My love of fabrics goes back to childhood, my Mum was a costumier in the West end at the beginning of her career and always made her own and my clothes when I was a little girl.  She used to take me with her to go fabric shopping and I remember spending many a happy hour in the shop that we now own together.  Print, colour and texture have been a part of my life for as long as I can recall, choosing fabrics to sell at Sew Crafty is one of the things I love most about my job.
We get questions on a daily basis about how to choose the right fabrics for a pattern and where to buy unusual fabrics from, these are my top tips for buying and choosing fabrics. 

1. Ask advice : Usually (although not always) the sales assistants who work in fabric shops and haberdashery departments have a great wealth of knowledge that you can use to help you choose the fabric that is right for you.  Don't be afraid to ask for help, more often than not they will enjoy guiding you through and helping you choose a fabric for your project. 

2. Quality costs : In general cheap fabrics will produce cheap results. If you are going to take the time to make something, you want it to last. My advice is to buy the best quality you can so that the result will be a good one. If you are worried about using an expensive fabric on a project you are unsure about, try having a trial run.

3. Trial run : Having a trial run at a new project or pattern is a great way to get all the mistakes out of the way and learn where extra care needs to be taken.  In dressmaking this is called a toile.  If I am making up a new dress pattern that I have never done before I will make it up in a cheap fabric to see how it works.  If I don't like it or need to make a smaller/bigger size I can make adjustments before committing to making it in a more pricey fabric. 

4. Check your pattern : If you are making a garment from a pattern, there will be a section on the back which gives you an indication of the kinds of fabric that the pattern was designed for, use this as a guide.  This is particularly important when using Stretch fabrics/patterns.  The rule usually works that you can make a non-stretch pattern in stretch fabric, but it is much harder to make a stretch pattern in non stretch fabric (not impossible but a lot of adjustments would have to be made) So it is important to read the fabric recommendations carefully before buying your pattern as well as your fabric. 

5. Colour : Colour is something to be very aware of when buying fabric online. Colours can appear differently when photographed and different again when shown on a computer screen.  If you are unsure of the colour you are wanting to buy, especially when you are trying to match a colour, ask them to send you a sample before you commit to a full length, this may not be free, but better than spending lots of money only to be disappointed.  If it is good and you do want to go ahead, some places will credit the amount you paid for samples from your purchase.

6. Samples : Most places will give samples, as I said they may not be free though.  If they are free, don't be cheeky and ask for too many.

7. Width : Checking the width of the fabric is important and with buying cotton or quilting fabrics online, you often will buy it by the fat quarter rather than by the metre so check the measurements of what you are buying carefully before you hit that checkout button.  If you are buying from a shop it will be easier to see what you are getting, but don't be afraid to ask to see an amount before they cut to be sure it is enough to complete your project.

8. Pattern repeat and placing : Depending on the size of the print on your chosen fabric you may need to consider the distance between the repeat.  This is particularly important with large floral prints and checks (like Tartan) when you are making a dress or trousers.  You want the side and back seams to match up so you will need to take this into consideration when working out your amounts.

9. Nap : In a similar way to your pattern repeat, if you fabric has a pile, like velvet or corduroy, they have what is called a Nap. If you stroke the fabric in one direction it will feel smooth and in the other it will feel rougher. You will want to buy enough fabric so that all of your pieces can face the same direction.  Normally with these fabrics you want the smooth direction going up the garment.  It makes the colour look richer when you are wearing it.

10. Washing instructions : If you are lucky, the price label on the fabric will also have advice for washing.  If it doesn't ask the assistant if they have any advice, as you don't want to buy dry clean only fabric for an everyday skirt.  Some fabrics will need washing before you make them up as they may shrink on the first wash. I always wash all my fabrics, whether they need shrinking or not as they can often be dusty from being in shops and warehouses on their travels.  Also it can make some fabrics easier to work with once washed.  I wash them at the temperature I think I will be washing them at when they are made up, so 30 degrees for accessories and furnishings and 40 degrees for clothes. 

Before I go, I thought I would tell you some of mine and H's favourite places to go fabric shopping. You can take a look and try out some of the tips from this post. 


If you have any other questions about shopping for fabric, leave us a comment and we will try and answer your query.  Do you have any tips of your own? Where are you favourite places to shop for fabric? Let us know, we want to visit!
Sammy xxx

2 comments:

  1. What a great post, these are such excellent tips, and would be particularly useful to beginners at sewing, and those starting dressmaking. No7 about different fabric widths is so useful, and no8 about pattern repeat and placing is often only realised when a garment is sewn!

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    1. Thanks Angela, Glad you think it will be useful, I hoped it would be to some people. We get a lot of people in my shop who are so unsure about what to buy, it is nice to be able to guide people to what they need, Fabric shops can be daunting places.
      Pattern placement is something people often overlook, I know I have done it myself, and we get lots of questions about it so I knew I needed to include it in my tips list.
      Sammy xxx

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Thanks for your comment. We do read them all and appreciate the support <3
H and Sammy