{How I Choose & Buy Fabric}

A while back I did a post on some of my favorite places to buy fabric, but today I’m going to add on with some insights into how I choose fabrics for my projects. If you’ve been hanging around here for a while, then you know that I tend to gravitate towards florals and quirky prints. I am always on the lookout for new fun print for my next dress (because let’s face it, I mainly make dresses and rarely venture away from that category!).

I rarely buy fabric in person anymore. This has little to nothing to do with the recent pandemic. It’s more partially that I can be very busy and can’t get to the garment district and also, I must admit, me just being lazy and preferring to order stuff from my couch than go to the store. Also, the garment district stores can be extremely overwhelming even for an experienced sewist/fabric buyer, and I don’t love the quality at smaller places like Joann Fabrics.

Since I assume you don’t need me to tell you how I choose my prints (everything comes down to personal preference)

, this post will focus on some general tips for navigating the online world of fabric buying.

First, develop a basic, general knowledge of textiles. Now that being said, I have not formally studied textiles at all, and my knowledge base is nowhere near someone who did. And most, if not all, of my knowledge comes from first hand experience: buying and ordering, and learning what to look for, learning what fabric weights I like (for example cotton lawn and cotton sateen are two very different things) and what projects I would use them for.

If the vast world of textile knowledge is too daunting, learn what you like. For example, I have discovered that I gravitate towards cotton lawn. I like how it falls, and how it can be used for a variety of different types of garments. It can also be helpful to become familiar with fabric designers/manufacturers, as their specific type of fabric might be something to return to.

Keeping all of this in mind, make the pattern envelope your best friend (at least as a beginner!). It will tell you what the pattern designer recommends that you use. If it’s a knit, pay attention to the stretch requirements and make sure you look for those when you’re buying fabric. You can also use it as a guide for another pattern (for example, if they have a similar skirt design then a similar fabric might work).

Next, stick to a few trusted sources if you can. I have found a little cluster of small fabric shops that I love to buy from because I know I can count on quality even if the fabric doesn’t turn out to be 100% what I had in mind. Some of my favorites (who I have ordered from time and time again) are:

  • Sew Over It – Being as I love their patterns, it’s no surprise I also love their curated fabrics. This is very much my “treat yourself” shop as they are UK based and the shipping is expensive for me.
  • Blackbird Fabrics – I always turn to Blackbird when I need basics, though occasionally they will have a really great collection of prints that I have to get my hands on!
  • Mulberry Macnab – This is a more recent discovery for me but they carry Atelier Brunette and Mind the Maker collections at a generally more affordable price for me, and the shipping isn’t an arm and a leg.
  • Oak Fabrics – This site has a great selection of high quality fabrics, and their shipping is super fast!

If course, I don’t exclusively order from these from places. I have also ordered from Sister Mintaka and Fabric Godmother, and really love the selection they have (but much like Sew Over It, often cannot justify the shipping charges). There are also a number of sites that I browse pretty consistently but have yet to make a purchase, and I am always open to new options so if you’ve got one let me know!

Shop at websites that have really good descriptions. My favorites all give tons of details about the fabric: how sheer/opaque it is, the drape, the amount of stretch (for knits), whether it’s directional or not, pattern recommendations, etc. This is really helpful when you can’t touch the fabric for yourself. While you’re at it, make sure the sites also have good photos that show the fabric from different angles. There’s not a ton you can do about your device screen affecting the actual color, but the more photos you can see, the better.

When in doubt, order a sample. Even if a site doesn’t seem to offer them, you can always try getting in touch and asking. I don’t do this often as I feel like at this point I have developed enough knowledge that I rarely miss when it comes to fabric purchases (and if I do I can usually repurpose it for another project in the future, or donate it to my work if I really can’t use it) but if you’re nervous, definitely order a sample.

There are situations in which I always get a sample: if I need to match a color or if the fabric is very expensive. You don’t want to spend a ton of money on a fabric for something very specific only to have it turn out all wrong.

When I was a beginner, there were so many times that I would order a fabric only for it to be stiffer than I anticipated or completely unsuitable for what I needed it for. It took a long time before I was able to confidently choose fabrics for my own projects. Now, I have been buying fabric online for years, and these strategies always work for me. I rarely regret a fabric purchase. So hopefully these tips will serve you well too!

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