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Wally's Wisdom

How can I judge the quality of fabric when shopping online?

Posted in: Creativity & Mindset • December 31, 2016

Dear Seamwork Team,

I'm new to sewing and there are no fabric stores around me. Where can I find fabric online, and how will I know if it's good quality?

Foiled by Fabric

Dear Foiled by Fabric,

The small town where I attended college was a fabric desert, so I identify with your struggle. It may be hard to believe, but I actually prefer to shop for fabric online. I get to stay at home, drink some wine, wear some footed pajamas, and still have unlimited options right at my fingertips. It can be a bit daunting at times since you might be taking a gamble, but the rewards are definitely worthwhile.

Not all fabric stores offer the same resources and tools, so I like to use a few different techniques depending on where I am shopping.

The best way to know exactly what you are purchasing is by ordering swatches. Many sites offer swatches for sale, typically around $1 a pop. If you're going to be ordering several yards or if the fabric is expensive, the extra $1 is always worth it. Can't order a swatch? Try contacting customer service. When a site is not responsive within a few days, that can speak volumes for what shopping from them will bring. Imagine what will happen if your order is lost or you are shipped the wrong goods?

Carefully read over all of the information available on the fabric description—including content, stretch, weight, and width. Be wary of fiber content; often it can offer telltale signs of whether or not it will work for your project. It pays to have a comprehensive understanding of both fiber and substrates.

In school, we were required to buy swatch books like this one. Now I know it is a bit of a splurge but I can't tell you how often I have used this book as a reference when online fabric shopping. Plus, if this book saves you from making just three misinformed online purchases, then it has practically paid for itself. Not sure what a pique feels like? You can easily check your swatch book to get a hands-on feel for the fabric. Alternately, you can begin cataloging your own purchases in a swatch book, noting fiber, weave, and even some sewing tips for your future self.

Pay attention to the details! Just as you would in a store, always check the width of the fabric to ensure you are purchasing the correct amount for your project. I once thought I was getting a bargain on muslin at $1.50/yard (the width was not mentioned in the product description), but it turned out to be about 28" wide! I went through it in no time and did not repurchase it.

Fabric Expert is also a great place to browse fabric resources. Each month, we shop for high-quality fabrics from some of our favorite fabric stores. These stores continually offer unique and gorgeous fabrics fit for a range of sewing projects.

I also love Girl Charlee, because knits are my jam. The huge advantages of GC is their extremely helpful customer service and the GC Fabrics Group on Facebook. Have a question about one of their fabrics? Post it with a picture of the fabric in the group and you'll have an answer quickly.

Similarly, many small fabric stores have inspiring blogs or Instagram accounts. Often you will find that they share lots of projects made from fabrics that they sell. This can be really helpful when trying to gather more information about how a fabric will behave and drape in garment form.

It is always a good idea to check local sources that are a little untraditional for fabric shopping. I have found many great bargains on fabric at thrift stores. Yardage is typically hanging up with sheets and table cloths, or rolled up with pillowcases. I bought six yards of a great denim fabric for $7 at a thrift store that had one tiny orange paint spot I could easily avoid!

Last but not least, never underestimate eBay! There are wholesalers in addition to sellers looking to get rid of a few yards of leftover fabric, which means huge savings.

Sometimes online fabric shopping is a gamble. I like to consider myself a fabric baller on a budget, making the hunt more thrilling than frustrating.

Pugs and kisses,


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