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What influences the fabrics you buy?

In the latest issue of Threads (June/July 2012), we asked the authors featured on the Contributor’s page: “What influences the fabrics you buy?” As you might expect, the responses were varied. Julianne Bramson (“Summer Sewing Project: Bias Skirt), Paula DeGrand (“Sewing Destination: London, England), Marguerite LeBlanc (“Precision Placket”), and Mary Ray (“Tissue-Weight Wovens”) were the featured authors. It’s always interesting to see how many different ways the same question can be answered!

I spent some time thinking about this question myself, and can’t really put my answer into one or two sentences. So much of my fabric purchasing depends upon the reason I’m making a garment. If it’s just for fun, I am drawn by beautiful fabric no matter what the fabric type. I’ll find a fabric that just simply calls to me, and then figure out what I should make from it. Most of my sewing, however, comes from a particular need–a dress to wear to a wedding or other occasion, or some sorely needed pants or shirt. For that type of situation I usually start with a pattern I love and then find fabric that will work for the pattern and my needs.

I do have definite fabric likes and dislikes that override all of my fabric purchasing. I don’t like fabrics that feel slippery, so I would never choose something like charmeuse, and I am allergic to wool, so I usually shy away from 100% woolen fabric (although sometimes if I really love a wool fabric, I’ll line the garment completely so that I don’t itch when I wear it). Some wool blends seem to be less allergic for me, so I tend to be drawn to them rather than 100% woolens. In the end, I’m more likely to choose a knit, cotton, twill, or something similar.

How would you answer our question? Do you have fabrics that you love more than others? Do you select your garment first, or your fabric first? Tell us what influences the fabric you buy by leaving a comment below.


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  1. Jorey | | #1

    I buy fabric that I just can't possibly resist. Colour is the thing and I love bright colours and contrasts as well as the gentle and harmonious and all textures. I look at the gorgeous rolls arranged in colours - what a glorious sight! I have no idea what I am going to make but I do know I absolutely have to try some of it, usually a quarter metre to start with. Some fabrics are so easy, especially when you get started making just one small item, but then you need more and it is out of stock. Some patterns you get tired of and the inspiration disappears so often I take note of the designer so that if it did disappear from the shelves I might get it again. So far, that has not worked, no matter how many times I type in the designer the particular pattern never comes up again. I used to make clothes but now cannot compete with the ready mades in skill or choice of fabrics - although things are improving. A few weeks ago I bought some really pretty batique patterned fabric for a top and was assured my pattern was o.k. but when made up, my size 38" I could not even get it over my shoulders - it should have been very stretchy. I took such particular care, so very disappointing and can't yet bring myself to cut it up for patchwork. The only thing for me is to plod on hopefully enjoying the thrill when something actually comes out right.

  2. sdecunni | | #2

    I buy fabric because I love it. Most times I am drawn to a particular color or print of a fabric. I don't need a special occasion to purchase fabric, mostly I buy it because I like it and then I figure out what to make later. I like all types of fabric, linens, silks, boucles; seasons and the mood that I am in also influences my purchases.

  3. forbusiness | | #3

    Color is what attracts me to the fabric. Then I look at the pattern or the design if it has one. The feel of the fabric is also important. The final deciding factor is what it is made of.

  4. Ikebana152 | | #4

    I usually look for a mixture of color, texture, and hand. The more ornate the pattern, the less ornate I want the fabric and vice versa. I try to buy more natural fabrics that will wear well over time and will be easy to maintain. Nothing is more disappointing that a great dress made in polyester with an oil spot that will never go away. I love the infinite variations of cotton. Silk shantung and broadcloth are stash-able in just about any color.

  5. User avater
    d_lowe | | #5

    I have been sewing for 50 years and I don't have a large stash of fabric. I buy fabrics when I have a purpose for them. If it is quilting, I already have a project in mind. If it is a garment for myself, I choose a fabric that suits the pattern and in colors that suit my fall color pallet. I love to buy prints. My favorite fabrics to sew with are Rayons and wools or acrylic like wools. Wonderful stuff to sew with.

  6. Soucieville | | #6

    I like material that is utilitarian, can be used, washed and worn again. While silk is beautiful, for me, it would be a specialty and not worn enough to make the cost worthwhile. I love Rayon, cotton-rayon especially. It is great for special pieces, yet can be worn for casual days. I have more material than I will ever use, most likely. But when a store is going out of business and I'll never have the opportunity to buy that material I have been loving for so long, the piece that I can see the shirt, the slacks, the coat... I buy it and store it for the time when I want that shirt,slacks... I always see the same garment when I look at that material the next time. I recently passed on a cotton-rayon I saw and just spoke "blouse for the wedding." I may go back and rectify that mistake. I was blessed with a Mother who grew up making her own clothes and passed on a lot of that knowlage to her girls. I also took classes when I could. I am not a great sewer, but I am O.K. and I will try just about anything. My most interesting was doing slipcovers for a sleeper sofa. It came out pretty good. I am a larger sized woman and it really PISSES me off that ready made stops before it gets close to me. Also, many clothes for larger women have no style and look like hospital gowns. With ready made, there is a lot of "settling." "I guess that is good enough, the print is O.K., the colour is... well, I can live with it." So I make my own, except for jeans, I am not good at making jeans. I love material. Each piece is a dream.

  7. user-1123389 | | #7

    Most of my sewing in the last year or so has used remnants. I make my choices based on what I want to make and also what "speaks" to me. With remnants if you don't buy it when you see it, it will be gone. Often I do not know the composition of the fabric but it is important it has a good feel.

  8. User avater
    agapantha | | #8

    Color, hand, usefulness, practical care. I particularly love rayon challis, hemp, and silks.

  9. erobi | | #9

    I buy anything I can find in the retail stores here that is remotely like anything I would want to wear. I get so frustrated with the lack of selection for those of us who yearn for something other than calico!

    I have had mixed success buying online, mostly because I am too impatient to order swatches.

    Whatever happened to wool challis, by the way? Why is this so hard to find now? It's the ideal fabric for so many things.

  10. user-2005712 | | #10

    I have a lot of trouble finding fabrics I like...I guess I'm very particular. But if I'm going to spend all that time sewing a garment it better be worth it. I want fabrics that feel great agaist my skin. That oftenmeansnthetics or synthetics I know will at least be moisture moving, and who prints that type of information on a bolt. Sure, lots of fabrics have great colors, prints and patterns but I'm always concerned about the comfort factor. I live in a small town and when I travel I often seek out fabric stores. Most often, it's just a lot of the same old stuff or something that is outrageously expensive, or fabrics that you really have no idea of the content. I'm still searching for that wonderful fabric store that has a unique mix of quality fabrics with interesting patterns and textures that feel great and breath! I hate crappy fabrics! It's the same thing with me and shoes! I'msimply amazed at what others believe a great shoe is. A great pair of shoes or great fabrics need to feel like a dream, not just look good. I think so many people out just don't care about the quality or they really don't know the difference.
    I could use some guidance here if anyone has any ideas. I travel to Chicago, Salt Lake City, Atlanta, Orlando. I would make a special trip somewhere if I knew where to go!

  11. user-2005712 | | #11

    I'm having trouble with spacing here!
    I meant that I usaually go for nonsynthetics for comfort. Maybe I just need more education on fabrics!
    Oh, and what about that Project Runway! I love the show but wish they'd talk a little bitabout fabric selection and reasons for their choices.....it appears they just go for what looks good to them and seem unconcerned about comfort and quality.

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