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Help for a confused fabric buyer!

CindyinCO | Posted in Fabric and Trim on

I’m very excited to be sewing again after many years. I never was an advanced sewer & now with catch up I’m trying not to be overwhelmed with what I’d like to try vs. my skill level : ). One thing on my mind is the confusing world of selecting the right fabric for the right pattern. I would LOVE to have some kind of reference that could be used when reading fabric selection advice on a pattern. I’m thinking it would be wonderful especially with patterns that only list a few (or seasonal) fabric selections…OK, what I’m trying to suggest is a chart or guide that would list similar fabrics types with comparable drape, weight, etc. I’m having great difficulty trusting my own judgement. Any help for me?

I’m so very excited to have discovered Threads Magazine!


  1. woodruff | | #1

    The Big Four patterns, Vogue, Butterick, McCall's and Simplicity, all have fairly specific fabric recommendations listed in the pattern description online or on the back of the envelope. So do loeshinsedesign.com and textilestudiospatterns.comThese are not hard and fast rules, but they're good general guidelines to start with.

  2. User avater
    Sewista | | #2

    The choices presented on the fabric envelope are really the way you should go in the beginning. Did you know that the first fabric listed is the one the designer actually made the prototype garment in? I think part of your frustration is not being able to connect the fabrics suggested with what you see in the fabric store. A few suggestions:Purchase Claire Schaeffer's Faric Guide. If she says it won't work, it won't work. She has every fabric imaginable listed in this book as well as the proper way to sew with each one. This is one of those books you will refer to for years. I think I have read mine cover to cover at least three times. It's a tome. Next, go hang out at the fabric store. Read the signs. Read the ends of the bolts for fabric content, type of fabric. A table may be designated as "suit weights" on the table but the bolt end may say silk suiting, or linen suiting, etc... Touch them. Fold them over your hands, and just take the time to generally educate yourself. This is great fun. No need to buy the goods, just feel them. Do they ravel? Are they stiff and will stand away from the body? Are they lifeless and will just hang loose on the body, etc. Go look at the very high end stuff as well as the cheapos to educate yourself about the differences. Shop, shop, shop, till you drop and don't spend a dime. You are there to learn.Start your sewing with very simple patterns and great quality fabrics. You will have great success and in time will learn how to turn some of those cheaper "sow's ears" into "silk purses." Don't fall into the trap of thinking that because you are new at sewing you should only be sewing with cheapo stuff. By buying quality fabrics you will be motivated to try harder for better end results. Go window shopping in some high end stores. Check out the fabrics closely. Look at the tags for fiber content inside. Try some on. Educate, educate, educate. You can see that most of this is for free. I hope these ideas help you out. Bunny

    1. kbalinski | | #3

      My favorite fabric reference is "Fabric Savvy" by Sandra Betzina.  It covers all the bases (washing, needles, thread, and helpful tips) for each fabric.  You can pick up a used copy on Amazon super cheap.

      Have fun!

      Kristine in Michigan

    2. Ocrafty1 | | #8

      Excellent advice, Bunny! 

      I'd sewn with 'cheapo' fabric for many yrs.; it was all I thought I could afford. Then I had a chance to use the 'good stuff' for a client.  What a difference it made in the final product!!!  I suggest buying the 'best' quality fabric you can afford.  It will behave better and give much better results. Usually using inferior fabric will be the cause of inferior results...and a homemade look. Try it once....you won't want to go back.  One excellent garment will be more cost effective than several that only last 1 season.  We put too much work in our sewing to waste our time on cheap fabric...use that stuff to make your fitting muslins.


      1. starzoe | | #9

        I heartily agree with you about using quality fabric. The same thing goes for knitting wool. Sewers and knitters who only use inferior fabric and yarn do not know what they are missing. Cheap doesn't necessarily mean poor quality and expensive does not always mean good quality therefor it is essential that one has to become familiar with both fabrics and yarns to make the best choice.

        1. User avater
          ThreadKoe | | #10

          Good point Starzoe! Using natural fibres to start also makes working with the fabric much easier also. Polyester is lovely but is often harder to work with. Using a Rayon or natural fiber, even if you have to pay more, makes the whole project go so much easier, and look better. Cathy

          1. CindyinCO | | #11

            Thanks for the tips! I actually had a rather bad experience polyester...beautiful but beyond my ability to handle. Looking forward to the day though... I feel encouraged.

          2. User avater
            ThreadKoe | | #12

            Not all poly is hard to use, and some blends are ok. It is just a rule of thumb! If the fabric will take a crease fairly well with an iron, you should be ok to use it. Poly/cotton broadcloth and bottom weight fabrics are often good to use as well. A 65/35 poly cotton mix has just enough cotton in it to work. But do not freak out when you press it and it changes colour! It will return to it's natural colour when it is completely cool, or when you put it in a low dryer for a few moments. One of those things that can startle beginning sewers if they are unaware of it, or for someone who does not otherwise iron much! :) Cathy

  3. User avater
    ThreadKoe | | #4

    Hi Cindy! Welcome to the wonderful world of fabrics. The other lovely posters have made excellent suggestions that I would highly recommend.
    The other thing I suggest is to start a fabric swatch file. This is like a recipe card file. As you find different fabrics, cut and staple a small piece to a recipe card, or a loose leaf paper in a binder, and record all the information on it you can. Content, width, name, suggested uses, care, place of purchase, price, and date.
    There are some excellent online resources for some of this information. http://www.fabrics.net is one that I refer to often as an example.
    As you gather swatches, (some stores will still cut small swatches for you) you will discover which fabrics are similar in hand and usage. You will also begin to learn the names and kinds of fabrics that are listed on the pattern backs as well.
    It is also a good idea to hunt down those fabrics on the pattern backs to just see what they are. If you still are having problems, you simply come and ask us here. Have fun, I always do, and after 25 years of working with textiles, and a college education in them, I am still learning. :) Cathy

    1. CindyinCO | | #5

      Thanks to each of you for your thoughtful advice : ) I especially like the idea of actually identifying the fabrics listed! And, I didn't know the first fabric is the preferred design. What great input from all of you! I'll let you know how this goes.

      1. Ralphetta | | #7

        I found that when I looked at the suggestions on the envelope it was helpful for me to think...what are they NOT suggesting? That often helped me see more clearly what the listed ones had in common.

  4. FabFashion | | #6

    welcome. I am new to the boards too, but I can relate to what you say about fabric. What I did was buy some fabrics at the vintage stores and fabric store in town. the fabric store has very good deals for members. However, just like someone mentioned already, I first went to the fabric store and looked at fabrics, got some names, I felt them in my hands, took some out, etc etc. that way I got familiar with some of them. I also took some books out of the library, make some mental and written notes and went "window shopping" kind of thing to the FStore again. I also created a swatch book that i could carry with me to the store when i went looking for fabric and patterns. you can check it out at my blog http://www.sewfashionistaworld.blogspot.com there I show some pics of my swatch book. it is very simple, inexpensive and handy to have. Now I have so many fabrics (vintage and new) that I need more swatch books!
    I also checked the fabric book by Schaifer(SP?). I may get a copy for me later on, if I find it useful. we'll see.

  5. gailete | | #13

    Just a reminder that you can usually request books from your library that they don't carry, so if you want to see the contents of a book prior to buying for your reference shelf, request them from the library first. I have both of the books recommended here and it is great opening up the Betzina book to double check for needle, stitch, etc. I just got the Claire Schaeffer book a few months ago and haven't used it much yet, but it is crammed with information that you are asking about. Also many general sewing guides put out by the pattern companies and other publishers usually have chapters on fabric types and how to sew them and what to use them for. Almost every library books sale I go to I get to pick up another reference book, which is great for when one doesn't cover it.

    Anyhow, just a plug for the free resource, the library. Some of the books I check out go on my to buy list and others it makes me glad I checked them out first as I wouldn't have wanted to waste my money on them.


    1. Palady | | #14

      As gallete posted, ILL (Inter Library Loan) generally has excellent results.  Sometimes folks forget about Public Libraries.    If any one is on a book hunt but uncertain as to the worthyness of purchasing,  doing a personal review via the Public Library is the way to go.


  6. cycler1729 | | #15

    Another great resource for books is Google Books.

    If you check for the title there is sometimes almost the complete book available and always a table of contents. 

  7. jslota | | #16

    Like you I was starting sewing again and had and still have a lot to learn. Especially about all the wonderful fabrics available.

    There are two books I could recommend to you.

    More Fabric Savvy by Sandra Betzina.

    It's a quick reference book that lays flat and tells you about drape, preshrink, layout, marking, cutting, whether or not you need interfacing, type of thread to use, sewing machine needle size, stitch length, which presser foot to use, seam finish that is best, pressing, type of hem to use and a couple other things. It has photos of the needles and presser foot plus tips. I love it. It covers about 160 fabrics.

    Another book I use is

    Claire Shaeffer's Fabric Sewing Guide 2nd edition.

    It's over 500 pages of excellent information.

    With these two books in my library I have nearly every fabric I will ever use covered. Both are reasonably priced.

    1. CindyinCO | | #17

      Thanks for the empathy & passing on your resources!

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