How to Choose the Right Fabric When Shopping Online
Do you struggle when shopping online for fabric?
We have tips to help make your next online fabric shopping experience a breeze!
As sewists we tend to be tactile in nature so choosing a fabric from an online source can present challenges for us. So, how do we know we are making a good choice when purchasing fabrics online? The good news is you can come away with a wonderful selection of fabrics if you know what to look for and have educated yourself.
It is helpful to think about the fabrics you feel comfortable in and what would suit the purpose of the garment you are sewing. This will help you narrow down your fabric and pattern choices as you will have the most success when you consider them in tandem. I would call this thoughtful sewing, as the time you spend now in the planning will make sewing your garment so much easier, and the finished garment something you love. This really doesn’t take very long to do, and it will help you avoid fighting the fabric to work with the pattern. That’s no fun.
This article will focus on what to look for in the fabric description and photos online. We’ll address why you should consider the fabric recommendations on the pattern envelope as a guideline, not a rule. And how the sewing pattern photo can help you choose a fabric.
What to Look For on the Pattern Envelope
Since many start out with a pattern in mind, it is probably helpful to talk about this first. Many patterns will have recommended fabrics listed on the back of the envelope. Sometimes the suggestions make sense and sometimes they don’t. In those cases, we can look at the suggestions as a guideline.
There are times when the suggestions seem to just list the fiber content and not the weave of the fabric. (We will talk about fiber and weave more extensively in another post). This can be confusing if we aren’t familiar with the various types of weaves available and what we can expect from them. For example, the skirt pattern pictured above lists suggested fabrics as lightweight wools, rayons, denim, linens, and cottons. While that is helpful to a degree, you may find this list lacking and feel a bit lost. What we can take away from the suggestions is that lightweight natural fibers are recommended. So, what to do next?
Some Questions Worth Asking
Let’s look at the photos on the front of the pattern envelope below. Can you identify the types of fabrics pictured? Is the garment fitted, or is it a looser fit on the model? What about the drape of the fabric? Does the fabric appear to be standing away from the body, or is it draping closer to the body? Do any of these fabrics appeal to you? Would you feel comfortable in the fit of the garment pictured? Are there any soft folds or pleats in the pattern? These are some of the questions you will want to ask yourself when choosing a fabric for your garment.
In our pattern example, the design of the skirt is a basic A-line pattern with the option to place the fabric on the bias if desired. The A-line style stands away from the body at the hemline. Are you comfortable with that? Do you know how you can control how much it stands away from your body? There is the option to cut the fabric on the bias, that will be more form fitting. Your choice of fabric will also determine how far the fabric will stand away from the body. For instance, you will see a difference in how a denim will hang on the body vs. a wool crepe vs. a crisp cotton.
In our example, the skirt has an attractive biased overlay that makes for a very nice design detail however, we can see that the overlay is optional and could potentially add bulk. If you decide to incorporate the overlay, consider a lighter weight or thinner fabric. A lightweight fabric with some drape will lay softly against the body here. If you want to create a bolder design element, choose a crisper fabric that will stand away from the body a bit. Either way, you will want to consider how the fabric for the overlay will work with the fabric you have chosen for the body of the skirt and how comfortable you will be wearing it. Developing an eye for these details will help you enjoy the process, as this is where you are the designer.
Our model is wearing a plaid suiting. Suitings come in various fibers, weight, weaves and textures so, you will need to keep that in mind. I just love how the overlay contrasts with the skirt fabric. The overlay and skirt are made from the same fabric, yet the bias cut of the overlay drapes beautifully and creates a nice contrasting design feature. The other skirts pictured may be rayon or wool challis, a lightweight denim, linen, and cotton. Other fabrics that would work well would include: a tropical wool, wool crepe for a dressier look, a gabardine would drape nicely, chambray, a moleskin or lightweight faux suede would also be attractive. If you have a stash of fabric, take a moment to become familiar with weight and drape by holding the fabric to up to yourself or your dress form. For this particular skirt pattern, look for soft folds in the fabric for an attractive look.
Did You know?
Keep in mind that there are specific patterns for knits and woven fabrics, and you really would not be happy with the result if you chose a fabric and disregarded this information. The pattern will sometimes indicate that it is designed for knits. If it doesn’t, check the recommended fabrics on the back of the pattern envelope. The only exception might be choosing a stable knit like a Ponte for a woven pattern. If a stable knit is recommended on the pattern envelope, then you can feel comfortable selecting it.
What to Look for in the Online Fabric Description and Photos
Couture and designer fabrics, fancy laces and sequins, fine wool basics and gorgeous 4-ply silks, there are so many lovely fine fabrics available online for today's sewist. So, are you ready to start shopping? Typically, you will find most of the information you need to know in the fabric title and descriptions and what isn’t said can be more clearly seen in the fabric photos.
The fabric title will often include the fiber, color, and weave of the fabric ie., light blue cotton sateen, or French Blue silk shantung. The description will provide more information to include content, width, weight, care, stretch, and usage of the fabric.Once you know the fiber, weight, and usage of the fabric, you can begin narrowing down which fabrics appeal to you. It is a good idea to develop the practice of examining the fabric photos with a thoughtful eye. Learn to assess the photos to determine how the fabric body and drape will work with the garment you are making. Let's explore this further.
Our online boutique typically includes a close-up photograph of the fabric, a picture of the selvedge, the fabric draped on the dress form, the fabric swirled tightly, if the fabric has a print there will be a photo of it with a ruler, and then we include a photo a bit further away on the form.
So, what can you take away from these photos?
A close-up is great since you will get a closer look at the weave, colors, and pattern of the fabric. We include a picture of the selvedge because it can give you an idea of the fabrics thickness, it helps demonstrate the fabric body, and sometimes it stands out as a design feature that you can use in your project.
The fabric on the dress form has quite a bit of information for you too. First, you get to see the scale of a pattern or print, and you also get a glimpse at how the fabric lays on the body. This is the information you need to determine if the fabric will hug the body or stand away from the body.
When you look at the other photos on the dress form that zoom out, examine how the fabric is draping. Is it forming several smaller soft cones or are the cones falling fewer, wider, and stiffer. To achieve the look of the design and function of the garment, you’ll want to pay attention to these photos to achieve the look of the garment you are sewing. The soft cones falling closer to the form mean you will achieve a softer drape, while the stiffer and wider cones will stand away from the form. This means the fabric will stand away from your body. These pictures also show the fabrics transparency or opaqueness.
Does the garment you are sewing have soft folds or crisp pleats? If so, you will want to look at the photos where the fabric is swirled in a twist. This is done to give you an idea of the fabric body. Look at how crisp or how soft the edges are and how close the layers of fabric are in the twirl. If your project has pleats, choose a fabric that is close together in that swirl and appears a bit crisp. If you want soft folds, you’ll be able to discern this if you see that the fabric can gently drape into folds from this picture.
Assessing the information and photos on the pattern envelope and comparing it with the fabric descriptions and photographs online can help you narrow down your fabric choices. You will have a better idea of the fiber, drape, and weight you will need to help you achieve a pleasantly fitting garment you will want to wear for years to come.
I hope these suggestions will help you develop an eye to make an informed fabric choice. Make it a practice to apply these tips, you'll be happy you did! For our more experienced sewists, feel free to share this post with your less experienced sewing friends.
Until next time...sew something fancy!