Heavy Weight Quality Calico

Heavy Weight Calico fabric

A Guide to How to Buy Fabric: Understanding different types and how to find your way around the fabric storeThis is the last pre-lesson in my Learn to Sew series. The series itself starts Monday, but before it does, let’s talk fabric. Or more specifically how to buy fabric.

I’m a sucker for fabric. Totally and completely. You can never have too much fabric. And I love to buy fabric. But I understand that it could be overwhelming to walk into a fabric store if you don’t have a lot of experience there, so let me walk you through it.

How to Buy Fabric In Stores and Online:

OK, you walk into your fabric store and you will see rows and rows of fabric. What are they all and what do they mean? Let’s take a little tour of the store shall we?

Understanding the Fabric Store:

Typically the most prevalent fabric is going to be your basic cotton. Also sometimes called Calico in the fabric world. Along at least one wall of the store you are likely to see fabrics arranged by color something like this:

Kind of pretty looking isn’t it? Those are arranged like that for the quilter’s sake-so that they can easily find for example a purple to go into the quilt they are making. Often these calico fabrics will have small all over prints like dainty little flowers, but you can see that some of them have more bold prints like large polkadots. At the close end you can also see solid colored fabric.

Throughout the store on shelves you will probably find many more cottons in a variety of styles. You may find a baby section, a designer fabric section, seasonal prints, etc. Just browse for what you are looking for. These are going to be great fabrics for many of your sewing projects like bags, aprons, quilts and blankets and so many, many things. This type of fabric make up probably at least 75% of my collection.

On another wall of the store you are likely to find fleece and other plush fabrics typically used for blankets and pajamas and other cozy things. These fabrics will also be more expensive, so make sure to bring a coupon. (All the major chains have printable coupons if you just google it.)

An overlook of the rest of the store might show you something like this:

You’ll see shelves and shelves of fabric and at the top a sign indicating what type of fabric you are seeing. Shown above are specialty type fabrics that you would use for fancy dresses, clothing and other special occasions.

A few other, possibly more hidden parts of the store include home decor fabrics-typically on large rolls that are very wide:

In still another section you will find trims like ribbon and lace that you can buy by the yard. Just take them up to the cutting counter just like any fabric and have them cut it for you:

OK, so you browse and find something you want. Now what?

Understanding the Fabric:

First of all, take notice of the end of the bolt. You are going to find information there like the width of the fabric (This one is typical at about 44″ wide. Some fabrics will be wider-like 60.”), the type of fabric, washing instructions and pricing:

Take your fabric or trim or interfacing up to the cutting counter and tell them how much you need. Typically the smallest cut they will make is 1/8th of a yard and then you can do any increments beyond that. Try to figure out ahead of time about how much you are going to need.

They’ll cut it for you and then you will take it, along with a ticket they will give you, up to the register to pay. (Remember your coupons!)

Shopping Online for Fabric:

Say I want to buy some nice cotton fabric there to make a baby dress. Well, I like this fabric. (Seriously-that’s cute! Might need to make something with that!) So I am going to click on that fabric, read the description at the top and then decide how much I need and select that from the drop down menu and then add it to my cart.

They also offer accessories like ribbons and trims and some notions online as well. Pretty easy right?

Types of Fabrics:

Let’s have a quick overview of types of fabric you will find at the store.

Cottons or Calicos: 100% cotton fabrics (that will probably shrink and ideally should be pre-washed) and are going to be very plentiful at most stores. Available in many different styles including designer fabrics with bold and trendy prints, baby fabrics, quilting fabrics, seasonal fabrics and lots more. Use: most basic projects like bags, aprons, quilts, items for around your home, and many more.

Heavyweight fabrics like duck, canvas and denim: These will be heavier thicker than your basic cotton calicos and more sturdy, so they will hold up longer, making them great options for outdoor projects or things that need a little weight to them. Use: Can be great for things like throw pillows, outdoorsy type things, tote bags, or anything else you want a heavier weight for.

Plush {like fleece and minky}: Soft and cozy and perfect for things like blankets and pajamas or all things baby. They will be a little more expensive. They may pill a little after washing. Some will have a nap to them as well which you will need to be mindful of while sewing. Use: Perfect for baby blankets or any blankets really, pajamas, stuffed animals or anything that needs to be snuggly.

Flannel: Usually you will find a flannel section with lots of baby prints as well as other prints. It won’t be nearly as thick as the fleece, it’s more like a basic cotton, but one side of it will be soft to the touch. Soft and snuggly but will most definitely shrink and pill after it’s washed a few times. Use: Pajamas, blankets, things that you want to have be soft but not bulky.

Special Occasion Fabrics: You will find a section with things like satin (soft and silky), tulle (like netting) and silks. These are usually used for dresses and other fancy things. One warning-they are quite a bit harder to sew on than regular cotton and will take some practice because they are so slippery. Use: special occasions, dresses, clothing.

Jersey Knits: Soft and stretchy like a t-shirt. Also can be a little harder to sew on because they stretch, but not too difficult. they often come in wider sizes than a typical bolt of fabric so pay attention to that. You may need less fabric because of this. For more details on types of knits (because they vary) see my ebook. Use: skirts, shirts, and other apparel.

Home Decor: On large rolls (see above), wider and more expensive than other fabrics but also much higher quality so it will hold up better and also won’t let light through (if it’s curtains for example) as easily. Use: curtains, rugs, pillows.

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