How to Purchase Fabric

Having worked at two different fabric stores, I discovered just how many people enter a fabric store without any idea how to purchase fabric. Many times, they may be working on a small project, or decide to teach themselves how to sew. But first they have to be able to get the fabric they need. This is easy once you know how, but can be daunting the first time you try. Here are some tips if you find yourself needing fabric for a project, but have never before set foot in a fabric store.

First, fabric comes in different widths. There are four common widths, and most fabrics only come in two of those. The fabric widths are 45″, 54″, 60″ and 90″. The two most common widths are 45″ and 60″. 45″ tends to be mostly calico prints or bridal fabrics. 60″ tends to be sportswear fabrics. There are exceptions between these two, and you should look at your pattern to find out which one you need. The 54″ fabric is almost always home decor fabrics, such as upholstery or drapery fabrics. The 90″ is typically only available in muslin, an inexpensive fabric that is often used to make patterns.

Next, you will need to find a fabric that is acceptable for your project. If you want to make an evening gown, you will want to check the bridal section. If you want to make drapes, you need to check the upholstery/drapery area. The stores will typically have different sections, and you should search until you find the type of fabric you need.

After you have the fabric you want picked out, you take it to the cutting counter. In some places, the clerks will carry it to the tables for you. This is especially helpful with drapery fabrics, because they are almost always on large cardboard rolls. This may be true for all other fabrics, depending on the store. Once you are there, you will need to know how much fabric you want to purchase. If you are using a pattern, look at the measurements on the pattern, determine the size you need (which are typically different than store-bought clothing), and move across until you find the column for the correct width. This will tell you exactly how much fabric you need. This figure is almost always expressed in terms of yards, and that is how you should express it to the person cutting the fabric. The unit of measurement for fabric is the yard, and it is best to tell the clerk you need “two and a third yards” rather than “seven feet”, although most places can help you figure out the conversion. Also, unless noted elsewhere, your fabric will probably be priced by the yard.

You need to make sure you understand the care instructions. Most fabrics are marked with the care instructions, or the store will have a chart that tells you how to care for them. Otherwise, you can ask the clerks, who will be able to tell you how to care for them.

Once you have purchased your fabric, you will need to take it home and wash it immediately, if it can be washed. This will cause it to shrink or fade before you have sewn the item you are making. One final note, the finished edges of the fabric are called the “selvedge”. This will be important to know if you are using a pattern, because you will need to fold the selvedge edges back together.

With these tips, you will be able to order fabric with confidence. Walking into a fabric store for the first time can be a little overwhelming with the numerous choices, the different widths, and the specific measurements. With these tips, there is no need for it to be daunting. You will be able to purchase your fabric easily and begin a new project or craft.

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