Buying fabric online can be a little daunting at first. Not being able to feel the fabric or check it up close before you pay up may seem odd if you’re used to shopping in person. I used to fear shopping online but when I realised there wasn’t the same quality fabrics in my local area I plucked up the courage and learnt a few things along the way. So here are my top 5 tips for fabric shopping online.
1. Size it up
Check the width! Every half decent online fabric shop should tell you approximately how wide the fabric is. A lot of beautiful cottons are printed on 45” fabrics for the quilting industry and when you’re used to working with 60” wide fashion fabrics it can be quite a shock when your pattern pieces don’t fit on the length you’ve ordered. Most patterns will have a separate required length for narrower fabrics so double check the listing and double check the pattern. (I’m not giving away any prizes for guessing how I learnt this first tip!)
Bonus tip: if you’re used to working in imperial but the website lists it in metric (or the other way around) you can simply ask google to convert it for you. Just type something like “45inches in cm” into the search bar.
Check the length increments. A lot of online fabric stores will sell you fabric by the meter in the UK. If you’re ordering from America it might come in Yards (which means it’s roughly 10cm shorter!) All our listings are per half meter, which can be handy if you just don’t need a full extra meter, and I know other shops do too. Some other stores can list fabric by the quarter meter too, so be careful, you might think you’ve found a bargain and end up with half as much as you need. Again, any half decent fabric shop will state in its listings the increments, and if you can’t find it there check if they have a FAQ page.
2. Content % Vs Stretch % - what is it? Why is it useful?
There are two types of percentages you might see in product listings so it’s useful to understand the difference. I’ll cover these in more detail in future blogs but I thought it best to cover the basics here.
Fibre content % shows you how much of each type of fibre goes into making the fabric. This information can give you an idea of what properties the fabric might have. So as an example, a denim with 60% cotton, 35% polyester and 5% spandex may have the breathability of cotton, the crease resistance of polyester and a bit of stretch and recovery thanks to the spandex. It’s important to note however, that you could just as easily get a very different fabric, such as a jersey, which claims to have the same %s as the denim but will feel and act differently because of the way it is woven or knitted.
Stretch % is an entirely different thing, although it can be influenced by the fibre content as much as the weave of the fabric. This shows you how much the fabric will stretch. If a 10cm piece of fabric can stretch to 20cm and still return to its original 10cms without any damage, this means it has 100% stretch because it stretched 100% of its length. It is entirely possible with fabrics that have high elasticity that they could have over 100% stretch.
3. Know what you want & search
Before you get going just stop for a minute and figure out what you’re looking for. Grab your sewing pattern, or pull it up online if you’re still considering purchasing it. Have a look on the back of the packet (most sewing companies will list the same information on their website either on a photo or in the description area) and look for the fabric suggestions.
Some patterns will tell you what fabrics are appropriate and some will list qualities like drape, stiff, heavyweight, bottom weight etc. You don’t have to stick to these suggestions but this is what the pattern designer is telling you will work best. You can use these terms in the search bar on the website to narrow down what you’re looking at. Check the description too, to make sure it’s suitable.
4. Get some perspective
I use props in my photos to convey how big a print is. I always share at least one photo with this old, beautiful pair of scissors, to give an idea of the scale. Some shops will use a ruler or grid markings to show this; I do it with striped fabrics. It can be handy to have a ruler or tape measure with you while you shop on line so that you can give yourself an accurate idea of the scale in comparison to your body.
5. Ask for a sample or just ask!
If you think you’ve found the perfect fabric but you’re still not 100% sure about it, just ask for a sample. Most online fabric shops will have a sample service, usually for a small amount of money to cover the postage and packaging. If the shop doesn’t advertise a sample service just email them to ask, most will be happy to oblige.
Got any other questions about the fabric? Just ask! All independent fabric shop owners I’ve spoken to would rather answer your email than have a disappointed customer, and we all LOVE talking about fabric. Even if the answer is “I’m sorry, I don’t know” there isn’t any harm in asking.
6.Bonus tip! Join the mailing list.
If there’s a mailing list for your favourite fabric shop, get on it. The newsletters can be useful to hear when new fabrics are added to the shop, you might find out about blog posts or vlogs that have useful information about new fabrics, and they sometimes come with discount codes so well worth the click.
I hope this post has been helpful, especially to anyone who’s not bought online before. If you’ve got any more tips or questions, please share them in the comments.