the best way to shop for fabric

When I first started sewing, the fabric store was this intimidating place full of aisles rife with a million possibilities, and I had no clue what I was doing. The first big fabric trip I took on my own was to Fabric Depot, and goodness was that overwhelming. The only fabric I was at all familiar with was quilting cotton, and I didn’t even dare check out the actual fashion textiles. I know–so silly. Since that inaugural solo shopping trip, I’ve greatly refined my fabric shopping process, and today I have a few tips that should make your own textile search a little easier.

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First, know what you’re looking forGoing into a large fabric store–or even a small local shop–can be wildly paralyzing if you don’t know what to look for. You could easily spend all day picking out bolts and yardages. Sure, on occasion I like to aimlessly browse the aisles of a fabric store looking for inspiration, but that can’t be the only way you shop. When I take a big shopping trip (like the one I took to Colorado Fabrics last week) I do best to list out all the things that I want to make along with the yardage requirements for the patterns I’m considering. Now, it’s not that I have to make all or any of these garments I listed, but these are the projects that have been brewing in the back of my mind for a while, and so I want to ensure that I focus on finding textiles that I actually plan to use.

Sometimes your shopping trip may be very specific, like last fall when I went to Mill End (another fabulous fabric warehouse in Portland) looking for drapey fabric in the palest mint with luxe content. With such a particular mission it didn’t take me long to find the perfect silk charmuese, for the whopping price of $25 a yard. (But affordable fabric shopping is a topic for another post! Trust me–it’s possible.) Other times, your trip may look like this one: a list of projects you’d like to do, but nothing so specific that your browsing is too limited.

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This trip I had SWEATER KNITS on the brain, and that’s what I really made a point to find. I also have a couple of t-shirt patterns that I want to try, so kept my eye out for good jerseys and interlocks. I also had a general idea of the color palette to pursue. This fall I’m mostly drawn to deep jewel tones; I avoided getting attached to any fabric that was too summery. This trip was highly intentional, as most fabric shopping should be.

Now, put everything you like in your cart. Yes, everything. No one is asking you to make immediate and permanent decisions about what fabric you buy until you’re at the cutting counter. So if you see something you like, put it in the cart! This way you can mull on bolts you’re unsure about and easily compare them to your other finds. On my Denver trip my mom and I actually had to get a second cart to hold all of our options.

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Near the end of your shopping, find a corner or an empty table to compare and weed out anything you don’t like or want anymore. This is the best place to calculate your total if budget is an issue, which it almost always is. (For this particular trip, my parents gave me some shopping money for my birthday, so I had the luxury of not caring so much about price. It was awesome.) Again it helps if you can envision a project you’d like to undertake with the fabric, though sometimes a cut of stretch wool is too wonderful to pass up, even if you don’t have anything in mind yet. (This is exactly how fabric hoarders get started, people.)

Become familiar with good fabric. What I mean by this tip is to familiarize yourself with what 100-percent wool feels like. Go just check out the chiffon aisle, the silk table, and the bolts of rayon. The more you know about what makes up good fabric content, you can make much more knowledgeable choices about what to buy and use in your sewing. Several years ago I bought this harvest gold poly number that isn’t the worst, but–I still haven’t used it. That wool with 3-percent lyrca stretch, however, didn’t stand a chance of earning stash seniority. When you can feel a cut of fabric and can intelligently guess the content, you are already sewing at the next level.

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And don’t do what I did my first time in Fabric Depot and completely avoid the fashion fabrics–dive right in! Caress that silk crepe and oogle the bamboo cotton jersey. Use the fabric store as an educational experience, even if you don’t plan on buying that $40 a yard Liberty of London cotton lawn (even though your heart is screaming for it). The more educated you are about fabric the better choices you can make about what you buy.

Basically, be intentional about your fabric shopping. Shop with focus, look at all your options, and use your shopping as an education. And no matter what, have fun with it! Seriously, fabric shopping is akin to book shopping for me. And that’s saying something.

Do you fear the fabric store? What’s your favorite textile to buy? Do you have any specific fabrics you’re scouting out for fall sewing?

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