Following a text conversation yesterday – that spanned two and a half hours – where my friend was asking my advice on purchasing fabric, I realized something. If you've never done it, buying fabric is scary. As I kid I was constantly in and out of fabric shops, either with my Mom or Grandma. I had so many home-sewn dresses as a little girl that I can only think of one that was store-bought. And it wasn't very cute. But I loved it because it was store-bought and that was such a novelty. (Guess I can't really blame Big for this then. . .) My Grandma could always be counted on sewing me a Valentine's nightgown, an Easter dress, a Birthday dress, a Christmas dress, and then a whole bunch of just because dresses thrown in there as well. I almost always had a say on the fabric, so by the age of 5, I pretty much knew my way around the local fabric shops. My friend had not. In fact, she had just purchased her first sewing machine a few weeks ago.
So, as a result of that conversation, I thought I'd share a few of the basics (and by no means exhaustive) of what you'll need to know the first time you venture into that scary, but magical place they call the fabric cutting counter.
Fabric is priced by the yard (3 feet/36 inches). In a physical fabric shop (excluding JoAnn's and the like — they'll cut 2" if you want), the minimum that you generally can have cut is 1/8 of a yard – or a 4.5" strip. Online, it varies, but the most common seems to be a half yard — and be careful!! Some online stores list their prices by the half yard instead of the full yard.
Quilting/Fashion weight fabric — that is, fabric that is suitable for sewing a quilt or other crafts, and fabric that is suitable for sewing clothing — is typically 44" – 45" wide. Home Decor weight fabric and Upholstery weight is typically 54" wide. All fabric will have 2 cut or raw edges on the top and bottom and 2 selvedge sides, which are the tightly woven edge produced during manufacturing to prevent the fabric from unraveling and needs to be cut off for your project. Along one of the sides will be printed the information about the fabric, such as the manufacturer, designer, what line the fabric belongs to & the name of the fabric design. Designers somewhat annually come out with new collections of fabric, or lines, and will give them a name for reference. Typically, it will be a set of designs that compliment each other, and then those designs will further be broken into sets of color ways that go together. For example, they might come out with 8 different pattern designs, but they'll have a set of those 8 designs in warm pink & yellow tones, but they'll also have a set of the same designs in cooler blue & green tones.
In quilting, it is popular to purchase Fat Quarters & often a store will have pre-cut Fat Quarters by the bin-full available for purchase. Online, you can find several sites that offer Fat Quarter bundles of several fabrics for purchase. What makes these different from a standard Quarter cut of fabric is how the yard is cut. A standard Quarter cut will give you a short, wide strip of fabric, because it is cut horizontally.
A Fat Quarter is cut both horizontally & vertically, giving you a nearly square piece of fabric.
So, this is by no means exhaustive of everything you need to know when it comes to fabric, but perhaps it will get you in & out of the fabric store without having a panic attack (or buying a full yard when all you really need is a half)! And, just because I want to make sure the new seamstresses out there know their fabric selection is not limited to JoAnn's, here's a list of some of my favorite fabric designers: Amy Butler Anna Marie Horner Heather Bailey Sandi Henderson Joel Dewberry Tula Pink Denyse Schmidt Oliver + S Heather Ross Lizzy House Tina Givens . . . and so many more! Have fun discovering your favorites.