Buying Fabric Online – my tips for avoiding disaster!
You know, I have never been to a fabric store…
I recently met up with some sewing friends for a coffee and I was really surprised when we got onto the topic of fabric stores. It turns out that I was the only one who shopped online. In fact, they had never fabric shopped online, and conversely I have never been into an *actual* fabric store.
In part that is because I got started with my sewing adventure in the middle of a Covid-19 lockdown and so the option of going to a fabric store just wasn’t there. I am also a digital native to use a bit of marketing jargon (real job coming in here) and so I do pretty much everything online and I rarely use real shops for anything.
For me fabric shopping online is an exciting part of the process. I can spend my evenings narrowing down my choices, using the navigation features on the website to drill down to specific options on fibres or colours easily, and seeing the latest additions to the store’s line up as soon as they are added.
I can check a heap of different fabric stores easily and quickly wihout having to travel across the city (or in my case country!) to find what I am looking for, and everything is neatly bundled up and delivered to my door! What more could I ask for….?
The mix of being a real beginner (read – not having a clue what I was doing) and buying fabric without being able to touch and feel it, meant I learnt some things in the last 10 months about buying fabric online and so I wanted to share my top tips, the mistakes I’ve made and the things I have learnt.
1. Know your fabric
When I first started shopping online for fabrics I was totally baffled by all the different names for things. What was a cotton drill vs a lawn… I had no clue. As a result I have a fair few bundles of fabric in my stash that I will probably never use and really should do something with.
Since making a few mistakes when I got started I have since made sure I know what all the different names for fabrics are, the qualities and properties of them, and how they might feel and what they are best used for. I have used mostly online resources, googling every new fabric name I found and I don’t really make mistakes here anymore.
2.Check your RTW labels
One great thing that I have learnt to do is to have a proper look at all the labels on my RTW clothing. Taking note of the fabric make up of my favourite items gives me a really helpful indication of what I like and don’t like, and which fabrics are best for the projects I am planning.
3. Buy a swatch or sample
Most online fabric stores offer a sample service. For a few dollars you will receive a small piece of the fabric you are looking for. This gives you the chance to check the colour and feel of the fabric. They are generally too small to get a sense for the drape, but most stores have online photos that show this well.
I don’t always buy swatches, but if I have a really specific project in mind, or I’m looking at a particularly expensive fabric choice I do.
4. Ask for help
Most fabric stores I have purchased from have a really friendly staff who can help answer your questions and offer advice. Giving them a call, or dropping them an email with your pattern detail, what you are aiming to achieve and a question about which fabric they would recommend can be a great way to get the right fabric. I have also found this often will mean you find some great options that aren’t on the websites 😉
5. Read the fabric details
I’m not a great one for reading details when I am online shopping, knowing that if something’s not quite right I can return it. That probably won’t be the case for any cut fabric that you buy so making sure it’s what you want/need is important.
A good online fabric store will have a good description of the fabric, with guidance on what sort of garment it’s suitable for. Details such as the weight of the fabric, shrinkage and wash instructions are also really helpful to know.
6. Check your fabric width
Reading your pattern (if you have one in mind.. I don’t always) will guide you on how much fabric you will need but it’s important to check your fabric width to make sure you are buying the right amount. With an online store you can’t always easily just buy extra if you find you don’t have enough so getting it right is important if buying for a specific pattern
7. Check the website cut increments
Different fabric stores charge and cut in different increments. Some use yards, some metres. Some you add to cart by the metre, some the half metre and some even in 10cm increments. Be sure to check this so you know you are buying the right amount of fabric. This can get a bit confusing at times so is always worth a double check before you hit ‘checkout’ and complete yur order.
8. Check shipping rates before you fall in love
One of the big reasons I shop online is to extend the choice of fabric available to me. I often shop from overseas as we don’t have the biggest choice here in New Zealand and this means shipping rates vary hugely.
Some stores have fixed shipping rates, free delivery thresholds and many offer international shipping. Read the site terms before you fall in love with the fabric on an international website. Some make it affordable and others do not!
9. Check your scale
You don’t want to fall in love with a ditsy print fabric for it to arrive and realise those flowers are jumbo sized! Checking the scale of patterns and gingham checks is really important so you don’t get a surprise when it arrives.
Most stores do something within an image to help you with this, either using a ruler, a hand, or something else.
If you aren’t sure, ask the store for more info before you commit to the cut!
Check out the sale tab
One of the thing I really love about fabric shopping online is the access to remnants that I would otherwise never know about.
More and more fabric stores now have remnants online and I have picked up some great bargains.
Buying fabric online can be a really great experience. I have definitely got much better at it as I have paid more attention and learnt with my own trial and error. Taking the plunge and fabric shopping online has definitely opened up my choice so hopefully these things I have learnt along the way help you have the confidence to shop for your fabric online!
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