So, you have a sewing machine, a little help and some ideas… you’re next step is to buy fabric! Buying fabric is the most expensive part of sewing, so take it slow. Here are some ideas for new shoppers.
Before you shop, work to pin down some sort of concept. Shopping freestyle is often wasteful. Figure out a color concept – vivid jewel tones, soft vintagey pastels, lots of contrast or maybe two complimentary colors (blue/green or red/purple). Imagine how you’d like the finished project to fit in your home. Is it to be a stand-out piece or part of a cohesive whole? Are you going for classic, nature-inspired, bold, artsy, ultra-feminine, what? Unless you like the idea of investing in fabric that you may not use for years, don’t buy without a concept in mind.
Watch for Scope & Color.
I’ll admit that there’s a place for buying fabric “just because.” But it can be tough to know which fabrics will be useful somehow and which will linger in your stash untouched.
My first fabric purchase was about a year ago. Here are a few yards from that initial order that I’ve still not used. Some of those prints are really large. I didn’t realize that large prints can be quite limiting. Othertimes my cuts were too small for projects I eventually dreamed up. Also I found that prints with a wide range of colors were less useful than more monochromatic prints. For example, I’ve used Filigree in sooooo many projects, but this Alexander Henry Birdsong print has yet to find a home.
How much should you buy? Of course, the answer depends. Assuming you do not know yardage requirements for your project, here are some general ideas. A yard is a 36″ cut along the length of the fabric bolt. Most bolts are 44 or 45″ wide. So a yard is typically 36 x 44″. A half yard is 18 x 44″ and a fat quarter is 18 x 22″. Fat quarters are awful tempting, but I don’t really recommend them unless you need very small amounts (like scraps, really). Remember, your fabric will shrink when you prewash and you could make a mistake when cutting or sewing. When I buy prints, I generally like them enough to warrant a 1/2 yard, rather than messing with fat quarters. Solids I buy in 1/2 to 1 yard increments and linen (my favorite neutral) I buy in 3-5 yard cuts. Here are some examples as guidelines:
1/2 Yards: a child’s top or skirt (just barely), backing for a pillow or apron, a purse, 5-6 half yards together will make a nice sized quilt top.
1 Yard: a child’s dress, a sleeveless women’s top, a large purse.
2-3 Yards: short curtains or valances, adult pajama pants, backing for a baby quilt or kitchen rug.
4-5 Yards: backing for a nice sized quilt, floor length curtains.
When in doubt, buy a bigger cut and know that you can make good use of any extra!