Okay, so you’ve chosen a pattern you love. Now it’s time to choose your fabric.

The basic fabric types

    There are three basic types of fabrics:

    If you look closely at a woven fabric, you’ll see threads in the fabric that run horizontally and vertically.
    Woven fabrics don’t stretch when pulled lengthwise or crosswise, but do stretch some when pulled on
    the bias (diagonally).

    The fibers in a non-woven fabric are pressed or matted together. Its raw edges don’t ravel. Felt is an
    example of a non-woven fabric.

    If you look closely at a knit fabric, you’ll see that it’s made up of little loops of thread that interlock
    with one another. You can stretch a knit fabric in all directions and it will return to its original shape. A
    knit usually has more stretch in one direction than another.

Fabric recommendations

    For your first project, I suggest using a mid-weight woven or non-woven fabric. Broadcloth and shirting
    are good choices. If the fabrics aren’t clearly labeled at the store, ask the sales staff.

    I also recommend a fabric that’s either a solid color or a random pattern.

    You may even want to sew your first project with some really cheap, on sale, dollar-a yard-fabric.
    Therefore, if you make some mistakes, it won't be a big deal.

    For now, stay away from the following:

  • Stripes, plaids, and one-way designs (a print that has a “right side up” to it). The pattern pieces for
    stripes and plaids need to be laid out so the lines will “match” at the seams. And one-way prints need
    to have their pattern pieces laid out in one direction.

    Note: When you do decide to work with stripes, plaids, or one-way designs, extra fabric may be
    needed for matching the design – more than what’s recommended on the pattern envelope.

  • Heavyweight fabrics, thin, delicate, or lightweight fabrics, or slippery fabrics like satin. These fabrics
    can be difficult to work with and require special handling.

  • Knit fabrics. Knits can also be a bit tricky to work with and need to be sewn with a special stretch
    stitch that allows the fabric to remain stretchy along the seam lines.

  • Napped (fuzzy) fabrics like velvet or corduroy. Napped fabrics also need their pattern pieces laid out in
    the same direction so that the “nap” runs the same way on the finished garment. They can also be a
    bit tricky to sew and press.

    The back of your pattern envelope will likely have a list of fabric suggestions the designer thinks are good
    choices for the item. If you deviate from these fabrics, you may end up frustrated as you try to sew your
    garment and disappointed with the result. For instance, a heavy, wool fabric may be too bulky for a blouse
    design or a lightweight silk may be inappropriate for a blazer pattern.

    And your pattern may recommend against using certain fabrics. So you may read something like, “not
    suitable for napped fabrics” or “not suitable for diagonals or plaids.”

The end of the fabric bolt

    You’ll likely see most of the fabric in the store displayed on bolts (the flat, cardboard things the fabric is
    wrapped around). But sometimes fabric will be rolled around cardboard tubes or displayed on hangers.

    The end (top) of the bolt is usually printed with the following information:

  • The type of fabric
  • The fabric’s fiber content (100% cotton, 100% polyester, etc.)
  • The width of the fabric (usually 45”-60” wide)
  • The fabric’s price per yard
  • The fabric’s care instructions (write these instructions down for future reference)

Determine how much fabric to get

    Once you’ve chosen your fabric, it’s time to figure out how much of it to get.

    The amount of fabric you need is determined by three things:

  • The size of the item you’re making (if you’re making a garment)
  • The version or view of the item you’re making
  • How wide your fabric is

    If you’re making a home décor item, the pattern instructions should tell you how to take measurements for
    your item. This is what your yardage will be determined by.

    For a garment, look at the chart on the back of the envelope. Find your size, then your view, then your
    fabric width. Circle this yardage number (in pencil so you can erase it later for a different view).

    If your fabric width is a couple of inches off, say 58” wide instead of 60”, you can usually get away with
    purchasing the amount of fabric for the 60” width. However, if your fabric is particularly expensive, you may
    want to do a trial layout of your pattern first to make sure all of your pieces will fit into the slightly narrower
    fabric width. To do this, gather all your pattern pieces (see Lay Out Your Fabric), lay them out according to
    the appropriate diagram in the guide sheet, and measure the layout you’ve made from top to bottom
    (remembering that you’ll be folding your fabric lengthwise) to make sure all of the pieces will fit into the
    narrower fabric width.

    It’s a good idea to get a little more fabric than the pattern recommends if there’s a chance your fabric may
    shrink. Get an extra 1/8 yard or so for every one yard of fabric. So if your pattern calls for two yards of
    fabric, get about 2¼ yards. Keep in mind that this is just a rough guideline and that different fabrics shrink
    at different rates. (For more on preshrinking fabric, see How to Preshrink Fabric.)

Choose an interfacing, if necessary

    Interfacing is a kind of fabric that’s placed into parts of garment to provide shape, support, stiffness,
    reinforcement, or stability. It’s often used in collars, cuffs, waistbands, lapels, facings, necklines, pockets,
    and the front bands of shirts. (For more information on choosing interfacing, see Interfacing Basics).

    The back of your pattern should indicate whether interfacing is required and how much of it you need.
    Sometimes it will suggest a certain type of interfacing.

Choose a lining, if necessary

    A lining is sewn into an item for one or more of the following reasons:

  • To give support and body to an item
  • To give an item shape
  • To provide a layer of warmth to a garment
  • To give opaqueness to sheer fabrics
  • To reinforce seams
  • To hide inner construction
  • To decrease wear and tear on a garment
  • To make a garment easy to slide off and on

Linings are usually lighter in weight than the outer fabric.

    If lining is required for your project, it should be indicated on the back of the pattern envelope and state
    how much of it you need.

    Make sure the care requirements for your lining are compatible with those of your garment fabric. For
    instance, don’t purchase an outer fabric that’s machine washable and a lining fabric that must be dry-

    If your lining fabric is a different color than your outer fabric and you plan to launder your finished item,
    test both fabrics for colorfastness (See instructions for testing for colorfastness under Prepare Your Fabric.)

Purchase your fabric

    Take your fabric selection(s) to the counter, tell the sales clerk to the nearest 1/8 of a yard how much of it
    you’d like and she’ll cut it for you.
Learn to Sew Lesson #3: Choose Your Fabric
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