3. Pay close attention to fabric descriptions
For all that you can’t feel and touch the fabric, online fabric stores really do go out of their way to help their customers understand what they’re getting.
One of the ways they do this is in the fabric descriptions. There, you’ll find all kinds of helpful information like:
All this information can help you make really careful decisions about the fabric you buy online. Heck, there’s plenty of brick and mortar fabric stores that don’t give you as much info!
4. Know your fibers
It can be really helpful when you’re online fabric shopping to go into the game with some background knowledge about different fibers. Here’s a quick primer:
Natural fiber fabrics
Natural fibers either come from plants or animals. They typically last longer, resist a lot of body odors (gross, but true), press better and are usually easier to sew. You can dye them with very little trouble. And they breathe! No sweating in your skin here! , and nothing, but nothing beats linen in the summer.
You can find blends of all of natural fibers. If you’re not familiar with them, go snoop shopping in a store–either a fabric store or a clothing store. Feel the fabric and look at the tags. Or get you some swatches (see tip 2!)!
Synthetic fiber fabrics
Synthetic fibers are 100% man-made. Various chemicals and various processes make them. They all imitate natural fibers in either look or feel. They are difficult to dye by yourself. That is unless you’re like me with an affinity for my personal favorite dye, Rit DyeMore.
Depending on how you look at it, they can be more sustainable in that they’re not taking up land resources. Cotton, on the other hand can be a water hog. As such, they’re often less expensive than similar natural fiber fabrics.
There’s some hybrid fabric fibers out there. They start out as plant pulp, but need some chemical processing to become actual fabric.
In most cases, they retain the advantages of the natural fabrics, and they are nice to wear. These include rayon, viscose, bamboo, lyocell, and tencel. My personal favorite is modal. Few knits are softer than a good modal knit!
5. Check a reference book
If you’re still unsure about choosing a particular fabric online, grab a reference book. All New Fabric Savvy by Sandra Betzina (*affiliate) will give you an excellent idea of what you’re getting. Fabrics are organized alphabetically with sewing tips, care information, needle recommendations and pictures of finished garments. It’s probably my most used sewing book!
Another good one is Fabric for Fashion: The Swatch Book (*affiliate). In addition to helpful information about each fabric type, there’s swatches! This book is more of a textbook, so it’s a bit of an investment. If you shop regularly for fabric online, it might be a good one to add to your library.
Elizabeth Farr is the writer behind the Elizabeth Made This blog where she shares helpful sewing tips, step by step sewing tutorials and videos to help you explore your creativity through sewing. She has written sewing Eguides and patterns, been a featured teacher at Rebecca Page’s Sewing Summit and Jennifer Maker’s Holiday Maker Fest and her work has appeared in Seamwork and Altered Couture magazines. She also created a line of refashioned garments for SEWN Denver. When her sewing machine isn’t humming, she’s playing and teaching violin, and hanging around a good strategic board game with her husband and 4 kids.