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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:

  • color (sometimes even adding Pantone colors for super accuracy)
  • fabric weight
  • fabric care
  • fiber content
  • brand/designer
  • width
  • what kinds of projects you can use this fabric for

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.

  • Cotton comes in different weaves and weights. Some are silky smooth, others are rugged and dense (I see you 100% cotton denim!).
  • Wool is insulating and can be delicate knits or thick heavy coating. It tailors excellently and is one of the easiest fabrics to sew.
  • Cashmere is the queen of all wools. So much softness, less chance of irritation for sensitive skins.
  • Silk is luxurious pretty much no matter what weave or weight.
  • Linen: Arguably the MOST breathable fabric! Nothing beats it in summer!
  • Hemp is strong and sustainable.

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.

  • Acrylic: Made from polymers, acrylic is warm and soft. It’s used often in less expensive sweater knits. Acrylic yarns can pill and age faster than others. Acrylic blends can be nice, and they hold color well.
  • Polyester: polyester can be awesome or not so much. It has come a long way from the polyester leisure suits of yesteryear. Polyester ITY knits, Polartec fleeces, and double brushed poly knits are typically nice! And there’s some truly spiffy polyesters in the activewear world that are legitimately breathable. I would not buy polyester online personally unless I was really sure because of the wide quality difference.
  • Nylon: swimwear owes a lot to nylon. It dries quickly, has excellent recovery and colorfastness, and is silky to the touch. Definitely feel comfortable shopping for nylon swimwear fabrics online!
  • Spandex or Lycra: it’s that lovely fiber that gives things stretch. It has amazing recovery which makes it great for close-fitting garments or ones that need extra mobility. It’s typically used in fabric blends. The higher percentage of spandex, the stretchier the fabric will be.

Semi-synthetic 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.

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6 Comments

  1. Hi there! Thanks for the post! I’m wondering what that lovely purpley fabric with the white cranes on it is called, and where I can find it 🙂 Thanks in advance!

    • Hi Clare. It’s from the Cotton + Steel Porto collection from a couple years back. I bought mine at Hart’s Fabric, though they don’t seem to have it anymore. Fabric.com does.

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