6. Note the fabric width

Another helpful thing to notice when you’re purchasing fabric online is the fabric width. Narrower fabrics will require more yardage for any given sewing project.

reading back of a pattern envelope

Pattern envelopes will usually give you a chart so you can get a good estimate of how much extra you’ll need for a narrower width.

7. Ask yourself if you need extra fabric

Some fabrics are going to require more fabric by the nature of what they are. Patterned fabrics, plaids, and 1-way prints will often need more so you can match the pattern.

Napped fabrics like velvet and corduroy can also need a little more since you have to cut your pattern pieces in one direction.

Also, it’s not a bad idea to order a little bit extra of natural fiber fabrics. Some of them can shrink a lot! We’ve probably all been on the sad end of a shrunken sweater!

8. Pay attention to scale

fabric scale on 3 fabrics
top to bottom: small scale gingham, medium scale cotton quilting print, large scale home dec cotton

Scale is how big a print is. In general, go for a bigger scale print when you have a larger canvas. Think about how beautiful large scale Ankara prints look as full maxi or circle skirts.

Online fabric stores will show scale with either a small object like a quarter, or a ruler. This can give you a good idea of how big a print is going to be when it pops up in the mail.

9. Study the product pictures

Besides scale, the product photography for online fabric stores can give you some valuable information.

If you see a pic where the fabric is just flat, you might see the colors well, but you’ll miss other details. This kind of product shot is great for quilting fabric.

fabric drape on rayon challis
Ooh, look at that purty drape on this heavier rayon challis!

Better for garment fabrics: a shot where the fabric is folded or draped on a dress form or other surface is going to show you how heavy the fabric is. You’ll also get a good sense of the drape.

Best: in the age of YouTube, some fabric stores show little video clips to show you the drape and weight. Golden!!!

Onto things you can do to become a smarter online fabric shopper.

next page graphic with spool of thread
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Elizabeth is a self-taught sewist with a love for all things DIY and creative. Her friend calls her "The Fabric Manipulator" and she's always looking for ways to squeeze the most out of her sewing time in between caring for her 4 kids and husband.


  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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