Today I’m sharing how you can make your own DIY fabric swatch book.
Maybe you’ve had this moment: you find an new sewing pattern, then flip over to the fabric recommendations. You see all these words and you have no idea what they mean. Denim you know; that one is no problem. But then what about “challis” or “voile” or my favorite cryptic fabric word: “peau de soie”. How the heck are you supposed to know what those things are let alone how to pronounce them?
One of the best ways to get that knowledge literally in your hands is with fabric swatches.
When you have a collection of swatches you can thumb through them. As you feel them, you really begin to understand how each fabric might behave in the real world. You want to know how a polyester ponte is different than a ponte with rayon and polyester? That’s where you need swatches.
In this post I’ll show you how to get swatches and turn them into your own DIY fabric swatch book. Think of it as a fabric education in a little binder. Plus I’ll share a done-for-you option in case you don’t want to go the way of the DIY.
Table of Contents
Why fabric swatch books are a fantastic tool for sewists
The law of fabric: the more fabric you touch, the better you understand what fabric is and how to work with it.
Fabric swatches are a cheap or free way for you to get your hands on a veritable mountain of fabric!
As someone who has collected my own little mountain of swatches over time, I know that they need some help in the organization department.
For your swatch collection to be helpful, a fabric swatch book is going to help you put all your swatches into an order that makes sense to you.
Designers and fabric shops use them too so they can quickly go to what’s in stock and order things right there. In the sewing room, you can use them as your own tactile fabric dictionary.
Before we get into making your own DIY fabric swatch book, let’s talk about how to collect a good set of swatches.
How to collect fabric swatches
You don’t a ton of swatches to make a good useful fabric swatch book.
Shoot for 30-50 swatches to start.
It’s best to have a variety of swatches within that. They can be anything. Go for what interests you!
Use the fabric you have for future swatches
The easiest source of swatches is what you already have. Whatever fabric you’re using, save a scrap for the future. You can do this with every fabric you sew.
Labels are good here. Write down everything you know about the fabric. Probably the most helpful thing for you to know is what the fabric is called and the fiber content.
Take a class
I’ve taken a couple of classes from Sarah Veblen on Patternreview. One is Understanding Knits and another that’s she’s not currently teaching on sheer fabrics. In each of those, there’s a kit of swatches for the class.
The swatches are part of the class and she walks you through evaluating them. It’s crazy helpful, and at the end of the class, you have a good set of varied swatches to help you continue learning.
I love ordering swatches. It’s such a fun way to get your hands on fabric you might not ever see in a local fabric store.
In my Resource Library, I have a companion guide to the Ultimate jumbo mega guide to online fabric stores that is a list of online stores that offer swatches. Many are free, but most are fairly low cost options for getting your hands on swatches. You can sign up to get access to the Fabric Swatches Online Guide at the bottom of this post when you sign up for the newsletter.
Join a fabric swatch club
The last way to get your hands on some swatches is to join a fabric swatch club.
There’s several stores that offer swatches as a subscription. You pay for the subscription, and then you’ll receive several blocks of swatches. The stores of course hope that you’ll buy THAT fabric.
When you’re done with your subscription, simply save your favorites for your fabric swatch book.
Most of my swatches in this round are from Julie’s Picks. As I was going back through the books, I was struck by how much excellent variety there is in their swatch collections!
After you’ve collected a few swatches, it’s time to make your DIY fabric swatch book.
How to get your Fabric Swatch Book Template
For this project, you’ll need the Fabric Swatch Book Template. I just added it to the Resource Library.
You can grab it when you sign up for the Elizabeth Made This newsletter.
Making your DIY Fabric Swatch book
1. Cut your swatches
If your swatches aren’t cut yet, cut one 3″x3″ square from your fabric.
I like to use a rotary cutter fitted with a pinking blade here. This will keep the edges from fraying on you.
2. Print out the Fabric Swatch Book Template
Once you’re inside of the Resource Library, download the Fabric Swatch Book Template. It’ll save as a PDF.
You’ll want to print the template out on sheets of cardstock instead of regular printer paper. Regular paper will not stand up to the weight of the swatches over time. You can print it on plain cardstock or patterned cardstock.
First take out any printer paper. Next, insert a piece of cardstock into your printer. I found that printing the cardstock 1 sheet at a time made for the best results.
After that, print out as many copies of the Fabric Swatch Book Template as you like. I did 10 for this first batch which will hold 50 swatches.
3. Label and organize your swatches
On the back of each swatch, write out what the fabric is if you haven’t already. The fabric swatch book template has more information that you can fill out later if you like.
For now, the most important info is the name of the fabric (i.e. ponte, denim, challis, double knit etc.) and the fiber content (i.e. 100% wool, 95% cotton/5% spandex etc.).
After that, shuffle your swatches around. Maybe you want to organize them by fabric type. You could also order them alphabetically or by color. Group your swatches in sets of 5 in a way that makes sense to you.
4. Mount your swatches
Next it’s time to mount the swatches.
Place a piece of double stick tape on each line on the template. Mount one swatch on each piece of tape. The double stick tape will work for most of the swatches, but if they are falling off, use a stapler. The wool swatches definitely preferred the staples!
Punch binder holes in each sheet of cardstock with your 3-hole punch.
5. Write down the fabric details
To finish up, write down each fabric’s details in the boxes next to each swatch.
Use as many of the prompts as you like. All the purchase info is there if it’s helpful to you. I’ll be honest and say that most of my swatches are OLD so the purchase info won’t help me out.
You can always add your own notes too! This is your book!
And you’re done! That’s all there is to making your own DIY fabric swatch book. Add to this book as you like, and refer back to it every time you need a little fabric fabric help.
The one done-for-you Fabric Swatch Book you might think about
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I promised I’d share a done-for-you option in case the idea of making your own fabric swatch book is not your cup of tea.
This is a fantastic reference book. It has swatches in categories of fabric. It’s quite comprehensive, and there’s text explaining each fabric.
I share it with this caveat: It’s my opinion that this book is maybe not the most helpful for someone starting out sewing. I say that because it’s #1 more expensive than most sewing books. #2 The designer fashion pictures in the book might not be the most relatable for someone just starting out sewing. #3 There’s also not a lot of helpful sewing information particular to those fabrics.
If you are just getting your feet wet with sewing, I’d recommend instead Fabric Savvy by Sandra Betzina. It doesn’t have the swatches in it, but it’s a much more helpful to sewists. I write a full review of it in Sewing books for beginners that are actually helpful.
Hopefully by now you’ve got swatches on your sewing radar. With your own fabric swatch book at hand, you’ll always have a great reference to help you demystify fabric!
Check out more sewing organization posts:
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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.