6 Rules When Shopping For Fabric Online

I don’t know about you, but entering a fabric shop is akin to winning the lottery for me. I revel in all those colors and textures, the possibilities for turning those gorgeous bolts into striking garments and home decor items, to say nothing of beautiful quilts.

Of course, with my tight budget, I’d have to win the lottery to indulge in all my favorite dressmaking fabrics. An alternative is to find my fabric online. However, it takes some fabric smarts to make the right selection when you can’t see or touch the material. Here are some hints when shopping for fabric for dressmaking, different kinds of fabric and how to find fabric websites.


If you are not a textile expert, become one. Buy several books that will help you understand fabrics and how to select, use and care for them. This investment will pay dividends for the rest of your sewing life. Here are a few favorites:

Fabric Savvy: The Essential Guide for Every Sewer by Sandra Betzina

Claire Shaeffer’s Fabric Sewing Guide by Claire Shaeffer

Both of these books will serve as an excellent guide through a fabric store, whether it is virtual or brick and mortar. We recommend you get both as each contains nuggets of essential information you will find invaluable for years to come.

BEWARE OF POLYESTER: The obvious problem to picking out your material from a website is that what you see isn’t always what you get. Photos can make colors and textures seem lovelier than they are in real life. One hard and fast rule I have for myself is NEVER to buy polyester. Well, that is often a rule, but especially online. The colors may show brilliantly in a photo but unless you actually touch the fabric you can’t be sure of the quality. You may end up with something that feels like plastic or falls apart the first time you launder it.

BUY THE CORRECT WEIGHT: The pros select fabrics according to the correct weight and thickness, which determines the finished garment’s recovery. This means will the skirt sag or return to its pencil shape after wearing? Will the cotton that caught your eye work for a quilt (should be 4.5 ounces per yard) or is it too heavy or too sheer? If you can’t touch the fabric, you have to research the fabric recommendations for your item more thoroughly than you would in a shop where you can consult with the sales crew.

KNOW THE NAMES OF FABRICS: All cotton are not made alike. They can be heavy-weight twills that work for jacket, or lightweight prints that work best for curtains that will always hold their shape, rather than pants that will bag in the knees. Read descriptions of fabrics carefully and research any terms you don’t understand and compare with pattern recommendations.

INVESTIGATE MANUFACTURERS: Look up a company’s website and see if they specialize in dressmaking fabrics, upholstery or novelty fabrics. Look for reviews to learn if you need to steer clear of a particular company or if one of their fabrics has problems with colors or dye lots.


Start out by searching for fabric stores generically. See if your favorite blogs have recommendations. Post a query on a site you trust and see if anyone has experience with a site you are considering. See if the site has comments and if customers are happy or frustrated with the products or customer service rating. Be sure you can return items. Choose a site with email options so you can ask questions.


Waiting for swatches to arrive in the mail is frustrating for impulse buyers or those times when you need to whip something up quickly for a special occasion. However, if you put your name on a website’s mailing list, you may get seasonal packets of swatches so you can plan your sewing projects in advance. Better to wear something in your closet than order yardage sight unseen and have to return it because it wasn’t what you expected. In that case, you have to shop from your closet in any way.

These tips will help you buy with confidence from the comfort of your own home when you don’t have a fabric emporium near you.

Happy sewing!