What To Look For When Buying Fabric
By Skywing Knights // December 29, 2019
Hello my fellow creative spirits!
As I love to find fabric stores when I travel, this page lists out some of my favorite regular stores to hit up for buying fabric as well as some more specialty stores you can go to when you travel to places like the Big Apple or Tokyo! That being said, this blog post is in celebration of this recommendation page launching. (Which you should totally visit btw, just saying). So today we’re going to discuss 5 tips for buying fabric for your projects. So let’s get started!
1. Buy for Texture/Weight (material), then color.
I freakin’ LOVE texture. To semi quote Jim Gaffigan, texture is the bacon of the fabric world. Every fabric in the world is going to have a slightly different texture, depending on the material. This texture, along with the weight, is what makes different fabrics appropriate for different projects. A thin soft cotton will not give off the impression that you’ve created alien gauntlets used for battle – maybe you’ve created some kind of winter glove instead? In other words, it would just be confusing!
Appropriate texture and weight will add credibility and believability to whatever it is you’re making. It makes people believe that your end product could in fact be used for what it’s original intended purpose would be. Elsa’s cloak shimmers and is flowy – so you’d use a fabric that is sheer and light. You wouldn’t use a heavy satin that drops to the ground easily and would have difficulty flowing in the wind, even if it is shiny. Color will not make up for texture and weight.
If you can’t find the right color in the specific texture you need – KEEP LOOKING. I guarantee it exists and even if it doesn’t, that’s what dyes are for. It’s far better to have a material that looks credible and is maybe a tad off color anyway than something that looks like a cheap Halloween costume you got from the dollar store.
2. Always see it in person before you buy.
I can not stress this one enough!! For as often as we look at screens in our lives, colors are often not displayed true to life when we see images of fabric. Why? Because photographers all use different lighting, cameras, post production work, etc. There’s just no way to guarantee that Fabric Sample A is indeed darker than Fabric Sample B, especially if they’re from different stores on different sites.
For that reason, I always recommend asking for Swatches – pieces of fabric that you can use to compare them to others. And if you have the chance, go see things in person! If an online store is unwilling to send you a swatch, I’d be very wary and only purchase or consider those fabrics as a last resort.
3. Buy more than you need
Alright, you’ve chosen your fabric – now how much do you get? The answer should always be more than you’d expect to need. Depending on the project, I may get anywhere from .5 to 3 yards more of a specific material. I do this for multiple reasons but the primary reasons are:
- If you mess up, you want extra so you can go back and try again
- You may need more than you originally estimated
- Extra can always be used in other projects
So how much is enough? Think about your experience level, past projects and what you used on those, and if you expect needing more (for instance, if something could easily be ruined in a project). For smaller pieces, I’d likely get no more than an extra yard. For bigger projects, I tend to get 1-2 yards more (especially with capes, cloaks, jackets, and dresses, I might consider 3 – particularly if it’s a good material I may use on other projects and if I expect a challenge sewing my initial project).
If you’re using a material that you’re unfamiliar with or a material that may be hard to come by in the future, put your mind at ease and buy more than you’d think is necessary. The worst thing is the feeling of realizing you’ve screwed up and are back to square one and looking for that material again, particularly when the first one, the original, was the best.
4. Make sure the fabric isn’t ‘Cheapy’
I HATE cheap fabric. I hate buying fabric that’s cheap even more. It wears out easily, may only make it through a few washes, has no integrity, and in general just looks bad. So how can you tell if material is “cheap”.
The best thing to do is feel the fabric and look at the edges – does it fray easily? When you pull on it, does it feel weak – like you could rip it easily? Does it feel like one of those $60 shirts from Abercombie and Fitch that always get holes in them after 2 washes? Or worse, does it feel like those cheap costumes people buy for Halloween, expecting them to rip or tear at some point during the night?
If you suspect or recognize any of these attributes in the fabric you are holding, walk away (unless for whatever reason you need cheap fabric). But trust me, in general, you’ll be very grateful you did.
5. Bring swatches of other pre-purchased fabric and references.
I can’t stress this one enough! Unless you’re Sheldon Cooper with an eidetic memory, your memory of something will never be as good as having references in front of you. So bring pictures. Bring printed ones if possible. (Remember, screen images always look different, even on your phone with the light adjustments!)
And if you have material already bought for other parts of the project, bring swatches of those to make sure other material that you’re getting matches – is in the same type of color/weight/texture family, etc. The end result will be projects with a much more cohesive look to them with all of your pieces seeming to go together, well, seamlessly!
And that’s it! I hope this helps you with your fabric shopping. What tips do you have for those buying fabric? We’d love to hear from you in the comments! And again, be sure to check out our Fabric Shop Recommendation lists to find some A-Class stores with A-Class materials for buying fabric and supplies. (Also, if you’re looking for some help in picking out Wigs for Cosplay, be sure to check out our Wig Shop Recommendation Page too along with our Wig Shopping Tips post!)
PS. If you’re able to figure out my next cosplay based on the photos I used above, serious points to you. 😉 Happy Cosplaying! ^_^