Upgrading Your Fabric Choices

Quilting cotton is so fun. It totally is. It comes in about a million adorable and awesome prints, it is super easy to work with, washes well, and it fairly inexpensive. Did I mention the awesome array of prints? Yeah. I love it too. But ultimately quilting cotton is intended for making, well, quilts.

One of the best ways to level up your sewing it to make the switch from using craft fabrics to using apparel fabrics. I know this can feel like a big change because it can feel a little bit like a gamble. Basic cottons are familiar. The quality varies, but the way they sew and drape is consistent. It’s also really good to beginner sewing projects like elastic waist skirts, fit and flare dresses, and pajama pants.

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Quilting cotton dress. Such a great print!

As our sewing skills grow, it is well worth investigating all the wonderful types of fabrics available specifically for making clothing! Why? Because most clothing items benefit from a specific kind of drape, texture, stretch, and weight. When you skip past the craft fabrics, you open your sewing world to endless possibilities. It takes learning what types of fabrics are needed for each type of garment, but once you get the basics down the reward is that much sweeter.

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Fashion fabrics purchased at a local fabric store.

There are a few ways to learn more about apparel fabrics.

  1. Kits! Indie pattern designers have been creating more and more kits, and these are a great way to learn about fabrics. The designers have completely taken the guess work out of the process. When you order a pattern kit you know the fabric will be the perfect match. Usually they tell you the content, washing directions, and other information that you can store for reference when shopping for yourself.
  2. Blog Posts! Pattern designers frequently put up fabric inspiration posts to go along with new patterns. These often contain links to exact fabrics that will work with the pattern. This type of post can be super informative because even if you find this information well after a pattern launch, you can see what is still on offer in the same category. It’s also worth looking at blog posts from others who have made that pattern. Most of the time they will discuss the fabrics used, and gathering a sample of examples can help point you in the right direction.
  3. Social Media! IG, Facebook, Pattern Review, etc. These are all places where people frequently post their projects and you can gather not just inspiration pictures, but also information on fabrics used. There are also several people who sell fabric over social media, and this is especially good if you like a niche fabric. Want geek themed cotton jersey? Look to Facebook! Want some 1930s seersucker? You can find that too.
  4. Swatches! Not sure what 3oz. means in the fabric description? Afraid the jersey won’t have enough stretch? Ask for a swatch. Some stores will cut one for you to take home for experiments, some online stores have a place for you to request a swatch, and others will gladly provide them when requested. Ask for a few so you can get a really good sense of what the fabrics are like in person.
  5. Local Fabric Stores! The availability of a local shop varies a lot, but if you have one, then get your butt down there and feel up those fabrics! Look at labels. Ask shop employees what will work for your pattern. Pull those bolts out and see how the fabric moves. Stores all have their own policies, but you should absolutely be able to get a sense of the fabric before buying.

And, I promise you, apparel fabrics come at all price points. Starting with craft fabrics is great for your budget, but fashion fabrics are super affordable too. I’ve been known to scour the $3/yard flat folds at discount fabric stores. Perfect for trial runs on new patterns! Of course, the sky is the limit, and you can also go big with silks and fancy fabrics too 🙂 One plus side to many modern apparel fabrics is their wide width. 56-60 inches wide is awesome for keeping yardage needs in check.

So, as we head into Me Made May, keep an eye on those fabrics. There will be plenty of inspiration on display, and lots of opportunity to learn more about how to choose the best fabrics to take your makes to the next level!


6 thoughts on “Upgrading Your Fabric Choices

  1. I think this was super informative but I have to be honest, my favorite part was you telling us to “feel up those fabrics”. It made me laugh out loud.

  2. I’m a die-hard for using quilting cotton in certain applications–for instance, shirtdresses! A-line skirts are another great choice! I like to wear both in wild prints, so it’s a match made in heaven for me. But it is true that actual apparel fabrics are often more affordable. A quality quilting cotton will be at least $10/yd., but linen or lawn can be found for only $5 or $6/yd. sometimes–& in wider widths to boot.

    When I first started sewing, I had New Sewer Fancy Dress Syndrome & wanted all the prints. But as I built up my self-sewn wardrobe & actually started wearing me-made on a daily basis, I realized I really needed basics, neutrals, & solids to fill in the gaps. My first Me-Made May, I bought six yards of solid black cotton jersey (maybe $6/yd.) & whipped up an army of black t-shirts to wear with all vast collection of quilting cotton A-line skirts in all kinds of wacky prints.

    1. I still use it frequently for kid clothes since the patterns are so fun, but usually find enough apparel fabric in fun prints for myself. But sometimes a specific print still ends up in my stash!

  3. It is so worth making the switch. I made a heap of dresses from quilting cotton and I loved those prints so much, but my favourite dresses were the one I made from apparel fabric (in a lovely rose print) and the one I made from stretch sateen (in a blue flower print). When I realised I was wearing those two the most, I started looking for the slightly more expensive fabrics. Thankfully, a lot of them tend to come in amazing prints, too!

    Where do I find my fabrics? Frequently, I find great quality fabrics in secondhand shops for crazy cheap prices. Otherwise, I wait for sales and head to a shop with a firm idea in my mind. Recently, I managed to buy already discounted fabric with a further 30% off: winning!

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