How to choose the right fabric for your project

I get it. You found drool-worthy fabric at your favorite local boutique. It’s crinkly softness falls gently across your palm, with a width that a duvet-maker would fawn over. The print just keeps moving, dancing across the top of the main color — YOUR color. You’ve already imagined draping across your body like a European runway model. I sooo get you. I’ve imagined the same thing. I‘ve visualized the potential.. I’ve visualized strolling through the village wearing my trendy dress while the breeze shows off its movement. Then the daydream becomes a nightmare because I’m cringing at how totally friggin’ awful it turned out. Then in the nightmare my dress is on fire because I’m in HELL because I didn’t know my fabric types. YOU GET ME???

Was it the pattern? Was it the sewing skills? The moons simply must not have been aligned.

It’s happened to me too, which is why I’m urging you. Learn your fabric. The right fabric will make your project — the wrong fabric will ruin your life. I know you’re thinking, “but why!!?? This fabric is gorgeous! I’ll make a dress out of it! Or a skirt!”

Fabric is the MOST IMPORTANT PART of sewing. 

And if you’ve spent your hard-earned dollars on high-quality fabric (anywhere upwards of $30–70/yard), it’s a huge waste. If you’re new to making clothes, or even other sewing projects, here’s a free crash course on learning what fabrics will work for what types of projects.

Here’s what happens if you don’t keep reading.

You fall in love with a poly-whatever blend. You buy 2 yards because you wanted 1 but fear of missing out struck when the saleslady asked what you were making and quietly tisked in disapproval, asking if “you’re sure that’s all you’ll need.” Yea, lady, shut it. You get the fabric home.

It sits on the table for 2 weeks. You become slightly daunted because projects get bigger in your head the longer you wait. After ironing the absolute hell out of it with fury (because American fabric stores never seem to master clean, polite folding), you spread it out and set to work cutting out pieces for your project. After piecing things together you begin ironing your seams, but for some reason you can’t get them to flatten in the corners. You take dullish scissors to them, hoping a few cute triangles will force those seams to behave.

They don’t. You continue on anyway because you’ve already cut your pieces out. You fight EVERY SINGLE PIECE to lay correctly, and mid-sewing, you stop to pull the top piece tighter than the bottom piece throughout all the corners. Screw it, you say. You’re going to make it fit no matter wh- oh crap. Drool-worthy poly-whatever isn’t playing nicely, because fitting the pieces together involves a bias shift, so one layer is stretching better than the other. Ugh. You force the project and try it on. “ARGHHHH WHY GOD WHY DID I TRY THIS!!!” It looks hideous because it doesn’t hug your body, unless your body shape resembles a lampshade. You decide to put away the machine and try your hand at crochet.

Here’s how to know what will work.

When in doubt of blends & odd fabrics, ask. It’s the store’s job to help you, and with smaller local shops, they’re dying to help, seriously.

Dress fabrics:

  • linen (runway ready, traveler, working girl)
  • wool (european style, winter dresses over leggings)
  • cotton (day & night)
  • rayon (working girl)
  • silk (feminine – nights out)
  • knit (flirty – day & night)

Skirt fabrics:

  • rayon (wrinkles easy!)
  • cotton (casual)
  • denim (casual, smart casual)
  • linen (runway ready, traveler, working girl)

Pant fabrics:

  • linen (runway ready, stylish traveler, working girl)
  • denim (casual, smart casual)
  • wool (european cuts, winter style)

Shirt fabrics:

  • linen (beach ready, runway ready, traveler, working girl)
  • flannel (casual, travel)
  • chambray (stylish casual)
  • silk (daytime working girl or night out)
  • knit (working girl, stylish)

Remember, it doesn’t matter how cute the fabric is if it’s used for the wrong thing. If you fall in love with a certain print, let the fabric type tell you what it wants to be!

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