Sewing School // Hello Fabric

When it comes to choosing fabric for a sewing project the options are almost endless. This for me is the best part about being able to sew, I can choose exactly what I want my dress/quilt/'insert any other fabric made item here' to look like. I am not limited by what is currently available in my local shop or online. If I like a particular style that went out of fashion twenty years ago I can remake it today. But before you reach the stage of making anything you'd like from any fabric you can find you will need to know a little bit about what to look for.

What Kind of Fabric?
Most good patterns that you find will give you some suggestions of the type of fabric to buy. I would say, before you consider what print you'd like the fabric to be, you need to think about 3 main factors of your fabric.

1. How Thick Do I Need My Fabric To Be?
Fabric can vary from very thin (or lightweight) to very thick (or heavy). The lighter it is the more floaty your fabric will be. Aim to buy something as close as possible to the suggested fabrics on the list. For example, if you're hoping to make a summery vest top you'll probably need something quite lightweight, but you could probably get away with something a little thicker if you find something you love. But your top just won't look right if you try and make it form some upholstery cotton (which is very thick and heavy). In contrast if you want to re-upholster a chair then the lightweight organza you have fallen for probably isn't going to be hardwearing enough to cover your furniture.

2. What Is It Make From?
Most fabric you will find will probably be cotton based. Cotton is a good place to start when you are learning to sew, it's easy to work with, washes well and comes in every colour and pattern you can probably imagine. If you have a look in the labels in your clothes you will see some other options of what is available. When you get dressed over the next week or so check out each label and feel the fabric until you have an idea for what different fabrics feel like. I can't possibly list everything that is available here but your project pattern will probably have some suggestions and you can always ask in your local fabric shop, they'll be happy to explain it all to you.

3. Does is Stretch?
If your project says you need a stretch fabric then buying something that doesn't stretch simply won't work. Fabrics with no stretch (or at least very little) are much easier to sew with when you are just learning so look out for projects made from 'woven' fabrics. Woven simply means that the fabric won't be stretchy. When you have mastered this you can move on to the stretchy stuff. When it comes to stretchy there are two mains kinds. Firstly 'knit' fabrics which have non stretch cotton threads knitted together to give it some stretch. Or 'jersey' which are made from stretch threads.

Where Can I Buy Fabric?
When you first start out buying fabric it can be tough to find the right place that sells what you are looking for. Find out if you have any local shops that sell fabric. Some fabric shops may only sell a certain type of fabric though, for example we have a little shop near us that sells quilting fabrics and they're all quite traditional prints. I would come out an unhappy shopper if I went in there looking for something to sew up a party dress. But you might find something near you that sells exactly what you are looking for. Once you have looked locally have a browse online, there are now hundreds of places that you can order your fabric from and most are happy to send you a sample before you purchase a few metres. You can also have a look on eBay, you'll probably be surprised how many companies sell fabric via eBay. The fabric shown at the very top of this post is all vintage sheets collected from charity shops or car boot sales so don't rule these out as options for places to look.

How Much Should I Buy?
Fabric usually comes in 1 of two widths, either 45" or 60" across. Then you can buy whatever length you need of that width. Most patterns will tell you right at the start how much of each width you need. Sometimes a pattern will talk about Fat Quarters (or FQ's). To get a Fat Quarter the seller will cut 1 yard of their fabric, then cut in half and in half again. Thus they make 4 pieces, or 4 quarters of a metre; hence Fat 'Quarter'. Buying fabric by the fat quarter is really handy if you are making something that needs smaller pieces such as a quilt or a cushion cover. If you are making something larger like clothing and you don't have a particular project in mind yet then 2-2.5m of the fabric will be enough for most items of clothing. You can always buy it and look for what you want to make with it afterwards.

Finally, What Do I Do With It?
Having spent all that time and effort choosing the perfect fabric it can be quite nerve-wracking to cut into it. To help you out I will explain a few things about it.

1. The Selvedge Edge
All fabrics come with a selvedge edge. This is a couple of centimetres of the fabrics running all the way down the edge that is woven more tightly than the rest to stop the fabric from unravelling when it's on the roll. As above, on many fabrics the selvedge will be a different colour to the main fabric, it may have little colour dots (or rabbits heads apparently) that represent the different colours in the fabric. This can be handy if you are trying to find to fabrics that will coordinate. Its a good idea when cutting the pieces for your project to avoid the selvedge. You won't want this showing on your project. If you know they will only be in your seam allowance then you can include them but only do this if you are sure. On plain fabrics the selvedge will probably be the same colour as the main fabric, you will be able to find it though by feeling along the edges, the one that feels the thickest is your selvedge.

2. The Right and Wrong Side
Most Fabrics have a right and a wrong side. As you can see above the 'right side' has the vibrant colours on and the 'wrong side' will be paler. On plain fabrics you may not be able to see a difference between the sides. When you cut out pattern pieces from your fabric make sure you cut them all out from the same side or you may find they don't match up properly. Also remember that most of the time you need to sew the pieces with 'right sides together' so that the seam will be on the back.

3. The Grainline and the Bias
These two words are important when it comes to cutting up your fabric. They both refer to a direction along the fabric. The Grainline is the direction that is parallel to the selvedge. Many patterns will have markings on to show you which way the grain line should lie for each pattern piece. Try to put this line as close as possible to the grain line.

The Bias on the other hand runs diagonally across the fabric. If you cut your fabric on the bias it has more movement and becomes almost stretchy. It can be very important to cut your fabric on the bias. So when you start cutting it up pay close attention to which direction you need to cut.

So there you have it, this guide to fabric will set you off in the right direction as you learn to sew. I am adding an extra section in to 'Sewing School' before I give you some suggestions for beginner projects on understudying patterns. So come back on Friday to see this. Have fun. Zoe xx

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