Best Place To Buy Fabric Online – Your Easy How to Guide

  • Does buying fabric make you feel like a fish out of water?
  • . . . or worse, you don’t even want to set foot into a fabric store because it seems overwhelming?

Don’t worry. After reading the information on this page you will feel much more comfortable with how to buy fabric – either online or at your local fabric stores.

Fabric General Information

Fabric is shipped to stores in what is called “bolts”. These bolts of fabric can either be rolled onto a cardboard tube or folded onto a flat piece of cardboard.

Rolled Bolts 

Rolled Bolts

Flat Bolts

Flat Bolts

Quilting and craft fabric are usually found on flat folded bolts. Home Décor and apparel (clothing) fabric can be found on both rolled and folded bolts, depending upon the style and manufacturer.

Types Of Clothing Fabrics

where to get cheap fabric

When buying fabric, you will often find in most large chain fabric stores, the displays are usually grouped by types of fabric. For example, the craft and quilting fabric may be found all in the front of the store, and all the home décor and upholstery fabric in the back. Signage above the displays usually helps you to identify which area you are in. Occasionally smaller independently owned stores may not be set up this way, so be sure to ask an employee if you are having trouble.

It is helpful to know when you’re buying fabric that some stores are dedicated to one specific type of fabric. For example, you will find stores that only carry home décor fabrics. Others will be exclusively for quilting or craft fabrics.

Fabric Uses

When you are shopping for and buying fabric, don’t be afraid to select one that is categorized for a different use. For example, you may find a denim fabric in the apparel/clothing section that would be perfect for curtains in your teen’s bedroom. Or you may find a lightweight quilting fabric that would make a cute casual summer skirt. Mix and match; use your imagination and experiment.

One note of caution when buying fabric outside its normal category: be sure to check the care/washing instructions. For example, if you plan to wash your finished product often, make sure the fabric is not dry clean only. Also be sure the “weight” of your selected fabric works well with its intended use. For example, you may love the design of a lightweight apparel or craft fabric, but if you plan to use it on furniture, be aware that it could wear out or rip far too soon for your liking.

Know Your Fabrics: the Most Important Facts About

Important Fabric InformationInformation such as width of fabric, washing instructions, price per yard, fiber content, country of origin and amount on a full bolt, is usually available on the end of the flat fabric bolt.

To find this information on a rolled bolt of fabric, look for a tag attached to the cardboard tube. Sometimes it is on a piece of paper attached to the tube with a plastic hang tag, other times it is on a piece of paper glued to the inside of the tube.

Be sure to look for this information when buying fabric so that your selection is the best one for your finished product.

Having your Fabric Cut

A store employee will cut, from the bolt, the amount of fabric you wish to purchase. In most cases you will bring the fabric(s) you have selected to a cutting area (and wait in line sometimes) for it to be cut. If your desired fabric is on a large display roller, a store employee may need to assist you in moving it to the cutting area. Ask before struggling to remove the fabric from the display.

Most fabric stores will have a designated cutting space with a table or cutting board to accurately measure the amount you need. However, I have been in a few stores, where the employees will use a measuring stick and then cut right off the roll on the display while it’s still hanging. If buying fabric in one of these shops, watch carefully that the cutting line is straight across the width of the fabric. (If the cut is not straight, you could end up getting a slightly smaller piece at one end.) To protect yourself from shortages, you may want to request a slightly larger amount than your pattern calls for. This will save you any headaches when you get home and find out your fabric is just a tiny bit too short on one end.

How much?

The fabric is produced in many different sizes of widths. Typical fabric width sizes are as follows (in inches) 36, 38, 42, 44/45, 48, 54, 58, 59, 60 72, & 108. Occasionally you may find fabric in widths other than mentioned here but these are the most common. (See “Important Fabric information” and photo above to learn how to identify the fabric width.)

Look for information on your sewing pattern, if you are using one, to determine the amount of fabric you will need. Please note that a different amount may be required depending upon the width of the fabric. In many cases, the wider the fabric, the less length of fabric you will need.

The amount of fabric on a whole bolt in retail stores varies, depending upon the manufacture and thickness of the fabric. It can be anywhere from 8 to 30 yards or more. (approx 7 to 27 meters).

If your project requires a large amount of fabric and you would like to purchase an entire unopened bolt, arrangements can often be made with the store to order one for you. (Be sure to ask about shipping charges to ship from the warehouse to the store. Some stores will charge you even if it is a fabric normally stocked in their store. Ask so you don’t have any surprises later.)

Store policies vary regarding the minimum amount of fabric they will cut for you. Some required a 1/8 yard minimum. Others will be a 1/4 yard or more. Check with an employee to be sure. (Some online fabric stores will only sell fabric in full or half yard increments.)

Fabric Samples Pieces

If you are trying to decide between several different fabrics, and would like to take a small piece home before you make your final selection, you can ask if the store provides “swatches“. Some stores will give you this free small piece, cut off one edge of the bolt. Ask a store employee about this. (If the store does not provide swatches ask them what is the smallest size they will sell)

Never cut a swatch piece for yourself. Believe it or not, I have seen customers do this, and as you can imagine, the employees were not happy!

Fabric Odds and Ends

Many fabric stores will also have what is called a “remnant“. It is basically a piece of fabric that is left over from the original bolt. It is often folded and marked with a sticker to indicate the size of the piece. (If the size is not marked, an employee will need to measure it for you.)

Usually stores will only sell the remnant piece as is, and will not cut it into a smaller amount for you. Some (not all) remnant pieces are sold cheaper than their original price per yard. Depending on the amount you need, buying fabric in a remnant piece could be the way to go. You may get lucky and find the right size for a great price.
Usually stores will only sell the remnant piece as is, and will not cut it into a smaller amount for you. Some (not all) remnant pieces are sold cheaper than their original price per yard. Depending on the amount you need, buying fabric in a remnant piece could be the way to go. You may get lucky and find the right size for a great price.

A few words about Dye Lots:

When a manufacture colors, or dyes, a large amount of fabric at one time it is given a dye lot number. If two different bolts of fabric have the same dye lot numbers it means that all of that fabric was dyed at the same time. The color, intensity and tone will match. However, if two bolts of fabric have different dye lot numbers, it means they were colored (dyed) at different times using separate batches of dyes. Even thought the manufacturer uses the same dying process, the end results can be slightly different and often noticeable.

You may be surprised sometimes to see how different the same fabric, from different dye lots, can look. When buying fabric from two different bolts, it is best if they are from the same dye lot.

This information is important when using fabric from different bolts for the same project.

Be mindful that if the dye lots are different it could be noticeable in your finished project. This is especially true if the fabrics are either seamed together or next to each other, for example on set of curtains.

Types of Fabrics

Fabric comes in many, many different styles and textures. The following is a general guide to use when buying fabric. Remember, as stated in the information above, don’t be afraid to use a fabric outside it normal category use. Be creative, experiment and have fun!

Fashion Fabric – This type of fabric is most often used for clothing. These can be either woven or knit in construction. Knit fabric has more “stretch” than woven fabric. For example, tee shirt fabric is knit, and denim fabric is woven.

Some examples of this fashion fabric are:

  • Lightweight cotton or polyester
  • Lightweight silks
  • Wools and wool blends
  • Denim or other “bottom weights”
  • Stretchy knits
  • Flannel
  • Velvet

Home Décor Fabric – This type of fabric is used in all aspects of home decorating. It includes lightweight sheer fabric for curtains, heavy weight upholstery fabric and everything in between. Often, but not always, this fabric is available in a wider width than other type of fabrics. 54” wide is a common size for home décor fabric.

Quilting Fabric – This lightweight fabric comes in a very large variety of colors, designs, as well as solids. It is usually made of a lightweight cotton or a cotton blend.

Other types of fabric include

  • Fleece
  • Utility
  • Craft

The Most Important Lesson About Buying Fabric Online

Okay, so I learned the hard way. A few years ago, I ordered fabric eight yards of the most gorgeous red heavy silkish cheap fabric I’d ever seen from one of the online fabric retailers. As I looked at it on my computer, I could see the very dress I was going to make with it. Maybe even a long jacket. Eagerly, I filled out the order form and sent in my credit card number. And then like a kid waiting for Christmas, I ran to the mailbox every day hoping it was there.

It took about a week (a watched mailbox never boils,) but when it finally arrived I was so excited I ripped open the package before I even got back to the house. And that’s when my heart dropped right out of my chest. The gorgeous red silk was actually a watermelon color with some weird ridges running through it. Definitely not the fabric I ordered from this . What a disappointment.

Not to be undone, I quickly got online to get the customer service phone number and fix the situation. No phone number. Just a generic email address and a submit form. Well, that was better than nothing. When I finally did get someone to talk to me about the mistake, I found out it wasn’t a mistake at all. And I learned the most important lesson about buying fabric online…

Colors On Your Monitor May Not Be Accurate.

Apparently, different monitors show color differently. So what was actually watermelon, looked like a deep cherry red on my computer screen. Always ask for a swatch, unless you know for sure what you’re getting.

Fortunately, the customer service representative took pity on me and said “It’s okay, just send it back to us and we’ll refund your money (minus a restocking fee, of course.)” Which leads us to lessons two and three…

buy cotton fabricMake sure you can get a hold of a real person at the company (by phone, preferably).

It’s best if the website has an actual brick and mortar store somewhere. But if not, a phone number and mailing address somewhere on the site is a good sign.

Check their return policy.

Be sure you can return your nice dress fabric if there’s a mistake. And find out who pays for shipping.

Remember when I said this was a few years ago? Well, I came across this pile of pink stuff just the other day. That’s right, I never did return it. At the time, I was a busy mom of three very young children and it got pushed to the back burner until it was just too late. I can’t even remember the website I ordered it from anymore.  Which brings us to lesson four…

If you do need to return something like dress fabric, do it promptly.

There’s no sense in holding onto fabric you’ve got no use for. So, do you like watermelon pink fabric? Send me an email…I’ve got a present for the first person to claim it (Update: Already claimed!)

Check Price and Buyer Reviews at Amazon

Got any online purchasing stories of your own? Cheapest place to buy fabric or online discount fabric store?

I’d love to hear them. Send me a message and I will share it on the website!