How to Shop for Fabrics

Posted by on April 18, 2013

Making your own home accents can save you a bundle and give you a very put-together look. Over the years, I’ve made window valances, cornice boards, pillow covers, slipcovers, curtains, shower curtains, tablecloths, table runnersFabric aisle, and even a fabric-covered waste basket. And it’s saved me literally hundreds of dollars.

I was fortunate to have learned to sew in high school (I lost a bet with my mom that I could hem pants and ended up bringing back pedal pushers and getting enrolled in home economics!) and have found I much prefer home decorating projects to apparel.

But, the fabric store can be a daunting place for a home decorator. While making some of your own textile projects for your room can save money (and isn’t as hard as you might think), many people get overwhelmed and give up too soon. So many choices, not just in patterns but in types of fabric … where to begin? With just a few details in mind, your stress and overwhelm in the fabric store can be drastically reduced.


1. Know what kind of fabric your project needs.

If you’re working on home accents such as pillow covers, slipcovers, window treatments, etc., you’ll want to find the “home décor” department in the fabric store. There are several differences between home décor and apparel fabrics. Fabrics meant for home décor (“home dec”) use are typically heavier, especially if they’re meant for upholstery, and have been tested for wear and durability. If you compare the feel of a home dec fabric with an apparel fabric, the difference is apparent. Some are even woven from stain-resistant fibers, or have been treated for stain-resistance. Also, home dec fabric is 54 inches wide, whereas apparel fabric is usually 36 or 45 inches wide.

If you’re not sure what type of fabric your project requires, ask the staff at your fabric store. I’ve often been directed to even better options than I originally planned!

On this trip to the fabric store I was looking for outdoor fabric to make new covers for some existing lumbar pillows for my patio re-do. Outdoor fabrics are a specialty type of home dec fabrics that are meant to withstand the elements. They’re usually polyester or acrylic. They have either been surface treated with an ultraviolet protectant (so they won’t fade in the sun), or are woven from fibers that are inherently fade-resistant. There are definitely different levels of quality outdoor fabric, with brands like Sunbrella® and Outdura® leading the way.

Luckily, this store had a wide variety of outdoor fabrics clearly marked and this is where I focused my efforts.


2. Know your palette: compare, sort and eliminate.

I know my inspiration fabric for this project is a print, so I was looking for a stripe, or perhaps a smaller print, to complement that fabric. The colors of my palette—sea blue, lime and coral/orange—were also top of mind. Already the field of fabric candidates has narrowed.

All of the outdoor fabric was marked $19.99 per yard, and I had a 50 percent off coupon, so price was not an issue as I chose among the fabrics, but sometimes cost can be a factor in your selection.

The selection process is really a bit like the Goldilocks story: you just keep trying until something is just right.

Fabric #1

Fabric 1

This fabric drew me to this store, as I had seen it online at the store’s site. (Tip: Comparison shop online for sales and selection before getting in your car.) Once I found it in the sea of fabric bolts, I liked the muted tones of the stripes, but when I looked at the care instructions (printed on the end of the bolt), I saw that it was dry-clean only. (See “How to Read a Fabric Label” below.) Well, for me that took it out of the running. This fabric is going to be used next to a swimming pool, so it’s going to get wet! Plus, I need something I can hose off or throw in the washer.

Luckily, there were many other options.

Fabric #2

Fabric 2

This next fabric seemed like a good option. It had all three of my colors, and it’s machine washable. It’s made in Malaysia. I liked it, and it could be “it” if there’s nothing better.  So, I kept looking.

Fabric #3

Fabric 3

 Ah-ha! This next one had all of my colors, a smaller stripe, a bit of yellow, it’s more muted than the last one, and it would go really well with my dishes! It even has a thin brown stripes that relate to the bronze-colored patio furniture. This looked like it could be … oh, wait … “spot clean with water free agent/professional cleaning recommended.” Again, not good for my application!

Fabric #4

Fabric 4

OK – now we’re talking! This fabric had my key colors of sea blue and lime, with a dash of orange. It also introduces a bit of yellow, which I know will be used in the dining area, and a hint of cobalt blue which will tie in to some cobalt blue tiles in the table that will go between the chaises. (I couldn’t find turquoise tiles, and was worried the cobalt would be too dark. This fabric would be the perfect bridge!) Plus, this fabric is washable and made in the U.S.A. Winner! Here’s the label of my winning fabric:

 Fabric label 3


3. Know the yardage your project requires.

We’re not out of the store yet! After selecting the fabric, take it to the cutting table where a store assistant will cut it for you.

It’s important to know the dimensions of your project before heading to the fabric store, as these figures will determine how much fabric (yardage) you need to buy. The finished size of the pillows I’m working on is 21 inches by 13 inches. This fabric is 54 inches wide, so even with a seam allowance of 1.25 inches, I know I can get both pieces out of one width of fabric. And, with a yard equaling 36 inches, I can get by with just 1 yard of fabric (13+13+6 inch seam and overlap allowance).  I should have just enough left over to make tie backs on the outdoor curtains.

Hurray! Total cost for fabric: $10.

So there you have it! Three simple steps to conquering your fear of fabric. Good luck on your next home décor project!


How to Read Fabric Label