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Sewing 101: Choosing Fabric

We’re so excited to have Theresa Gonzalez, the instructor for our brand new Sewing 101 class, sharing her first post with all of you today! She’ll be a regular fixture around these parts in the coming months, and we know you’ll appreciate her tips and insight into not only sewing, but design and decor as well. Read on for her thorough thoughts on fabric choice and a stellar discount code for her class!

 

Timber & Leaf Collection by Sarah Watts, 100% Cotton Timber & Leaf Collection by Sarah Watts, 100% Cotton

When you’re just learning to sew, you want to brush up on the many types of fabrics out there — from cottons to wools to silks to synthetics. Understanding how these fabrics work differently will help you choose the best fabric for your project. It’s so easy to be drawn to the beautiful prints you see in stores, but if you’re making a dress that needs to have some drape and you choose a fabric meant for upholstery, you’re not going to get the results you expect.

Here are six tips to help you choose the right fabric for your project (or the right project for a fabric that you love). It’s the first step in learning how to sew with professional-looking results.

1. Read your pattern: Whether your pattern comes from a store or a download, it should tell you what types of fabric you should use. As I mention in my class, I highly recommend sticking with the fabric your pattern calls for because the designer always knows best. Lightweight fabrics, like chiffon, crepe, and linen, work best for fashion projects while heavyweight fabrics, like upholstery-weight cottons or velvets, work best in home projects. Your fabric store will likely separate the home fabrics from the fashion fabrics, so note the sections when you arrive.Calico Corners Indigo & Citron Collection with upholstery-weight cottons

Calico Corners Indigo & Citron Collection with upholstery-weight cottons

 2. Look at the fabric bolt. When you find a fabric that you like, check the printed information found on or near the bolt. This will tell you the fiber content. There are four types of fibers: natural, man-made, synthetic and blends. Natural fibers include wool, silk, and cotton.  Man-made, which can be made with natural materials such as cellulose, include acrylic, rayon and acetate. Synthetic fibers are made completely from chemical sources, such as nylon, polyester and spandex. Blends are made from these three sources.

 Amy Butler Honeysuckle Bloom in Rayon Amy Butler Honeysuckle Bloom in Rayon

 3. Feel your fabric. You can tell a lot about the fabric by unwrapping it a couple feet from the bolt and holding it. Do you like how it feels on your skin — smooth like satin or nubby like corduroy? How does it drape — does it flow or just hang heavy and flat? Does the weight feel right for your project? For example, for a curtain, do you want to block light or let light in? Think about how you will use the project (how will you wear it — casually or to work? for home things, will guests be sitting on it or tossing it on the floor?) and note the comfort, durability, texture, and care of the fabric and decide if it’s right for you.

Nani Iro linen-cotton blend—“a floaty light gauze woven fabric”

Nani Iro linen-cotton blend—“a floaty light gauze woven fabric”

 4. Know your skill level. Some fabrics, like chiffons and satins, require more advanced sewing skills. If you are a beginner, I suggest starting out with light to medium-weight cottons. Cotton is a durable fabric, so it won’t snag in the machine like some other fabrics can without the right know-how. It’s inexpensive, so if you make a mistake you won’t be out of a lot of money. Plus, it can come in loads of fun prints, as I’ve shown here, which will inspire you to want to sew.

FreeSpirit Fabrics Notting Hill Collection, Lightweight Cotton

FreeSpirit Fabrics Notting Hill Collection, Lightweight Cotton

 5. Consider print. When you’re choosing a print for your project, you want to consider its size, color, and direction. If you’re working on a small project, like a bag, a big floral repeat may not be your best choice. If you’re working on a dress with curves, stripes may be difficult to keep even throughout the project. Also note that the color may look differently in the lighting of the store vs. your home. Bring home a swatch first to be sure you like it in your home or on your skin, or take it outside.

Liberty of London Tana Lawn Classics, 100% Cotton

Liberty of London Tana Lawn Classics, 100% Cotton

6. Review care instructions. The fabric bolt will also tell you how to care for your fabric so I suggest taking a photo of the information before you leave. Keep in mind that you should always pre-wash (according to care instructions) and press your fabric before sewing to avoid puckering after the first wash. If the fabric looks like it may require dry cleaning or gentle cleaning, you might want to consider an alternative fabric if that’s not your thing.

 

She really knows her stuff, right? If you’re looking to learn even more from Theresa (and we know want to!), use the discount code SEWSEWSEW now through February 4th to save 30% on her Sewing 101 class! The code is good on all sessions of the class, which will be held bi-monthly starting in February. So if you received a sewing machine for Christmas and it’s already collecting dust or if you just need to brush up on your skills so you can start DIY-ing your way to a new wardrobe or fresh decor, now is your chance to learn how with Nicole’s Classes!

  1. 1
    Vaishali

    Which is a good sewing machine you would recommend? I am a non-sewer, interested in learning sewing but have no clue which is a good machine.

  2. 2

    Hi Vaishali: I started out on a Kenmore and it worked great for more than 15 years—and I used it a lot. The model isn’t available anymore but the 19233 looks comparable. I upgraded to a Janome DC2012 a couple years ago and I’ve been really happy with it. It’s what I use to teach the Sewing 101 course. Berninas are wonderful machines too but they tend to be on the pricey side (but worth the money if you can afford one). My best advice is to read reviews for the machines in your price range. If you’re just starting out, you don’t need to spend more than a couple hundred dollars—you’ll get plenty of features from that price point.

  3. 3
    Pam

    Great tips, I look forward to reading more blog posts from you Theresa.

  4. 4

    You wrote that an important part of choosing fabric is by holding and feeling it. I’ve been looking for some good fabric to make a nice skirt for my daughter. I’ll have to find a good fabric store that allows me to feel, so that I can find a fabric that will be comfortable for her to wear.

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