Fabric for Your Sewing Project

If you are getting ready to start a new sewing project, choosing a fabric will be the most important step once you decide what you want to make. After you’ve gone to all the trouble and expense of buying the sewing machine you love, a pattern you love, and a fabric you love, you want the finished product to be a success, right? One way to accomplish that is to start by making sure your fabric is truly right for the project. Of course, sometimes the project you endeavor to make will determine the type of fabric you use. For example, if you’re making a quilt, you’ll automatically want to use quilter’s weight cotton for best results.

But what if you want to make an item of clothing? How do you know which fabric will give you the best result? Picking a fabric simply because you love the print or design on it isn’t necessarily the best method. While it is a good idea to be sure you like the fabric you choose, you don’t want to finish a project only to discover you’ve chosen the wrong type of fabric—and your completed dress slacks become a pair of harem pants. You get the picture. So in order to avoid doing an entire project for virtually nothing, we’ve compiled some tips to help you decide which fabric is right for your project.

Consider the Characteristics

Let’s say you already have a project in mind; how do you find the right fabric for it?  One way is to look at similar items in stores—or ones you already have. What were those made of? Try to find something similar. Then, think of the characteristics you want the finished product to have. If clothing, will it be fitted or loose? Dressy or everyday? For warm weather or cold? Do you want a solid color or a print?  If you are making a non-wearable item such as a pillow cover or potholder, use a sturdy fabric such as canvas. And pay attention to washing instructions for the fabric you buy! That will be important in both the short term and the long term.

Take Notes and Photos

There is so much information out there about fabrics, their characteristics, and their uses, it could get to be overwhelming!  So don’t try to take it in all at once; just start with the project at hand.  Learn all you can about the fabric you use for this one project. Take notes and take pictures. By the time you have finished several projects using a variety of fabrics, you will have a good start toward being an expert! But remember to take it one project at a time. You will be glad to have the notes and photos to return to and look back over later.


It’s a good idea to collect some books about the various types of fabric—and much information is available online if you’re willing to search it out. Also, keep a record of ones you do use, with all the pertinent facts about them. Include little swatches for reference. There will come a time when you’ll be glad you went to the trouble to do so. You will have your own little library of information to browse when you start each new project.

Follow the Suggestions

You will have times when you have a fabric that you love and will have to find something to make out of it, and in that case, your best bet is to find a pattern for that type of fabric. If you’re starting with a pattern that you know you want to make, most of the time the pattern will tell you which kind of fabric will work best for that pattern—or at least give you guidelines. Keep in mind that the guidelines are there for a reason; pay attention to them! You can make your own decision and do your own thing, but you may end up having to redo it if it doesn’t go so well. Just remember that the people who made the pattern have tested it out on certain fabrics so that you don’t have to.

Cotton is Your Friend

If you’re a sewing novice, start with cotton, such as you would find in the quilting area of a fabric store.  Cotton is by far the most versatile and easiest fabric to work with, and nearly anything can be made with cotton. Be sure to wash it first, since it does shrink. Pre-shrinking is the only way to ensure a proper fit at the end of the project. Pick an item of clothing to make, or a craft project—just avoid things that need to be stretchy (knits) or upholstery-type projects (heavy, durable fabrics). Besides woven cotton, fabrics that are easy to handle are flannel, non-flimsy woven silks, and wool or wool blends.  Avoid anything with a nap, such as velvet or fake fur, and avoid slippery or sheer fabrics.

Giving thought to the above considerations will go a long way toward preventing a sewing disaster, wasting fabric, and leaving you discouraged; think ahead for success! Taking the time to do the project correctly with the appropriate fabric will also help you with future projects as well. You will be proud of the completed project instead of frustrated with time and materials wasted.

The Inspired Sewist offers sewing supplies, classes, machines, and repair. We can help you learn new techniques or inspire you to get started, guiding you through any project you’d like to complete. We also offer assistance for any sewing machine purchases or repairs. Contact us for all your quilting and sewing needs.

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