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Feb 20 / Jamie

Some musings on fabric.

In keeping with my set of crafty posts that I started before the holidays, here is another one about sewing and fabric.  This is going to be a rather long and rambley post, but it will contain lots of photos (make sure to click through to even more on Flickr), so it should be good.  It will also include some of my favorite sewing projects.

This past summer I fell in love with sewing.  It was really because I fell in love with the fabrics of Heather Ross.  I wanted to make beautiful things with her fabrics.  Especially for my little girl.

Two tiered skirts

I quickly discovered a number of other amazing fabric designers, and was quickly introduced to the world of HTF and OOP fabrics (that is, Hard To Find and Out Of Print).  Currently, designer “quilting” fabrics retail from between $9 and $20/yard depending on fiber content, style, and width.  I kid you not, that the HTF and OOP fabrics are currently selling for between $40 and $400 per yard (see here, here, here, and here).  CRAZY!!!  It reminds me of the Dutch tulip craze of the 1600s (or so I’ve heard).


So, the first major questions is what kind of fabric do you buy and where do you buy it? Do you buy what you love regardless of the price, or wait for a sale or coupon code?

I buy mostly quilting weight cottons, although I have recently purchased a few voiles for some garments and some cotton/linen blend fabrics.  I try to only buy natural fibers and I mostly buy things online.  I also like vintage fabrics.  I have a few local quilt shops (LQS) that are quite good and I try to only buy notions or known designer fabrics (check the selvedge for names like Kaufman, Westminster, Alexander Henry, etc) from the big box stores as the quality of their other fabrics are, frankly, garbage and fall apart very quickly.  My target price for quilting cotton is $5/yard.  I almost always buy when things are on sale or I use a coupon (or both!).  I am willing to pay more for cotton/linen blends (like Echino) but again, on sale and with a coupon.  It isn’t that I don’t think the fabrics are “worth” their retail value. I understand much of what went into the fabric, from the talent of the designer to the farmer who grew the cotton to all of the manufacturing steps in between, to the person selling it to me.  I think that people should be fairly compensated for their work.  It is just that I have a limited budget and I like to make it go as far as I possibly can.

So, I am always on the lookout for these hidden fabric gems in local quilt shops.  You never know when you will find a stray bolt of something very HTF and OOP in a corner of some quilt shop, forgotten, or not to the tastes of the other customers.  And, of course my first time out shopping after learning about these fabrics, I found 2.5 yards on the end of a bolt of this fabric on clearance for $5/yard, serious beginners luck!  I also belong to a couple of groups on Flickr where people swap their HTF fabrics and let other sewists know when they find good deals.  It is an amazing community and I am glad to be a part of it.  I have been able to get some great fabrics I would not otherwise have been able to afford or even find.


A number of recent discussions on the group have really grabbed my attention.  One involves what kind of “collector” are you.  Are you the kind of person that must have every print in a line, or every line by a given designer?  Do you have a large stash, or do you but for specific projects only?  When you buy is it yardage, FQ (fat quarters), or precuts?

Hope Valley

I find that I like to have a decently stocked stash, not so large that it would take me several lifetimes to sew through it all, but enough that I can take on pretty much any project that piques my interest without ordering fabric or going to the store.  There are some lines and designers I really like and I have started to collect all of the prints (Hope Valley and Katie Jump Rope both by Denyse Schmidt).  I tend to go for rich colors and geometric prints, and she uses both of these in her designs.

I tend to buy one yard cuts of fabric, especially if I don’t really have a plan for it.  I also really like charm packs (pre-cut 5″ squares typically of the entire line of fabric). If it is a basic cotton solid (like Kaufman Kona) I leave it whole and fold it up.  If it is a print, or part of a line I am collecting, I found the following technique is working well for me.  I divide the yard into three pieces; one half-yard piece and two FQ (fat quarters, or pieces that are 18″ x 22″).  I have done this for all of my Denyse Shmidt fabrics.  I take one FQ and put it with the other prints in that collection and place them in “short term” storage, meaning that once I have all (or almost all) of the prints, I will make a quilt with them.  I take the other FQ and put it into “long term” storage, meaning I am saving those pieces for a very special project and want to make sure I have a little bit of each one.  That leaves me a half-yard to play with.  I have read from so many people how they have a hard time sewing with their “precious” fabrics and I can see how easy it would be to fall into that trap.  I really want to use mine, so cutting into them this way seems to be helpful to me.  The other thing I have done is buy yardage, kept a half-yard piece and then split the other two FQ with friends or for swaps.

Katie Jump Rope prints

If I know I want to make clothes out of a certain print, I typically buy three or four yards.

I really love fabric, but I also really love scraps and scrap fabric projects.  By dividing up my fabric, I find I am more likely to use a small bit of it for something, where I would almost never cut out a small bit from an entire yard.  I find it rather liberating.

There are also discussion about how you “treat” your fabric once you have it. Pre-wash or not?  Careful cutting or snip and rip?

I wash all fabric once it gets in the house, I feel like washing it encourages me to sew with it.  I am firmly in the “snip and rip” camp.  That means, I prefer not to cut my fabric, but rather to snip an inch or so in and rip the fabric.  It gives you a “true” line and there is something so great about the sound of the fabric tearing.  It feels destructive, but it is not.  I highly recommend it.  Just make sure that before you start, you cut a true line by snipping off a little bit of the cut edge of your fabric from where it was cut from the bolt, making it true.

Here are a few ideas of things that can be done with a yard or even less of fabric.

Homemade cloth napkins

Cloth napkins. We use only cloth in our house, it is so much nicer and really fun.  I make double sided napkins and have seasonal sets of 8-16 napkins.  Here is how I make them:

Take a yard of fabric and lay it down with the selvedge running up and down (the fabric should be a rectangle, 36″ high by 44″ wide).  True up your cut edges to make sure they are straight.  Now, make a snip one inch into the edge 32″ from either the left or right.  Rip off the remaining piece, which is now a good sized scrap perfect for any project.  You should now have a piece of fabric that is 36″ high by 32″ wide, but may be more or less depending on how much you had to remove to make it true.  Now, make a snip one inch into the selvedge either 32″ from the top or bottom.  Rip your fabric.  You now have a 32″ square and a thin strip (which also goes to the scrap pile).  Now, all you have to do is snip in the middle of one of the sides of your square, rip, then snip the middle of the two rectangles, and rip.  You should have four 16″ squares, plus two scrap pieces, one about 12″ by 36″ and the other about 4″ by 32″.  Now, you can either sew the pairs of squares together to make the napkins, or find another coordinating fabric.

Place your squares right sides together and sew (or serge) with a 3/8″ seem, leaving a 3″ opening in one of the sides to turn the napkin right-side out.  Snip the corners, turn, and close your opening as close the edge as possible.  Press, and then top stitch one inch from the edge all the way around.  If, like me, you were able to find your fabric on sale for $5/yard, each napkin costs < $2.50 which is a very good price.  Plus, they are fun and easy to make.

Bags for the kids

Bags. You can also turn a half-yard of fabric into a simple tote bag.  Here are some we made, and here is a very basic tutorial.  Just adjust the amounts to however much fabric you have on hand.  Again, snip and rip, and within an hour, you can probably make a good half-dozen bags.

Three shirred dresses

Dresses. It has been a harsh winter here and all I can think about is summer.  I have been making a number of shirred sundresses for Miss C and friends.  They are super easy, don’t take much fabric, and best of all, for independent little girls, they require no adult help getting on and off.  Above are a few dresses I have made for her.  Here is a tutorial.  Here is another. Basically, I snip and rip and make a tube that is about 34″ around and 24″ long.  Sometimes I make them shorter, sometimes longer, sometimes with a ruffle or tier on the bottom.  I use elastic thread and my walking foot on my Brother SQ 900 sewing machine.  Many people have trouble with these machines and elastic bobbin thread (here is a great post on problem solving).  This is what works for me.  I use Stretchrite elastic thread (the Gutterman did not do shirring as well) and I wind my bobbin with a fair bit of stretch.  I use my walking foot and set my machine to the quilting stitch (#43), with a stitch length of 5 and tension set to 3.  I pull the fabric as I sew and once the shirring is done, I iron it and it shrinks right up.  Miss C likes an empire waist so I do 6- 8 lines of shirring about half an inch apart.  I am in the process of making a few for myself as well, they seem like they will be perfect for the swimming pond this summer.

I also love to make the Everything Bag from the Weekend Sewing book by Heather Ross.  I have made several already and am in the process of making one for each of the kids.  Two yards of home-dec weight fabric is all you need and it is a great way to showcase some great prints.

TL;DR:  Always buy quilt-store quality fabric, it is well worth it, especially when bought on sale/with a coupon.  Wash and divide all one yard cuts of print fabric that are not for a specific project, that makes them more likely to be used.  Buy fabric for garments in four yard increments.  Sew simple things when you are starting so you get good with techniques.  And have fun!

Also, here’s a picture of our cat.



Leave a comment
  1. 1
    Keri / Feb 21 2011

    WOW! One day I may show up at your door, sewing machine in hand, asking for lessons. 🙂

    • 1.1
      Jamie / Feb 23 2011

      Keri–YES PLEASE!!

  2. 2
    Jen / Feb 23 2011

    Looks like we’re all thinking fabric these days! Love your post… I can’t get enough of Hope Valley either, it just always looks good. Can’t wait to keep up with your blog!

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