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How to Buy Fabric Online

Whenever I'm working with customers, whether it is on the phone, at a guild presentation or in the store, I hear a lot of people say that they don't feel comfortable buying fabric online. They want to see, feel and contemplate what they can do with the fabric before they make a purchase. You may be thinking this is a funny topic for an online fabric store to be talking about, but it's not! We completely understand and that's why we've taken the steps to ensure that you have a great shopping experience. 

I recently polled our Facebook fans, asking them, "I'm in the process of writing a blog post about tips on how to buy fabric online. And what better way to get feedback than from our customers! So, what are some things you consider when buying fabric online? What is helpful about our site? What could we improve upon? I can't wait to hear what you have to say!"

And was I surprised! There were so many comments praising how we do things and it felt great! I was actually not really looking for praise when asking the question, but it sounded like our fans liked the way things were. 

So after reading all the comments, I've compiled a list of things fabric lovers are looking for when they buy fabric online. 

Descriptions -- Online customers are looking for someone to tell them about the fabric. they can't feel it, so describe it to them. When training our fabric describers I always tell them, "Pretend your trying to describe the fabric over the phone to someone. Describe like the person doesn't know anything about sewing." So we've come up with basic descriptions that anyone can understand. Keeping it simple is sometimes best. 

Here's what some of our customers said about our descriptions: 

Kristin S. says, "I like how Fabric Mart describes how sheer/opaque it is or how stiff it is. But the photos of the fabric draped over a stool are especially helpful for showing those, plus scale of the pattern."

Leanne G says, "I like a photo with a ruler for prints and plaids to show size. Colors, fiber content, width, opacity, and description of hand help me get a "feel" for the fabric without seeing/touching it. I also like suggested uses, alternate color ways, and suggested coordinating fabrics."

Here's a description from our website. Our title offers you basic information about the fabric. It's the first thing you see besides the photo, so if you're looking for a heavy cotton and you see it says "lawn", then that is not the fabric for you. 

- SKU is obviously important, but actually more important for us, so we pick the right fabric for your order. 

- Designer/Origin - This field highlights where the fabric is from whether it is a specific designer or specific country. We do not go to long lengths to figure out where every single fabric comes from because it would be impossible. But if it's a cotton shirting from Japan, we will mention that. (Japanese shirtings are a very nice quality fabric and we want you to know that!) Sometimes you will notice the designer field says, "NY Designer". In this case, we would LOVE to tell you who it came from, but sometimes we're not allowed to say. (We don't want to hurt our relationship but doing something we're told not to do!) But by at least telling you it is a NY Designer, you know that it came from someone very special :O)

- Content - This is a very important category because you need to know what the fabric is made of. 

- Colors - Colors can be a tough thing. Computer screens are all different so it's hard to say that what you're seeing is what we're seeing, but we try to give you the best information we can. Some online stores give you Pantone color names. I like this actually, but because our fabric moves so quickly it's hard for us to put even more time into something that already times a good amount of time to do.  

- Width - You know how the back of a pattern gives you yardage based off of the width of the fabric? Well check this information out before ordering your fabric so you have enough! Chances are till you come back to get more, the fabric will be sold out. :O(

- Stretch - Whether a fabric has stretch or no stretch is really important to know. Some people swear by wovens with stretch, while others hate it! Plus, if it is a knit fabric, we'll mention whether the fabric has 2-way or 4-way stretch. All of this information helps you use the fabric to the best of it's abilities. 

One thing that customers mentioned that was helpful for us is they like when % is listed with the fabric content, such as 97% Cotton, 3% Spandex. I wish I had a better answer for you on this, but because of the way our business is we don't always get that information with the fabric. Many times we have to burn the fabric to figure out the content. If we know the exact %, we will definitely share it with you, but if we don't we at least mention if it has lycra/spandex. If anyone has insight on how to figure out exact % in spandex, I'd love to know that information. 

Uses: It's nice to know what you can do with fabric, right? Some people have a hard time visualizing what they can do with the fabric. So we give you some basic ideas to spark some ideas. 

Care: You know that care label on your RTW clothing? That's pretty helpful when you're not sure how to care for it. This space on our website is just that. Some customers don't like 'dry clean only' fabrics. Others just don't know what is best for certain fabrics, so we give you our recommended washing instructions. 

Additional information: This is basically anything else we want to tell you. We talk about the drape of the fabric, how sheer it is and any other information we think is helpful for you to know. Read more about drape and sheerness in the photos section below. 

Photos -- Photos tell the visual story. Look for photos that help you visualize the descriptions. 

Here's what some of our customers said about our photos: 

Rosamond F. says, "I have to agree with almost everyone on the great photography showing the material draped and with peaks. I love the description of stretch. You are my go-to fabric source because your site is very user friendly and informative. I have found your photos to be true to the colors too, very important."

Lisa C. says, "I appreciate a ruler that shows the scale of plaids and florals. I also consider care instructions, since I dislike dry cleaning. Your site does an excellent job describing the hand of the fabric, its care requirements, the scale of any plaid or pattern and for what garment or item the fabric is suitable. I think the way to order fabric online is to try it! Order a couple of lengths and try them out. While I still buy occasionally from a brick and mortar store, online is a better deal for me in terms of selection and price--not to mention convenience."

And another comment about print and why we include a ruler in our photos:  Sandy A says, "I wish online retailers would all showcase their fabric with a ruler near so I could see the scale of the prints. I've bought fabric more than once and been disappointed when it arrived when I saw that it had three inch birds and flowers, instead of the half inch birds and flowers that I saw on the computer screen."

Showing the scale of a print is really important. It's hard to know what size print you're looking at on a screen if there's no relation to scale put in place. Most of the time we use a ruler to show you the size of a print. 

Our fans liked how we drape the fabric over a stool. This shows them a few things -- how sheer or opaque a fabric is, how the fabric drapes (look for the folds. The smaller the folds the more drape and closeness to the body it sits. The larger the folds, the stiffer the fabric is.)

Close-up of the fabric weave is helpful so you can see how thick or thin a fabric is, how lofty or smooth a fabric is and even comparing weaves of different fabrics.

There you have it! This will allow you to consider different things when shopping on our website as well as others. Other online retailers may focus on things we don't, and that's ok! We've listened to our customers to give them a better shopping experience and it is great to see it shows by their comments. For those of you not so confident about buying fabric online, give it a try. We hope that by hearing from other customers that they are giving you words of encouragement. There's no hurt in trying and we offer a return policy so if you're unhappy with the fabric, you can return it. 

Do you have any other tips on what helps you buy fabric online? 


  1. I also appreciate the excellent descriptions of the fabric. However, sometimes striped fabric, or patterns that are arranged in stripes, are not described as to the orientation (i.e., the stripes run selvedge to selvedge, or the length of the fabric.). This isn't true in all cases, but it's good to know for those of us that must adhere to the adage that vertical stripes are slimming - sometimes. ;)

    1. Thanks for the feedback! I'll put that on a list of reminders when describing.

  2. I buy at least half of my fabric online so here are things that I need: 1) fiber content 2) examples of garments to sew with fabric which helps describe the weight, opaqueness and drape 3) picture with ruler and coins for size 4) Pantone numbers for accurate colors and 5) amount of yardage left in stock. Karen

    1. Thanks for your comment! Glad we can help fulfill most of the criteria.

  3. Excellent article, you do a great job of describing fabric, that is why I buy so much from you!!

  4. This is a great article! I am sorry I missed the Facebook poll.
    I didn't know you were draping the fabric over a stool. I thought it was a chair. Has it always been a stool? Is it standard stool height?
    I'm also glad you describe the opacity b/c I have accidentally bought fabric that was semi-sheer when I didn't want it to be.
    When you talk about stretch, you sometimes say selvage to selvage. I know that's important, especially with patterns. But, what does that mean, exactly?
    For example, pretend I am holding up 2 yards of fabric (pretend my arms are really long!) that is 40 inches wide. That means the selvage is pointing to the ceiling and the floor, yes? If it stretches selvage to selvage, does that means if I pull on it length-wise (as I'm holding it), it is stretchy? Or does that mean if I hold one selvage edge in one hand, and one in the other, it stretches width-wise?

    1. We've used a stool for a long time, we might have used something different in the past, but have been consistently using a standard height stool.

      When we say selvedge to selvedge that means that if you hold the fabric at the selvedges or in the direction of the selvedges, it stretches. (or like you said stretches width wise) If we say "with the selvedge", that means the selvedge stretches (typical with 4-way stretch fabrics, but sometimes we find fabrics that only stretch with the selvedge. We don't come across too many fabrics (wovens) that stretch with the selvedge.) I hope that helps!

  5. You do it best of all online fabric retailers. Hands-down.

  6. Yep. Still think that you all are, hands down, the best at giving a snapshot of the fabric. This was really helpful even for me, a devoted FM junkie. Hopefully others find it useful too!

  7. I'm a fairly new customer and both my orders were exactly as described. I've been slow to order online but love you're descriptions. One thing I would like to see is the country of origin, something tat one can see on bolt ends in a store.

    1. Glad you had two great experiences with our online ordering. Thanks for your feedback on country of origin. We don't usually know that information because of the way we buy. We tell you if it is a better fabric that would actually mean something to a customer (like if it was from Italy or something). But many times we have no idea. (We can guess, but I'd hate to give wrong information!)

  8. I like the way I can hover over a 'swatch' on the website & it enlarges automatically rather than having to click to zoom. I would like to see the fabric draped on a mannequin which, for example, let's me see how the scale of a print will look on the body.

    1. Thanks for your feedback, I'll pass it on to the describers.

  9. Thank you for this post. I do admit to being nervous about buying fabric online. So these points are helpful to me. I also like how your company tells what you can sew with the fabric. I need that kind of advice. Thank you again!

  10. Thanks for this! Probably the only thing I wish you had (that some of your competition does, but I've stopped shopping them because your service is SO much better, faster and more reliable!) is to be a little more descriptive in the stretch department. It's important to me to know if something has less than 10% stretch vs 50% stretch etc, and it can make or break a project. A photo of the backside of the fabric (especially prints) would be much appreciated too. When I'm making a garment, sometimes the wrong side of the fabric will show because of a twist or something, and it's boring to work with nothing but solids all the time... but sometimes the wrong side of a print is really disappointing. And about the only other thing that keeps me from shopping more frequently is your shipping. Your competition offers free shipping on orders of $35 or more, or $50 or more, and while I'm not for a moment suggesting you should emulate their service, it would make for a really sweet deal if one of the benefits to being a VIP member was free shipping occasionally. Like one out of every four orders has a free shipping coupon code in it or something. Or if your order totals over X amount, you get free shipping on your NEXT order. Something like that. Because I love your prices, and I love your sales, but that $8.75 needs a fair bit of major discounts in my cart to feel like I'm spending it wisely. Thanks for the opportunity to give you feedback!

    1. Thanks for your feedback, I'll pass it on to the appropriate people.


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