Secrets to Buying and Selecting Fabric

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In my near-three years of blogging, the number 1 question I get asked is “Where do you get your fabric?!”  People have told me many many times that I have an eye for colors and design and I choose excellent fabrics that go together.  Here’s what I have to say to that—Thanks!!  But also, I’m going to let you in on some of my secrets to buying and selecting fabric.

DISCLAIMER:  This is not a post about how to get fabric on the cheap.  I have spent many hundreds (probably thousands, yikes!) of dollars on fabric.  If you want high quality–you will have to pay for it.  

When I first started sewing again, I noticed that the things people were selling on Etsy were made of these exquisite fabrics that would not be found at places like Joanns or Hobby Lobby.  I also noticed that I was seeing certain prints more frequently than others (like Amy Butler or Michael Miller, but I didn’t know at the time.)  I started looking into this more and discovered a whole world of fabric I didn’t even know existed: DESIGNER FABRIC.

Designer Fabric is sold almost exclusively online.  However you will come across a quilt shop here and there that sells some of it too, but they usually sell at about $10-$13 a yard.  Designer Fabric is sold for around $8.50/yard online, but once you factor in shipping, it comes out to about $10/yard.  But you can get nearly everything online, whereas the quilt shops only sell certain prints.

Designer Fabrics are sold by companies like Michael Miller, Amy Butler, Riley Blake, Alexander Henry, Moda, Robert Kaufman Fabrics, and so many more.  Within those companies are the actual fabric designers.  Most of the companies have in-house designers, but some start off doing work on a more contractual basis, which is where you hear their names.  My friend Sarah Jane whose lines of fabric “Children at Play” and “Out to Sea” are some of the most amazing fabrics I’ve seen, was discovered and approached by Michael Miller Fabrics, who asked her to start designing for them.  She was originally an artist and illustrator and I also love her art (I have a couple of her prints.)  So if you are looking into being a fabric designer, you need to work on your art and graphic art because that is what they look for!  Fabric designers will spend a year coming up with a ‘line’ of fabric–fabric that is all based on a similar theme and done in different colors.

Where to Buy Fabric

So where do you buy these fabrics?  Well you can’t buy them directly from the companies because they only sell wholesale (unless you want to buy a whole bolt!)  But just to get a yard or two, you will need to purchase from Fabric Shops.  In the course of my blog, I have introduced you to MANY different fabric shops that I’ve shopped at.  Here’s a few you might remember:  Skye Reve Fabrics, The Fabric Shoppe, Raspberry Creek Fabrics, Poppy Seed Fabrics, Hawthorne Threads, and the Fat Quarter Shop.  They are ALL online.  Several of those are shops in Etsy.

So if I have a particular fabric in mind, I go to Etsy and search for it by name.  Then I select “Supplies” on the side and it will bring up only the fabric for sale.  That is how you find out how popular or rare a fabric is.  For awhile I was crushing hard on the fabrics from the Ruby line by Bonnie & Camille (Moda.)  Well one thing I’ve learned about Moda fabrics, is that they disappear.  Some companies will sell their fabrics as long as they continue to sell.  But Moda only seems to offer them for a limited time and then stop producing them.  Michael Miller produces as long as it sells.  After the Ruby line had been out for awhile, I would search for the fabrics on Etsy and less and less sellers would have any in stock.  If I wanted to get more than a yard, I couldn’t (from one shop.)  So if you see this happening to your favorite fabrics, better buy it while you can because you won’t be able to get it again.

I frequently shop at Hawthorne Threads because they have a color selector that enables me to shop by color VERY easily.  I can just go Shop by Color and then choose my color and find a suitable fabric.  They also frequently show samples of items made with that fabric so you can see how it looks in real life.  Sometimes fabric doesn’t match how it looks online and that can be frustrating.  I also like to shop there because they have a very large selection and I can bundle my shipping costs.

The Fat Quarter Shop seems to carry mostly only fabrics by Moda.  So if they don’t have a fabric by Moda, you know the line has been discontinued.  They also have lots of fun packs like layer cakes, jelly rolls, charm packs, etc.  They also have a bunch of quilt patterns for sale…I sell mine there!  If you have quilt patterns you’d like to sell, just contact them and they will be happy to sell them for you.  I try to stay away from Moda fabrics (unless I’m totally in love with them) because they discontinue so quickly and I can’t get them again.

But what about poor old Joanns and Hobby Lobby?  Yes, I still shop there!  Joanns has a good selection of solid fabrics so I always go there for that.  I also buy my muslin there in bulk because using my 50% off coupon saves me a TON of money.  And then they hate me because they have to roll out an entire bolt of fabric and roll it back up.  Man, the ladies at the Mesa Joanns were SO grumpy and mean.  I also buy all my batting there.  As for Hobby Lobby, their fabric is always 30% off and I get solids there too, as well as some broadcloth and polka dots.  I also get my minky there mostly.  Hobby Lobby’s minky is the soft, high quality minky that you can buy online.  Joanns is not.  Joanns may have more color options but it’s not as plush.  And I buy my ribbon at Hobby Lobby when it’s 50% off.

How to Choose Fabric

Now…how to CHOOSE fabric.  So many people seem to struggle with putting fabrics together.  It comes very easy to me, and it helps when you have a gigantic fabric stash.  Here is how I do it:

I will sometimes choose my favorite fabrics from a new line and go from there.  I rarely make something from the entire line…I’m pretty picky and have never actually purchase an entire line of fabric (except for Riley Blake Chevron.)  When I choose the fabrics I like, I choose fabrics that will go with lots of different things, so the print has to be fairly neutral.  I stay away from characters and pictures.  I bought this beautiful hummingbird fabric once a long time ago and still haven’t used it.  It just has too many odd colors that it never matches anything.  That’s why I buy a LOT of polka dots.  I also love the chevrons (so many colors, go with so many things.)  I wish there were better stripe options.  I will sometimes buy a fabric with a damask print or something similar (swirly pattern) to have something different.  And I stay up with the trends and buy things that are very popular because that increases the chance that people will like it (and hence want to buy it!)

One problem that I frequently run into is the variance in shades of colors.  In the quilt pattern “Puffy Island” you will notice that the orange is more like a pink-orange.  I already had a ton of yellow-orange (there is one yellow-orange on the end there) and it didn’t really match.  However I already had all the puffs sewn before by my seamstresses and so I used the yellow-orange puff to demonstrate how to make a puff for that quilt.  You can see how they don’t really match perfectly.  This is just a game you have to play, which is why is it important to try and see something made with the fabric before buying it.  You can search the fabric on etsy and search the Handmade Items to see things made with the fabric.  Also, if you are going to make something for someone else custom, it is a good idea to send them swatches of fabric before making it.

Putting Fabrics Together:  

I have so much fabric these days that it’s pretty easy for me to find colors that work together.  I just go into my stash and pull out colors that just seem to mesh well.  But I have always been very in tune with color and I know which combinations look amazing together.  Aqua and turquoise pretty much look good with anything, so you will find a lot of that in my quilts.  I usually find two or three colors that look great and mix in one or two neutrals.  White, cream, black, brown, and gray are all neutrals.  In my Mary Jane quilt (which mostly came from the Apple of my Eye line by Riley Blake) I had two very bright colors–red and turquoise, so I had to really neutralize it with a lot of white.  I love white–it makes the color really pop out, takes one for the team.

Or you can stay within the same family of color.  One of my all-time favorite quilts was “La Mer” (French for The Sea) because the colors just mixed so well and conjured up images of the Mediterranean Sea (or what I think it looks like).  I stayed in the same color range here, using dark blues, lighter aquas, and green.  I think a pretty quilt would also have pinks and oranges too–staying in the same color range.

Like I said, I will sometimes start off by using a few fabrics from the same line because they were designed to go together.  But I inevitably find other fabrics that match them and they are not from that same line.  I use a LOT of the Ta Dot fabrics by Michael Miller because they come in every conceivable shade and are so cute and visually interesting.  I hope they never stop selling those.

Sometimes I find one or two fabrics that are just amazing and I will design a whole quilt around it.  But that is more rare.  Usually I work on a color basis, finding colors of fabrics that go together well and filling in the rest.  It really makes me sad when I’ve designed a beautiful quilt that sells well and then one of the fabrics is discontinued (a problem I’m currently having with the purple Amethyst quilt.)  I have to start over usually because it’s pretty difficult to just sub in a fabric and get the same result.  Each design is a work of art.

 

 

 

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Comments

  1. I enjoyed reading this post. I buy tons of fabric online and like buying from etsy and a few online shops myself. And the ladies at my Joanns are sooooo grumpy, too. I sent Joanns an email about it a week ago and never heard back although customer service said I’d receive a reply as soon as they could get to it. So, I bought some batting on sale and although it cost more, I was happy I didn’t have to go to Joanns!

  2. Really interesting post, and I’ve noticed you do a lot of the same things as me, I’m also a ta dot nut and regularly repurchase them. I have had the same issues with orange fabrics, I LOVE the tangerone ta dot fabric but finding anything in the same tone is tricky and I do the same as you and look on etsy or pin combinations on pinterest. I do have one question for you though, You said that you buy fabrics that are very popular, but how do you know they are popular? Its funny that you mention that you rarely buy fabric from the same line. As the only fabric I have bought from the same line was the Sarah Jane children at play fabric which I adore I made this quilt with it http://drinkingfabric.blogspot.co.uk/2011/11/chrildren-at-play-quilt.html.

  3. I LOVE fabric too. I avoid Jo-Anns at all cost. Jo-Anns has the worst fabric counter in any state I’ve ever been too!! They are grumpy and mean and wouldn’t help you (with any questions) if you bribed them with a lifetime supply of support hose. I like the choices at HL and will usually hit some fabric stores around my city. I’m an instant gratification girl, so waiting for things to come in the mail is usually not my style…Although, I did just hesitantly order from Hancocks of Paducah and got my great priced fabric SUPER FAST! I was hesitant, only bc I hadn’t heard of them and the only reviews I saw (2) were negative. Now I need to go write a good one! Thanks for the inspiration!

  4. What a great resource! Thanks so much for providing this. I see so many awesome fabrics that people use but have never really known where to find them. Oh, and I LOVE your Mary Jane quilt with the turquoise and red ~ two of my favorite colors! I would feel so smart if I could make a quilt like that.

    Pat

  5. very informative article. I’m doing more and more online shopping for fabric now. Trying to find popular patterns such as chevrons locally is almost impossible so I search the web and can usually find what I’m looking for. Of course, price is a factor and it’s always nice to receive free shipping when I reach a certain dollar amount at companies like Fabric.com. I love looking for fabric and thinking through how the design will look on my steering wheel covers. Your expertise is very helpful and thanks for sharing with us.

  6. Great information, perhaps I can get the courage to actually buy fabric online. I personally think all ladies at the fabric counter are grumps, but more so at Joann’s.

  7. Bonnie Turner says:

    This is very interesting on how you choose fabric. When I lived in Juneau, Alaska, I was just learning to quilt and jumped in with both feet, frequently buying fabric because I liked it with no particular project in mind. I also had to buy a majority of my fabric online cuz Juneau is landlocked – you can’t just pop out to look at fabric. We had one good fabric shop, and then the Ben Franklin 5 & dime had a corner with fabric cuz the owner was a quilter. I have looked at so, so much at so, so many online stores. My favorite is fabric.com – they have a lot of the designers you mention and much more plus they don’t just have cotton quilting fabric – they have home decor and clothing, etc.
    I now have a lot of fabric to choose from which is great. I sold a lot of my fabric before I moved but I still kept a lot.

    The year before I started to learn to quilt, I started learning to bead jewelry – and jumped in with both feet as well. That is where/when I learned that I have a good color sense and it is relatively easy for me to pick fabrics that go well together – it’s also fun!!!
    I love your wall organizer – and it gives me some ideas
    thanks
    Bonnie

    • Heidi @ Honeybear Lane says:

      I used to shop at Fabric.com but I primarily buy designer cotton fabric and they often didn’t have what I wanted. Also their shipping seemed to take FOREVER to reach me and they messed up my orders a couple times and I couldn’t get it fixed. But I’m glad it works for you!

  8. I love your site & I think you are very creative, however, this post bothered me a little. I am all for shopping online (Hawthorne Threads is one of my favs), but I also think its important to support your local quilt shop(s)! Having worked in a quilt shop, I think it’s critical to support your independent brick & mortar quilt shops as well. They are disappearing FAST. Where else can you go to take a class, show off a quilt you’ve been working tirelessly on, talk to the staff about color choices or learn different techniques? (Not to sound mean, but perhaps this is why you may not know the names of certain techniques?) What do you do if you are in a bind and need thread, more of a solid, want to touch & feel the fabric? How do you pick out the proper thread to match to quilt with? I’m young and love shopping online, but I can’t tell you how many times in my travels where I went to visit the local quilt shops and they are gone or closing. I truly hope you consider a post about shopping local, small and independent shops! I make it a point when I travel to research all the quilt shops in the area beforehand and try to visit. The quality of fabric is MUCH better than Joann’s and most times, the staff is super sweet. It’s a blast to speak with other quilters and learn from each other. Yes, you can get this from a quilt guild, but there is nothing like visiting and seeing sample quilts! and chatting with other quilters. Have we become so dependent on the internet that we are no longer capable of interacting face to face with others???

    • Heidi @ Honeybear Lane says:

      I do think that’s a good idea but I have never really shopped at quilt stores because, having three little kids, it’s not very fun to go in them with everyone. I did it several times in Arizona and since it’s extremely full of stuff it makes it impossible to push even a stroller. I would love to take a class someday on quilting but it’s not possible at this time in my busy life. So I do think that people should support quilt shops but if it makes your life difficult, why not just shop online at home?

  9. I appreciate your response Heidi! Having 4 month old twins, I totally understand it’s tough to visit quilt shops and I do enjoy shopping online as well. However, from your post, under the “Where to buy fabric,” you only discuss online shopping and big retail stores, Joann’s & Hobby Lobby. Not one mention of independent brick & mortar quilt shops. And to be honest, when people come into our busy quilt shop in NYC (The City Quilter) with their children, most of the time, the staff would interact and play with them. (I now this might not happen everywhere and it also depends on the age of the children). Often times, it was wonderful to see the parent asking the child/children to help choose fabrics. I mean, what kid doesn’t like color?!? I have a student of mine, who let’s each of her children choose the fabric for a quilt she will make for them. Her son choose some fairly “out there” fabrics and she wasn’t sure how they would all work together, but she let him anyway. She brought in the finished project and it was spectacular!
    Also, most independent shops give discounts if you take a class with them & if you belong to a guild. Some also have punch cards if you are a frequent shopper!
    All I’m saying is not everyone has the same predicament as you and I (taking children to quilt shops), but that doesn’t mean these shops shouldn’t be promoted or mentioned by your blog. The designer Tula Pink (who also owns a shop in Missouri) was promoting shops on Facebook just today!

    If you ever come to NYC to visit, I will personally take you to visit our quilt shop & to the other fabric shops in the city! :)

  10. Do you have a tip for getting a straighter line when sewing the back onto your puff quilt?

    • Heidi @ Honeybear Lane says:

      I pin the back on then sew the back on, lining the edge of the border up to the edge of the presser foot. It should come out pretty straight.

  11. Allysgrandma says:

    Ruby! I live it and bought lots! I am doing my farmer’s wife quilt out of it. I also have good experiences with fabric.com, but buy fabric everywhere. I hunted down the last of Bliss and bought the last 7 yards of the tuquoise flower print from some obscure online retailer.

  12. Virginia Berghuis says:

    It sounds like Joann’s is the problem, not the staff. Underpaid,overworked? No support from offsite corporate bosses who have no idea what’s going on? Understaffed? Are we being unintentionally rude because we have to wait because only two people are trying to,cover the whole store? A mile in their shoes might be concidered.

  13. I shop at Joann’s often. There are two stores I frequent in the San Francisco Bay Area. The staff have always been friendly and talkative. It was the same in Prescott when I visited family.

    I’ve quilted my whole life (thanks to Mom and Grandma), so I don’t need to ask for advice. If you watch their flyers, they have the best sales. Especially thread, buttons, notions and coupons!

  14. I am a commercial upholsterer and would like to have a few upholstery/home decor fabric suppliers that I could direct my customers to where they could shop online and I wouldn’t have to invest in “LOTS’ of expensive fabric sample decks. Can you recommend companies where you can view the fabric online and order samples directly.
    Thanks Thanks.

    • Heidi @ Honeybear Lane says:

      I know you can get inexpensive samples from fabric.com and I’m also a fan of Online Fabric store.com.

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