How I’m Learning About Fabrics

Two years ago, just before I began this blog, I went to the Vogue Fabrics Warehouse sale. I went alone. A dangerous few hours. There were rolls and bolts on sale and basically, it’s the warehouse, they had everything. To keep a long and largely unspoken of story short, let’s just say I went nuts with the purchase.

I bought a roll of black mid-weight woven fabric, a roll of white twill, a roll of turquoise poly taffeta and the left overs of a roll of the vintage yellow poly charmeuse that I made into my Snow White skirt, though I had a lot leftover. On top of that, I bought a bolt of garment interfacing and a bolt of muslin. I’m not gonna tell you how much I spent in those few hours but you can probably guess if you know how much yardage comes on a roll normally.

Over the next two years, I had what I needed to learn about those fabrics. I like them and it was a great way to get to know those particular ones well. I highly recommend buying a roll or bolt of a staple fabric to get some hands-on learning.

I tried a bunch of different patterns with my fabric and learned a lot about drape and cut and how much they affect the look of a dress. The way I looked at it, there was no way I was going to be able to go take a bunch of classes so I made my sewing room a classroom and these rolls my materials.

I don’t think you need to go spend a small fortune on rolls, but at least give yourself the gift of either a bolt of a weave you use a lot in a solid color you love or a bolt of muslin. Why a solid color? In my opinion, you can see what you need to work on when you go for the solids. The prints are awesome but it’s harder to see what I need to learn to do better.

If you love thrift shopping, you can pick up old sheets to do your test garments with but, after making muslins with prints, I recommend a solid color. When I tested a coat pattern last year, I hated it, but I really do wonder if it was the prints within the muslin that made me hate it. There are tons of other fabrics you can use as muslin fabric. You just don’t want to spend a bunch of money on acquiring it so you don’t feel bad if it doesn’t turn out perfect the first time. I have made a ton of muslins that never made it to final garments for one reason or another. I’m glad I did it that way. I’ve also wasted fabric, trying to skip the muslin stage. I just can’t do that anymore.

Some suggestions for cheap muslin:

Fabric.com’s sale section

FabricMart’s Dollar Days and $1.99 section

What are your favorite muslin fabrics?

23 thoughts on “How I’m Learning About Fabrics

  1. Brooke says:

    I totally agree with you about using solids for mockups! I usually use scraps from other projects or cheap sheets from Walmart. And yes, many of my mockups never become real garments either.

    If you ever make your way to the Dallas area, I will have to take you to the warehouse fabric section of town. The best warehouse store is room after room after room of bolts (you have to really want to dig). It’s a “dangerous” store! And you really need to buy something when you find it the first time – I hate it when I’m on a show and a designer sends me back for more of something! It’s so hard to find something again in the ever shifting piles!

  2. Bird and Bicycle says:

    I scored two bolts of fabric in two colors that look good together to practice patterns in, for $8 a bolt from a local handmade bag store. The two colors have helped me learn about how patterns fit together. It has been fun to use them for woven fabric needs, but I do need to get more light weight stuff to practice with. Can’t waste my good silk chiffon! 🙂

  3. Tia Dia says:

    I’ve started using up old sheets, although they are not as stable as a cheap cotton muslin (around $3 yard in my city). When I know a garment will need some serious tweaking and the muslin needs to be altered so much that it will become the pattern, I use the cotton muslin.

  4. Anne W says:

    Calico is great for toile fabric, but expensive, not to mention the environmental impact. I pop into the charity shops (thrift shops) & buy old curtains to use for testing coat & jacket patterns, the linings I cut out & use for testing dresses, blouses & skirts. They end up in the recycling bin when I’m done with them anyway, so no point in buying nice new fabrics! And definitely use a solid colour. I use the wrong side of the lovely, dusty, old curtains…

  5. Rachel says:

    I’ve only in last year started sewing up muslins, I picked up like 4 yards of REALLY cheap/sale solid woven and thought I guess this might be helpful. I’m kicking myself for not just buying what was one the bolt! I’ve got my eyes out for a great deal.

    • Leila says:

      I definitely keep my eyes out for a sale. The sale I just took advantage of was the interfacing sale and got a bolt of Pellon SF-101. It’s fusible and really great.

  6. sewexhausted says:

    I go nuts In Los Angeles in the fabric district. So many deals and bargains. (I TRY to behave but its FABRIC!) Have not been in a while… hmmmm…. gonna have to gas up the car soon and head on up!

  7. Kat says:

    Great post! I go to thrift shops and pick up all kinds of light coloured solid fabrics in various weights and weaves…although most of them are poly or cotton. This is really cheap and helps when my fashion fabric is something other than a stable cotton or wool. For those fabrics I use unbleached calico. I like your idea of buying a whole bolt of fabric to experiment on – it’s really the best way to learn, eh. Your spirit for learning is really inspiring…thank you!

    • Leila says:

      Thanks for helping the conversation happen on here. It’s more fun when there’s a back and forth. I do love buying a bolt. Even if I bought a bolt of something cheap, it would be great to muslin and learn from.

  8. Gjeometry says:

    I used old sheets before to make muslins (toiles) and it worked out fine. But, the only problem was, I could not figure out which was the crosswise grain and which was the lengthwise grain as there is no selvage and both side looked the same. For the class I’ve just begun taking, we are to use “muslin-unbleached cotton” for all of our toiles and practice assignments. I hope I can find it on sale somewhere.

      • Gjeometry says:

        There is supposed to be some way of telling, for example, you can pull a thread straight across through the straight grain and you are not supposed to be able to easily do that on the lengthwise grain. But on the sheet, the thread pulled through both ways, so I had no idea. ?

      • Leila says:

        That’s right. Sometimes it’s definitely easier than others. Yeah, in those cases, I might still use it but make sure my grain line on the pattern matched up with the less stretchy way of the fabric. Usually the side to side stretch is greater and you want that, on the muslin or garment, parallel to the floor.

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