Reader Question: Shopping for Sewing

I've been meaning to do this for awhile because it appears I have more than just one fan out there who's interested in knowing how I make magic (ha!) happen at my trusty Brother machine. A few of you have written emails with some very specific questions but the majority seem to focus on starting a project and, more specifically, getting just the right fabric. There have been some other questions too so I think I'll do a weekly/monthly entry to tackle them, depending on demand. So here's my answer to fabric acquisition (and really, I'm flattered that you've asked in the first place! Always ask more!)

My big problem is that I can never seem to find the right fabric at my local JoAnns or Hancock Fabrics, but I noticed that you often seemed to order fabric online. What are your favorite sources?

This is the #1 question I get asked from friends and strangers and here's the breakdown:

BASICS: I actually do get a tremendous amount of fabric from Hancock's or JoAnn's but the stuff I get there is usually limited to the basics: muslin, linings, interfacing, solid colored cottons and other wovens. This is what they excel at and if you are a consistent online researcher, you can time your purchases with one of their million 24-hour-because-we-felt-like-it sales. Never pay full price at these places! However, next time you're at either one take a minute to dig through the clearance piles (particularly at Hancock's) because they tend to stash the little gems there. And one last tip for the big boxes is to consider home dec fabrics for some garments. I've made formal dresses out of drapery fabric and I've made jackets out of some sort of upholstery stuff. It just takes a little creativity...

FANCY SCHMANCY: Now outside of the basics I adore Gorgeous Fabrics (www.gorgeousfabrics.com) because the items there are, indeed, gorgeous. This labor of love was crafted out of the most luxurious silk chiffon that was a splurge in my world and yet truly reasonable price-wise. I would suggest purchasing from a site like this once you're comfortable with fabric types, like knowing the difference between silks and polys or chiffons and crepes, before jumping in. Return policies vary and so it's better to feel confident in knowing that you're selection is appropriate.

FANCY SCHMANCY SUPPORTING ACTORS: My wedding dress lining and underlining came from Thai Silks, as did the lining for the CAB dress. Thai Silks has this great bridal sample set that is worth every cent if you're thinking about buying from them. Their offerings tend to be solid colored silks of every kind so it's a good resource for linings as well as fashion fabrics.

HOME DEC: Occassionally I get into home dec projects, like curtains and such (you'll see some when I get the house tour pics together). What happens in those situations is I find something I like at one of the big box stores but I don't really like the price and I don't have a coupon. Or, I see something on someone else's blog but, again, don't want to pay the designer price tag. Honestly, home dec projects need to be done on the cheap if you're really going to go to the effort, otherwise why not just visit Ikea or Target? So once I've picked something I like I go to Fabric Guru because chances are, if it's a hot item, they've got a good-sized remnant of it and you can get someone's leftovers for cheap. Nice, huh?

GENERAL APPAREL: When the J's or H's don't come through for me I turn to Fabric.com or Vogue Fabrics. Fabric.com was home to the cotton duck used in my spring trench. Vogue has starred in many items, especially when we talk about the remnants, which have been used for lots of things and even in our wedding!

Unfortunately, unless you're in Chicago I'm afraid you won't get to partake in the craziness that is Vogue. Their online offerings aren't really even worth discussing; it's the store that gets all the credit. The reason I like Vogue for apparel is most of their fabrics are clearly labeled with material content. This is important because once you get beyond sewing a-line skirts you'll want to understand how your fabric is going to perform when you're wearing it. Will it cause you to sweat, and will the sweat show? How will it launder after someone spills a drink on you? Will wrinkles show up within seconds of donning the item? These are important things to consider and we're not even talking about how the material will drape (a whole other issue!) So I like Vogue and fabric.com for their clear labeling of material content. Sometimes polyester is just peachy and other times it's rotten. Your call.

PATTERNS: Here's where I am 100% loyal to JoAnn's or Hancock. They almost ALWAYS have a sale going on for patterns and when the retail price is north of $25, you'd be insane to pay full price. If you wait another week, chances are you can get the same pattern as part of a 5/$5 or $2/each sale. And let me just say, when I went through 20+ patterns while designing the wedding dress, I'm really glad I always bought them on sale. Out of print patterns can usually be located on either the manufacturer's site or on eBay and Etsy. Hunting them down is easy if you know the pattern number - a quick Google search will turn up more than you could imagine!

I think that wraps it up on the fabric finding question. Got other things you're dying to know? Drop me a line!

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