Tips for Buying Fabric Online (Or: Things I Learned the Hard Way)

If you don’t live anywhere near a “garment district” or even just a decent fabric store, you have probably at one point or another ordered fabric online. I love shopping online! Seriously–what’s better than arriving home only to find a package of potential amazingness waiting on your front porch?

However, convenience comes at a price. And I’m not just talking about shipping costs. When you buy fabric in person, you get the opportunity not only to feel its weight and drape but also to watch your fabric cutter with the eyes of a hawk while he/she cuts your precious fabric. These are not things you can do when you order online. Yes, there are swatches (usually), but that takes an extra dose of patience as you have to go through the ordering and shipping process twice (horrors!).

So, inspired by events from my own life, here are three very important tests your fabric must pass before it can graduate from the shipping parcel to the washing machine.

1. Check your fabric for snags, holes, or any other cosmetic issues. This is the one that we probably already do. Though, there has been a time or two that I’ve had my fabric laid out and ready to cut and I’ve discovered a hole that I needed to work around.

2. Lay your fabric out to check the grain. Crazy, off-grain cutting has happened to me twice. In both cases, I didn’t discover the problem within the (in this case, two week) return window. I generally have my fabric on the shelf for months before I use it (I’m a planner, not a hoarder!), so waiting until I’m ready to cut a fabric is not a good time to discover grain problems.

3. Measure the length of your fabric to be sure you received what you ordered. This is a very recent issue, occurred just last Friday actually. I was laying out some cotton/lycra knit (so pretty!) to see if I had enough to modify the Lady Skater in a certain way, and then discovered that of the 2 yards I ordered, I received 1 yard and 24″. Again, I ordered the fabric two months ago and have already washed it once. (And if the fabric actually shrank 12″, then we have bigger problems!)

Apparently, I am a very trusting person by nature, so I have always just assumed that companies are sending me what I pay for cut in a way that I can actually use ALL of what I pay for. But, this is not always the case.

Believe me, I am in no way hating on online fabric stores. We love our fabric suppliers, don’t we? Those of us who live in places that are not L.A. or New York or Chicago depend on them; we hope they stay in business forever! Plus, I’ve cut fabric. I know it’s tricky.

All I’m saying is that we the customers need to do our part to keep the fabric sellers accountable, for remaining accountable is how they will stay in business.

And that, my friends, is that.

So. . . am I the only person with blind trust issues??

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16 thoughts on “Tips for Buying Fabric Online (Or: Things I Learned the Hard Way)

  1. Ha – i just posted about the trial and tribulations of ordering online too! Great mins think alike! 😛
    Sadly, I’d say it is entirely possible that your knit did shrink that much, especially if it’s rayon… that one of the reasons that prewashing is so important! Hopefully you can still squeeze your Lady Skater out of the amount you have!

    • Alas, no Lady Skater for me–but I do have a really lovely alternative in the works! And Girl Charlee did give me a store credit for the missing yardage.
      Yikes–an entire foot?? That’s crazy! I do prewash religiously. Next time, I’ll measure the fabric ahead of time so there’ll be no question.

  2. I’m with ya, I totally order with blind faith and fail to check my order every.single.time. But when I am in a shop I make sure they cut my fabric the right length. Need to get better at checking my online orders, for sure.

  3. Maybe it depends on the places you order from. I order primarily from Mood and Fabric.com and I’ve always received what I ordered. I definitely check anyway, but I haven’t had issues yet! In fact, there are multiple occasions on which I’ve received more than I ordered (I’m not sure what the exact policy is, but I once ordered some lawn that must have been close to the end of the bolt and they gave me the rest of the bolt — just under a yard — free and attached a sticker congratulating me on my luck, lol.)

    • Lucky you 🙂 I’ve never had trouble with fabric.com and I’ve never ordered from Mood (they never seem to have exactly what I’m looking for when I’m looking for it). But still, if there happen to ever be problems with the order, I’d like to find out sooner rather than later!

  4. I now more carefully check the fabric weight and content before clicking “buy.” I ordered some knits early on that I thought would be a soft cotton, but when they arrived they were actually a thin slinky poly blend, not at all what I had envisioned! My bad! Now I’m much more careful! But sometimes it still feel hit or miss

    • I’m still such a noob when it comes to different types of fabrics. Do I know the different between a crepe de chine and a chiffon? Nope! I’m still not sure what a ponte de roma is, even though I think I have some somewhere. Or why some twills are for pants and others are for blouses. So many potential mistakes to make! I tend to want to stick with what I know. Cotton/lycra knits, yes. Rayon/lycra knits, iffy. Jersey, who even knows!

  5. I also live in a town that the extent of fabric stores includes joanns and hancocks. I have definitely hit up the online fabric! I haven’t had many issues with cuts and stains and such but I absolutely agree there is a lot to be said about being able to hold fabric and feel the texture and weight, sheerness etc… I guess it’s just the price to pay for not living in a huge metropolitan city!

  6. I am cautious about ordering but once I’ve ordered I am probably too trusting. I’ve never had any problems ordering fabric online except that occasionally the weight or the stretch wasn’t what I was expecting but I trust that whatever I buy I can always use for something even if it doesn’t work for what I originally planned.

  7. I learnt the hard way too… bought fabric online and half of it was unusable because at some point someone had spilt glue on it which had been absorbed by the fabric and ended up as hard as a rock when it was delivered. I was so disappointed!

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