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DIY dressmaking + crafts with Emily

Buying fabric online – a good idea?

Is it a good idea to buy fabric online? It’s a bit hit and miss to be honest. Unless you know very specifically what you’re buying i.e. it’s something you’ve bought before/ you know the brand and bought something similar, I don’t recommend it.

Or at least I’ve not had a whole lot of luck with it!

I don’t think there’s ever enough information in the written description to give you a full sense of what you’re buying. What I think I’m getting is never quite what turns up on my doorstep…

In my opinion, nothing beats being able to touch the materials myself! That and I don’t like missing out on the joy I feel when I walk into a store piled high with rolls of fabric…

There are always occasions though where you just can’t find what you’re looking for. For me that always happens when I’m looking for specific types of jersey. When that happens, I get sucked into the whole online shopping thing and 9 times out of 10, I end up disappointed. I quite liked what I got from Girl Charlee – that site lists specific fabric content and stretch percentage – but even that held some disappointing pieces.

Sometimes it works out! Like when I bought polar fleece from Tissu Fabrics to make me and my sisters animal themed onesies…

I’ve definitely become very cautious about online fabric shopping and only use it as a last resort.

What are your experiences of it? Maybe you’ve been luckier that I have been!

If there are any online shops you recommend please let me know!

Here are some outfits from fabric I’ve bought online –


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  1. I definitely have experience buying fabric online and I’ve been mostly lucky. As a matter of fact, the fabric I used in the last post was bought on ebay. I think the key that I was open to whatever came before I decided on the project.

    1. That’s true. It definitely helps not be too decided on a project before you feel/ see the fabric in person! Plans may need changing!

  2. the french webstore 36 bobines (@36_bobines) makes short video on instagram of the fabric they sell so you can have a better idea of how the fabric draps … I do not know if the shop you usually by the fabric online have the same.

    1. I think that’s starting to be a thing in the uk. I’ve definitely seen one site where they’ve just started posting videos like that. Hopefully that’ll help for future purchases!

  3. My problem is there are exactly two fabric stores in my area: a independently owned quilting shop, that while lovely, is light on apparel fabric and the national chain Hanncock fabric….which has filed for bankruptcy and is closing 🙁 My ONLY options are to buy fabric when I travel (there is an AWESOME independent fabric store near my parents) or buy online. My trick is if I’m buying an unknown commodity (new fabric/new brand) I ALWAYS swatch first. It’s not the quickest process, but I avoid shelling out my hard earned money on crap!

    1. I’ve never been one to swatch successfully. Which sounds weird but the last time I got swatches, I never actually got round to buying any fabric… Definitely something to keep in mind in future for any expensive fabrics I may want!

  4. I would only buy fabric from stores that I know and where I’ve seen the quality of what they stock – e.g. The Fabric Godmother, Ditto Fabrics and The Drapers Daughter. Stone Fabrics are also very good – you have to ring to order but they do a free swatch service so you can be sure of what you are getting.

    1. Have you bought from all of those before? I’ve only used Ditto and that was to buy some interfacing but I’ve never purchased dress fabric. I’m always so tempted but too scared to commit…

      1. I don’t usually buy online but they all generally stock good quality fabric and are very reliable. I’ve bought direct from all of them. Josie at Fabric Godmother has regular open days (there’s one this Saturday) but I’m not sure where you’re based?

        1. I’m in south London. It’s not too bad to get into central to shop (it’s the lugging all the fabric home that worries me!) and I can get to Walthamstow market when I visit my parents so I’m not that bad off! It’s only when I’m looking for specific items that I struggle and finding a reliable online shop would make life easier!

  5. Hello Emily. Your two outfits turned out well in terms of the suitability of the fabric, the fit and how they look on you. The pineapple print is so cute.

    In terms of buying fabrics by mail I’ve had good results with, and I always buy swatches before committing to a selection.

    A problem with shopping online is gauging how flattering a print fabric will be when cut and worn on the body. This is where I agree with those who favor shopping at a store in real-time.

    I’ve also ordered from Gorgeous Fabrics, a store Gretchen Hirsch recommends in her first book. I found the service very good and the cotton twill’s weight and color exactly as described online. They even give you a label you can sew into your creation that says “Gorgeous Fabrics” .

    I’ll share my personal frustration…It’s very hard to get a high quality solid color fabric in either natural fiber or blended fibers.

    1. Prints are definitely tricky with online shopping! I was taken completely by surprise with one I’d purchased recently. Not a good surprise by the way. I’ll have a look at those stores you’ve recommended!

  6. Yeah, I am with you. Mostly disappointed by what I have bought online. This is partly my fault because I seek out sale fabrics specifically online. I will pay full price for things I shop for in person. I travel to New York a lot for work so there’s plenty of great in-person shopping, but it can get pricy. So I take a chance on sales online. I guess that a lot of Fabrics are on sale online for a reason!

    1. Haha! That’s very true. I love bargain shopping for fabrics (and everything else for that matter) and it’s so easy to be lured into purchasing something just to try out based in the price. Without being able to see/ feel it, it’s way too easy to convince yourself it’ll be nice! It’s definitely one of my pitfalls!

  7. This is an interesting topic! I am sorry that you haven’t had much luck with online shopping–it’s always really disappointing to wait eagerly for something to arrive and then open the package and be unhappy with what you got.

    I am in the US, and we have an enormous amount of options open to us for buying fabric online. I wish everyone else had the same type of access. 🙁 I would love to be able to shop for garment fabric in person more frequently or with greater success! Even though I’m in a large city, we aren’t a fashion hub and don’t have much variety in the way of fashion fabrics. On top of that, I am very particular about what I will buy in terms of fiber content, weave, and colorway. If I want variety and quality *and* the best price, I have to go online. That’s how I buy 95% of my fabric, and I’ve only had a few duds (and those are mostly from my very early days as a sewer when I didn’t have enough experience to make good choices) along the way.

    At the independent boutique shops here, it’s mostly geared toward quilting, but a few have a small selection of garment fabrics. Otherwise, we’re limited to the big box stores like Joann’s (which has gotten better stock lately but is still too pricey for the overall quality IMO) or Wal-Mart and Hobby Lobby (both of which I outright refuse to patronize for ethical reasons).

    1. Access of definitely an issue for lots of people. Life would be so much easier if everything you ever needed would be just a short drive/ walk away! You’re right though, I think experience shopping online is important and if I spent more time (and money) exploring options, I’d be able to make better choices. I hope anyway!

  8. I really only have access to a local quilting store or Joann’s. I purchase quite a bit from because they list a lot of the qualities of the fabric and I really only buy on clearance. So far there is only one fabric I didn’t care for because of how it feels. When I get to ordering some fancy expensive fabric, I will order swatches. I also buy fabric when I travel. If I can decide on one in a timely fashion!

  9. I’ve had to ban myself from buying jersey fabrics online. I’ve just had far too many disappointments and find the descriptions insufficient to help. I’ve had great success buying cottons, linens and other straightforward fabrics. I have a few fabric shops nearish me and save up for sales when I splurge. Basically I now try to only shop every few months

    1. Jersey is so hard to buy online! I’ve just flat out stopped now. I’m trying to limit myself to fewer fabric shopping trips as well. I go a bit nuts shopping and buy way too much each time…

      1. I agree – jersey is the hardest fabric to buy online. I never quite know how it’s going to feel or drape or stretch. I do buy wovens online, especially from my favourite local-but-not-close-enough shops, or when I’ve seen another blogger use a beautiful fabric that I want to try. But given the choice, I’d much rather buy fabric in person. I’m even compiling a Google map of all the fabric shops I’ve visited so I can remember where they all are and share them easily with other people.

  10. I have such a hard time buying fabric online! I finally found a good fabric store that is local (I try to just say no to Joann’s and Hobby Lobby stuff).

  11. I don’t buy on line often. I do miss being able to touch and feel the weight of the fabric. I like the companies that allow you to buy a small sample but I’m afraid that when it arrives, I will like it too much and then have to wait again for my order to come in!

    1. The waiting is a problem! I’m an instant gratification girl when it comes to shopping! That’s probably a big part of my problem. I’d be better off being patient and getting swatches etc but it just never happens!

  12. I’ve had quite a bit more success buying fabric online lately than I used to. Good thing too as my local fabric stores are not inspirational! I get swatches for anything expensive and try to stick to fabric types I already have some experience with which reduces the surprise factor.

    One downside with swatching though: I found the perfect fabric for one project after ordering a few different swatches but it sold out between ordering the swatch and going back to get the main order, and nothing else I’d swatched was anywhere near as good. Still haven’t found anything suitable for that one.

  13. Hi , is a shame we don’t all have access to fabric stores any more , it used to be part of every trip to town – I have had some success buying on line , but as many have already said – swatching is a must especially as you have already a project planned ! I agree if you buy in the sale – plan once you have it – there is no fabric you can’t make something out of 😊

  14. I’ve not personally done it myself, but my friend bought what she thought was a simple, classy flower print and when it came in the flower were several times larger than expected and it looked like a Hawaiian shirt gone very wrong.

  15. I live in Shetland where there are very limited fabric shopping options, so I buy all my fabric online. I completely understand your point of view and I would far prefer to be able to buy it in person as I have been let down by some of my online fabric purchases. I tend to avoid disappointment by sticking to online shops which, from experience, I know sell quality fabric. Some of my favourites are: Backstitch, Sew Over It and Merchant and Mills. I have yet to buy anything disappointing from any of these three shops.

  16. I agree it’s hit or miss. When I use a good one from online and go back to get more, it’s gone. That can be so infuriating. It’s not like if you shop local. Less sewists to fight off that way.

  17. For a long time, I was really reluctant to buy fabric online but do a lot more of that now. And like some of the others commenting, I think I’ve been lucky with the results. There have been a few disappointments of course. Surprisingly, from places I wasn’t expecting to be disappointed by as the fabrics I purchased had been shown in a video. The colourings were as I expected just the quality and/or how they looked with my skin tone were the elements that weren’t quite right. Whilst fabric shop options in Bristol certainly aren’t as limited as other places, sometimes I still can’t quite find what I want so go online. I haven’t tackled ebay yet and am still too reluctant at the moment!

  18. This is a really interesting topic (especially as we are an online retailer for knit/jersey fabrics!)

    It can be frustrating when a fabric is not as you think it is going to be, and I agree that swatches are definitely a great solution to this issue (we offer free 5″ square swatches on a next day delivery so you don’t have to wait and the fabric will still be in stock).

    Any fabric store worth it’s salt will be happy to answer any specific questions about a fabric (we have done videos/photos for customers who have emailed us) and should also have a no quibble returns policy (our customers can return any fabric they are not completely happy with).

    It’s always a bit of a leap of faith buying fabric online, but hopefully we ( and the other stores mentioned here will help in any way we can to make it a pleasant process.

    We’ll be exhibiting at the Handmade Fair this year where you will be able to see and feel our fabrics in person.

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