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Buying fabrics online will never replace the satisfaction of shopping in a well-stocked fabric store, because seriously, who can resist petting, fondling and draping fabric in person. But you know what comes close? Ordering fabric online, opening the package when it arrives, and discovering yay!, it’s just what you wanted. Online fabric shops are a boon to home sewers in areas where the nearest fabric store is miles away. Just follow these tips and you’ll become an online fabric shopping pro in no time.

The cardinal rule—know your fabrics. The better online shops provide complete descriptions of fiber content, weight and drape, but you need to know what this means before you place your order. Matelassé is not the same as jacquard, wool bouclé looks and feels different from polyester-blend bouclé, and just because they’re both cotton doesn’t mean lawn and twill will drape the same way. Take the fabric scraps you have at home, put a label on them that identifies the fiber content, and keep these in a box or bag for reference. If you’re at a brick-and-mortar fabric store that allows swatching, ask for swatches of fabrics you’re not familiar with, just to build your reference library. Two excellent fabric reference books to own are Fabric Sewing Guide by Claire Shaeffer and More Fabric Savvy by Sandra Betzina; Fabric U is an iPhone app that provides information about 120 well-known fabrics.

Ask for swatches before you order. Many online stores will let you order swatches for free or a nominal charge. Obviously seeing the fabric firsthand before you order is the way to go, but sometimes the online shop will have such a limited quantity available that by the time you receive the swatch and subsequently place your order, it’s all gone. Call the online store directly and ask if they think there is a danger of this happening with the particular fabric you like. If not, by all means order a swatch.

More descriptive copy is a good thing. Patronize online fabric merchants who take the time to really tell you about their fabrics. Take, for example, this fabric description from Emmaonesock:

“This is an amazing matelassé brocade from Tahari, such a wonderful quality in that it’s malleable and flexible—not stiff and synthetic-feeling—yet it has plenty of body for tailoring. Highly textured with a beautiful and elegant floral design and a slight ombré effect in gradations of cool gray with black. … It’s a medium suiting weight perfect for a Chanel-style jacket, suit, fitted dress, etc.”

Really helps you decide if this is the right fabric for your needs, right? Plus, it’s always helpful when the descriptive copy identifies what type of garment the fabric is best suited for.

The more photos of the fabric, the better. Close-up shots are helpful, but a photo or two showing how the fabric drapes are uber-beneficial. If you want to make a floaty tunic but in the photo the fabric you like forms stiff folds, then you know it’s not the right fabric for your application.

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Be color-flexible. Color is so subjective. Your monitor at work may show the fabric as dark gray while your iPhone shows it veering toward black; one person says a color is pink, while another swears it’s salmon. If you are seeking a very specific color, then order a swatch. Some online merchants provide PMS colors but even this is no guarantee the fabric you order will be the deep maroon with a tinge of blue you’re seeking. For continued online fabric shopping success, it’s best to be flexible when it comes to color.

Check out the return policy. The better online stores will allow you to return any fabric you’re not happy with. Read the return policies before you place your order.

Join the mailing list. You need to be in the know when new fabrics arrive or go on sale, because the good stuff goes fast.

There are hundreds of online fabric stores out there, especially when you include all the fabric sellers on eBay and Etsy. Here are a few shops that have earned strong word-of-mouth among home sewers:

Emmaonesock: Can be pricey, but one of the best places on the Internet for designer fabrics.

FabricMart: Best for their sales, where you can find things like Vera Wang cotton faille for $1 a yard.

Fabric.com: Best for home decor and quilting fabrics, though they do feature some attractive fashion fabrics from time to time.

Michael’s Fabrics: Stock up on basics like cottons and wools when they go on sale.

Sawyer Brook: Its fabrics come from a wholesaler in NYC that specializes in European textiles.

Mood Fabrics: Online site operates independently from Mood’s two retail stores; excellent source when you’re looking for basics—silks, wools, etc.—in a huge array of shades.

Meg McDonald has been sewing ever since she made a peasant blouse at age 12. She writes about the wonderful fabrics, trims and notions NYC’s Garment District has to offer at Shop the Garment District, an online guide for sewists and crafters. Meg shares her personal adventures in fashion sewing on her blog, Lindsay T Sews, where she readily admits she still has “what was I thinking?” moments when it comes to some of the things she makes.

32 Comments

  • Avatar1_large

    Dec 6, 2014, 04.02 AMby threads80

    http://nyfashioncenterfabrics.com/ ships internationally and has swatches.

  • Missing

    Aug 9, 2013, 02.28 PMby Elizaofthecraft

    Great post. I usually get my swatches from minerva crafts here in the UK, they’ve got a fantastic selection of dress fabric

  • Missing

    Jul 5, 2013, 05.56 PMby marytownsend

    Great variety of fabrics at www.organiccottonplus.com plus they’ve just revamped the site, so it’s a lot easier to shop online.

  • Missing

    Oct 31, 2012, 03.25 PMby FabricStreet

    Our site, http://www.fabricstreet.com also has a great selection. And I think we make it easy to see the texture of the fabric, with big ol’ swatch images :)

  • Missing

    Jul 28, 2012, 05.20 AMby silkuneed

    Excellent suggestion,it’s really nice post.Now i am going to share this post on my facebook.Silk Fabric

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    Feb 5, 2011, 04.18 PMby SEW-BAKEWELL

    The Cloth Merchants out of Tulsa also have beautiful fabrics, many designer pieces and will send free swatches upon request. You can visit their online store at http://store.theclothmerchants.com/ Great pricing too!

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    Feb 5, 2011, 12.14 AMby eddalind

    This post got me to online fabric shop for the first time. I got a great deal so thank you!

  • Alterknits-dress-form_large

    Feb 3, 2011, 05.33 PMby littlemisssew

    How about quality,but not crazy expencive lace? I haven’t seen good cotton lace anywhere,and the only things that I found online were either polyester or they costed a small fortune… Anyone got a clue?

    5 Replies
    • Photoge01_large

      Feb 3, 2011, 06.00 PMby gedwoods

      I haven’t ordered from these, but the fabric wiki lists two sites for lace (the list is categorized into fabric specialties as well as by country).

    • Alterknits-dress-form_large

      Feb 3, 2011, 07.01 PMby littlemisssew

      it’s quite confusing,it gave me bazzillion links,what exactly did you put in the search that it gave you two sites?

    • Photoge01_large

      Feb 4, 2011, 03.08 AMby gedwoods

      What am I missing? Just click the link, and then scan down the page to a subsection called “Specialty Fabrics – Lace”…

    • Alterknits-dress-form_large

      Feb 4, 2011, 12.18 PMby littlemisssew

      now I see it! thank you!
      I didn’t notice there are more devisions when i scroll down^^

    • Screen_shot_2012-10-10_at_4_10_59_pm_large

      Oct 10, 2012, 11.24 PMby jenlucas

      I’m not sure about pure cotton, but styishfabric has a lot of cotton laces blends. They almost have the same feel and behavior as cotton laces but much cheaper.

  • Avatar_jpeg_large

    Feb 3, 2011, 04.25 PMby Gabriele Yorlano

    I have started ordering fabrics online because my “far and few between” local fabric stores don’t always have what I’m looking for. Thank you for your suggestions above of reputable sellers. I recently ordered a flannel Plaid print online for a special Rag Quilt I’m making for my husband. I was disappointed with what I recieved: Description online read Navy Blue and what I got was definitely Black. Also, the weight was a light shirting weight and the description read flannel. I ordered from FashionFabricsClub once before and their packaging is poor (fabric received was dirty because it was just thrown in the box) and descriptions are not accurate.

    So, thank you for these suggestions. Also, If anyone has purchased from other sites, I encourage you to share with the community.

    1 Reply
    • Photoge01_large

      Feb 3, 2011, 06.08 PMby gedwoods

      I’ve had good experience with FashionFabricsClub, and the site is on the list because it has been recommended. I may add a comment that there have been some complaints as a way of dealing with variable reports!

  • Photoge01_large

    Feb 3, 2011, 03.41 PMby gedwoods

    Note that our fabric wiki, fabrics international includes quite a bit of information online about fabrics, much of it adapted from Claire Shaeffer, Sandra Betzina and other sources. Interestingly, the wiki also features photos of fabrics which are provided to us by online fabric shops such as emmaonesock, fabricmart and fabric.com as well as some other great online stores like GorgeousFabrics, fashionistafabrics and fashionfabricsclub. The wiki also contains an extensive list of online stores that BurdaStyle members have recommended over the years, across many different countries. Another feature of the wiki that is especially important for non English speakers is a list of fabric prints and their names in English. Sections of the wiki are also being developed in French, Spanish, German and Dutch.

    1 Reply
    • Avatar_jpeg_large

      Feb 3, 2011, 04.29 PMby Gabriele Yorlano

      Thank you for the link to the extensive list of online stores. I read your post after I made mine.

  • Sidney_and_me_large

    Feb 3, 2011, 03.32 PMby easbrooke

    Thank you so much for sharing this info!

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    Feb 3, 2011, 01.43 PMby jay283

    Mood doesn’ ship outside US and I wish they would because I saw there many stuff I couldn’t find anywhere else. It’s been two times I buy at fashionfabricsclub.com and so far I’ve been satisfied with everything I bought. Of course you have to be a little flexible for the colors and textures because you can’t really guess with the picture but their prices are very good.

    1 Reply
    • Fase_large

      Feb 3, 2011, 03.33 PMby themisslinds

      I believe Mood does ship outside the US but they can’t process the order online, you have to call their “website division” and place the order.
      +1 (201) 933-7565

  • Avatar_beardsley_large

    Feb 3, 2011, 12.14 PMby imogens

    Emmaonesock has some more expensive fabrics, sure, but they are fantastic value- typically about half the price I pay for similar high-quality fabrics at, say, Tessuti in Melbourne (which I also love). Also Linda at EOS is really friendly and helpful… the descriptions are great and I always end up with fabric that is either just as I expected or even more lovely. Totally recommend that site (even though I don’t want more people buying her fabric – it can sell out so quickly!)

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    Feb 3, 2011, 12.02 PMby hcbouma

    I discovered eBay recently for cheap kimono silk. I have a lifeline with Japan now, and my fabric comes in by post in haori or kimono length (8 or 10 meters). Mind you: the fabric has 35 centimeters width, it requiers some adjustment to some patterns. But this week I bought 10 meters of handpainted black vintage silk for 1 dollar!!! (Add ten dollars for the shipping fee.) I will be walking in a new black silk dress for 11 dollars soon. Straight from Kyoto.

  • Union_jack_cushion_front_large

    Feb 3, 2011, 10.56 AMby little-meep

    This is a great feature, but can anyone recommend good online fabric stores in the UK?

    5 Replies
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    Feb 3, 2011, 08.49 AMby nikkishell

    Tessuti Fabrics in Australia have an online shop. Samples can be posted out free of charge. :)

    • This is a question
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