Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Sew Grateful Week Day 3 - Fabric Shopping Tips

Oh Hiya Day 3 of Sew Grateful Week!  I've really been enjoying the week so far, have found many new blogs to follow and lots of new followers, so hiya guys!  And a massive thank you for following!

Today's post is about sharing your knowledge and skills with the sewing community.  I really didn't know what to do for this post.  I didn't have time to compile a tutorial and I'm really not very good at taking pictures as I go along (however if you'd really like a tutorial, you can nosey at this one I posted back in the beginning).  What I am going to post about though, is something I like to think I know a lot about - buying fabric.  Yes, three years working in a fabric shop will enlighten you to the trials and tribulations of the simple task of buying meterage (yardage?) to make up that shiny new pattern in someone's hands.  So here are my top 5 tips on fabric shopping;

1. Be prepared.
When entering a fabric shop, it's easy to be overwhelmed at the stock.
 I've tried to find a pic of Mandors that conveys how much we have but I promise, you can't even see half of it in this picture!  [source]
All that potential sitting there on stands waiting to be bought and made up.  It's easy to get carried away.  So before you set off to the shop, have a rough idea of what you want to buy/make.  If you have a pattern, awesome!  Bring it in with you and you can match up fabric to the pattern.  This will also mean you know exactly what you need fabric and notion wise.  No pattern, no worries.  Hopefully you'll know what kind of garment you want to make so when in store have a look at the patterns available and see if something suits.  If not, then think outside the box; it's easy to use the bodice of one and the skirt of another to create a dress.  If all of this leaves you at a loss, then use the trip for inspiration.

2. Ask for help.
I know we fabric salespeople look scary but really we're lovely and want nothing more than to have a good chat and share your ideas and maybe even help you out!  I'd like to assume that most people who work in fabric stores sew themselves and will have a pretty good knowledge on the subject.  
Not sure which fabric is best?  Show us your pattern or describe the garment and we'll suggest a few different fabrics and leave you pondering which you prefer.  
Not sure how to use/read the back of the pattern?  Not a problem, we'll point out what you need to know and how to work out what you need to create it.  
Not sure how much fabric you need?  We'll happily guesstimate if you don't have a pattern or show you on the pattern how much it suggests.  
We're not out to get you, in most cases we can only advise as far as the pattern states if we haven't made it ourselves.  I don't know how many times I've been with a customer and both of us have been confused by something on the back of the pattern.  So to resolve it, we get out the instructions and between us look to see what it's on about!
We also like to hear about things you've made so the next time you're in the shop let us know and we can help you again to make something you love.

3. Understand how the shop works.
Most fabric shops will have a labeling system for bales and rolls of fabric.  Here's an example from Mandors:
EDIT: due to recent events regarding our ticket labelling, I've had to remove the image of our labels! However I'd recommend familiarising yourself with your local fabric shops labelling system!
This is the swing ticket from the stunning Mohair I used to make my Chanel Jacket
These swing tickets are attached to the selvedge edge of all our fabrics and also on a sticker on the board or inside the tube.  This gives all the details of the fabric, which I've tried to annotate clearly.  If the ticket states unspecified, it's likely polyester but we can't be sure as the supplier hasn't told us.  We also put the initial meterage on the back of the ticket so we know how much came in when we got the fabric.
Again I'll use Mandors as an example, but I'm sure most other stores will be similar.  We have three separate departments in the shop; Curtains, Haberdashery and Dress.  I work in dress fabrics and know a little about haberdashery, I know next to nothing about curtains.  We are all experts in the department we work in and will be best to help you in that department, so seek out staff in the department you need advice in and you'll know you're getting the best help possible within the shop.

4. Embrace the unique nature of the stock.
One of the best things about making your own garments is that it is unique and no-one else will have it.  In order for customers to achieve this, it means that there will be lots of options, but not necessarily lots of meterage in every option.  You'll find that only basic, plain stock is able to be re-ordered, stuff like cottons, duchess stains, satin backed crepes and dupions, chiffons etc.  Anything printed or 'special' will likely be bought as seen and won't be able to be ordered again.  It's also likely that these fabrics are ex-designer or high street making them pretty special. Also, due to the nature of storing fabrics, all will be on the shop floor with only a few back-ups in the stock room; we only keep black/white cotton, polycotton and some tartans or our biggest sellers.  Also don't be afraid to touch the stock, we have many customers who don't want to disturb displays so won't bring the bales out for a proper look.  It's best to do this to get a proper idea of what the fabric looks like and how it drapes!

5.When in doubt, go have a think about it!
Choosing fabric for a special make is never an easy task.  So sometimes its best to visit beforehand and get a better idea.  Most shops will have a sample service where you can obtain a small cutting of the fabric (we do 10cm cuts at 10% of the metre price).  This means you can take it home with you and think over it.  This comes in especially handy when looking for curtain fabrics or bridal fabrics, as these can change dependent upon the environment they are in.  We're more than happy to advise you on anything and help you out in the choosing process.  I don't know many times I've told bridal parties to go grab a coffee and then come back in as often a second look can make up your mind.  Oh, but bear in mind tip #4 when getting samples!  Don't be disappointed and miss out on your perfect fabric!  We can hold some items for 24 hours and you can order over the phone.

These are the main things I've found that make the difference for customers when shopping for fabric.  If there's anything I've missed, leave me a wee comment and I'll try and demystify it for you!  But I promise if you follow these tips, your next fabric shopping trip will be all the better.  The last thing I would advise is to befriend your favourite fabric shop as then we'll keep you in the loop as to when new things are arriving or suggest things that you might like the next time you're in!  Also be sure to follow your favourite fabric shop on all the social media sites they have as that's where they'll announce new fabrics, sales and other useful info!  You can go look at Mandors' Facebook page here.


  1. Thanks Hazel, very interesting. I'll look out for you next time I am in Mandors to say hello!

  2. This is great! I love the decoded fabric tag! super useful!


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