How to buy fabric

musicteacherJuly 13, 2012

Iam in awe of the pretty fabrics at quilt shops, but was borderline shocked by how much it was going to cost me to make a quilt. I am looking at the possibilites of pre-cuts as well as yardage, and obviously, do not have a stash to dig in to. I don't want to do all that work with mediocre fabrics but have no idea of how or where to buy it. I figured it was going to cost me over $100 just for the fabric for a twin quilt. Is this reasonable?

How do you find affordable fabric and know how much to buy? Precuts are not cheap,but seem to be the only way to get a large variety of fabric for a quilt without having a lot leftover. I don't have a lot of foresight about which fabrics will look good in what proportions, so the coordinating lines appeal to me, but don't know where to start. I need a personal shopper! : )

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There are some tools on the internet to help you estimate how much to buy, but my suggestion since you are still new to quilting and don't want a lot of left-over fabric pieces is to look for a book with patterns in it you like (the library has them) and there will be yardage specifications in there for most of them. Once you do a few quilts, it gets easier....especially if you start developing a stash. Another suggestion is to find another quilter and swap some yardage so that you will have a better variety. We have done that on occasion in this forum, swapping pieces to increase our selections. Precuts are an expensive way to go about it. I browse fabrics a lot more than I shop them, so that I am aware of sales coming on and can eyeball potential yardage for quilts in the future. I seldom buy any fabric not on sale unless I come into a gift certificate for an occasion and feel particulary flush. I did that two years ago with some authentic oriental fabric of excellent quality. It is still sitting in my bins, waiting because I haven't found an inspiration good enough to use it on. LOL

    Bookmark   July 13, 2012 at 6:00PM
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calliope, I'm the same way with about 2/3s of my stash. I see fabric I like and get it because I know, eventually, I'll have the perfect idea for it.

mt, pre-cuts can be an expensive way to get fabric, just like calliope said. her idea about obtaining some books from the library is a great one. take some time out for yourself and look through them. you'll not only learn along the way, but get some ideas about what you'd like to try out for your first few quilts. another thing you can do is go to your local bookstore or fabric shop and pick up a couple of quilting magazines. they have patterns in them along with detailed instructions and fabric requirements. personally, I find a lot of great ideas in the McCall's Quilting magazines.
Have fun along your quilting journey, and don't forget to come back to this forum often for tips, ideas, and a whole lot of companionship!

    Bookmark   July 13, 2012 at 7:09PM
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I agree it helps to start off with a pattern so you have an idea of how much to buy, or even a kit that has all fabric included. If you live near quilt shops, many have anniversary sales, Super Bowl sales, etc that can be 30% off or more. I always buy backings in the sales rack which are 40% off or more. It is usually the last bolt of a line or something, but perfect for what I need. Others use muslin backing to offset the cost. I've found shops that have nice solids or blenders for discount and I use those for borders, sashing, background, binding. And if you are buying fabric that is a year or two old the bolt will have the old under $10/yard prices. Prices have really increased in the last year or two - I was just at a shop that had two almost identical layer cakes by the same designer with 42 pieces. The designs from 2011 was $35, the 2012 was $42 - yep I bought the cheaper one. There are also a lot of discount fabric places online and if you buy enough you can get free shipping. You can get quilt shop quality at discount prices, you just have to look.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2012 at 12:07AM
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Once you have an idea of what you would like to make - and I agree starting with a pattern is a great idea at least for your first couple quilts - then there are many places on line to buy fabric at 'lower than quilt store' prices. Keep in mind that even the nicest quilt stores will have a sale rack too. Use an expensive fabric as a focus, then mix in some less expensive yardage. Once you are making more quilts, go ahead and splurge on all high end fabrics if you want to but by then you'll probably be comfortable enough with ALL fabrics so you'll know it's not necessary. Even inexpensive fabric can make a beautiful, useful, sturdy quilt.

Here are a couple places for fabric bargains:

There are dozens more but those should get you started! I buy from these places regularly and have never had a problem with any of them.


    Bookmark   July 14, 2012 at 9:19AM
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Musicteacher, welcome to our forum.

To answer your question, it is reasonable to spend $100 for a twin quilt if you buy good fabric that is not on sale. I've done it many times. But, you can find good fabric on sale and spend a lot less too. The fabric I have usually purchased at full price was in the $9 to $11 per yard range. Solids, like the Kona solids, can be less.

I think everyone's advice to find a pattern first is the way to start. Then ask the sales associate in a quilt shop for help in finding coordinating fabrics. Most of the ladies I have encountered say that helping a customer choose fabric is the most fun part of their job. They are also usually experienced quilters and can offer a lot of advice.

Choosing fabrics from a coordinating line is also a great way to be sure you haven't made a mistake. On the websites that Kate suggested you can sometimes find a line of fabrics that is being discontinued, and the whole line will be on sale.

I have been quilting for a little less than a year now. Unlike a lot of the folks on the forum who have the creativity to see a fabric on sale, visualize its future use, buy it and put it in their stash, I tend to buy only for a particular pattern that I have chosen. I have never yet "created" a quilt from scratch - that is, I've never visualized an idea and then fabricated it. I always have a pattern, and sometimes I even copy the sample as far as color. I think both are valid ways of quilting, and you will find the one that suits you. I hope that as I get more experienced at quilting, I will also get more creative.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2012 at 11:38AM
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There is no doubt that fabrics are becoming more expensive to buy but there are ways that help reduce the pain as some of the advise already given states.
One suggestion I might offer is try and keep that pattern simple so there is less waste and use some basics such as muslin and kona solids so there is less need for the more expensive fabric which might be the focus fabric.
Also look at some of the wide backing fabrics (Hancock of Paduch often have them on sale) there is over 3 yds. of fabric in a yard of extra wide.
Jo-Anne fabric has coupons that can be used for batting making it more affordable.
Try and think of your creation as something more the just the materials that are being used, but rather a part of you that brings pleasure which money can't buy.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2012 at 9:22PM
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I am new and have driven myself crazy today figuring yardage for sashing and backing for DD's t-shirt quilt. Since she couldn't weed out many, it's ending up about queen size, which is pretty huge. Would it be possible, instead of making it 5x6 blocks to make it 5 x 3 blocks and reversible? It will be machine quilted, so the quilting design shouldn't matter. That would save on fabric for backing.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2012 at 10:00PM
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It is your quilt and I believe you can do as it pleases you. If you are able to use the smaller block then go for it. As to making it reversable there is no reason I can see not to and it would add interest to the results.
Sometimes when it is difficult to figure what is needed I find if I made a diagram of the quilt I can evulated the amount that I will need easier.This works well if graph paper is used. I usually figure the inches then convert to yardage. I am sure this isn't anything

    Bookmark   July 15, 2012 at 1:32AM
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If cost is an issue, as it is for many of us, don't overbuy! Most online stores require you to buy 1/2 yard or even a full yard. But here's a place that will let you buy just 1/4 yard. So you can buy just what you need.

Here is a link that might be useful: Favorite Fabrics

    Bookmark   July 15, 2012 at 4:58PM
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Since you are new at this I think you should think about looking for bargains at first, sales at fabric stores, coupons, websites, even Wally-World. Then when you think you can estimate yardages with more skill, you can invest in the better fabrics. Get a pattern first from magazines that give the yardage for projects, then you won't go overboard buying. Just remember, if you really get bitten, it won't be long before you are building up a stash, it's just part of the addiction.

    Bookmark   July 16, 2012 at 6:04AM
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There are also alternatives to buying new cotton and that takes us back to traditional quilting as our parents and grandparents did it. I am now starting to build blocks for my next quilt (two in the process of hand-quilting right now and I always like to keep the piecework going, as I enjoy it most). I had a small stash given to me of cotton plaids. Some unused cuts from sewing, most likely and many 'saved' from old cotton garments and probably men's shirts. I will scarf up garments at Goodwill or any other place if I know the material content and cut them up for scrap quilts. Old cotton shirting can still be found in such places and makes a dandy quilt. This one will be very old-timey looking and I'm loving how it's coming so far. I have a few of my father's and my husband's plaid cotton shirts I can cut up too. I do the same with woolen items for a wool quilt I plan to do. I have done the same with raw silk my mother brought back with us from when we lived in Japan. Nobody says quilts have to be cotton.

    Bookmark   July 16, 2012 at 10:32AM
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Thanks everyone for your very helpfull feedback. It makes me happy to hear so many varying opinions and ways of doing things. I figured all you experts had a lists of rights and wrongs. I also thought it was kind of cheating to make a quilt from someone else's pattern or worse, from a kit. Kind of like mashed potatoes from a box, :) But if it is fun to make and you like it in the end, I guess that is what really matters. I love lurking here and learning tips from all of you.

    Bookmark   July 18, 2012 at 8:24PM
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Hi & good you found it useful. I think someone above said a key thing, there are few rules, unless quilting for a Show. So really one can do whatever one likes.

I'm self taught starting about 15 yrs. ago & had been a textile designer professionally; learned how to Quilt from magazines like Quilters Newsletter Magazine. They showed great designs, one could make a block to sample if one liked (I try to do this much of the time), get an idea of colors combinations, yardage, etc. Also, I try out the mechanics of the block assembly, how it goes together, if I'm able to make it well or run into problems.

Also, as mentioned above on can combine more & less expensive fabrics. I hadn't known prints cost more than solids, but it makes sense. So one can combine a print & several solids.

I've even bought from thrift shops & taken clothes apart, reusing the fabric to quilt. Once bought a size 10 sundress (too small) 'cause it had 3 different batik patterns in it, really nice in indigo & white. I cut the dress apart & used it in several different works including a sampler to teach myself Flying Geese.

Here's the sampler

I've saved mens shirtings & will be reusing those too.

My sister's given me old silk blouses which I've recently learned to 'debone' (too funny) to prepare the fabric to be put into quilts.

I'd suggest staring small at first & it helps get a good beginning. Most of all have fun!

    Bookmark   July 18, 2012 at 10:54PM
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Oh those blue samplers.

    Bookmark   July 19, 2012 at 6:51PM
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Using what you have on hand and making do with what you have is what quilting really is about. It hasn't been till recent years that people started buying fabric yardage for the making of quilts.
There were woman in the past who did buy fabric for whole cloth quilts but they were few and far between.
Feed sacks, worn out clothing, left overs from other garments were the traditional means of collecting fabric.
Today you can do the same thing. Old jeans are are a wonderful source of fabric as are mens shirts even old t-shirts can be turned into beautiful quilts.

    Bookmark   July 20, 2012 at 3:51PM
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I have to agree, quilting can become quite pricy but I love the creative process. Sometimes I use fabrics from old clothes lying around or local thrift stores (Goodwill for example), I have had lots of luck on getting great deals from online stores like and

    Bookmark   December 2, 2014 at 10:16PM
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I seldom know how much fabric I am going to need, (either I have no pattern or I plan to change the size, etc. of a patterns) so always buy a little more than I think I need. Then IF I cut accurately, I have some extra to put away for another project. But I really like scrappy quilts, so that works for me.

    Bookmark   December 3, 2014 at 10:51PM
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