Buying fabric on the internet

posted in: Shop Review, SWAP | 15

I have two habits.

First  I invariably start a project with fabric, rather than a pattern.

Second,  I  buy fabric in shops, markets and warehouses (rather than on the internet).

These habits are because I am rather particular about fabric especially its composition, colour, weight, quality and handle. In shops I generally take the roll of cloth to the mirror and drape a metre or two over my body and take a good look at what it does with my shape and colouring. Then I usually buy either 2 or 2.5m.

WIth the pant suit I had the fabric. I bought a lovely piece of heavy cocktail-dress silk – sweet clear pink on the one side, with a very light pink on the underside. Stiffish, with a sheen, but supple and pliable too. It was damaged with a square sample cut out of it, and aged, yellowing Sellotape marks where this end of roll had been attached to the cardboard tube.

Pink silk and Vogue 2333
Pink silk and Vogue 2333

But I got a sense of regret when I laid the fabric out ready to cut into. I had always seen this fabric being used to make an YSL evening dress. Furthermore it was not entirely suitable for a pant suit as there was no stretch in it – ideally tight “slacks” need the benefit of a little elastane in the mix. Additionally while pink was my preferred shade (to coordinate with my sweat pea collection) I had acquired some interesting greenish trim that suggested a turquoise or green colour might be better.  So I put away my shears and put out a call for fabric suggestions.

What a wonderful bunch you are.

I had lots and lots of great suggestions. Wool Challis (SJ Kurtz)! Silk Dupion! Cotton sateen! Shiny mohair wool (like a Mod suit)! I also had lots of merchants mentioned including Whalleys and several eBay purveyors – thanks Demented Fairy.

As I said I normally start with fabric. I can always find (or make) a pattern to go with it. It’s not hard to go from the fabric to the outfit, I find. The other way round is complicated.

My brief is

  • a firmish, mid-weight fabric with a little heft
  • 2-5% elastane
  • ideally silk or another natural fabric
  • a cool pink, or turquoise, or possibly silver
  • a brocade is a possibility
  • an eveningwear fabric
  • a bit of shimmer – not a high shine, but not matt either
  • appropriate to the 1960s style
  • not too expensive

I found it hard to identify something that met all the criteria and many of the helpful suggestions hit two out of three requirements.

Readers –  I explored all the internet had to offer and decided, as advised by many, to get some samples. Which I will now share with you!.

First I tried stretch silk from Pongees. These are satin fabrics which include some elastane. The colours are good, (although a number of the shades I asked for are out of stock). But I think the fabric is too thin for the task. While the company charges only postage if you ask for more than three samples they did not send a price list which was poor. The prices are not mentioned on the internet either, so I wrote asking for the price but didn’t hear back. Maybe if you have to ask you can’t afford it. Verdict – nice fabric, great colours, good stretch, maybe a bit too shiny, a bit too thin and no idea on price.

Harrington’s has a similar selection and I have used them before and would recommend. Silk Route was recommended by x, and I like the site. However like many of the silk suppliers there is an assumption that you are making a wedding dress and there is something about the price, slowness of the customer service and lack of price transparency that is irritating. If you are making a wedding dress Beckford silks, and Bennetts Silks have nice sites.

The next company I approached was Tutus and Textiles. I don’t have any call for a tutu, but if I did I would go to Suzanne in Scotland! This is an interesting site and I liked quite a few of her products. I decided to order some stretch faux dupion (polyester) in silver grey – the shocking pink was out of stock. She came back quickly to tell me the silver grey was almost finished. Nevertheless she sent me a sample, free of charge, and despite it being “faux” I really liked it. I asked her if she could get either bright pink or turquoise and she is consulting her supplier. Verdict – good stretch, good sheen, right weight, OK colour, not sufficient avaiable.

Grey Faux Dupion Tutus and Textiles
Grey Faux Dupion Tutus and Textiles

I looked carefully at one of my favourite suppliers Cheap Fabrics, but they had nothing in the stretch department that fitted the bill.

I looked at Croft Mill fabrics but they didn’t have anything appropriate.

I wanted to use Dragonfly fabrics as they are a nice company but they didn’t have anything. Then I saw in their sale they had a cotton sateen at about £6m. I thought this might work if I couldn’t do better. Here matched with my vintage trim. Verdict: Nice colour, sufficient stretch, no sheen, and a bit flimsy.

Turquoise cotton sateen with stretch
Turquoise cotton sateen with stretch

Finally I went to a company that I have not used before but many bloggers have mentioned, Stone Fabrics in Devon. They had lots of possibilities on their website under stretch fabrics. Here is what I got for the price of a stamped address envelope. Verdict: They all have a bit of stretch, but none has a sheen, none seems to be special enough for evening wear or this project. I might settle for the pink pique as the weight is good and the colour is nice. But I think I will wait to see what Mrs Tutu has first.


Overall verdict – start with the flipping fabric. There are too many variables to start with a pattern. 

15 Responses

  1. Tamara

    What a great post! Being down in Malawi-Africa I have thought about buying fabric through the internet, but the problems you had (combined with my issues of expensive shipping) make me think it’s just better to buy it when I see it (and can touch it!).

  2. Stephanie

    Well, I have a thought. I had an idea for a pattern that didn’t work out (a jump suit). Then I found a pattern (dress) that I liked. I had in mind a certain type of fabric or set of fabrics that might work, but I couldn’t find what I was looking for despite lengthy online searches. And then on Saturday I was in a shop and saw a fabric that drew my eye and wasn’t at all what I was looking for (and a colour I wouldn’t previously have considered). I could immediately see it as the first version of the dress and so it’s now decided. I think you just have to let it go for a week or two, but keep browsing, and something will pop up in your field of vision that feels just right. There’s got to be the perfect fabric out there. Maybe it’s completely different than anything you’ve looked at so far, in a completely different colour (e.g. maybe a deep purple-blue or something else that is not on your radar!).

  3. Sue

    I agree, I always start with the fabric, although very occasionally the pattern aligns itself with fabric seemingly by accident! I have such a large stash that I try not to buy fabric to suit anything. I am going to watch your progress with interest.

  4. DementedFairy

    I quite like looking for the perfect fabric for a project, although it’s nice when it just happens serendipitously! Have you ruled out underlining? If you have a good fabric colour/texture/stretch but the only problem is the flimsiness, whang some powernet on the back. I bet that would fix the problem. It’s light, but gives some weighty oomph to the topfabric, would undoubtedly be stretchier, so wouldn’t hurt, and isn’t exorbitant. I underlined one of my 60s style colour blocked ponte dresses in it, as I didn’t want the 2 different fabrics to compete, and part of it was white and potentially transparent. I loved the result, it has some proper 60s welly!

  5. Annie

    Not absolutely sure about this but I think stretch fabric was not widely available when that pattern was designed. So I imagine there is a bit more ease in the slacks that you might expect. Which might allow you to use your lovely pink fabric…

    • fabrickated

      I think you are right Annie. I am planning to taper the trousers to create more of a 1960s silhouette but I have toiled the pattern and I want them to fit a bit closer than intended, so that is why I want a bit of stretch. I suppose my fabric difficulties stem from a desire to have modern comfort and style but to look like I have just dropped in from 1966!

  6. Karen K

    Yes, always start with the fabric. I totally agree. The importance of matching pattern to fabric cannot be overstated imho. You might need to get your walking shoes out if you do want something but don’t rush the decision, you’ll only regret it. Try another pattern. Don’t put yourself under any pressure to go ahead, sew something else you’ll love instead.

  7. SJ Kurtz

    I gotta touch it. Which is why I love swatches so much. Sweet little flip books of love!

    I fell into enough poly/rayon crepe in a nice peach for this, and now it’s back on the list of possibilities. I don’t need a pants/tunic set, but we’ll see. Now I can start the long prowl for trim.

  8. Beth

    Yes! I love how you say start with the fabric! I have plenty of fabric to match to patterns! That green-y colour cotton sateen from Dragonfly Fabrics is a perfect match for your trim. But yeah it is rather dull. Wow it’s hard to choose a fabric for a specific project – I agree.

  9. Lisa

    Hi Kate! We ‘met’ through Instagram and I had such fun reading this post…. laughing aloud at your ending sentence! Oh my goodness, what you have gone through for this fabric search. I always start with fabric too, for all the same reasons you mentioned, and have wondered if it should be the other way ’round when seeing so many beautiful, perfectly coordinated outfits sewn out there. This has me thinking I’ll just continue doing things the way I’ve been doing it! 🙂

  10. Jay

    I like Stone Fabrics. They have good service. Sourcing for a particular pattern can be a real trial can’t it? Like you, I usually start with the fabric and try to work out what to make in it. In the 6Os I made some bright pink (cerise) trousers in a twill silk, bought then from Dickens and Jones. All the big department stores in Central London had good fabric departments then. I got a similar weight and colour twill rayon in an East London market. Huge difference in price, but I don’t think they looked very different. Whaleys always have a good range of silks for dyeing. It can be a bit of a pain trying to get an even colour in silk yardage, but how about dip dyeing the almost finished garment so that the colour grades from light to dark? Just a thought.

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