Sew Savvy: How to Find the Right and Wrong Sides of Fabric

Useful tips on how to determine the right and wrong side of fabric.

There comes a time when all sewists can be found asking themselves this question, “Which is the right side of this fabric?!” As someone who regularly quilts, I often ask myself this question when using solids (plain coloured fabric). It makes me think back to when I first started on my sewing journey and I didn’t even really understand why there was a ‘right’, or ‘wrong’ side of fabric. I also struggled to tell the difference between the two when using different types of fabric, and it took a lot of trial and error before I felt competent at figuring this out for the majority of fabrics I encountered.

What is the Right and Wrong Side?

If you are new to sewing, you might be wondering what the right side and the wrong side of fabric are, and why they are important. The right side of the fabric is the side that will be visible once you have finished your project. The wrong side of the fabric is the side that (in most cases) no one will see and contains the seams. The reason why you need to find out which is the right side of the fabric, and which is the wrong side of the fabric, is to make sure that your completed project has the best possible finish. Your project should showcase your chosen fabric in all its glory.

Finding the right and wrong sides of solids is difficult but the results can be amazing. My project, ‘Vase and Flowers’ foundation paper pieced pattern by Pride and Joy Quilting. 

Fabric Appearance and Colour Saturation

Looking at the appearance of your fabric on both sides is a really good way to determine which side is the right side, and which is the wrong side of the fabric. I understand how vague that sentence appears to be, so I will get into the specifics. Here is some fabric with a print. You can clearly see that the print is bright, bold and clear on one side (this would be the right side of the fabric). Then, when  it is turned over, the print is significantly faded (this would be the wrong side of the fabric). With fabric where the print is bolder and clearer on one side and faded on the other, it is easy to tell which is the right side of the fabric, and which is the wrong side of the fabric. 

Right side of fabric with a pattern
Wrong side of fabric with a pattern

There are exceptions to every rule. You can get fabric that is printed on both sides equally as bold and as bright. A perfect example is African wax print fabric, also known as Ankara fabric. Here, you can see that the pattern is bold and bright on one side, and just as bold and bright on the other side. There will be a slight difference in the surface texture between the right side and the wrong side of the fabric. The right side of the fabric will have a shinier, slightly waxy look to it. This is not always easy to recognise, especially if you are not used to using such fabric. Another method of finding the right and wrong sides of this type of fabric is to look at the selvedge. The selvedge often contains writing and on the right side of fabric, the writing will be legible. 

Right side of fabric, with legible writing on selvedge
Wrong side of fabric, with mirrored image of the writing on the selvedge

When examining the appearance of plain coloured fabric, you may find that the right side of the fabric has a deeper colour than the wrong side of the fabric, which can look slightly paler. This is not always the case, as in the example below. 

Solid fabric with the right and wrong sides both showing.

Fabric Texture

Using the appearance of your fabric to determine the right or wrong side of fabric isn’t always easy and that is definitely the case when using plain coloured fabric. At times, it is nigh on impossible. It is sometimes possible to feel a slight difference in the texture. It can feel smoother on the right side of the fabric and coarser on the wrong side of the fabric, however this is not always the case.If you’ve tried your best to find the right and wrong side of the fabric but you’re left feeling confused, I would suggest picking a side that you think looks the best. Be sure to stick to that side consistently because it could affect the appearance and finish of your project. 

Fleece

Fleece can be difficult at times to determine which side is the wrong side  and which is the right side of the fabric. Here is some Sherpa fleece. It is easy to tell the difference between the right and wrong sides of the fabric. The right side is fluffy in its appearance. The wrong side looks very textured.

Right side of Sherpa fleece is fluffy and soft
Wrong side of Sherpa fleece is rough and noticeably textured

On this polar fleece it isn’t always easy to tell the difference between the right side of the fabric and the wrong side of the fabric. A trick that can help is to gently pull the fleece at either side. By giving it a slight pull, it will roll over to the wrong side of the fabric, curling away from the right side of the fabric. 

Fleece rolling over towards the wrong side of the fabric.

Knit, Satin and Velvet

When it comes to single knit fabric, such as jersey, the right side of the fabric will have rows that look like the shape of a ‘V’ and the wrong side of the fabric will have what looks like small curves/bumps. This can be difficult to see if you are not used to working with this fabric, or if the stitches are particularly small. In this case, you can use the same technique that was mentioned for fleece. With Jersey, gently pulling it on either side will result in the cut edge curling towards the right side of the fabric. The selvedge will curl towards the wrong side of the fabric. If you have a knit fabric with a pattern that is bright and bold on one side, that is the right side of the fabric. The side where the pattern is faded will be the wrong side of the fabric. 

With satin, you will notice a shiny sheen on the right side of fabric, whereas underneath, the surface will have a duller appearance and that will be the wrong side of the fabric. It is important to know the right and wrong side of velvet because traditionally, you cut from the wrong side of velvet. The right side of velvet feels fuzzy and hair-like. This is the velvet pile. The wrong side of the fabric has a textured feel.

Selvedge Construction

Now, this next bit of information is controversial and can spark heated debates amongst sewists. Some sewists say that if you run your finger along the small, punched holes in the selvedge and it feels smooth, you’ve located the right side of the fabric, and when you turn it over and the punched holes are raised and feel rough, then you’ve located the wrong side of the fabric. There are others who will tell you that it’s the opposite way around. That if you run your finger along the punched holes and it feels smooth, you’ve located the wrong side of the fabric, and when you turn it over and the punched holes feel rough, then you’ve located the right side of the fabric. Personally, I’ve found this technique to be inconsistent. I have purchased fabric and found both theories to be true. Besides, sometimes, selvedges don’t have any holes! For this reason, I no longer use this advice to help me locate the right and wrong sides of fabric.

Punched holes are rough
Punched holes are smooth

Fabric Shop Storage

If you buy your fabric in-store, take a look at how it is displayed. The right side of the fabric is what will be displayed because the fabric store wants to showcase the fabric in its best light. When getting your fabric cut from the bolt, you can ask that it be written on the selvedge which side is either the right side or wrong side of fabric. This way, it will cut out the investigative work, and you will easily be able to determine which side is which when you return home.

Summary

Please don’t worry if you’re struggling to find which is the right or wrong side of the fabric. If you’ve tried some of these techniques, there is no distinguishable difference, and you cannot be certain, just pick a side that you think looks the best. Be consistent and use the same side throughout your project and all will be well. I really hope that you have found this information useful. I’ll be back soon with more tips on how to sew savvy.

Author: Sewing 4 Self Care

Wife. Mother. Sewing enthusiast. Entrepreneur. Softhearted. Intensely curious. Opinonated. Passionate.

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