Sew Savvy: 5 Tips on Choosing Your Fabric As a Beginner

Useful advice on choosing the fabric to use at the start of your sewing journey.

When I first started sewing, I thought that fabric stores, both online and in-store, were daunting places. There were so many types of fabric to choose from and I didn’t have a clue where to start. You needn’t feel daunted. Here are some of the things to consider when you are choosing which fabric to use, as a beginner. They will help you to make the best fabric choices for your individual sewing needs.

Project Type

Firstly, consider the project that you are undertaking and the fabric requirements. Do you need it to be durable and hard-wearing? Is it important that it’s lightweight and breathable? Do you have a specific project in mind? For example, if your project is going to be a curtain, you will want to choose fabric that is suitable for curtain-making. If you are making a garment, the pattern will provide you with a list of fabric types to use, for the best possible finish to be achieved. Your fabric choice will be dependent upon the design and the fit of the garment. Most online stores will list the suitability of their fabrics for particular types of sewing, i.e. dressmaking, crafts, quilting, etc. When shopping in-store, there will be people on hand with a wealth of knowledge, who will be more than happy to provide guidance on the best fabric to choose for your project.

Canvas and cork are great fabrics for bag-making as not only do they look aesthetically pleasing, they are also hard-wearing and durable.
The Teloujay’ by Country Cow Designs, made by me.

Fabric Type

When you are new to sewing, it will understandably take you more time to complete your projects. The last thing you want to do is add to a project’s complexity or completion time by using fabrics that will be challenging to sew. The properties of the fabric you choose will have an impact on how it behaves while you are sewing. A good place to start is to choose a woven fabric, such as cotton. It comes in a variety of weights, patterns and colours and is easy to handle. It won’t stretch out of shape or move around much while you are cutting out your patterns, pinning, or sewing. Once you grow in confidence and ability, you can start to experiment with the type of fabrics you use. 

Fabric Preference

Do you have a particular type of fabric you feel comfortable sewing with? Maybe, you only like to sew with woven fabric. Perhaps using fabric with a bit more stretch, like jersey, is your preference. Has your confidence in your sewing increased and you like the challenge of taking on trickier fabrics, such as silk or satin. There is a lot to be said for choosing fabric that you feel most comfortable or competent using. While it’s great to challenge ourselves in our sewing, and learn new skills and techniques, sewing should be fun. When you choose fabric that you like to work with, the experience is much more enjoyable, the finish of your projects are better and overall, you are more likely to continue on your sewing journey.

Cotton is my favourite fabric. I mostly use it for quilting but also when making garments
The same cotton (above) used to make a quilt top, that was turned into a quilted ‘Unfolding Jacket’ by Wiksten

Budget

Setting yourself a budget for your fabric purchases will help you to prioritise which fabric you need and what can be left for another time. Purchasing fabric doesn’t have to break the bank. It’s very easy to overspend, especially if you have multiple projects to complete. Speaking from personal experience, when I first started sewing I did not regularly set myself a fabric budget and I would get carried away buying fabric that looked aesthetically pleasing. Then, when I was ready to use it, I’d realise that I either had no idea how to sew with it, or that it wasn’t suitable for the projects I wanted to make. I ended up buying more fabric and essentially let the other fabric go to waste by not using it. 

Make sure that not only are you getting your money’s worth out of the fabric you buy, but that you are actually using it. I also found that if I bought anything that was expensive, I’d become fearful of using it, in case I ruined it. The most important thing is not to let fabric become a barrier that prevents you from sewing as often as you would like. If that means choosing the cheaper option because you won’t be worrying about making mistakes, then so be it. It’s much more beneficial to be practising your sewing and learning from your mistakes, than hardly sewing at all and having gorgeous fabric that you’ll never use.

Fabric Sustainability

Sustainability is an important topic and definitely worth taking into consideration when choosing fabric. Upcycling is a sustainable way to be creative and build on your basic sewing skills. We all have items of clothing that we hardly wear, or the fit isn’t quite right. Instead of throwing them away, you could turn them into different garments, or into something else completely, such as a memory quilt, or a cushion. The possibilities are endless! Bedsheets and duvet covers can be used for your sewing projects. If you’d prefer to purchase new bedsheets to use for your sewing projects, they are relatively inexpensive to buy. Old ones can be upcycled and used for toiles, or you can give them a new lease of life by dyeing them and turning them into items of clothing. 

Making use of an old bedsheet
A toile made using fabric from the bedsheet
Using outgrown baby clothes to make a king-size quilt

Summary

I hope that these tips have been useful. They are the things I wish I had taken into consideration as a new sewist, and they now play a significant part in my decision-making process when purchasing fabric. I’ll be back soon with more tips on how to sew savvy.

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.

The Gift That Almost Never Was

My experience of making a Spotify frame on my Cricut Maker, as a Valentine’s Day gift.

My beginner’s luck has run out. Or maybe I was getting a bit too confident and big for my boots with the Cricut project I chose to do next. I’ve been seeing a lot of Spotify frames around and I really wanted to try out my newly found Cricut skills to make one for The Hubs as a Valentine’s Day gift.

I must stress, this was made as a gift, I’ve no intentions to sell it, or make any to sell. Not least because it was so difficult to complete this project (more on this point later) but I don’t want to be guilty of copyright infringement, or any such thing. There are lots of tutorials on how to make this and there are also lots of sellers online making this for a profit, so if you want to make or buy one, the opportunity is there.

The weeding for this project was an absolute nightmare. I only heard of reverse weeding (placing transfer tape on top of the vinyl BEFORE weeding, placing it on the object and carefully peeling away the excess material, leaving your design in place and intact) once I’d finished the project.

The Hub’s Valentine’s Day gift

You may have noticed with my crafting posts that there are no progress photos, only finished results. This is because, for the most part, I’m winging it and my sewing room just looks like utter chaos!

I’ve used two different colours of card stock for the background (black and dark grey). The image of myself and my husband was created using the print and cut option and printable vinyl. Each and every letter and shape was painstakingly applied individually. Not something I’d recommend! There are small parts that are slightly wonky but overall I’m thrilled with the finish, all things considered.

The Hubs was given the honour of scanning the Spotify code (the wave pattern) and much to his excitement, and my bewilderment, the correct song started to play. For that alone, I’d say that the project was a win! It’s no coincidence that I’ve not touched my Cricut Maker since. I haven’t got any further projects in mind but I know it’ll be sewing related. I just need to find the right one to try. Any suggestions?

The Bettine 2.0

Revisiting and remaking the first garment I ever made.

This sewing project was filled with nostalgia. After taking a deep dive into quilting, giving crafting a go, and trying my hand at making a bag, it was time to put my garment sewing skills to the test. Where better to start than right back at the beginning, using my very first garment pattern: ‘The Bettine’ by Tilly and the Buttons.

Set up and ready to go

As a sewist, I’d rather not pigeon-hole myself into a specific faction of sewing. I adore quilting, with quilts being my favourite items to sew, but I want to develop sewing skills that are versatile and allow me to express my creativity in any way I choose. It’s been years since I flexed my garment sewing muscles, so this project has been a very long time coming!

Bodice construction

It was eye-opening to realise just how much my sewing skills have improved since starting my sewing journey in 2017. When I completed my first ‘Bettine’, I struggled with every aspect: the placement and cutting of the pattern on the fabric, the terminology, the actual sewing (sticking to the seam allowance was a nightmare). This time around, the project was completed within two evenings and without a hitch. I was impressed, to say the least, and I’m usually one to downplay my sewing skills.

Completed bodice

This project was a welcome confidence boost and has brought me full circle in my sewing journey. It’s inspired me to allocate more time to sewing garments and has highlighted to me that my sewing skills aren’t half bad. Yes, I still have lots to learn (particularly where garments are concerned) but I’m certainly not the rookie I once was. I’m proud of my self-taught skills and will keep working on improving them further.

Front
Back

There are no photos of me wearing this. I’m not ready to show off my postnatal jelly rolls to the world just yet. However, I can assure you that the fit is great and it’ll be frequently worn. I used some lightweight cotton fabric I purchased during my honeymoon to Mauritius, so wearing it gives me so much joy. I made it slightly shorter so that I could wear it as a tunic top, which makes it much more versatile and gives me more opportunities to wear it. Hurrah for my Bettine 2.0!

Project Information

Pattern: ‘The Bettine’ by Tilly and the Buttons.

Difficulty: Beginner.

Fabric: Part of ‘The Deep Stash’. Cotton from a fabric market in Mauritius.

Assembly Time: 1 evening cutting. 1 evening sewing.

Greetings in Card Form

Making greetings cards using my Cricut Maker.

Not too long ago, I revamped my sewing machine case with a giraffe mandala. I also briefly mentioned my desire to create some greeting cards using my Cricut Maker. In the spirit of being held accountable, I am pleased to report that I achieved this goal, just in time for Valentine’s Day.

I ordered a pack of card stock, chose my design and let the Cricut Maker do the work. I even gave the fine tipped pen a whirl, and it did the writing for me inside of the card. So impressive! I don’t have the scoring tool, to I folded the card myself, which wasn’t too much hassle. I was very worried about wasting card stock and making a mess of the project, but I took extra care, re-read the instructions on Design Space multiple times and things turned out ok.

A card for The Hubs (left) and my babies (right)

There are so many designs to choose from on Cricut Design Space. I currently have a subscription for it, while I navigate my way around the world of Cricut. This does mean that I have access to a lot of projects but there are also a lot of great designs, fonts and projects available on Design Space for free. I do hope to learn how to make my own designs in Design Space, then I can be less reliant on a subscription.

The cards were well received by their recipients and I even used the cuttings from the designs as table confetti at lunch time. My daughter also had a lot of fun playing with them afterwards. Waste not, want not! A very straight-forward project with good results. I feel ready to take on something more complicated.

Mama’s Got a Brand New Bag

A review of the ‘Satchel Complete Bag Kit’ by Oh So Sweet Shop.

With all of this comfort zone annihilation I’ve been doing of late, I decided to push myself even further and make a bag. It’s a long overdue project because I purchased the Oh So Sweet Shop ‘Satchel Complete Bag Kit’, in 2019! 🙈 There were four patterns to choose from: flamingos, bees, toucans and kittens. Bees won out on this occasion, although it was a tightly won race against the flamingos.

A bag is not something I’ve ever thought of making. I just really liked the look of it, the fabric caught my eye and I knew everything I’d need to construct it would be in the kit, including all of the hardware. With all of the notions and different materials required for bag making, I really appreciated the fact that I wouldn’t need to source everything myself.

The fabric and stabiliser provided are not ready cut. The pattern is included, so you use the measurements provided within it to carefully cut out your pieces, ready to sew.

You are given enough materials for what you need, with a small amount left over, in case of any minor cutting errors. Be mindful to pay extra attention to the instructions regarding where to cut your fabric for the specific pieces. I began cutting with gusto, then realised I hadn’t left a large enough piece for the lining of the bag flap. It wasn’t an issue, I simply joined the remaining fabric pieces together and cut the flap out from the newly joined piece. This is why there is a visible seam in the lining of the bag flap but I’m ok with that. It doesn’t take away from the bag overall and I’m keeping it for myself, so there’s less pressure for the bag to look perfect.

I can’t bee-lieve how cute this pocket looks
All of the components ready to be sewn together
The bag interior is just wonderful. Lots of space!

The pattern instructions are clear, well-written and there are colour photographs and illustrations to help along the way. It is definitely a pattern for sewists who are well versed with the basics. There are quite a few sewing techniques required and there is quite a bit of bulk to sew in some parts of the project, even though great tips are given for how to lessen this. It can make sewing the different components of the satchel tricky if you are not used to manoeuvring your way around bulkier seams.

The completed satchel (front view)
Back view

I really enjoyed the challenge of making this satchel and would recommend this kit to anyone who fancied giving it a go themselves. I’m no bagineer but I’d certainly make another bag in the future. In fact, I’ve been eyeing up a few patterns I like and have been looking into the best places to source good quality bag hardware at a reasonable price. Hopefully, I’ll be able to make more bags for myself in the not too distant future.

Project Information

Patterns, all fabric, stabiliser and hardware: The ‘Satchel Complete Bag Kit’ by Oh So Sweet Shop

Difficulty: Confident beginner.

Assembly Time: 1 evening cutting. 2 evenings sewing.

Sewing Room Progress

Creating space for a standing height cutting table in the sewing room.

I was so tired of using the floor space as my table that I made the decision to commission a bespoke, cutting height table. I used a local carpenter, gave him the measurements, the design and sourced the wooden worktop myself. He sourced the materials for the shelving units and base of the table and we were good to go. The table took one, full day to construct.

COVID safe outdoor setup

I excitedly set about clearing a space for my massive table. Once it was in place, it would mean that I’d have no excuse but to start rearranging more of the room and start creating my ideal sewing space.

The space for the table is ready
View from within the room
View from outside the door

It looks like there will be plenty of space to spare once the table is in place, but that’s not the case. The table is massive. The worktop is in two parts and is screwed onto the base units. I genuinely believed that getting this table up our stairs was going to be the end of me! Even though it was in parts, it was heavier than the heaviest thing I can think of. Kudos to The Hubs who has strength of the like I never even realised!

The table in its space

This isn’t where I’d planned for the table to be placed but The Hubs just set it up and classed it as job done. To be fair, I don’t blame him (in hindsight, that is. At the time I was livid that I hadn’t gotten the chance to choose where I wanted my table to go). The placement will suffice for now. No one’s ready to move it again. The sewing room is finally starting to take shape and I can’t wait to add more to it. Keep an eye out for future updates on the continued transformation of this space.