Tasia the Sewaholic’s Lesson on Fabric Selection

It’s with great pleasure that Tasia, the Sewaholic is here talking about fabric selection today. And she should know just what to pick since she’s leading a sewalong of her own using her latest Sewaholic pattern – the Crescent Skirt. Tasia is a great friend of mine and I was thrilled when she agreed to lend a hand to us today! Take it away Tasia!

Hi Sew-Alongers! I’m thrilled to be talking about fabrics today. When Sunni asked me to guest-post on fabric selection, I was thrilled to come over here and offer my two cents. Today I’ll give you some suggestions, ideas and tips for picking fabric for your Ginger Skirt.

Whenever you’re about to pick fabric for a pattern, the first thing to do is read the back of the envelope! Often the pattern designer will give you recommendations on fabrics. Following the fabric suggestions will give you the best results!

Let’s take a look at the fabrics listed on the back here:

  • Medium weight fabrics such as poplin, twill, silk dupioni, wool challis, gabardine, suiting, crepe. For version 3, choose a striped fabric for a chevron effect.

These recommendations will help us pick the best fabric for the Ginger! Medium weight is the first and most important. We’ll want to make sure our fabric isn’t too light, or too heavy, or it won’t sew up nicely.

The next clues are all fabric types: twill, poplin, suiting. Take a look at the Colette Patterns’ fabric series for help on what these fabric types mean! Or refer to a sewing book – Claire Shaeffer’s Fabric Guide is a great reference. As a beginner, don’t worry if none of these names make sense to you right now. The more you sew, the more you’ll learn!

Poplin is a type of lightweight woven fabric, often cotton. Think of a white cotton button-down shirt – that’s usually poplin! Shirting is another term you might see in your fabric store. Remember, you don’t want to choose a fabric that’s too light, we’re looking for medium weight.

Twill refers to the weave of the fabric. Think of denim – it has a diagonal stripe woven into the fabric. That’s a twill weave! Twills can be lighter weight than denim, and may be made of cotton, polyester or blends. This skirt would be really cute and versatile in a denim fabric.

Silk dupioni is one of the recommended fabrics, shown in the photo below:

Silk dupioni would make a lovely, luxurious skirt! Once you learn what silk dupioni looks like, it’s easy to identify. It’s shiny, lustrous and has a natural slub appearance on the surface.

Stripes are easy to find! Remember to look for a stripe in a medium weight fabric.

Also, you’ll want to match the stripes at centre front so they form a ‘V’ pattern. If your stripe is really wide and large, you may need to buy extra fabric to match the stripes. Stripes can be subtle, like the denim stripes shown earlier, or bold and bright!

If you’re new to sewing, be kind to yourself and choose an easier fabric! Silks are gorgeous but need to be handled with care. Wools are easily handled but can become shiny with over-pressing.

If this is your first skirt, I’d suggest choosing a cotton fabric.Cottons are easy to sew with, easy to press and can look just as beautiful as silk. These fabrics below are cotton lawn, a slightly lighter weight than poplin. Easy to sew with and very pretty!

The last thing to thinkย  about is the drape of the fabric. An A-line skirt pattern is wonderfully versatile! Made up in a crisper fabric, it will hold more of a true A-line shape.

Using a softer, more drapey fabric will give you a flowy, softer skirt. Hold up the fabric against you in the fabric store, and find a mirror. Does the fabric stand straight out, or does it curve and cling to the body? If you’re not sure, look for something in the middle – not too stiff, not too fluid.

Another thing to thing about regarding fabric selection is to consider what you will wear it with. I love a bold, bright print, but then I’m limited to what I can wear on top. Do you have a blouse that you love, but nothing to pair it with on the bottom? Now’s the time to make a coordinating skirt to complete the outfit!

Expert’s First Garment

Sunni’s asked me to tell you about my first ever sewing project. I’ve been sewing for so long I can’t remember what my first real garment project was! I started off sewing as a little girl, sewing clothes for my Barbie doll, my earliest sewing memories are sewing small clothes out of fabric scraps for Barbie.

I do remember my first high school sewing project – a pair of elastic-waist shorts. It’s the first project that everyone learns to sew in high school. I used a teal, purple and orange cotton Southwestern-style print that I thought was pretty cool at the time. They sort of fit, as good as a one-size-fits-all pattern fits, and I remember wearing them to gym class even though they were hideous!

If you have any questions on fabric selection, Sunni or I will be happy to help you out. Happy sewing, everyone!


27 thoughts on “Tasia the Sewaholic’s Lesson on Fabric Selection

  1. Hi Tasia,
    Thank you so much for such an informative post. Have a much better understanding of all those fabric terms now.

    I’m trying to imagine those shorts ……. Scary ๐Ÿ˜›

    1. Glad the fabric suggestions were helpful!
      And yes, those shorts were hideous. Twelve-year-old me had strange taste in fabric, though I still have a fondness for bold, bright prints!

  2. Thanks for this helpful post, Tasia! A beginner question: so, I can see that V.3 is cut on the bias in order to have those pretty stripes go on a diagonal. Would it make sense to do V.3 even in a non-striped fabric (solid or print)? Does cutting it on the bias make the skirt more drapey and flow-ey? (excuse my technical terms!)

    1. Hi Luba,

      This is a very good question. If you choose to use V.3 with a different fabric type, one that already has alot of body like a silky type fabric, it will hang differently. Fabric that is cut on the bias usually floats on and hugs the curves of your body, which can be a good and bad thing. For a beginner though, I will state that I think you’ll have better luck with V.3 if you follow the fabric suggestions strictly, in that you choose a stiffer fabric. I’ll be doing a post on working with bias fabrics, but its something that takes a little practice and would be good to get your fingers wet using a fabric that’s easier to hand. Does that make sense? Let me know if I can clarify further.

  3. Great post on fabrics. I will probably deal with what I can find at Joann’s so I don’t have to wait for an Internet order for this particular project. I’d rather stay on track with the schedule. I really need basics, but I would love to do a print, and of course the bias stripe option is so tempting. Maybe more than one skirt is in my future…

    1. I’ll have three by the time this is over! I’m very excited about it too. It’s a great skirt and looks different with different fabrics. There are good finds sometimes at Joann too and sometimes its best to start your quest there anyway. Good luck!

  4. Oh the dilemma! I have some gorgeous stuff enstashee– a fabulous funky textured denim? Textured stretch cotton in a circular print? Linen? If linen, which one– a solid gray, or a crazy blue stripe? Maybe navy? What about a blue green batik or a brown rough weave rayon? Or a mod print bark cloth?

    I’ve abandoned the poly “silky” options for now. Who knows about tomorrow? I may go back to that bronze paisley…

  5. LOL Linda …… you seem to be having the same dilemma as me!

    I think I will be sticking with simple cotton but although my initial thoughts are to choose an interesting print, I can’t decide which one will look good made up into an A line skirt!! Then, as Tasia says, will your choice go with the tops you have?

    And we haven’t even started the real challenge of making it ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. I’ve made about 15 skirts in the last year since beginning to sew (but am reading this sewalong to keep learning, especially re bias which I’ve never done) but one thing that kind of annoys me, tangential but relevant:

    Pattern designers create a barrier for new sewists by not using the same fabric terms that most have access to. Joann’s sells shirting. It sells bottomweights. What is one supposed to make out of “silkies”? I think poplin shows up on the ends of bolts but I’m not sure they put it on big signs that catch the eye when browsing. Joann’s has a TON of microfibers/microsuede, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen that as a possible fabric choice on patterns. I spent the last year wishing for a “guide to learning fabric when all you have access to is Joann’s”.

    Part of what Tasia did here was translate the terms on the pattern into the signs people might see in stores. That shouldn’t be necessary (I am glad to see suiting listed, that’s very helpful to the new sewist browsing their only local fabric store in confusion). If pattern designers want more people to get into and stick with sewing, then they need to try to remove some of the friction from idea to finish product. Maybe add a special personalized note on beginner patterns?

    And yes, I deeply appreciate all the work that goes into sewalongs, but people who are reading sewing blogs already have some degree of commitment to learning to sew. How many people gave up in confusion before even reaching that point?

    1. Hi daiyami,

      I think you bring up an interesting point here, but I would like to add that not everyone shops at Joann, even beginning sewists. Not everyone has access to Joann either, especially people in foreign countries. So judging a pattern designer’s fabric terms based solely off of the selection at Joann isn’t fair either. There are several other chain stores that sell “silkies” “bottomweights” and “shirting” but refer to them with different names as well. So maybe the problem isn’t with the pattern designer but with the store. Pattern designers try to come up with the professional, most commonly used term to refer to a fabric. Whether or not Joann and/or other fabric stores adhere to the common/proper terms is their perrogative. I think the better thing to do when shopping at Joann is to categorize them into weaves and fabric content. For example, usually the “silkies” are a woven polyester charmeuse. “Silkies” is just Joanns’ term for this and not the term more commonly used in the sewing world. In fact, pattern designers that live in foreign countries, wouldn’t even know that Joann (a shop they most likely do not have in their city) sells “silkies,” instead they would refer to them as charmeuse and let you decide whether or not you would want polyester, rayon, silk, etc charmeuse. Hopefully that sheds a little light.

      I do feel bad for those who give up on sewing (especially in confusion, which I can’t blame) before reaching a point where they can make something wearable. And that’s exactly what I’m trying to help here. Sewalongs are merely the bloggers’ way of trying to reach out and help others enjoy the craft that they so passionately love. I can’t be everywhere at one time and so this is just an attempt to overcome that to a certain degree. Hopefully those who are in confusion will ask questions and I can help. Suiting is a great option for this skirt – I was thinking especially for Fall/Winter. Gosh! If I’m not careful I’ll only have a closet full of Ginger skirts and that’s about it. Thanks for your input. Let me know if I can help more.


      1. “Pattern designers try to come up with the professional, most commonly used term to refer to a fabric”

        Well, no. My entire point here is that professional is not the same thing as “most commonly used”. Twill, challis, etc, are most commonly used among people who already have expertise in sewing—as you say, “in the sewing world.” If you want to bring new sewists into that world, speaking in a foreign language from the getgo is not the way to do it. Of course not everyone has Joann’s, which I just intended as an example, but most people (certainly in the US, and it also seems to be true of Canada and Australia, based on what I see people say on blogs) have easier access to some sort of big box craft store than they do to actual fabric stores, whether that means easier physical access or the need to spend less money. Of course the stores are wrong and you are right—but an advantage of supporting independent pattern designers, or small-press books, is that they can help overcome some of the structural problems that Big Corporate refuses to acknowledge.

        This is actually the ONLY post I have ever seen where an expert sewist talking about fabric tried to overcome that barrier for new sewists. Most bloggers appear to pretend that the big box stores don’t exist, and seem to believe that no one needs help in translating these inscrutable terms into the fabrics that new sewists can actually walk into a store and touch.

      2. Hi Daiyami! You know, you make a really valid point. Someone should write a ‘Beginners Guide to Navigating Your Fabric Store.’ (Maybe me!) I’m glad you thought my translation from sewing terms to real-life terms was helpful! It’s funny, when I was writing it, I thought ‘I hope I’m not being too obvious and people will think I’m being patronizing’ – so it came across like I intended!
        I’m in Canada, where there is no Jo-anns, but we have our versions of hard-to-navigate fabric stores. No real ‘big-box’ stores in my area, but I am familiar with strangely-labelled fabric, or stores where nothing’s labelled. You’re right, there’s that middle stage between ‘I want to learn to sew someday’ and ‘I’m ready to sit down and start my first project!’ Terminology, confusing jargon, and also being the one newbie in a sea of people who seem to know what they’re doing is a lot to handle. I can see why people are afraid to start!
        On fabric recommendations, because I write them myself – they’re just some suggestions, and not the only thing you can make the pattern from! Usually the weight and type are the most important – medium weight woven fabrics – and the rest are just some ideas. So if you’re in the bottomweight section and come across a medium weight woven fabric, you’re good! I don’t usually read the recommended fabrics other than to get a feel for what they want. (Then again, I sew a lot and I’m familiar with what different fabrics look like. I’m just looking for validation that my choice is OK!) Just out of curiosity, I checked a Vogue pattern that was within reach here, and the recommendations are shantung and satin. So I know that it’s woven fabric I need, in a medium weight – but that’s totally cryptic for a beginner! Imagine if you were just learning, that would put you off I bet.
        It used to be that salespeople were helpful in your local fabric store. When I was little, I remember going in and getting help from expert salespeople. Now, it’s hit and miss. Some stores have life-long sewists who are extremely helpful and offer excellent guidance for your projects. Others are just there to be warm bodies and cut fabric for you, some don’t even sew! (Scary.)
        I’ve just started to learn to knit, so I’m remembering what it’s like to be a beginner! I’ve walked into a yarn store and seen lots of prettiness but had NO idea what to buy! Luckily, there were super helpful staff that knew how to knit, and had even made the project I was about to attempt. But if I had no help, and just wandered aimlessly for a couple of minutes, I would have walked out without buying anything and given up. It’s easy to do when we’re used to instant gratification – sewing seems like a lot of work especially when you have to figure it out on your own.
        I wonder what the solution is? I’d love to encourage more people to sew, and find ways to bridge that gap between wanting to sew and actually getting started.
        Really interesting comments, you’ve got me thinking!

      3. I think you are right and actually I definitely see where you are coming from. I was thinking about your earlier comment today as I was ruffling through some vintage patterns and just looking at the fabric suggestions. There are some I haven’t even heard of – like “shot cotton.” Now what in the world is shot cotton? It’s not something I’ve ever seen or even heard of anyone else using. And gosh, being a beginner and wandering around with a pattern in your hand while looking through a store such as Joann and not actually seeing the fabric anywhere that’s what you are supposed to be looking for can be nothing less than maddening. There is so much to learn when you first start sewing and having sewn since I was young, I take that for granted. Very eye opening comments! I think Tasia did a really swell job too giving us a really good fabric lesson, trying to put it in terms that are related to some of those big box stores. Great discussion!

      4. I’ve mostly gotten past that confusion over fabrics, but it was a real source of frustration throughout my first six or eight months sewing. Thanks, Sunni and Tasia, for listening and discussing!

  7. Thanks, Tasia (and Sunni!). I was wondering if there was a reason I shouldn’t use some denim I already have on hand. Now I know that denim is actually a twill weave and is an approved fabric choice for Ginger. Yay!

  8. Tasia or Sunni: while I’m waiting on my pattern to arrive… am I crazy to contemplate a 80%wool/20% poly gabardine? I have some nice navy in my (small) stash that I think would make a great basic, and I do think it would qualify as medium weight.

    1. I think that would be fabulous! I was actually contemplating a suiting-ish fabric for Fall, but sheesh even now it would be great – still so cold here in Utah. Go for it!

  9. Warm here today but I don’t expect it to last, it’s been nasty here. And I figure it’s a skirt (well, I may still attempt the pinafore idea with it) so it’ll be breezy. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Yay and thanks!

  10. I would love some help choosing the correct lining fabric. I’m working on a tea-length wedding dress for a friend of mine made of a cotton sateen, and I can’t think of the right kind of fabric to line it with. She is very into natural fibers (thus the rich cotton sateen vs a poly-mix satin or a taffeta).

    Any suggestions would be much appreciated.

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