How much fabric should you buy?

After I posted gratuitous post-fabric-purchase photos the other day, Nancy wrote to ask me how I decide how much fabric to buy:

“Hi Rae, When you are looking at fabric and you may or may not have an idea in mind at the time for what you are going to use it for, how much of the fabric do you purchase? That is always the hardest decision for me b/c I don’t want to not have enough for when I decide what I’m going to use it for but then can you get too much? I was just wondering if you have a system that you use or a minimum yardage purchase, etc? Thanks. I’m loving the summersville prints.”

It’s a great question. So I thought it might be a good idea to share my “rules” for buying fabric with you, developed over many, many years of fabric purchasing, in hopes you’ll find them useful. I always chuckle inwardly a bit at the people who walk up to the cutting table with a pattern envelope in hand and ask for 2 3/8 yards of something. Newsflash, Everyone: It’s not going to kill you to pony up and buy that extra 1/8 of a yard and call it an even 2.5 so you have a little room for shrinkage/error!!!

Rae’s Fabric-Buying Rules:

– If no idea but have to have it, 1/2 yd
– If it could be a kids garment, 1 yd (small kids only)
– If it could be a short sleeved top for me, 1.5 yd
– If it could be a long sleeved top for me, 2 yd
– If it could be a skirt for me (fitted), 1.5 yd
– If it could be a skirt for me (longer/fuller), 2 yd
– If it could be a shirt for Mr Rae, 3 yd
– If it could be a dress for me, 3 yd

Those are my usual amounts…I usually regret not buying enough of something, but I still have way too much fabric. Go figure. I tend to “pat-on-the-back” buy after I sew something…case in point: I already bought more of the Washi tape print. Ack! (that link is from Instagram [madebyrae], by the way, where you can witness the gory play-by-play of my fabric purchases).


And for a really, really fantastic post about how to estimate yardage for various types of garments, you really must check out my friend LiER’s post over on Ikatbag called “How I Estimate Yardage.” It comes complete with nifty diagrams, you will not be sorry I promise.

How much do you buy?

40 thoughts on “How much fabric should you buy?

  1. hahaha. I, too, do the “pat-on-the-back” buying. Ugh.
    Great advice on the estimation. I like to get about 2 yards of everything (if it is affordable enough). And then I just pray I don’t need more…. 😉

  2. Well, when I don’t have a lot of money, and I’m making a project, I’m going to stick to the pattern envelope. They are always generous in their yardage requirements anyhow, and I always have fabric left over after cutting a garment out. Always.

    The only exception, is for fabric that shrinks a LOT – cotton knits and cotton flannel. Then you really should buy extra.

    • I also always buy what the envelope says and have enough fabric. It seems I always have scraps I don’t end up using. I don’t usually do scap projects so I definitly see no reason to throw away money getting extra fabric!! A penny saved is a penny earned!!

    • I think my main reason for *not* buying on the envelope (besides my snarky snobbishness, witness above, hee) is that I am so fickle that half the time by the time I get a fabric home, I’ve changed my mind three times about what “top” or “bag” I’m going to make it into. If I buy based on the envelope, it leaves me less flexibility.

      But I totally agree that if you’re trying to save money you should always buy the least amount possible that you can get away with!

  3. Well, without a doubt, I buy too much. But then not enough. Originally I was just buying a 1/2 and then I started thinking, “what can you make for just a half?” And then I’d buy 1 yard. And then I’d think, “shoot, I need 1/2 a yard more.” Now it just depends on what I think I’ll need it for. I have a TON of fabric but can never seem to find what I “need.”

  4. fanbloodytastic! this is so good but my problem is how much extra would you take “just incase”lovin it

  5. Love this!! I’m pretty much the same way…. I’m always buying fabric, not knowing exactly what I want to do with it… usually something for my girls, so I’ll buy 2 yds (1 yd for each girl)…or sometimes just 1/2 yd if I absolutely love it but have no idea what I’ll make. I make a lot of appliqués, so 1/4 yds are perfect for that! 🙂

  6. I use about the same guidelines. I also make pants, so if I think it will be pants I buy 3 yards. I’m also a little bigger than you, so for a long sleeve shirt I might need more. Oh, and then there is the handbag size! 2 yards?

    • Handbag: I usually do 1 yard for handbag outside, 1/2 yard for lining…but I guess it would really depend on the bag. My showoff and buttercup and bonsai bags all take about a 1/2 yard each of outer fabric.

  7. So funny, I have almost the same exact rules! But I usually tend to buy a yard if I have no clue what to do with it other than I just like it! So yeah, I have lots and lots of fabric to start boxing up for our big move, oh wait that’s what the movers are for! Maybe I’ll go buy some more;)

  8. Your amounts are pretty close to mine, too. I made a mistake recently in my fabric purchase. I bought some rayon to make a top for me and only bought 1 yd. If it was knit, that would have worked, but it was rayon so it couldn’t be as fitted. I still got it made but I had to do some creative cutting and worked in an additional fabric. As Tim Gunn says, “Make it work!”.

  9. Oh dear!
    Hope I’m not the only person that thinks one can never have too much fabric! (I’m pretty sure I have some in my stash that will never get used – too beautiful to be cut…)
    Nevertheless, and mainly due to budget constrains (of course), I usually buy only 1 or 2 yards of each print (yet I wish I could afford much more …) – and yes, I try to make a very good selection of my favorite prints/designers before the collections are released.

  10. In defense of those people who buy 2 3/8 yards… for years and years and years I was the type of sewer who went to the fabric shop, picked a pattern, walked around the store and chose the fabric and notions, then went home and sewed that exact project. I had no stash. No stash! I’ve changed my ways a bit (ha!) lately, but I still often have a definite project in mind when purchasing fabric. In those cases, it just makes no sense to round up because the envelope amounts are always enough to account for shrinkage and I hate having too much leftover. An eighth of a yard is only 4.5 inches, and what on earth is that good for? I don’t make quilts or scrappy projects with apparel fabric, so it just sits in a bin until I can stomach getting rid of it.

    • Me too Phoebe! That’s exactly what I did too, for years. But then there was never any extra for spur-of-the-moment projects…so I totally understand that mentality as well. 🙂

  11. Great advice! I loved your washi dress so much I had to buy some washi to make myself a dress too!

  12. My estimates are similar, though the kids are getting bigger and I now usually buy 1.5 for the baby. 3 yards should be enough for most dresses, but some vey full ones want more like the massive 4 1/2 for Colette crepe! If I’m buying for a specific project, I always round up. I have found that Simplicity yardage requirements are not always accurate or very very tight. I like to make self bias, so a little extra for that is worthwhile. Occasionally I buy only enough for a blouse and wish I had splurged on dress yardage.

  13. I actually think some of your estimates are too low, or perhaps I am just much bigger. If I buy something and think it will probably be a dress I don’t get less than 4 yards. I like my dresses to be knee length and I always opt for sleeves. Lately though I think I might start getting five yards in the future. I know this sounds like a ton, but it keeps your dress options very open. Sometimes I change my mind about what pattern to use as well. Although I don’t usually order fabric online or get very expensive stuff so that might account for my generous fabric cuts.

  14. Exactly the same as you, but with a few exceptions, if I’m buying the whole collection for a quilt, then it will be either FQ or FE. But if I’m garment sewing and the pattern calls for 2 3/8 yards, I will only buy 2, because I want the challenge of fitting it all in! LOL This has only not worked to my benefit once or twice, and I’ve been sewing a LONG time!

  15. I always wonder this too, so thanks for tackling it! I usually buy 1/2 yard for simple little kid skirts or home dec type stuff, 1 yd if it’s a print i just love because I always use it up, 1.5 yards for dresses for the four year old (recently upped from 1 yard since she’s getting taller), 1 yd for anything for the baby. I never regret buying fat quarters, either – great for bias tape, small projects, quilts, etc. Now that I’m starting to sew for me, I realize how few 2+ yd fabric cuts I have in my stash! I’m still learning what KIND of fabric to get for my own clothes, so it’s kind of an evolution. I seem to never have enough to make myself anything spur-of-the-moment since I’ve traditionally sewn for kids. These are good tips to have. 🙂

  16. I ALWAYS buy way too much:) My fabric needs dedicated closet… oops… but, my defense is that I make most of what my kids wear, so I gotta have a stash, right? ha!

  17. Great guidelines! When I was first learning to quilt, a woman told me hers: If you like it, buy a yard; if you love it, buy 3; if it’s just to die for your favorite, buy the whole bolt! Of course, I can’t do that on my budget, but it certainly set me up to always buy a little extra just in case.

  18. Hey! Thanks for the link and shoutout, Rae. I’ve gotten weird looks from the cutting staff in the past whenever I’ve asked for weird amounts like 5/8 yard. And then they offer me the end-of-bolt bits for half-price and it’s hard to say no. And then I have bizarre remnant amounts left that, as Pheobe said, there’s nothing much a person can do with, grrr. These days the things I’m buying the highest yardage in are solid white and grey knit. 2-3 yards each. So boring!

  19. Fabulous guide! Its about what I do when shopping for fabric. I tend to buy tons of 1/2 yards because I love it but have no idea what I’m going to do with it. And if I REALLY love it, then I buy a full yard. Maybe two. I do have a ton of fabric in my stash so perhaps I buy too much, but is there really such a thing as too much fabric? 😉

  20. Wow that surprised me to see my question put up on your post today. Thanks again for responding to it, I’ve already put the information in my little pocketbook that lives in my purse so I always have it handy for that next fabric purchase. I’ve also found it helpful reading everyone else’s comments in this post too!

  21. I always buy at least 3 yards. It’s a disease….. I’m tall and I always have to add length to anything I make for me or my 3 year old. (She is worse, she’s still about a 12 month around and pushing 5T for length. Yeesh!) So 3 yards it is. For her, for me it’s usually 5. What if I want to make a circle skirt dress….. see, a disease.

  22. Thanks, that is a good guide for suggestions. I would add another yard to the dress amount if you want to make a fuller skirt.
    I like to pick up bundles from the remnant bin at my local fabric store. If it’s between 2/3 and 1 yard and I like the fabric, I’ll pick it up. I enjoy the challenge of getting all the pieces to fit. It is how I discovered my favorite sundress pattern can be made with a little under a yard!

  23. Totally random question- why are your fabrics in the top photo all serged on the edges? When my mom and I went though my grandmas stash after she died, she had done the same thing, and we were curious as to why.

    • Hi Jessica,

      I serge or zig zag stitch along the raw/cut edges of all of my fabrics before they go into the wash — this prevents them from fraying. 🙂

  24. Hi! Rae, I’m Angela…. When I want to swe short pants with 1 ft 3inches long for plus size, how many yards of fibric do i need for it?

  25. That picture at the top has some gorgeous fabrics. Do you mind me asking where you got the orange mermaid print? I love it.
    Very helpful estimations, BTW.

    • Hi Mish,
      That fabric is a long-out-of-print Heather Ross Mendocino print. You might be able to find some on eBay but it’s going to be pricey. Good luck!

  26. Since my mom oass away last year,the only i want to do is sewing,well she thought me how,but having difficulty in how to buy enough material for a size 24 in making skirts forvthe lafies of my church…….help……

  27. I know this is somewhat of an old post but I wanted to say thanks for actually putting this in words. I’ve been sewing for quite a while so I have some ideas on how much goes toward what, but I needed a little validation hah. I’ve been eyeballing some fabric for a while but money is a tad tight so I didn’t want to drastically overkill for what I had in mind for it.

  28. Hello. I am getting married and I want to make the men’s vests myself. I want to use camouflage fabric, but I want the same material that normal vests are made out of not the fleece. My groom however is in a 5x! How much fabric will I need for this size of vest?

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