June 11, 2012

Calculating Fabric Requirements

I thought it wouldn't hurt anything to do a post on fabric requirements because its a good thing to know. How many times do you go to the fabric store and see the perfect fabric for a certain pattern you have in your stash and yet, you don't have the pattern envelope handy and therefore don't know how much fabric to purchase? Not to mention that there's queue of customers eyeballing the same fabric too? It's times like these friends, that its really handy to carry around a fabric yardage estimator. What's a fabric yardage estimator, you might ask? It's just a handy dandy card with your personal measurements that can help you calculate how much fabric you need for any particular project. This ensures that you travel light (no pattern stash catalogue necessary) and that you get the right amount of that perfect once-in-a-lifetime fabric.

So where do you find this magical card? I use this Burda Style Measurement Card and then I've added just a couple more measurements namely:
  • Sleeves ~ Short & 3/4 length measurements

  • Full Bodice Lengths - the measurement from your shoulder to your hip (for a shirt) and then to your knee (like for a sheath dress) and to your ankle (full length dresses)

  • Skirt Lengths - Short, knee and tea length skirts measurements

  • Pant Lengths - Shorts, cropped and long pant length measurements
As the length part suggests on all of these measurements, these are measurements taken vertically. Add those to your card and now you're half done. Now, fabrics usually come in 3 standard widths - 45", 54" & 60". There's the occasional 35" width, but those are usually something silky and/or vintage. Now hold that thought and we'll talk a little bit more about fabric width below. When you consider all of the cutting out you've done for past garments, you might notice that you've got the main pieces of the garment, which make up the bulk of the yardage you purchase, and then there's all the filler pieces - like pockets, collars, waistbands and such - and those really do just "fill in" in the extra sections of the fabric as you cut a garment out. So if you take the lengths of the main pattern pieces you'll need for a particular pattern - ie your main body measurements - and divide those by 36" (because there are 36" in 1 yard) then you'll have the amount of yardage you need for a particular pattern. Let's take a look at an example, eh?

For example, for blouses and tops you'll need two full bodice lengths (front bodice and back bodice) and a sleeve length - depending on how short or long your sleeve is. So if my bodice length (the measurement from my shoulder to my hip) is 30" and my sleeve length is 11" then I would need two 30" panels with one 11" panel making for a total of 71" of fabric. 71 divided by 36 is roughly 2 - meaning I need 2 yards of fabric for a blouse or top. I like to add a bit more to that for hem allowances and ease so I would go for 2 1/4 yards of fabric. Make sense?

Sometimes, you can manage with less fabric - like when you are dealing with 60" wide fabric instead of 45" wide. However, remember those filler pieces - they have to go somewhere and though you might be able to cut out the main parts of a blouse in 1 1/2 yards of 60" wide fabric, you might not have enough for those little filler pieces. So I like to go with the formula above, unless I know for sure, that I would have enough fabric if I buy less. Plus you can always use extra fabric for things like bias tape and such. Also note that for plaid and checked fabric - even some prints - you'll need more fabric to match said plaid or check or print.

And I know that for you people on the metric system, this is a bit different, but essentially the same idea. Hopefully this helps you in your quest for perfect fabrics with perfect patterns. Any thoughts? What do you do to ensure you purchase enough fabric without having the sewing pattern handy?


  1. Great tip Sunni. I am definitely one of those sewers who are baffled at how much fabric to buy. I always buy too much. I like this method for calculating how much fabric to buy and I like that you added a little extra yardage for all the "filler" pieces.

  2. The design on those cards is so adorable! Thanks for sharing.

    I created these pix which I keep on my iphone in the photo app, with "standard" yardage requirements: Sewing Yardage Requirements.

    I am pretty sure I got these general guidelines from the Denver Fabrics website, though these estimates are readily available around the web.

    Your method of calculation seems surer to me, but these flash cards or cheat sheets are also helpful! Anybody who wants to use my "flash cards" is welcome to them.

  3. I'm definitely an overstocker of fabric myself! Thanks for the tips Sunni!

  4. I use little charts that were the precursor to these reference cards available at http://www.gwynhug.com/index.php?pagelet=home
    I think they were originally posted at http://afterthedress.blogspot.com/ although they've since been refined. Before pasting them onto cardstock that I keep in my wallet, I double-checked them against some of my favorite patterns and found the yardage estimates to be quite accurate. I like that they offer a "safety margin" guideline: If you buy X more fabric, you'll be able to make up y% of patterns. So far, it's worked for me!

  5. Thats a great stategy which is also explained with pictures on ikatbag

    I have taken photos of all my patterns and keep those images on my phone so when I'm looking at fabric if I'm not sure how much I can wipe out the phone to check it out. I did try uploading the picture to Flikr but I couldn't read the detail as well as on my phone.

  6. My eyes glaze over when I start thinking about maths.. What I do instead is bring a teeny little notebook that I draw pictures of all the garments I want to make in, and write in the yardage beside them. Lol, I'm so low-tech! I will have to get my head around this method though!

  7. Just like Lynn, I've got Gwynhug's card set, and it really takes care of the problem. No more desperate stash-busting attempts making dodgy patchwork items!

  8. This is so great! Thank you for sharing! Normally when I'm out and I see fabric I like, I tend to just get a lot of it. Of course, this costs money and then I'm conflicted about what to make in order to get the most out of it. Hopefully this will help me in the future!


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