An Absolute Beginner’s Guide: Choosing Fabric

Welcome to the second week of my new series: An Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Sewing. Last week we talked about how to choose a pattern and this week we are discussing fabric – what to look for when buying it and how to know guess what it will look as a garment. Please chip in your ideas too!

Cambie Dress

First Things First

Turn your pattern over and have a look on the back on the back of the envelope. I am going to use Sewaholic’s Cambie Dress (view A) as an example here. On the back there is a recommended fabrics sectionwhich gives a broad category, light to medium weight woven fabrics, and then specific suggestions, linen, wool blends and cotton sateen. Clearly these are only suggestions and you can use absolutely whichever fabric tickles your fancy. So what is a light to medium weight fabric? If we say likes of denim, corduroy, velvet and upholstery fabrics are heavy weight then everything else is light to medium weight. So that still leaves you with lots of options right? Perhaps too many options!


There’s a reason why some fabrics are called ‘suiting’ and ‘shirting’ – because that’s what they’re designed for! If you’re sewing a blouse you’re fabric will, mostly likely be lighter than if you were sewing a pair of trousers. When you look at a bolt of fabric what do you imagine it being? A summer dress? A pencil skirt? A coat? Go with your instincts. You’re probably right.

Cambie Dress Product

Fabric Properties

Fabric properties are things like the weight of the fabric, whether it has any stretch, whether it has a nap, how sheer it is and how it drapes. If you are an absolute beginner I would suggest a very stable fabric – that is one with very little or no stretch. Non-stretch fabrics are a lot easier to work with because they don’t stretch way out of shape when cutting (resulting in totally warped pieces) or sewing together (which can create bumpy seams and hems).

Ok so let’s narrow it down a bit more. With the Cambie Dress you’ll need a fabric that works well with the fitted bodice, can be gathered for the shoulders and will sit nicely as a skirt. Because the shoulders straps are gathered at the front you’ll need to choose a fabric that can be gathered evenly and in a non-bulky kind of way. So what do I mean by that? Well if we went with a thick or stiff fabric the gathers would be very thick to sew through and create a puffy look like a Disney princess. So a thinner fabric like a crepe would work really well.

Unless you’re going to colour block, you also need to think about how that same fabric will drape as a skirt. Some people refer to this as the fabric’s bodyDrape or body is how the fabric falls. Fabrics are displayed vertically in shops with the end tuck in the top to demonstrate the drape. Is it stiff and unmoving or will it flutter nicely in the breeze?

Cambie Dress Grey

Fabric Design and Nap

The design printed on the fabric and the nap are other things to consider for your garment. A fabric has a nap if there is clearly an up way and a down way for the fabric. This is particularly important if you’re working with novelty prints but also with velvets, plaids and stripes. It’s important because you need to have them all lined up the right way and because you will need to match them up at the seams. Matching at the seams is kinds tricky (something I’m yet to achieve at least!) so if you’re working with a print I’d recommend something really busy with an irregular design so that it doesn’t matter which way around it goes.

What’s your best tip for choosing fabric?

The 48 Hour Dress: Easy Kimono

I made a dress in 48 hours! This is the Easy Kimono Dress by PatternRunway.

Kimono Dress

I have made this pattern before and made it a very easy dress very difficult for myself. This time I followed all the instructions and it went together very quickly and easily – funny how that happens! I made this dress out of a faille that I bought from Spotlight. I’m not often in Spotlight but I really wanted to get some flannel to make some Tofinos (yet to happen). I came across this fabric and thought it had a good drape : body ratio. It was $20/meter and I only needed one. Hello $20 dress!

Kimono Dress

I made this dress in a small and made only one adjustment. I added 2 centimeters onto the edge of the skirt piece. Last time I made this dress it sat a bit tight across my hips and I prefer a lose fitting skirt look with this pattern. In order to do this I used a long stitch around the top of the skirt piece and gathered it in a touch so that it would match the width of the top. I then sewed and overlocked them like normal and put the elastic in.

Kimono Dress

I thought about using a bias binding on the sleeves and neck instead of the facing pieces provided as I find facings to be quite fussy. In the end I went with the facings partly because I like the flared look of the sleeves and partly because I didn’t have any navy bias and it was raining so I didn’t want to go out – how slack is that?

Kimono Dress

I really like this pattern! It is so quick to put together and I would suggest it as a great pattern for beginner/ future sewing enthusiasts to learn on. There’s no fussy zippers and you don’t have to worry too much about fitting either due to the lose design. PatternRunway have just released three new PDF patterns on Etsy. I particularly like the Coffee Date Dress! So there is probably more PatternRunway sewing on the horizon…

Kimono Dress

Wondering what that green thing is? It’s a Pounamu necklace. Pounamu is a precious stone in NZ, similar to Jade. Have you sewn any PatternRunway dresses? Can you make me a recommendation?

Colette Jasmine – LOVING IT



The Jasmine pattern is a loose fitting blouse-y top with a faux tie collar. I thought this top was a tad costume-y when I first saw it and wondered if it would be easy to wear on a day to day basis. FEARS AVERTED. What was I worrying about? Now that I’ve finished this top now I think it’s casual and feminine.


I found the sleeves on the on the Jasmine to be quite a lot of work. They’re made from three pieces (sleeve, cuff and the cuff facing) which all need to be trimmed and pressed after being sewn together. But the look created is highly satisfying so it was worth it!

Will not apologise for the crinkles on the back. Yes I have been wearing this top all day because I love it.

I made this top out of a silk cotton, which in case, like me, you hadn’t previously heard of this, it is a blend of silk and cotton. It is a very lightweight fabric that is actually see though when held up to the light. I was a tad worried that this top would be translucent but that fear appears to be unfounded.


Will I be making this pattern again? Hells yes! This version is a size 4 straight of the envelope. I think if when I do I’ll add about an inch or two to the length. I think it looks alright in these pictures but when I sit down it finishes just above my jean’s waistband. I may shorten the sleeves a touch and perhaps make the view A sleeves (gathered at the shoulder) instead but keep the view b collar.


This is the first Colette pattern that I’ve sewn. I’m looking forward to making the next one!