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7 ways to find a fabric . . . when you’re not sure what it’s called (& 5 reasons why it doesn’t matter)

Have you even seen a fabric and wanted to find out what it was, but didn’t want to or couldn’t ask?

7 Ways to Figure out What Fabric is that?

(Image: Bow Peep Dress by Ainslee Fox Boutique Patterns sewn in Kayo Horaguchi Sanrio Little Twin Stars Border Print with Michael Miller Mini Gingham for the contrast.)

Here’s 7 different methods I’ve used to solve this dilemma.

1: Basic Search

Think about how you’d describe the fabric eg: colour, pattern etc.  Start off with a basic internet search.  You might get lucky!  Some of my favourite places to search with a basic description are:

  • Google / google images.
  • If you have no luck with google don’t forget to try other search engines such as bing or yahoo.  Different search engines can return different results to the same search terms.
  • etsy
  • ebay
  • Pinterest – not just for craft porn, think of Pinterest as a visual search engine!
  • flickr (I don’t use flickr but Mr Fox has suggested I give it a go when I’ve been searching fabrics before!)
  • Online fabric stores.  If I’m searching outside Australia I usually start with Hawthorne Threads.  For Australian stores I usually start with Fabric Pixie, , Muddy Ruffles, but seriously there’s so many AWESOME fabric store who I’ve shopped with and if I’m drawing a blank with these, there’s lots more stores to try!

2: Advanced Search

Get specific.  Describe the fabric in more detail. eg. are the flowers on the fabric small or big, are there other colours on the fabric you can add to your search.  If you need ideas of different words to use in your search try:

  • thesaurus (real life or online version)
  • dictionary (real life or online version)
  • ask a family member how they’d describe the fabric

Then search again on the places from #1 using your improved search terms.

3: Technical Search

Is there a proper technical name for the type of fabric/design you’re searching for.  If you don’t know your Quatrefoil from your Ikat or your Batik from your Burlap, check out these resources to see if there’s a technical term you can add to your search:

Then search again on the places from #1.  You can now also start searching for fabric stores who specialise in this type of fabric and then look at those stores too.

4: Have a Guess

Add some guessed information to your search. eg. is the fabric likely to be a woven or a knit fabric? do you think it’s vintage or modern, what items would the fabric be made into?  Add these guessed terms to your search.

Then search again on the places from #1.  Add in stores who specialise in these types of fabric.

For knit fabric I usually search Zebra Fabrics or The Art of Fabric.  I don’t often buy knit fabrics so I don’t really have any specialty knit stores to recommend outside Australia, but I’m sure there’s plenty!

For kawaii or quirky fabric I’ll be looking at Modes4u or Voodoo Rabbit.

5: Study Fabric

This one should probably be step 1, but because its a long term not short term solution it got bumped down the list! Subscribe to the newsletters of various online fabric stores.  Start “studying” fabrics.  Take note of the types of fabrics different designers and manufacturers produce – you’ll start noticing similarities in style, which will give you plenty of clues as to where you should start looking.  You’ll also start noticing what sorts of fabrics different stores specialise in.  When you spot a fabric that you’d like to know more about, you can narrow down your sources by making some informed guesses based on what you’ve learned.  Use what you’ve learned to search:

  • fabric designers websites
  • fabric manufacturers websites
  • fabric stores websites
  • country of origin

6:Upload an image for a web search

This is a website where you can upload a photo of the fabric you’re trying to find and it will try to match it to images in its database.  I haven’t had much success with this, but it’s always worth a shot!

Click on the little camera on the right side of the search bar.  You can then upload an image and get google to search for similar images.  If its initial search doesn’t return what you’re looking for you can add a description which usually gets a better result.

7: Physical Fabric Stores

Ask at your local fabric store.  So this probably  shouldn’t count as finding the fabric without asking … maybe I should have called this blog post “7 Ways to find a fabric without asking online!”

It’s definitely time consuming and there’s no guarantee of success, so here’s 5 reasons why it doesn’t really matter if you find that fabric you originally set out to purchase, to soothe your soul if you draw a blank.

1. Along the way you’re sure to find other similar fabrics that you might even like better!

2. You’ll expand your fabric knowledge which will make it easier next time you want to find a fabric.

3. You’ll discover new stores, designers and fabric terms.

4. You’ll figure out more about what fabrics appeal to you.  Do florals float your boat … but only small liberty florals or are geometrics more your style.  The more you learn about what you like, the easier it is to choose fabrics that really suit your own style when fabric shopping.  If you really dig the fabrics you’re sewing with you’re more likely to love the end result!

5. Some fabrics really really work for certain design elements and once you know which work, a whole world of potential fabrics open up.  I always used to think of thick floral stripes as being more a quilting fabric sort of design, but discovering that stripes like Elizabeth Rose by Jennifer Paganelli work really well as skirts on party dresses, lead me to Lecien Flower Sugar Stripes and resulted in me always keeping half an eye out, ready for my next floral stripe crush.  So if you initially spotted the fabric you’ve been searching for on a garment someone else had made, you don’t actually need to replicate that garment, or find that same fabric, to bring that same pizazz to something you’re making.  Take note of the type of fabric, figure out what in that fabric really worked well for that design element and have a play to come up with your own fabric combinations which will work just as well.

 If you’ve got any fabric finding tips to share be sure to comment below.  I’d love to hear whether you follow these or have other suggestions.



{ 1 comment }


1 Comment to “7 ways to find a fabric . . . when you’re not sure what it’s called (& 5 reasons why it doesn’t matter)”

  1. Kim Simonds 02/07/2015 at 12:00 pm

    Great article. Totally understand. I’m slowly learning the ranges and names! Hope you can have a search at MinkyBear and Me Fabrics some time. Kimx


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