How to work out fabric requirements and cutting layouts

Laurens top tips to help you get the most out of your fabric for your dressmaking projects!

Have you ever seen a fabric that you loved but you weren’t sure at that moment what you’d make with it, so you felt unsure about how much to buy?

Or maybe you have a length of fabric but all the patterns you look at seem to need more fabric so you think you don’t have enough?

Getting used to the fabric requirements you need to make yourself certain types of garments gets easier with time and practice, but there are some useful things to bear in mind and consider when working out your fabric requirements and then laying your pattern pieces out in preparation for cutting them out.

In this post and video linked below, I want to help you understand how to work out how much fabric you personally need for a project, taking into consideration various different factors.

The width of the fabric

Fabric can come in all sorts of widths - this the distance between the two selvedges of a fabric. Some might be just over a meter, others might be up to 1.6m and then you can get everything in between.

Usually sewing patterns will suggest how much fabric is needed based on two widths of fabric. Typically this is 45”/ approx 1.15m and around 60”/approx 1.5m. This is a rough guide as it can vary from pattern company to pattern company.

In this instance when working out how much fabric you might need you would look for around the size you plan to make, then look at the width of your fabric and then see how much is suggested.

What to do if your fabric width is not on the chart?

This is really common, the pattern specifies two widths and the fabric you have fits into neither of those options, maybe its somewhere in the middle? What are you supposed to do?

Well the safe option is to opt for the narrower width option, but the chances are that you will be left with excess fabric. You might not mind this - and that’s totally fine! However, if it’s an expensive fabric, maybe you don’t want to have leftovers that you know you are unlikely to use.

In this instance you can work out a bespoke quantity of fabric you need for the style, design, variation and size you are making and buy just the right amount! The headings below summarie the factors you can consider to work out the best amount - just for you!

The design or nap of the fabric

If your fabric has a specific print/design on it that means it can look upside down or if your fabric has a ‘nap’*, then as you place your pattern pieces onto the fabric, you’ll have to make sure they are all oriented the same way up.

* A ‘nap’ refers to the texture on a fabric. It means that as you move your hand up and down over the fabric parallel to the selvedge it feels smooth in one direction and a little bit rough in the other direction (examples are corduroy and velvet fabrics).

If you fabric is plain and does not have a nap, it means that you can orientate the pattern pieces with the top of that at opposite directions. This can often mean that pattern pieces can be fitted closer together on the fabric and ultimately use up less fabric.

What size you are making and the design of the garment

This size of garment you are making and the design of it can also affect how much fabric you need. Along with the width of the fabric, size and design can affect whether you can get pattern pieces side by side on the fabric, for example, getting the front and back bodice of a garment side by side.

If the design of the garment is very full in its shape and style lines, then it may be that you have to have the bodice pieces stacking on top of each other rather than side by side.

Regular adaptations you make to sewing patterns

If you know that you routinely have to either lengthen or shorten pattern pieces then this will also affect how much fabric you need.

Altering the suggested cutting layout in the sewing pattern

Typically sewing pattern instructions will come with a suggested layout of where the pattern pieces should be orientated on the fabric in relation to the fold and selvedge. This can be a great starting point but you don’t need to follow it exactly.

The instructions might give a size range for a cutting layout, for example sizes 0-12, or 14-20 have a suggested layout, as it would be too much to include a different layout for every single size. If you are making a size 14 then it might be that the pieces can fit a bit closer together or overlap more than if you were making the size 20, so potentially you could save on fabric there.

The main things you must always stick to if altering from the suggested cutting layout in the instructions are

  • Any pieces cut on the fold are still cut on the fold. You can also create a fold that is the width of your pattern piece rather than folding the fabric in half, selvedge to selvedge. That way you get a one bigger bit of fabric left that will be more useful.
  • All pieces are still orientated with the grainline parallel to the selvedge
  • Sometimes you might be able to cut a pattern pieces out at 90 degrees to the selvedge, for example a belt. This would only be the case in a non-directional or no-nap fabric.

The most accurate way to calculate fabric requirements

  • So taking account of all of the above factors, the most accurate way to calculate the fabric you need for a project is to prepare the pattern pieces you are using in the size you plan to use.
  • Then find out the width of the fabric you plan to make and mark it out on your cutting surface.
  • Start to lay your pattern pieces on and experiment with different positions and combinations until you feel that you are laying them out in the most economical way.
  • Don’t forget to take a picture so you can remember for another time!
  • Adjusting quantities for shrinkage - some fabric typically shrink more than others. I recommend building in approx 5%-10% threshold. So if you work out exactly to the cm how much fabric you need, add on another 5-10% to allow for shrinkage and general wiggle room.
  • Once you have certain types of garment worked out you can keep a list, so for example perhaps you realize that for long sleeved simple tops using wide width fabric you typically need around 1.7m.

I hope this helps you work out the best fabric requirements for you so that you can buy just what you need in the future, remember we sell fabric by the 10cm so you can order a very specific amount.

Or perhaps help you to have the confidence to try and squeeze a garment out of a bit of fabric you already have by playing pattern Tetris and trying different layouts to make the most of it!


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