Sewing with expensive fabric doesn’t have to be scary!

A Daunting Experience

When I think about sewing with expensive fabric, I remember the time I accidentally purchased Liberty of London Lawn. I was 22 years old and had just finished college. My mom and I went to the fabric section of the small department store in my equally small town to select patterns and fabric for a top and a skirt. We had shopped there my entire life and never run across an expensive fabric. I had never even heard of Liberty of London!

When the total came to five times as much as I thought it would be, I almost fainted! I’m not sure if I had that much money in my checking account. Luckily, my mom was with me and she helped me pay. I waited longer than usual to make the skirt and the top, and – 36 years later – I can still remember every mistake I made.

Older and Wiser

As you might imagine, after that experience I avoided fancy fabrics for a little while. Liberty of London is expensive for a reason. Made from very high-quality textiles like Egyptian cotton and silk, I didn’t feel like I was experienced or worthy enough to indulge in fabrics like that.

But the more I sewed, the more confidence I gained. And what I realized is that sewing with expensive fabric doesn’t have to be stressful – you just need a plan!

So here are 5 tips from my older and wiser self:

Tip 1: Tissue Fit the pattern

Select your size based on your high bust measurement for tops, or your hip measurement for bottoms. Cut out the pattern in the size indicated, and pin it along the seam allowance. Get help reading the back. I ask people to take a photo of my back so I can see without twisting.

The P/P Complete Guide to Fitting and Ahead of the Curve are great guides for “reading” the tissue.

Tip 2: Alter the tissue

Based on what you find when you tissue-fit, make changes to the tissue. Then, tissue-fit again to make sure your changes improved the fit. The books mentioned above are both excellent resources for how to make alterations.

alter the tissue
I always have to lengthen my pattern pieces! Here you can see I cut along the lengthen/shorten line and added several inches of tissue to improve the fit.

Tip 3: Make a muslin

Fabric is different than tissue, so purchase some inexpensive fabric of a similar weight to your fashion fabric, or cut up an old sheet, and sew a mock garment to quadruple check the fit.

As you can see below, I made three muslins when preparing to make by quilted Tamarack Jacket! Although the fabric itself wasn’t too expensive, the time it took to make my jacket was! So I wanted to make sure the fit was going to be perfect.

When you’re making a muslin (or three!), there’s no need to add details, like the facings or a collar, but…

Tip 4: Practice the tricky bits

If your project has a front fly, a welt pocket, or anything you haven’t sewn before, practice those techniques on scraps until you feel confident enough to do it with your more expensive fabric!

single welt pocket tutorial
I practiced the single-welt pocket for my quilted coat multiple times

Tip 5: Use the correct tools & notions

Don’t underestimate the importance of this step! All your hard work preparing won’t matter if your interfacing, thread or sewing machine needle is incompatible with your fabric.

Fuse different weights of interfacing to scraps of your fabric to see which one works best. Try different thread weights. Practice stitching with different needles and stitch lengths to see which one creates the smoothest seam. 

thread needles interfacing
Experiment with different threads, needles and interfacings

You Can Do It!

If you follow these five tips, you’ll be prepared to sew with expensive fabric. And – if you’re not ready to make a full-on outfit – just dip your toe in! Buy a half-yard and use it to line a yoke, cuffs or pockets. Make a fun handkerchief!  Remember, you’re worth it. You love sewing and you deserve beautiful things. 

Fancy Fabrics

Like 22 year old me, we’ve all been caught off guard  by the price of a fabric. And the first thought that probably runs through your head is ‘Why is it that much??’ Understandably, you want to make sure that the fabric you’re choosing to invest in is expensive because of the outstanding quality.

So let me just say – every fabric we stock is based on quality, and there are many good quality fabrics we carry that don’t break the bank. So, if a fabric is expensive, you can count on the fact that it has to do with the excellent fiber content, the sustainable manufacturing practices, and/or the widespread availability (i.e. It’s designer!).

Here are a few of my faves:

  1. Liberty of London Lawns
  2. Superfine Merino Wool
  3. Quilted Cotton Jacquard
  4. Oilskin & Waxed Cotton
  5. Japanese Linen

6 thoughts on “Sewing with expensive fabric doesn’t have to be scary!

  1. Michele D. says:

    Thank you for a great article ! Not only was it informative, but it gave me confidence to perhaps purchase more expensive material than I normally do. The last really expensive material I purchased was in 1965, when I bought French lace and silk peau do soi for my wedding dress. I used a simple Vogue pattern ( they had the best instructions- boning and zig zag wire were used in the bodice- which at age 20, I had never used before ). Haven’t used such costly fabrics since, but I am still sewing- by hand and machine and do a lot of quilting, too. Thanks again.

  2. Mary Jo Forbes says:

    Good information about using expensive fabrics. I have only one suggestion and it’s for your website fabric presentation. You need to add some photos farther back from printed fabrics so that you can see how the overall fabric will look when you’re wearing it. Other people don’t see it close up, they see it from more of a distance as a whole piece. That is an import dimension you can’t get even from ordering samples .

    • kate says:

      Thanks Mary Jo,

      That’s a good idea! We have a new photography area and we might be able to do that.

      🙂 Kate

  3. Francis says:

    I can tell that the 3rd muslin is longer but I’m not experienced enough to see a difference between the 1st and 2nd. Can you tell us what adjustments you made? A lot of good ideas here.

    • kate says:

      Hi Francis,

      The 2nd muslin is a smaller size. I started narrowing the back and the front on the first muslin, but then I figured a smaller size would do the same thing! I also made a horizontal slash in the back, approximately 6″ below the shoulder seams, to figure out how big a high-round-back adjustment to make. For my 3rd muslin, I lengthened the body and the arms, and did a 3/4″ high-round-back adjustment.

      🙂 Kate

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