I Wish This Existed, For Fabric

The knitting world is so organized about yarn. You can buy the same yarn, over and over. You can read reviews of other yarns, and only buy ones that suit your preferences. The same yarn is available in a rainbow of different colours. And the same rainbow of colours might even be offered in different weights and thicknesses of yarn! And the part I like best? You can buy the same yarn, years later, and it’s more or less the same. You can literally see someone make a project, buy the same yarn and pattern, and replicate it for yourself! We can buy red fabric inspired by someone’s red dress, but it will never be exactly the same.

Another cool part? You can order little yarn books, showing the different colourways. It’s perfect for matching knitting yarn to your sewing projects! (And for a little thrill when you shouldn’t be spending a lot of money.. it’s so fun to open up a package of beautiful coloured yarn swatches!)

Why bother with the yarn card? Well, I can’t tell colours that well on my computer monitor. The window’s right behind me so it’s really hard to see accurate colours because of the brightness behind it. Also, I like to see how the yarn will look with things I’m sewing – particularly the wrap coat. I want the right teal to bring out the blues in the coat fabric! I’d want a not-too-greyish cream colour, and the right shade of brown. I also prefer warmer colours to cooler tones, and reds especially are hard to see on-screen.

Here’s my little collection of yarn books:

This is the Shelter colour card – I was thinking of the Autumn Leaves Stole originally, as something to wear with the Lonsdale dress. (The plan was to finish knitting the wrap for the tail end of summer, but now we’re definitely past that point and into fall weather!) In the end I picked a less expensive yarn from my local store, and still haven’t finished the wrap. I still love the earthy, rustic look of the Shelter yarn though!

For the Quince yarn, I was trying to choose a teal colour (Peacock) for a cowl to go with the wrap coat. I wanted to be sure it wasn’t too navy or royal – and it’s not, it’s perfect! It’s darker than the actual teal in the coating fabric, which is exactly what I was hoping for. Peacock is the right colour for wearing with camel, with brown, with mustard – love it! The Egret colour is a really nice cream too – not too beige, not too pink, a nice fresh-looking creamy white. It’s so much easier to imagine when you can see the colours in real life. Looking through computer monitors just isn’t the same. The colours are very accurate to what I can see, but call me old-fashioned if you want, I still like to touch and feel things.

Don’t you wish there was something like this for fabric? Besides ordering a swatch, where you’re not guaranteed to have the same thing in stock later on, there isn’t the equivalent for fabric. We get cotton twills, but they’re all different cotton twills, varying in weight, stretch, washability and colourfastness. If you find the perfect cotton, you may never find it again! (Maybe that’s why we like to hoard fabric…) I wish we had stock of wools, coatings, cotton twills, cotton voiles – in a range of solid colours. There’s something like that for quilting – stocked, solid colours of basic cotton – but not for apparel.

I’m not sure how it would work exactly, but it’s an interesting concept to think about. Imagine the possibilities! You could make your favourite skirt pattern in this imaginary in-stock cotton twill and know exactly how it will wash, wear, shrink or stretch out. No fear of cutting into a precious piece of fabric – you can simply order it again! Wished you’d made that perfect length of navy wool into a pencil skirt, instead of a flared skirt? Buy another length and make another. Do you think it would lead to more fabric buying, or less because we know we can always get what we want?

In-stock fabrics in a complete rainbow of colour options – a girl can dream! For now there’s yarn books.

Happy sewing and knitting, everyone!

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28 Responses to I Wish This Existed, For Fabric

  1. Corinne October 20, 2011 at 7:10 am #

    What an interesting concept! I never really considered this for garment fabric. Imagine a giant warehouse with sky high stacks of fabric, always at the ready, consistent and readily available. In every color. A girl can dream. What I find so nice about the yarn cards is the way the wools take color. There is nothing as wonderful as a natural fiber for accepting dye colors. Sometimes I just wander a yarn shop for its color inspiration alone. Well, thanks for this post, I think. I’m afraid now that this concept will be like a song replaying in my head all day.

  2. Tasha October 20, 2011 at 7:23 am #

    Ooh I recognized the Quince color card right away, I have that too. :) I think it would be great to have something like that for fabric. I find fabric sometimes to be a black hole. I can’t find what I want, I can’t replicate something I read about, I can’t find the fiber content, etc. It is SO easy to do with yarn, I’ve gotten spoiled!

    • Alice October 20, 2011 at 7:25 am #

      @Tasha: srsly! what is the deal with mystery fiber content? drives me nuts!

  3. Alice October 20, 2011 at 7:24 am #

    i kinda like the variability of the fabric world, but i wish there was constant steady stock of denims and cotton knits. When I started sewing in Spring 2010, I got this gorgeous denim from fabricana – lightweight and with a cross-weave. It became a bias-cut skirt, and is the denim of my dreams. I had big plans for that fabric! Have I found it since? nope :( I should bring in my scrap and ask if they can bring it in again…

    As for knits, all I ever want is a nice charcoal knit, and it’s so freaking hard to find! and wide stripe tshirt knits that my bf favours? never seen’em here.

    I’m reminded of a conversation/business idea i had with a friend: a store where you could always buy basic clothes regardless of trends/season. Like black skirts in a-line, pencil, straight, long, mini – available all the time!

  4. Kat October 20, 2011 at 7:25 am #

    Ooh how fantastic! Where do you get the little wool books from, do you order them online? I’ve never seen them before. I agree it would be fantastic to have the same for fabric…many times I have bought just under the amount of fabric I need only to go back and find the shop has sold out. As a result I now compulsively overbuy…a metre more than I need on some occasions, which is often an un-necessary expense (although I could argue one cannot have too much fabric…!)

  5. Jennifer October 20, 2011 at 7:46 am #

    I agree, that would be wonderful! While I like the variety available for fashion fabric, I do wish they could keep a consistent stock of basics as well. And it would be great to know if I ever do find the perfect cotton twill, it will be there every time I plan a new project.

  6. Sarah October 20, 2011 at 9:37 am #

    I’ve never even heard of those yarn books, but they’re such a great idea! I’d be hesistant to buy fabric or yarn from an online store because you can’t see it or touch it in person. But those swatches would be perfect if they existed for fabric!

  7. Marianne October 20, 2011 at 9:42 am #

    It does exist for fabric. I have one of those for fabric somewhere. It’s from a producer (just like your yarn samples are from producers), so the fabric is the same always. They have notes on their website what colours and hands are available, so you can always know.

    Now that I think of it, I think I have two or three fabric sample thingies. From different producers. One with linen, one with wool and one with cotton (I think, I’m not sure). The downside is that these producers only sell plain, mono-coloured fabrics. No patterns. But then again, that’s what I use for the majority of my projects.

    Might be some Scandinavian thing, as all my sample-packs are from Norwegian or Swedish producers.

  8. Blythe October 20, 2011 at 10:20 am #

    Yes, this definitely does exist. There are certain stores in the garment district (NYC) that sell fabrics like this…I have seen displays of cards showing a rainbow of colors of cotton batiste, and I think different wools.

    The one specific example I can think of is Gray Line Linen – they carry various weights and variations of linen fabrics (Handkerchief, Warsa, Judy, etc.) in a wide range of colors. There are sample cards throughout the store that show the different types and colors. You can see examples here:


    I know Gray Line for one takes phone orders, and they also have an e-commerce site.

    Sorry I couldn’t be more helpful! Next time I’m down there I will check it out and report back with more companies. There is a store on 37th street (I think!) that has tons of these cards for different cotton fabrics lining the inside of the window. I’ve peeked at the cards but never made it inside.

  9. Anotheryarn October 20, 2011 at 10:32 am #

    Before you get too excited… colors and yarn lines get discontinued. And in hand-dyes and kettle-dyes even the same colorway is not the same (a great example is at the sheer variation of Malabrigo’s Indiecita color, even among the same yarn base).

    But yes! I want this for fabric (I know that some of the basic quilting lines have color cards, but I haven’t had any luck finding a place to buy them).

  10. Clare October 20, 2011 at 11:32 am #

    I love yarn cards too. The best, IMO, is Jamieson and Smith’s shetland yarn – it’s HUGE, and the yarns have really lovely names. Kate Davies (http://textisles.com/) uses them a lot in her wonderful designs.
    But I have to admit, this gave me a giggle: ‘Maybe that‚Äôs why we like to hoard fabric‚Ķ’ You’ve obviously never seen my stash….. :D

  11. Candace October 20, 2011 at 11:44 am #

    As some have mentioned, swatch cards do exist for fabric. We used them all the time when I worked for a designer and we had to pull new fabrics. As with anything of that nature, the problem is that the cards come from a fabric mill so you have to order them by the roll and sometimes by the hundreds of yards before they will fill your order. Also dye lots can vary in color from time to time and it can really cause a problem in garment production.

    So I guess in a sense you are right, these things don’t exist for a home sewer who only wants 2 to 5 yards. It would be amazing if someone would supply consistent types of fabric on the small scale!

  12. Becky October 20, 2011 at 11:46 am #

    I’ve never thought about this for fabric….I hadn’t thought of yarn books either. My yarn choices are so limited with the no-wool thing.

    What I have thought many, many times since picking up knitting, though, is I wish that they had an equivalent to Ravelry for the sewing world! I know there’s Pattern Review, and BurdaStyle, and I’ve tried out that My Sewing Circle site, but I want that all-in-one site where I can show my stash and pattern library and finished projects and have the fun little communities, dang it!

  13. K-Line October 20, 2011 at 12:02 pm #

    When I started knitting I was blown away by the organization that surrounds it. Why don’t sewists have a Ravelry? I wouldn’t have pegged knitters to be ones that go in for sophisticated user interfaces – and modern takes on just about everything. It makes for extremely fun community.

    • Bethsews October 31, 2011 at 7:46 pm #

      @K-Line: Being a knitter myself, I had often wished the same thing. We need to get Jess and Casey to get interested in sewing! But in the maintime, at least PatternReview.com gives us some of the features of Ravelry for sewing – if you haven’t tried it out, do!

  14. lunachick 265 October 20, 2011 at 12:08 pm #

    I’ve also wished for colour swatch cards for fabrics-but I don’t think a 2 inch square is enough to really make a decision. I’ve just ordered a few swatches for an upcoming big project, but it’s not quite like those yarn cards.And I don’t live anywhere near a good fabric store, so it’s all online shopping for me, which can be a crazy gamble.

    On a similar note, I’ve often wished there were a sewing website like Ravelry. I know there’s Burdastyle.com, but it’s not quite the same. It’d be amazing if we could have one place to keep our fabric stash cataloged, keep track of past, present, and future projects, oogle beautiful fabrics online, see patterns and what others are doing with them. Maybe some one will start such as website soon! I’d be the first to sign up.

    • Becky October 20, 2011 at 1:25 pm #

      @lunachick 265:

      My thought exactly! I think the worst part of it is that BurdaStyle really had the potential to become something like this when it first started up. Then the magazine had to go and merge its US website with it….it’s never been the same since. I still like the website, and I still feel guilty that I’m about a year behind on adding my projects in there, but Ravelry has seriously spoiled me for all of the sewing sites.

  15. Crystal October 20, 2011 at 12:26 pm #

    I agree. I have vaguely thought of this concept, as I really like to mix fabric types and patterns. Some for me and especially for my little girls. But since my options are mainly buying online, I could never know if these different things would work well together, or if the colors are a good match or blend. Only the coordinating quilting cottons have this advantage that I know of.

  16. Lashell October 20, 2011 at 1:38 pm #

    I’ve also been on that website mysewingcircle.com which is suppose to be similiar to Ravelry, but it’s not. I’ve given them quite a few suggestions that I felt would really make the site a community instead of just a forum or a place to catalogue your stash. But I guess until someone really steps up and creates a sewing Ravelry.com we just have to be content with discovering new blogs.

  17. Caroline October 20, 2011 at 3:54 pm #

    I know that when I go to Fabric Depot, their wholesale order department has huge binders full of fabric swatches from various mills — everything available to them to order. So I suppose it’s just a matter of getting cozy with your local fabric store owner or wholesale department. :)

  18. Rachel October 20, 2011 at 7:25 pm #

    I was going to mention the kona cards for quilting cotton, there are similar ones for some of the other manufacturers too.

    I’ve seen a card like that for garment fabric once, Tessuti showed me one when I was in there looking for fabric, but it was for them to choose which bolts to order, not to be able to buy anything less than a bolt.

    The thing with the cards is that the fabric you buy has to be from that specific manufacturer, whereas the fabric stores seem to all sell different fabrics from all different manufacturers, rather than from a small(er) range of manufacturers like with yarn/thread/quilting fabric

  19. Maia October 21, 2011 at 12:22 am #

    “Looking through computer monitors just isn‚Äôt the same. (..)call me old-fashioned if you want, I still like to touch and feel things” – Thanks God there are still someone like me :))))

  20. katie October 21, 2011 at 3:40 am #

    i’ve always had this dream of creating my own version of this to catalog my fabric stash, along with a rough estimate of how much of the fabric i have left. alas.

  21. brie October 21, 2011 at 9:15 am #

    isn’t quince the BEST! i love love love it – knitting a hat from tern at the moment, it feels divine! and yes, it would be brilliant to have swatch cards for fabric. :)

  22. sara October 21, 2011 at 10:15 am #

    Actually, I think that fabric has the better options. When you have a sewing pattern, the suggestions are very vague, there are thousands of materials you could use to make any one garment.

    With knitting patterns, you really need to buy the exact yarn specified in the pattern in order to get the garment illustrated. You really take a chance when you substitute yarns and even then you only have maybe 30 options of similar yarns to choose from.

  23. aleah October 21, 2011 at 2:27 pm #

    I admit, this is a tempting idea, but I also kind of like the total joy of a real surprise fabric find in some crazy hole-in-the-wall store that you know will never appear again… frustrating in a way, but also part of the fun!
    And I admit I have totally duplicated other sewist’s items when I’ve stumbled across the identical fabric – big online stores like Fashion Fabric Club keep some things in stock for a really long time, and I’ve gotten lucky. But another great thing about sewing is that no one will ever have a truly identical garment, unlike the millions of people out there with my same Gap shirt!

  24. Whitney October 22, 2011 at 12:07 pm #

    Yarn color cards are great, but yarns still get discontinued on a pretty regular basis. You can’t always get a yarn you want a year or 5 later. I have a few yarns in my stash that I purchased years ago that have been discontinued. The other thing to worry about is dye lots. If the yarn you purchase is not of the same dye lot as the color card, then there could be slight variations to the color you get. Color cards are not a guarantee that you will get the EXACT color yarn, that’s why it is so important to purchase all the yarn for a project from the same dye lot at the same time. Of course, now that we have Ravelry, you may be able to find someone who has stashed the same dye lot that you need and who is willing to part with it, but that is not always possible.