There I was, pattern drawn and fingers itching to start sewing. For the first time, I was ready to drop some Benjamins to buy nice fabric for my dream Space Travel quilt. Thanks to the great 2020 pandemic, I was buying fabric online for the first time. There were so many more colors and patterns than at Joanns. I spent hours on my computer vacillating between shades. I had devoted hours and hours designing and redesigning this pattern, I needed the color. A week later I found the box on my door step. But my excitement quickly faded.
These were not the colors I ordered, were they? I checked online–they weren’t! They looked completely different than the swatches online. I called customer support, wondering why I had received a salmon pink instead of deep rusty pink or a Minnesota Viking’s purple instead of dark twilight purple? Their answer: They’re old pictures that we don’t have time to update. You can buy the fabric swatch card for accurate colors.
I was devastated. I felt duped. How can a well-known online fabric store falsely advertise their product like that? To be fair, the customer service did offer me a refund, but where did that leave me? I still needed fabric for my quilt. How would I find the right colors? My further researched showed that other online stores have swatches just as wrong in their product description. But the cheap, stubborn potato in me refused to spend $30 a fabric swatch card just so I would know what I was buying.
How to find the best colors for your quilt online
Now, if you’re not as stubborn as me, clearly, the more accurate way of buying fabrics online is with a fabric card. But not every brand of fabric has one, especially if it is seasonal pattern fabric. My solution: Google. If they are popular fabrics (like Kona, Bella Solids, or Cotton Supreme Solids), there are many pictures with the colors in fat quarter bundles or in quilts others have made. You can use these comparisons to get a better idea of what color you need. On my computer, I found the colors for the Kona fabric were fairly accurate in the first picture in this blog post.
Now that I’ve bought so much fabric over time, I’ve started to cut little swatches of each color. I’ve recently turned them into my own fabric swatches that I’ve velcroed to cardboard to make it easy to select fabric colors for future projects. Stay tuned for that blog post.
Other frustrations of buying fabric online
The frustrations of buying fabric online don’t end with getting the wrong fabric color. One of the worst things about buying fabric online is that a lot of online fabric stores will only let you buy whole yards. If you have a lot of odd length yardage in your pattern, this can be a way to build fabric stash, but it can also be a real budget buster. I most recently tried out the Fat Quarter Shop (not sponsored), and had a great experience (Apart from the colors. You still need to do your research). At the Fat Quarter Shop you can buy fabric in quarter yard lengths (you must get at least half a yard). That’s the best I’ve found. Let me know below if you have found an online fabric store you enjoy.
Shipping costs also add up. I fell in love with an older fabric on Etsy that I needed for my upcoming Princess and Pony quilt. I’m ashamed to say that the shipping was over a quarter of the price of the fabric… priorities. But often times, online fabric stores will have free shipping after $50-100. To help reach that amount, I recommend buying everything you need for the quilt at one time. This includes: all the piecing fabric, the backing fabric, the binding fabric, the batting, thread, needles, or basting spray. Or plan ahead and get the fabric you need for your next two quilt tops–even better if the quilts share some of the same fabrics.
Lastly, you need to check the fabric for imperfections before you wash or cut it. There should be no stains or holes in the fabric, and it should be all one continuous length (unless you order an insane amount). If you wash or cut it before checking, it could be harder to get a refund for the damaged fabric.
All said and done, buying fabric online doesn’t have to be a challenging part of quilting. If you are familiar with the challenges and have a plan on how to overcome them, you can be on your way to the cutting mat in no time!