What Are You Making?
This is the most important question. If it’s a coat, how complicated is the construction? Are there lots of seams with some areas having two or more layers sewn at once? Then you need a medium to lightweight fabric. You’ll have an awful time with something very heavy. Is the coat minimalist with few seams in a cold climate? Go for the heavy weight materials.
Look closely at your project and walk through the sewing steps. How bulky are the seams? How complex is it? Will it need interfacing or lining?
Now close your eyes and use your imagination. I don’t think this is the first time you’ve ever seen a pair of pants, a jacket or any other project. You have lots of references from all the clothing you’ve seen in your lifetime. It doesn’t take a huge imagination to create your project in your mind.
If you’re making a garment, put it on. How does it feel? Is it lightweight or heavier? When will you wear it? How often will you wear it? Is it worn under something else? Spin in front of a mirror and “see” the garment.
If you’re making something other than a garment, use it. If it’s a pillow, throw it where it will go. Will it get used a lot or is it more of an art piece? Do you need to wash it often?
It costs nothing to use your mind to create the project and then use it. After you’ve done this, you’ll easily answer these questions.
- Weight - Is it lightweight or heavy weight?
- Manufacture - Is it woven, knit or mesh?
- Strength - Is it woven tightly or loosely? Does it need to be stabilized?
- Hand - How does the fabric feel in your hands? Is it soft or stiff?
- Content - What is the fabric made off? Is a natural fiber like cotton or man-made like polyester?
- Care - Can it go in the washer or is it dry-clean only or hand wash?
Knits or Wovens?
This is usually the first step in deciding on a fabric. Will it be knit, woven or non-woven mesh?
Woven fabrics are much more stable than knits, which also makes them less forgiving. The garments will need to be well fitted to be comfortable.
Some patterns will specify that they are meant for knits. This is a very important distinction. Patterns drafted for knits are drafted smaller because of the stretch. Never use a pattern drafted for knits with wovens. It will not fit properly.
Are you making leggings or a t-shirt? Then you need a knit fabric. You’ll probably want something in a medium to heavy weight for the leggings. Will the t-shirt be layered? Go for something lightweight if you’re layering and something heavier, if it will be worn on its own.
There are some fabrics that are not woven or knit, they are non-woven mesh. This includes polar fleece and felt. These are very specialized and aren't used much.
How Should it Feel?
It is fine if a coat is a bit stiff, but you don’t want a dress like that. How a fabric feels to the touch is called the “hand”. It’s the hand that makes flannel pajamas wonderful and silk blouses classy.
How Strong Should it Be?
Some fabrics are very flimsy with little structural strength. You may have to use a lining for these or wear something under them. Some fabrics are woven very loose and would not hold the hem of a skirt or dress well.
How Will You Wash It?
How do you feel about dry cleaning? What about hand washing? How often do you need to wash this project? You are taking a huge risk by placing a dry clean only fabric in the washer. Take note of the care instructions of every fabric before purchasing.
Do You Like Synthetics?
Some people really dislike synthetic fabrics. Natural fabrics are often more expensive and require more care, but they are wonderful to wear. If you need a fabric that is waterproof, you’ll probably want synthetics.