Sewing101: An Introduction to Fabric and Notions

Posted in: Sewing 101 — By on October 13, 2010 7:15 AM

There’s one more important step before you can actually start sewing: getting all of the fabric and notions that you’re going to need.  The fabrics and notions you use will make this project uniquely yours and one of a kind!

The pattern will list the recommended fabrics for your project.  Fabric selection is important! It could be the difference between something you love and wear all the time and something that is a tragic waste of fabric and time.  Fabric stores have so many options that you’ll definitely find something that will work.  You can also scout thrift stores for fabrics — second-hand sheets, skirts, shirts, remnants and curtains in good condition will be more unique than store-bought fabric (not to mention cheaper!). Keep in mind that you’ll have to pre-wash your fabric if you plan on washing the finished item. New fabrics may shrink a little in the wash and fabrics from a thrift store could almost always use a wash.

Once you have your fabric, look at the pattern envelope for a list of notions you’ll need.  You’ll most likely need things like thread, interfacing and zippers. Sometimes you can find other notions like buttons or trim at a thrift store.

A few tips…


The back of your pattern will tell you how much fabric you will need to buy based on your measurements and which version of the pattern you decide to make.  Make sure that you’re aware of the units of these measurements (usually inches, but some European patterns will be in metric).  Also be aware of the width of the fabric that these measurements refer to.  Bolts of fabric are usually 45” or 60” from selvage (finished edge) to selvage and the amount of fabric you need will depend on this.  Buy a little extra fabric so that you have some leeway if you make a mistake or the fabric shrinks when you wash it.  You can always save any leftovers for other projects.


Interfacing adds structure to your sewing project (for example, the collar of a blouse or the waistband of fitted skirt).  The pattern will tell you how much interfacing to buy.  There are a few types of interfacing (woven, non-woven, sew-in, fusible…) and you can buy it in black or white.  When in doubt, ask the fabric store staff what type of interfacing will work best with the fabric you’ve chosen.  This is generally a good strategy when you’re starting out.



Hold the spool of thread up to your fabric and hold the whole thing up to the light.  If you don’t want your stitching to stand out, choose the colour that seems to ‘disappear’ into the fabric.  Or choose a contrasting colour to draw attention to your fancy top stitching and add some detail.  Whatever you decide, make sure that you buy enough thread — it’s better to have too much than to run out mid-project!


There are different types of zippers, so make sure you are buying the correct one for your project.  Closed end zippers are for pants, skirts, handbags or pockets. Separating zippers are for jackets, sportswear or sleeping bags.  Standard closed end and separating zippers have visible plastic or metal teeth and a metal or plastic zipper pull.   Invisible zippers have hidden teeth and a smaller pull (usually used for women’s clothing).  There are also zippers with larger teeth that are usually meant for outerwear or bags.  If you’re just starting out it’s a good idea to use a plastic or nylon zipper so if you sew over it you probably won’t break your needle.


Sewing machine needles

You should use the right kind of needle for the fabric you are sewing with.  There are a lot of different kinds of needles. For denim, use a denim needle. There’s one for leather too. Ballpoints are for knit fabrics and sharps can be used on almost anything. The needles get finer as the size number gets smaller. So a 10/70 would be finer than a 14/90. You want the smallest needle that you can get away with.

Then there’s the fun stuff like buttons and trims. You can buy them by the yard at your fabric shop, or at a thrift store. You could also recycle the buttons or trim from a used piece of clothing if you can’t find what you’re looking for at the fabric store.

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