I have always been a staunch supporter of brick-and-mortar quilt stores. Always have been, always will be. They’re the real backbone of our quilting community, a haven for fellow quilters, an educational portal, and in many instances, have spawned guilds and bees which have lasted for years.
During the time of COVID, we all have had to punt in order to survive. Many quilt stores were deemed essential because they sold mask-making supplies. Some local quilt stores would take phone-in or emailed sales and have your order ready curbside. And other quilt shops didn’t fare so well. I’ve quit counting how many have permanently closed. In some cases, that quilt shop was the only one for miles around. I sewed through a good chunk of my stash
don’t worry, I still have plenty more, but there were times when I needed some yardage of a neutral. And then there was those times when I would hear a Facebook whisper about a store possibly closing and would order several yards of something, anything to help keep the shop open. I know you have been in one or both of those spots, too – having to order fabric off the interwebs. Ordering is not difficult, but knowing you have the right color or type of fabric is an entirely different issue. This is what I want to discuss today.
Let’s face it, no matter if you’re ordering material off your phone, desktop, laptop, or iPad, screens can be funny viewing portals. They all can distort color. My DH purchased a Dell 24-inch screen for me as a birthday present. It piggybacks off my personal laptop. Not only does the large screen make things easier on my eyes, it’s also 1920 x 1080P with an 8,000,000:1 contrast ratio. Its colors are extremely vivid. Designing on EQ 8 just became super easy and precise. Ordering fabric while viewing it on this screen is very accurate. However, with other screens…it’s hit and miss for me. I can order what I think is the correct color only to find when it arrives it’s a shade, tone, or tint off. So, what I’d like to share with you today is Sherri’s Survival Guide to Online Fabric Shopping.
- Order what you’ve seen in person or have in your stash. This is by far the easiest and most accurate way to get what you really need. If you have material you need additional yardage of or a quilting buddy has a fabric you can use in a quilt, take a look at the selvage.
This is the selvage from that lovely piece of fabric I purchased from Pineapple Fabrics/Keepsake Quilting. It gives me quite a bit of information which I can use if I need to re-order. First, it tells me it’s a Wilmington Print. This is important. If Pineapple was out of this fabric, I can search for Wilmington Prints on other websites. Then it tells me which Wilmington Prints fabric line it’s from: Rainbow Flight. And the particular name in the fabric line is Hello Angel. This allows me to narrow any searches so I can find additional yardage if Pineapple is out of it.
There is another upside to this kind of search. For instance, let’s say Pineapple was out of Hello Angel and I had to find additional yardage elsewhere. My first step would be to consult the nearly all-knowing Google or DuckDuckGo and find another online fabric supplier which carries it. When I click into their website and find the fabric, this site may also have additional material from the same line which coordinates with the piece I have. It’s a win-win – they sell fabric and I get coordinating fabric without pulling my hair out or wasting money because I know the fabrics will match. This brings me to Survival Step 2…
- Choose fabrics from within a coordinating selection. If you’re purchasing fabric for an entire quilt from an online establishment, this is really one of the most accurate routes to take. Most of today’s fabrics are curated from within a collection – they all are designed and dyed to coordinate with each other. Even when there are multiple colorways or multiple color groups, they all will play together nicely. By shopping within a particular collection, you can rest assured the fabrics will all go coordinate – as a matter of fact, this is the purpose behind fabric collections. And this harmony can work for years. For instance, I love Moda’s collection Kansas Troubles. I started purchasing those fabrics as soon as the line was introduced in 1995. Do you know I can purchase the recent line out of this collection and it still works with the scraps I have left over from the quilt I made in 1995? Not all collections work this way – or for this long – but knowing there will some stability in a collection for at least several years makes purchasing fabrics online a little easier. The only caveat to remember is some collections don’t have a true dark, and you’ll have to work around that.
- It’s possible to choose fabrics which are designed to coordinate, but not from the same collection. Some designers have realized that in order to retain a high percentage of online orders, they must produce solids which are designed to coordinate with their printed collections. Westminister/Free Spirit is really leading the way in this, with other design houses beginning to line up behind the idea. Every quilt can usually work with a solid-colored fabric. It may not be your personal favorite type of material (it’s not mine), but in a pinch, these solids can make your quilt come together and take the guess work out of ordering online.
- Research your manufacturer to see if they have worked with designers to make collections from all the artists coordinate with one another. This just makes good business sense for fabric manufacturers. If they can produce fabric from a fall 2019 collection which will coordinate with a spring 2020 collection and maybe even a fall/winter 2020-2021 collection, there are several price controls set nicely into place for them: dyes can be purchased well-ahead of time and in bulk and they don’t have to produce as much fabric for each additional line because the fabric in inventory can still be used. It works well for us quilters because we know particular colors will work across multiple fabric groupings. We can pick and choose prints we like and purchase them with the knowledge that even if they sit in our stash for awhile, we will still be able to find coordinating fabrics a few months down the road.
- Use a standard color reference. This one may take some Facetime, phone, or email time, but if you need a particular color, this may be the way to go. As discussed in my blog about color, certain entities have their own “Color of the Year.” Pantone has one and Moda also has its own. With a few clicks of a mouse and a good search engine, you can pull up both Moda’s and Pantone’s colors for several years. If you’re working with a shop to get a particular color needed, compare it to the Moda or Pantone’s COY. If you can get close to one of those, you can reference this information to the store owner or salesperson you’re working with. Most of these folks have a good working knowledge of these colors and can tell you if they have a fabric which is close them. They may can even email or text you pictures or call you up on Facetime to make sure the fabric will work in your quilt.
Some shops and fabric manufacturers can also provide you with swatches or fabric cards. There are some quilt stores who, if you narrow your online search down to just a few fabrics, will gladly mail you squares of the material so you can make the right choice. Others can provide a swatch card which will have all the fabrics in a line for you to peruse and make your decision. Sometimes is a small charge for these cards, but I’ve found they’re worth it, especially if it’s a fabric you use frequently. For instance, when I need solids, I generally purchase from the Painter’s Palette line at Pineapple Fabrics. Pineapple produced a swatch card for every fabric in this line. I use it a lot and have always found the swatches match the purchased material perfectly.
I’ve also been known to drop a thread name, if it’s close to the color fabric I need. If I need a green which matches Superior Threads 134, sometimes a shop owner knows exactly what I’m talking about.
- Read, read, read the fabric description. This is true for any online purchase, but it’s especially important if you are buying an isolated fabric. Often the key words you’re searching for are in the description. For instance, if you’re looking for a candy-apple red, and the description reads burgundy red, then this is not the fabric you’re looking for
(extra points for those of you who just picked up on a punned Star Wars reference). If you think the colors may be close, don’t hesitate to contact the store owner. Reputable fabric store owners (no matter how big or small their establishment is) will take the time to help you. If they don’t, I would hesitate to make any purchase from them. Customer service is EVERYTHING.
Online fabric shopping is here to stay. Despite my deep love for the LQS, webpage purchases are now a permanent fixture in our quilting community. I believe (unfortunately) things were heading this way prior to COVID, and the pandemic just moved the goal closer. Large LQS’s are managing pretty well, as most, if not all of them, have an online presence as well as brick-and-mortar establishments. The smaller stores have found out they can still sell fabric and notions by replacing employees with boxes, tape, a postage scale, and meter. Vast numbers of customers can be reached instead of relying on local guilds and area quilters to make their bottom line remain in the black. It’s the end of an era – and the end to a lot of classroom space. However, as we always have, quilting and quilters will adapt and thrive. Learning how to purchase what we need and want online and knowing how to ask for it is just another tool we need to add to our toolbox.
Until Next Week, Quilt On!
Love and Stitches,
Sherri and Sam