When you buy a sewing pattern, whether for bags, quilts, clothes or anything else you can imagine sewing, you get a list of things that you will need to make the item, including fabric.  Here’s an example from one of my patterns:

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The challenge is then to work out whether the required amount is enough to make what you want, or even too much.  Now if that sounds odd, let me explain.  When a designer is creating a pattern, they may measure their fabric based on what they used or they may measure all the pattern pieces and work out how they will fit on each piece of fabric.  I vividly remember buying fabric for bag from Amy Butler’s Style Stitches book and found that I had so much leftover that I had enough to make another 3 bags and there were still some sizeable scraps, so I can only assume that the measurements were to allow for fussy cutting the specific fabric used in the pattern in a specific direction.  On the other hand I try and work out how my pieces will fit on the fabric to cut – if it’s going to be a fairly tight fit I try and include a cutting layout in the pattern, something I started after one of my testers discovered that the ‘1m’ cut of fabric I was using, had been rather generously cut in the shop, so I was unwittingly using 40″ of fabric.

In bag making there are a couple of things to consider as the end maker before you buy your fabric:

1. What type of fabric do you want to use?

Whilst it may be okay for you to substitute, say, tweed for quilting cotton, or quilting cotton for home decor weight fabric when making your bag, they are not always the same width off the bolt.

In the first example above, tweed is usually around 60″ in width, while quilting cotton is around 44″ wide, so if the pattern needs 1/2 yard of quilting cotton, then 1/2 yard of tweed will definitely cover it, with enough leftovers to make another little something.

In the second example above, quilting cotton is around 44″ wide, while home decor weight fabric can range from 52″ to 60″ in width, so if the pattern needs 1/2 yard of home decor weight fabric, then there’s a good chance that 1/2 yard of quilting cotton will not be enough to cover it.

Ensure that you know both the width of your fabric and the width or the required fabric before you go shopping.

2. Does your fabric need to be cut in a certain direction, and/or do you want to pattern match your fabric, or to fussy cut a particular motif?

This can be a little more challenging to calculate, so let’s look at the different types of fabric:

Solid fabrics are the most versatile of all and it really doesn’t matter which way you cut them, there’s no pattern to match, nothing to fussy cut, whatever you want to do is going to fit on that required amount of fabric, width allowing.

This Mochi Linen is a multi directional fabric, so it wouldn’t matter if I cut a piece horizontally or vertically, or even alternate the direction of a piece to make it fit better.  The only think you might want to do is get your dots aligned, but it wouldn’t be a tragedy if you didn’t.  In this case, again, it’s likely that it’s going to fit on that required amount of fabric, width allowing.

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Next we have this Art Gallery Fabrics denim.  In this particular print, the pink flowers are directional, but the white ones are all over the place and the green ones are non-directional.  I would go with making sure the pink ones were upright, but beyond that, because of the overall random layout of the flowers, I wouldn’t be too bothered about trying to line anything up.  Double check your pattern if you have any particularly shaped bits to see if the pattern writer has suggested any particular layout on the fabric – if there are any bits that they have placed upside down as if they were using non-directional fabric, ensure that if you rotate the piece for it to be directional it will still fit (it might be they had planned for a bit to be upside down because that was the only way for it to fit).

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Moving along to this home decor fabric from Remnant Kings, this potentially has a couple of challenges, not only is it a directional print, but depending on the pattern you might also want to pattern match the checks.  How much extra fabric you will need to allow for pattern matching will depend on a couple of things – firstly on how you can arrange the pieces to be cut out, and secondly on the pattern repeat, the most obvious measurement in this case being between the dark purple lines in each direction.  If you can arrange the pieces so that bits that will be next to each other are all in a row across the fabric, then you may end up being able to fit things in to the required amount of fabric, but if you can’t fit them that way and you need to place things more spread out to get the repeat to match, then you could require quite a bit more fabric.

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Lastly, the fussycut-able option, in this case Tula Pink’s Elizabeth.  I have a total love/hate thing with Tula fabrics for bag making as she’s very fond of this sort of offset layout of her feature fabric which means that for fussy cutting you get a good amount of fabric waste when trying to line up your pieces.  In the bag that I’m using this for, I want one of Elizabeth’s heads in the centre of the flap and also one in the centre of the back of the bag, so given the dimensions of the bag I know I’m going to have some fabric waste between the two pieces and between the selvedge and the first piece I cut.  Depending on how the fabric is cut off the bolt, I may get fabric waste at the bottom of each piece too.  This approach definitely uses a good deal more fabric than the required amount, so be generous when estimating the amount required.

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I hope this helps you to work out your actual fabric yardage requirements when buying (or stash-raiding) for your next bag, but if you have any questions, leave me a note in the comments.

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