6 Reading the adventures of Formerprincess in searching out fabrics for her quilt has caused me to think about the process of buying fabric.

For me, it is quite different from the process of buying yarn. When I buy yarn, I think to myself, “I want to make X.” I calculate how much yarn of what type I will need, shop around at the available places, and buy the stuff that meets my need at a reasonable price. When I finish that project, I repeat the process.

I realize that many knitters — as well as many apparent yarn collecters who buy lots and lots of yarn and rarely actually knit anything with it — have a completely different approach to yarn buying, but this is mine.

Fabric, for me, is different.

I used to buy fabric for quiltmaking. Sometimes that means you have thought of a quilt you want to make so you go buy all the fabric, but just as often it means that you have found fabric you love, so you buy some and then think of a quilt you can make with it. In fact, quilt shops sell fat quarters for a dollar or two, so you can buy one or two at a time and amass a collection, adding them to your rag bag so they will be there for that moment when you need a particular shade or visual texture.

But when I took up dressmaking again last year after a hiatus of some years, I had to think of fabric in a different way.

(I am not saying that I don’t quilt any more, of course. I have two WIPs and the fabric and plan for two more, though, so I won’t be buying any quilting fabric in the foreseeable future. Unless it’s a fat quarter in a quilt shop while traveling. Which I also won’t be doing in the foreseeable future. But we all know that fat quarters bought while traveling don’t count.)

I have three more pieces to make in my SWAP Part II. Naturally, this means that I have begun thinking ahead to 6 SWAP Part III.

I had to, because I found this print.

The rule for SWAPs is to begin with a print that contains the two main colors of the SWAP. These colors are to be a neutral and a “fashion color” that you can wear as frequently as you would a neutral. For me, these were gray and burgundy. You carry your print around to fabric stores with you and pull the solids that are in the print. You then add a contrast color (blue, for me) and sew up your 11 pieces in these colors.

For the second stage of the SWAP, you make your contrast color the #2 color in the plan, and add a new contrast color or two (I added green and plum). For the third stage, you make the contrast color from the second stage the new #2 color, and add another contrast, while still making sure that your new pieces all work with one another, and with at least three pieces from your previous SWAPs. I’m using my favorite green, so my Sophie bag from a couple of years ago will go with it.

So when I saw this print, a lovely rayon challis in burgundy and sage green with gray, I obviously had to buy it.

It comes from Candlelight Valley Fabrics. I happened upon the link over at a sewing blog, and idly clicked on it. Having had a terrible time finding prints that followed the rules for my first two SWAPs, I knew that I couldn’t fool around in this case for fear of its selling out, so I snapped it up. At full price. $12 a yard.

Now, I am not a bargain shopper, exactly. I agree with the maxim that you should buy the best materials for your crafts that you can afford. You are putting time and skill into your work, so it does not make sense that you should use shoddy materials and end up with something of poor quality. At my rate of output (in a year, I can expect to make 2 or 3 sweaters, one quilt, and a couple dozen sewn things), I could routinely spend $12 a yard and $6 a skein and still it would be cheaper than, say, smoking or golfing or many other hobbies. I also know that a ready-made skirt in such a fabric would never be available at under $25, so if looked at as part of the clothing budget rather than the entertainment budget, it is still a reasonable price.

But fabric is one of the many things that goes on sale all the time. The phenomenon of sales and discounts has skewed the whole notion of value for money, so that we now have to consider that the price might be completely different if we wait a week or two. So, even though the fabrics that I like — natural fibers or microfibers in 6complex colors — typically retail at $10 to $30 a yard, I hardly ever pay that amount for them.

That also means that I can’t, since I want to have these bargains, just go buy all the fabrics together in a civilized fashion.

No. I haunt the clearance tables and check the online discount fabric houses. When I see a good quality fabric at a low price — in my SWAP colors — I buy some. Palmer and Pletsch say “Don’t be a remnant queen.” They recommend bying your fabric eight yards at a time. Maybe I will work up to that. But I know that three yards will do any pants, skirt, blouse, or jacket, and five yards will do any suit or dress, so those are my magic numbers for yardage.

Here you can see the fabrics for my SWAP Part III. From left to right, here are their histories:

  • Blue-green wool bought in summer from the winter-fabric clearance table, $2 a yard.
  • Gray, green, and burgundy wool, watched until it went on sale and then bought at $5 a yard.
  • The perfect print, bought at full price, not taking any chances.
  • The coordinating Ralph Lauren jersey, ditto. Listen, there’s no way you can pay shipping on one cut of fabric. You have to buy two. $6.95 a yard.
  • Gray microfiber from last year’s Memorial Day sale, $3 a yard.
  • Navy blue linen from the clearance table (it seems to me it was the summer fabric, last fall), $2 a yard.
  • Khaki twill from an online discount fabric place, $1.99 a yard.

With any luck, by the time I am ready to begin sewing, I will have picked up the remaining needed fabrics at equally good prices.

Today I will be up at the store again. We are getting busy, but everyone is still cheerful. This is a nice time of year to be in retail. However, we are also being asked every day about more summer workshops, and I am having to explain that we don’t have any scheduled. That was probably an error. It would probably be more profitable to have me continue doing workshops than to have me on the floor all day.

Oh, well.