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Sewing 101: How To Read A Fabric Bolt

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When you walk into a fabric store, you'll notice that most fabric is wrapped around cardboard bolts that stand upright on shelves. What you may not notice is that at the end each bolt is a label that provides important information about the fabric. If you want 100% cotton, read the label so you don't accidentally come home with a poly-cotton blend. But, there's a lot more good information on that little label...

Today, I'm looking for a cheery yellow fabric I can use to make an ottoman cover. The one with the pink and yellow dots caught my eye:

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Fabric on the Bolt

Before I ask someone to cut 2 yards for me, I want to know if this fabric is suitable for my project. The label on the end of the bolt (shown below) answers that question.

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Really Important Information

  • Width: 44/45" (115cm)
  • Content: 100% Cotton
  • Care : Machine wash cool. Tumble dry low. Not suitable for children's sleepware.
  • Price per yard: $9.99

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Less Important, But Good to Know

  • Manufacturer: Westminster Fibers, Inc.
  • Brand: Rowan Fabrics
  • Fabric Designer: Amy Butler
  • Fabric Line: Midwest Modern
  • Design : Martini
  • Color: Gold (AB26)
  • Fabric on a full bolt : 15 yards (13.71m)

Since I'm not making children's sleepware, this fabric will work well. And, from reading the label, I know the fabric I chose is part of Amy Butler's Midwest Modern line. Sometime in the future, I plan to make several pillows for the same room and will look to this line for complementary fabrics.

Rolled Fabric

You're also likely to see fabric hanging horizontally from wooden dowels. These rolls are usually wider fabrics – often drapery and upholstery fabrics. In this case, look for a hang tag for fabric information.

Refer to Your Pattern

If you're using a purchased project pattern, you'll find information on the pattern envelope that tells you how much fabric to buy based on the width of the fabric. Most patterns also suggest the type of fabric that will work best for that particular pattern. By reading the label on the bolt, you'll know if the fabric you like is a reasonable choice.


Comments (37)

Cindy said:
Cindy's picture

I recently read the appropriate threads per inch for quilting fabric but I do not see where it indicates that on the bolt information.

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Cindy - I've never seen thread count on a fabric bolt. If you stick with Designer quilting cottons from the major manufacturers (Moda, FreeSpirit, Rowan, Michael Miller, Riley Blake, etc.), you can be assured they are top quality and designed for quilting success.

Diana Schleicher said:
Diana Schleicher's picture

I bought a Moda once (Christmas fabric) and it shrunk 1 1/2 inches (fat qurter) I was working in a quilt shop at the time, and was pretty astounded, to say the least! So I say be careful of seasonal fabrics. They may not be printed on good fabric.

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Diana - Gosh - I've not ever heard of that kind of shrinkage. I believe the seasonal prints are on the same substrates as the regular collections. But, we appreciate the note.

tru leigh said:
tru leigh's picture

Just a note on children's sleepware.

There was a law that went into effect many years ago saying children's sleepwear had to be flame retardant. (This after a little girl's flannel nightgown got to close to the fireplace, killing her). That is why most children's sleepware is polyester.

You can make children's sleepware out of anything you want. It's up to you whether you want to or not.


Jean Taylor said:
Jean Taylor's picture

polyster is plastic all it does is melt it can still catch fire and melt to your skin, which is worst , only flame retarded fabrics are recommended for children wear...

ayThe gambia said:
ayThe gambia's picture
Thanks for the info. will be on the look out at my local fabric store.

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture
@ AngelicaSews - we would go with the bolt. We looked up that fabric in a couple of places and many said dry cleaning recommended. However, it the bolt says cold wash okay - it is most likely to be okay. Was there any additional mention of dry-cleaning on the bolt? Now... the only caveat to this recommendation: you would want to be SURE the fabric was on its original bolt. I have seen stores re-use them. If you are sure it was on its original bolt, we would follow the bolt.
AngelicaSews said:
AngelicaSews's picture
In the days of online shopping bolt-reading seems to be a waning skill. And sometimes you encounter the problem that you look at something online and it contradicts what the bolt says. I just bought Swavelle/Mill Creek Norwalk Sienna (screen print) at my local fabric store (Fabricland) and the bolt said to machine wash cold/tumble dry low. Fabric.com says dry clean only. In this case, which do you think is right? I'm thinking the bolt, but I bought 17 yards (for a variety of projects) and I would hate to get it wrong. Suggestions please!
Avon40plus said:
Avon40plus's picture
Thank you for this information. I've also wondered what the symbols on the salvage means.
Bunny said:
Bunny's picture
Every two folds on one side of the bolt is a yard. Count just one side and you have the yardage for the entire bolt.
alicia.thommas said:
alicia.thommas's picture
Alsewgiro, I agree that the price stickers can get in the way, but I guess I've been lucky not to have seen fabric rewrapped around random bolts. Most fabric chains use the barcode on the label for price and inventory control. I'm curious if others have seen this as a problem...
Alsewgirl said:
Alsewgirl's picture
All this is good information but if the fabric has been re-rolled on another cardboard bolt OR has tags stuck all over it and you can't read it there is NO information available. That is what irks me most about the big chain stores....There are Federal Regulations that require readable labeling!
suanne said:
suanne's picture
thank you that info is greatly appreciated i sew alot and never could make head nor tail of all that info
RobynK said:
RobynK's picture
I have some Robert Kaufman fabric that was made in Japan and it's very good quality.
alicia.thommas said:
alicia.thommas's picture
Lopingslow, The color dots on the selvedge show the colors used in the fabric. There is also a line that marks the repeat of a print on the fabric.
Mama Jude said:
Mama Jude's picture
Tatyana - don't be embarrassed to ask questions in ANY fabric store. The more you learn & enjoy, the more you'll buy & they know it. In this economy every merchant is grateful for old and NEW customers. However, when you have a question, I will advise you to first inquire if the clerk actually sews. I've encountered some clerks who know nothing except how to measure & cut. "Gray hair" usually works!smilies/smiley.gif
MaryJB said:
MaryJB's picture
re 'made in US' fabric -- connectingthreads.com only sells fabric made in the US. It is specifically made for them. I presonally have been extremely happy with my purchases from them.
Paula dd said:
Paula dd's picture

I have purchased fabric from connecting threads also and I too have been very pleased with their fabric! It seems to be good quality and very well priced!

BeagleMom said:
BeagleMom's picture
I agree with the first comment made. Not much is made in USA. I'd even bet the Amy Butler fabric was printed overseas. It's like the old saying 'BUYER BEWARE'. Unless a sewer is experienced in judging fabric quality, stick to a reputable quilt shop and name brand fabric for your purchases.

And not all name brands are the same. VIP/Cranston shrinks more one way (warp or weft) than the other.

In any event, I've been sewing since I was a teenager and bolt labels also once told you the weight of a fabric.
Lopingslow said:
Lopingslow's picture
I'm having a senior moment and can't remember what the dots on the selvage are for.
Kathy R said:
Kathy R's picture

those are dye lots. Those colors should match other colors from the same fabric line.

Finley said:
Finley's picture
Most fabric is now manufacutered in China or Korea and has been for quite some time. Batiks are made in Indonesia. Good luck trying to find "made in America". A noble idea but it will likely be futile. There are not that many fabric mills, if any, in America.
MaryAnne Hoffman said:
MaryAnne Hoffman's picture
It's always good to have a little "refresher" course. It was an aha moment when I was told long ago about the dots of color in the selvage. Thanks for reminding us about the info on the bolt itself. smilies/smiley.gif
Anna @ home said:
Anna @ home's picture
There is information about the land of origine. On the first picture, half under the price tag it says: korea.

Probably on the second picture the land or origine would be completly under the price.

DJD said:
DJD's picture
I agree with the comment about the manufacturer. I am on a "don't buy from that country" if I don't have to. That goes for fabric too. The quality isn't good enough for me.
Aida C.J. said:
Aida C.J.'s picture
I also look where the fabric is manufactured. This information should be included on the labels. Knowing where the fabric came from helps me decide whether or not the fabric is worth the price.
Lois Grebowski said:
Lois Grebowski's picture
Ooh, It's amazing how much I've forgotten since I first learned that in High school (30+yrs). thanks for the refresher course! Hmmm... maybe I should go out and read a label or two today at the nearby fabric store. smilies/cheesy.gif
Barbie lady said:
Barbie lady's picture
Also helpful to know...each fold on the bolt is approximately 1/4 yard and 4 of them equals a yard. -- Good info to know if you need a large amount of yardage prior to arriving at the cutting table.
Karen S-Z said:
Karen S-Z's picture
I also found it helpful when I realized the little color dots along the fabric edge indicated all the colors used in the fabric...it makes finding a coordinating fabric from another line so much easier. Thanks for all your helpful information.
LadySorrow said:
LadySorrow's picture
I haven't sewn in over 20 years but I'm excited to take up the craft once more. Thank you for sharing this information!
Tatyana said:
Tatyana's picture
As a sewing newbie, I've always felt a little lost doing this in large fabric stores. And since I figure it's something everyone should know, I am always too embarrassed to ask.

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