1) Take advantage of search categories
If you’re not careful, browsing online fabric shops can suck up a significant part of your lifetime – mmm… so much pretty fabric to look at… But take a moment to work out what sort of thing you’re looking for, use the search categories, and it could take only take five minutes. For example, I usually just look under categories such as ‘red’, ‘Nani Iro’, ‘stripes’ and ‘kittens’, natch. Work out your own favourite categories and it’ll be speedier than scrolling through every option online, and certainly much more chillaxed than walking the aisles in an IRL store.
2) Request swatches
The biggest thing you miss when shopping online is the chance to touch the fabric and get a sense of qualities such as texture, thickness and drape. Moreover, colours often look different on a computer screen to real life, and online photos don't always provide an idea of scale of print. So before you order five metres of that eye-catching lobster lawn, it’s a really good idea to request a sample first. Many shops are happy to send out a few swatches either for free or a small admin charge (just don’t abuse your sampling privileges!). Some also have a "swatch club" where you are sent a whole booklet of swatches for an annual fee. If you’re not too hot on your different fabric types, I highly recommend Fabric for Fashion: The Swatch Book as an invaluable online shopping companion.
3) Check the width
Before placing your order, don’t forget to check the width of the roll to make sure you’re buying enough fabric for your project. Some fabric shops are targeting quilters in particular, so often you’ll see options to buy “fat quarters”. Don’t let this put you off – if you buy four fat quarters, that will usually mean you get 1 metre / yard of fabric as a continuous piece, but do check first whether it's a metric or imperial quarter.
4) Keep an inspiration board
If you see a print you adore but know you can’t buy it straight away, pin it to a Pinterest board or bookmark it for later. That way next time you need some new fabric, you can begin by looking at your favourites first rather than starting from scratch. Beware though – often I’ve found that a few hours after I’ve pinned a fabric I like the look of, it’s done the rounds on Pinterest and sold out – doh!
5) If in doubt, ask!
Not sure if that linen will work for your dressmaking project? On the hunt for that elusive lobster print? Want to find a lining to match? The internet can look faceless at first glance, but don't forget that behind that website there's a person or team who are passionate about fabric and excited to help their customers. If you've got a query or a specific request, drop them a line and they'll usually be more than happy to help.
So those are my tips. As for where to shop, some of my favourites are featured in the right hand column of this blog. If you feel like a splurge, now's the time to do it as my sponsors are currently offering you the following rather lovely discounts:
Dragonfly Fabrics - 15% off until 1st October 2013 - enter code "TILLY" at checkout
Elephant in my Handbag - 10% discount off your first order, valid until further notice - enter code "Tilly" at checkout
Fondant Fabrics - 10% discount until the end of August - enter code "Tilly" at checkout
Fabric Godmother - 15% off all full price fabrics until the end of September, and the first 10 orders will get a surprise gift! - enter code "TILLY15" at checkout
Fabric HQ - 15% off until the end of August - enter code "Tilly" at checkout
Minerva Crafts - 10% off orders, valid for 6 months, can be used once per customer - enter code "TILLY10" at checkout
Plush Addict - 15% off all non-sale cottons prints until the end of August - enter code "Tilly" at checkout
Sewbox - 10% off Hot Patterns for the month of August - enter code "HOT TILLY" at checkout (no I didn't choose that code myself!)
Do you have online fabric shopping tips of your own to share?
Fabrics shown in these photos are from various sources including Ray Stitch