It is important when getting started on your sewing journey, to choose the right fabrics. I’m going to be honest…there are some fabrics that are NOT beginner friendly. Shoot, there are fabrics that are not expert friendly!
I want you to be successful and have fun creating and choosing beginner fabrics are important to the success of your first projects. Let's walk through the best types of fabrics for beginner's to work with.
I will share what I have learned about fabrics I use frequently, and provide some pointers to save you some frustration!
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Fabric is one of your tools, pick the right one!
I have learned over the course of my sewing journey, that you need to use the right tools to be successful. And guess what, fabric is a tool! If you choose the wrong fabric for a project, it will not turn out well. Believe me, I've made those mistakes.
I recommend choosing one of the beginner fabrics reviewed here, for your first few projects. This will help ensure that you have a positive experience with an end-product you are proud of!
First, let's review some basic fabric terms you should know and understand.
Natural vs Man Made
Fabrics are created with either natural fibers, man made fibers, or a combination of the two.
Common natural fibers:
Common man made fibers:
Woven, Non-woven, Knits
Woven fabrics are comprised of vertical and horizontal yarns which interface to form fabric. These fabrics will unravel when cut and require cut edges to be "finished".
Non-woven fabrics are entire pieces of fabric that are dyed after construction.
Knits are made with interlocking loops of yarn that form fabric.
The most common fabrics I use are:
- quilting cotton
- terry cloth
- home décor
Let's review each category and the tips and tricks that will help you be successful.
- Width: 44/45 inches, most commonly
- Uses: clothing, quilting, bags, home goods & decor, bedding, etc.
This fabric is relatively “all-purpose” in the sewing world. It is a very versatile choice upon which to build your fabric stash. Cotton is versatile, inexpensive, quite popular and a great beginner fabric.
Traditionally, this fabric comes in 44/45 inch widths, but are also available in wider cuts. They are also available in 100% cotton or cotton blends. I prefer 100% organic cotton personally, whenever possible (and not totally cost prohibitive!).
To pre-wash or not? It depends on the project...
Personally, I prewash and shrink my cottons with one exception. I do not always preshrink cottons when making quilts, depending on the end result I am looking for.
If you do not preshrink, your quilt will likely shrink and “wrinkle up” more after washing. This gives the end product a lived-in, rustic look and feel. That is my jam….I love a wrinkled up, well worn quilt! However, that may not be your personal preference. If you like a more crisp formal quilt, then it might be best to preshrink. Play around doing both and you'll find what works best for you!
Cottons: A good choice for beginners
Cottons are easy to wash, cut, and work with. They also tolerate high heat and steam from your iron. In addition to quilting, they can be used for all kinds of personal and home projects; scrunchies, pillowcases, pillows, bags, some curtains, table runners, cushions, bowl cozies, zippered pouches, etc.
You get the idea, they are versatile.
I can’t resist buying a beautiful cotton if it's on sale. That's why I have a basement FULL of fabric. My children remind me every time I venture to the fabric store, that I don’t need more fabric.
It’s an addiction….and I’m aware...
Build up your "stash" with cottons and practice!
This is a good beginner fabric. Most of the beginner sewing tutorials on this site, use cotton for this reason. It is also an economical choice. Check out the remnant or clearance section at your local fabric store, and you will find a variety of cheap cottons. These are great to experiment and learn with.
It is always a good idea to practice and become comfortable with your machine before starting your first project. I recommend you use cotton or cotton blends for that purpose.
Here are some of my favorite sources for quilting cottons:
- Easy care cotton or cotton/poly blends
- Highly absorbent
- Cut edges shed...
- Width: 44/45 or 58/60 inches
- Uses: toweling, robes, swimsuit cover-ups, etc.
Terry cloth is a woven fabric with long loops that absorb large amounts of water. This fabric is used most commonly in “bathroom” applications, creating items like towels, hair wraps, swim suit cover-ups and robes. Terry cloth traditionally comes in 44/45 and/or 58/60 inches wide.
Weight = ounces per yard
This fabric is often described by weight (ounces per yard), with heavier weights being thicker, more absorbent and more expensive. Typically offered in 10 oz to 21 oz weights and priced accordingly.
Terry cloth is relatively easy to work with and a good beginner fabric. It tends to shift more than cotton, when sewn. I recommend using a fair amount of pins or clips, to hold it in place.
As a result of it being a woven fabric, it can snag and develop runs. This is relatively common. I recommend thoroughly checking the bolt before buying a cut piece. Also, treat terry with care around sharp or jagged objects. Terry cloth also tends to shed when cut, also a result of it being woven.
It is important to prewash terry cloth as it will shrink a fair amount with a high heat wash and dry. I tend to wash my towels with hot water and dry thoroughly, so I do the same when prewashing.
This is a good general rule, prewash your fabric the way you plan to wash it after the project is complete.
- Breathable & Absorbent
- Durable, becomes softer with age
- Wrinkles easily
- Width: 50 to 65 inches
- Uses: bedding, drapery, home decor applications, table linens, clothing, etc.
My favorite….I LOVE linen! It has such a gorgeous texture after washing, and is very breathable and lightweight yet still substantial.
Linens are usually offered in 50 to 65 inch widths, but can vary widely. Always check the bolt. I recently started experimenting with linen-cotton blends in my quilts, and love the results! It does require some extra prep work and not all linens are created equal.
Prepare your linen!
You must prewash and preshrink linen because it will shrink significantly!
You want this to happen BEFORE you make your project…trust me! After washing, iron using high heat and a lot of steam to get it wrinkle free and ready to work with.
It is REALLY helpful to take the fabric directly out of the dryer and iron while it is still slightly damp. If it has time to cool, the wrinkles set and it takes a lot more work to press them out later.
If you don't mind wrinkles, linen is great!
After being prepared correctly, linen cuts, sews and washes beautifully. It is a good beginner fabric, if you know how to prepare it and understand how it will behave in your finished product. If it fits your needs, try it. I think you'll love it!
Just know that it will wrinkle with washing. If wrinkles upset you, it might not be a good choice for you...or the iron will become your friend.
Here are some of my favorite linen sources:
- 100% Polyester
- Does not fray
- Minimal stretch
- Walking foot very helpful!
- Width: 58 to 60 inches
- Uses: blankets, warm apparel.
Fleece is soft, fuzzy and warm! The standard width of most fleece is 58 to 60 inches, but it can come in cuts as wide as 85 inches.
Fleece is available in regular and anti-pill varieties. The anti-pill variety is higher quality and more expensive, but is resistant to pilling after repeated washes. I have worked with both varieties.
Fleece does not shrink and does not need to be prewashed. It is usually NOT a good idea to try to iron fleece, particularly with high heat, as it can melt. For the same reason, it is not a fabric that you want to make microwaveable items with….it can melt and maybe worse! Don’t do it!
Fleece can be a good beginner fabric, depending on the project. Always use a sufficient number of pins or clips when sewing fleece! You might need a lot. If you are blessed to have a walking foot, use it with fleece! It is a fabric that tends to shift around a fair amount when being sewn, so a walking foot helps prevent that from happening.
Fleece tends to shed when sewn, so clean your sewing machine after completing fleece projects. I guarantee you will find fuzz bunnies in your bobbin case!
Start small, go slow, use a lot of pins and a walking foot and you'll be good!
My almost exclusive fleece source:
Ultra-soft, Cuddle or Minky
- 100% Polyester
- Cut edges shed...
- Walking foot helpful!
- Width: 58 to 60 inches
- Uses: blankets, apparel
These fabrics are lovely! Silky, soft, smooth, and beautiful…..but a real pain in the butt to sew!
They tend to stretch a lot, making it quite challenging to cut and sew. A good sharp rotary blade (and an extra set of hands), can help you accomplish what you need. But it is often tricky.
Do not iron these fabrics! If you must, use a cool iron and not directly on the right side of the fabric!
It also shifts around A LOT when sewn, because it is slippery soft and stretchy. I definitely recommend you use a walking foot and proceed slowly. Pins and clips are your friends here!
Not a great beginner fabric...
The good news is that these fabrics do not shrink and do not need to be prewashed/shrunk. They come in widths of 58 to 60, like fleece.
I recommend saving this fabric for a few months down the road, after you have mastered working with cottons and fleece.
When ready to give these fabrics a try, here are some tips:
- Use at least 1/2 inch seam allowance
- WALKING FOOT!!!
- Lengthen stitch length
- Use only 1 layer of minky (sewing more than 1 layer is challenging!)
- Clean your machine after...it sheds a lot!
- Buy 1/8 yard more than you think you need...it stretches quite a bit with cutting and sewing.
- Only use a cool iron, and avoid ironing directly on the minky.
My almost exclusive minky source:
Home Decor Fabrics
There is quite a bit of variety found within this category. In general, these fabrics are not meant to be laundered in a home washing machine and are often labeled “dry clean only”.
That is an absolute “no no” in my home. If it can't be washed, it can't be used in my house! I have laundered home décor weight fabrics with mixed results. Some weathered the washing machine well, others not so much...
Kids + dogs + life = dirt & stains!
I would recommend thinking carefully about your end product and if it will need to be laundered. I do not prewash fabric for drapery and curtain panels, since I typically do not launder them. I have been lucky that no “incidents” (dog vomit or poo, kid vomit or poo or blood of the dog or human variety) have impacted them. Hoping I didn't just jinx myself!
When creating home items that need to be laundered (throw pillows, table runners, etc.), I prewash and machine dry before creation. I almost always buy my small cuts of home decor fabrics in the remnant bins. If it does not launder well and results in unusable fabric, I am not devastated or financially ruined.
Know how to handle and care for your Home Decor Fabric choice...
In general, these fabrics have a nice weight and are relatively easy to sew. Some of them cannot handle heat and steam from an iron, so read the bolt and act accordingly.
It is hard to make a blanket recommendation on this category of fabrics, since there is a lot of variability in this group. Some are great beginner fabrics, others not so much. Research the fabric (read the bolt end), plan for your laundering needs and give it a try.
Depending on the weight of the fabric, it might be wise to use a specialty sewing machine needle and walking foot. See my post Sewing Machine Needles: What you Need to Know to learn more about these specialty options and when you should consider them for your project and fabric.
Some sources of home decor fabrics:
Fabrics not suited for beginners...
You will notice that I did not discuss or provide recommendations on multiple categories of fabrics including;
- faux fur
I have not worked with these fabrics enough to speak with authority on their use. My mom could speak to the difficulties of creating the amazing orange (yes, burnt orange) velvet homecoming dress for me in high school….but I cannot. I helped her 0%. She's a gem...
Find additional resources....and don't get discouraged!
These types of fabrics are best suited for experienced sewers, as they require specialty sewing machine needles, sometimes presser feet, and are more difficult to work with.
There are numerous amazing apparel designers and seamstresses who can speak with authority about sewing with these fabrics. I recommend seeking out additional resources if your heart is set on creating something with a fabric variety not reviewed in my list.
Mood Fabrics has a helpful Fabric Dictionary on their website, providing basic pros and cons based on fabric type. It might be a good starting point if you are interested in learning more about some of these fabrics.
By all means I am NOT trying to discourage anyone from trying something new! However, I know the frustration of an end product that does not turn out as you had hoped, and that is not what I want you to experience on your first few projects.
Master your basic skills with these beginner fabrics and then spread your wings and fly!
In summary, it is very important to choose the fabric for your first few sewing projects mindfully. In general, you can't go wrong with cottons. However, always check the pattern or tutorial for the project specific fabric recommendation as well.
Have fun and start experimenting!
Be kind & stay safe,