Learn how to calculate yardage and figure out how much fabric to buy for a project
Hey y’all, today I’m going to be answering another one of your sewing questions – how much fabric should I buy? In other words, y’all have been asking how to calculate fabric yardage for a project. And guess what? It’s actually pretty simple! So if you’ve dreamed up a new sewing project or the one you want to make doesn’t list yardage, you can figure it out on your own.
Note that throughout this post I refer to imperial, not metric, measurements. So if you use the metric system the process is the same but you’d want to convert or update the measurement examples I give to centimeters and meters.
Also, if you have sewing questions, try using the search feature in my menu to see if I’ve answered them. If I haven’t, you can submit your question in this form for consideration for a future post on the topic.
How Much Fabric To Buy
To show how to figure out how many yards a project will take, I made this short video that you can watch below or on YouTube here.
Note that in the video, the way I show the sleeve between the front and back forgot to take into account where the imaginary fabric would be folded. I wouldn’t actually be able to cut a sleeve that way.
In summary, fabric comes in two main widths, 44/45 inch wide and 58/60 inch wide. That means a yard of fabric that is 44/45 wide will be 44 inches wide on the cross grain by 36 inches (1 yard) long on the straight grain. There are fabrics that come in double width, for example you can find 108 inch wide quilt backing, but this isn’t what is on the majority of the bolts at the store. You need to know this width and what pattern you’re using to get yardage estimates.
Measure Your Pattern
To calculate yardage, first you need to know which pattern you’re going to use, and you need to make sure the seam allowances are included on it. Then you lay that pattern out in that fabric width (or half the width of the fabric if you plan to cut with the fabric folded). To make this easier you can tape out dimensions on the floor or table. When you fold 44 inch fabric you get 22 inches wide, and 58 width fabric folded is 29 inches wide. Below you can see an example taped on my floor.
After you lay out your pattern within the total width of your fabric, all you have to do is measure the total length you’re using. Then you can use the chart below to convert your measurement into yardage. Alternatively you can divide your measurement by 36 and round up to the nearest whole number or half number to get the amount.
Tips for Laying Out Your Pattern
- Keep grainlines in mind. This post has more about grainlines. A bias cut skirt will require more fabric than pants cut on the straight grain.
- Keep print direction in mind. This post talks about print matching. A directional print will require more fabric. Stripes and plaids will require slightly more fabric for matching.
- If you are working with a napped fabric, like velvet or fur, make sure all your pieces are laid out in the same direction to get the right amount of fabric.
- A good guideline is to add about 10% to your total yardage estimate to allow for shrinkage on most fabrics. This is why you should prewash fabric before sewing garments.
- For quilts, which are more geometric than clothing, you can look up a quilt calculator. Most have you input the number of rows or block size and total number of pieces to get yardage calculations
What if You Don’t Have a Pattern?
What if you’re doing upholstery and you don’t have a pattern to lay out? You’ll need to break the item down into a series of blocks for surfaces and add those amounts together. So for a sofa you’d measure the width and height of the back, and also the width and height of the backrest, the sides and over the arms, the seat, the front below the cushions, and the cushions and add all of those measurements together.
For cushions measure the width and depth, then add in the height by the circumference for the sides. Always err toward rounding up your numbers and think about which direction you’ll have to cut pieces. For example, you’ll likely have to cut cushion sides on the straight, lengthwise grain to avoid having to piece them together. Also remember extra yardage for things like cording.
How Wide are Common Types of Fabric?
Note that woven quilting cottons are generally 44/45 width. Stretch knits, apparel fabrics and upholstery fabric are generally 58/60 width, but always be sure to check the actual fabric you want to buy. Width always affects the calculation of how much fabric you’ll need for a project. Fabric width is either listed in the online description (and you can find my favorite places to buy fabric online here) or on the end of the actual bolt of fabric.