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How to Read a Fabric Bolt

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When you walk into a fabric store, you'll notice most fabric is wrapped around cardboard bolts that stand upright on shelves or racks. 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 vintage style cotton fabric I can use to make a set of casual table linens. A classic red gingham caught my eye.

Fabric on the Bolt

Before I ask someone to cut two 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.

Really Important Information

  • Width: 44/45" (115cm)
  • Content: 100% Cotton
  • Price per yard: $13.49

Less Important, But Good to Know

  • Manufacturer: Moda Fabrics 
  • Point of Manufacture: Korea
  • Fabric Designer: Fig Tree Quilts
  • Fabric Line: Strawberry Fields Revisited
  • Fabric Item Number: 20263 (sometimes there will also be a fabric name)
  • Color: Red (11)
  • Fabric on a full bolt: 15 yards (13.71m)

Taking all this information into account, I now know this particular fabric will work well for my project. And, from reading the label, I know the fabric I chose is part of the Strawberry Fields Revisited collection. If I decide to mix in some additional fabrics with my main gingham, I know the colors and patterns from this collection will go well together. 

Are they all identical?

The look of bolt ends vary by manufacturer and some have less information than others. But the basics are always there: Width, Content, and Price. As shown above on the Rowan Fabrics bolt label, many manufacturers will also include basic fabric care facts, another handy bit of advice.

For most projects, the basic facts listed are what you need to make an informed decision. Below was a selection of linen blends I spotted, which woud be wonderful for a little bag we're considering. I can tell the fabric content is 70% cotton and 30% linen. This blend is what gives the fabric more heft and texture. Perfect!

Rolled Fabric

In some larger stores, you're also likely to see fabric hanging horizontally from wooden dowels. These rolls are usually wider (54"+) home décor options, such as drapery and upholstery fabrics. In this case, look for a hang tag with the important 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. We also have a basic fabric width conversion chart online.

Most patterns also suggest the type of fabric that will work best for that particular pattern. Here at Sew4Home, our projects always list how much fabric is required along with the exact type of fabric we used and so recommend as the best option for optimum results.

By reading the label on the bolt, you'll know if the fabric you like is a reasonable choice for your next project.


Comments (22)

LadyL said:
LadyL's picture

i purchased apinking blade for an extra rotary cutter and pink the cut ends do the fabric. This way, when I see a pinked edge, I know it has been pre washed. But if you buy really good fabric, it really doesn't need prewashing before patchwork squares are made.  The finished quilt looks sharper, and the shrinkage is minimal. 

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

@LadyL - thanks for your tip! Regarding pre-washing and quilting - many quilters feel just as you do. But since we deal in all kinds of projects, we tend to lean towards the pre-wash-first camp 

MARY said:
MARY 's picture

Decades ago in HomeEc class the instructor had us take a hand-ful of fabric, hold it in closed hand for a minute or so then quickly rub it together to what it really felt like (wrinkles and how much sizing it had)

Therese said:
Therese 's picture

I bought a100% cotton novelty print from a well known fabric manufacturer at their going out of business sale. My mistake? I didn't feel a single layer of the fabric to see if it had a good "hand." When the fabric is folded double on the bolt, it usually feels well sized and one tends to assume (at least I did) that it will hold up well.

At home, the fabric was limp and loosely woven.Washing, drying, applying spray sizing and ironing helped a little but I know it won 't last..

Memo to self: Always feel a single layer of the fabric and make sure it's tightly woven!

Karen W said:
Karen W's picture

Another tip for coordinating fabrics is the selvage edges sometimes have those little color dots -- I use those to match other fabrics and threads.  The home dec fabrics that come on a roll often have small swatches you can take with you & sometimes extra printings of the fabric info; most places give them away for free.  My own personal preference about pre-washing is that I rarely find the need to - unless it's super important to eliminate shrinkage.  I like the "vintage" look of a slightly crinkled quilt.  Yes, I know it's a choice you have to make for yourself.  I DO wash fabrics intended for children/babies & the sick/elderly. 

PugMom Sews said:
PugMom Sews's picture

I always snap a picture of the end of the bolt or tag so that I can refer back to the information if I need too.

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

@PugMom Sews - someone else had mentioned this too -- it's a great idea.

Susan GB said:
Susan GB's picture

When I take my 4-H students to the store to choose fabric, I always tell them if it says dry clean only on the bolt end, it really means "You can't have this. Put it back."

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

@ Susan GB - That's hysterical, and probably good advice when they're starting out. Then... they get to learn the work-arounds, right? 

Coastal Sewist said:
Coastal Sewist's picture

Great info for newbies and as a refresher - thank you! A tip I can add, is that I take a photo of the info on the end of the bolt, for all of the fabric that I buy. I do this by setting the bolt in my shopping cart for those stores that have them, or by setting it on top of a shelf or other bolts or what-have-you (and will clarify that I never set bolts on the floor). Thanks again!

flygirl_j3 said:
flygirl_j3's picture

I always serge the cut, raw edges together, so I have a huge tube.  It doesn't knot and twist up when you wash or dry and let's me know that if it's serged, it's washed!

Have fun!

Barbara Jean said:
Barbara Jean's picture

Is there a web-site that would tell me what the current "fashion" colors are?  I do not want to go to fabric stores, clothing stores, etc., just to see what colors are hot.  I have some "dated" fabrics and want to mix them with new ones to brighten and update the project.  Thank you.

so4fun said:
so4fun's picture

Barbara Jean, I recommend that you just look at sites like sew4home and their partner sites.  Moda, fabric depot and fabric.com all have such pretty fabrics that you can use with some of the fabrics you have on hand.  And today's article on sew4home gives good information about choosing the right fabrics for your project.  If you know the fabric content of what you have, you can match it to some of the new things you find.  Your fabrics are "vintage", so they can't really be out of style!  Happy sewing!

Betty J. said:
Betty J.'s picture

Caroline from France:  If you ciagonally cut the corners of the fabric and then wash it, there should be no fraying or very little.  It has always worked for me.  Good luck.

Caroline from France said:
Caroline from France's picture

I wonder if anyone has a tip for me?

We're always told that we should pre-wash fabric we buy to avoid shrinkage on the finished, sewn article. That's sensible. But the annoying thing that has happened to me in the past is that the cut edges fray like mad in the machine and I have ended up with straggly bits on both ends of the fabric, to say nothing of the machine being full of bits of thread that then stick themselves like glue onto the items in the next wash!

Is the only answer to overcast the cut edges before putting the fabric in the wash, or is there an easier and quicker way?