How to shop the fabric market.
Color and Design
You must let the supplier know if you are looking for solid color fabrics or a design, such as a yarn-dye, print or jacquard. Solid-color fabrics are woven, knitted or dyed in an array of colors. Yarn-dyes are woven or knitted patterns in color-ways (such as stripes and plaids), prints are printed in color-ways as well, and may be printed by screen-print, rotary, digitally, or heat transfer. Jacquards patterns (a.k.a. brocades) are yarn-dyed woven designs where the pattern reverses on the opposite side of the fabric. All yarn-dyed and printed designs are classified by type/category of design, i.e.: stripe, paisley, floral, geometric, animal-print, etc.
With solid colors, if the goods are in-stock, the supplier will advise the colors available. You must pick from those. You can ask to see (or be sent swatches) as every red is slightly different. If the goods are being dyed in to match your own color palette, then you provide a color standard (swatch) to the supplier, and they will dye a few small swatches in which you can decide which best matches your standard. These small approval swatches are called lab-dips. You should compare the lab-dips to your color standard under at least two different light sources, i.e.: fluorescent, incandescent, natural. This insures your color is perfect no matter what lighting your customer wears the finished style.
With yarn-dye patterns and print designs, you let the supplier know the print category and color way you are looking for and the y will show you (or send) the patterns they have in-stock. If you have a custom print or pattern created, then you provide artwork (a sample of the design) to the supplier, and they will print or weave a swatch in which you comment and/or approve. The approval swatch is called a strike-off.
It is important to note here that custom solids colors and yarn-dye or printed designs often have minimums that are much higher than what you need at this point, i.e.: 1,000-3,000 yards per color or design. So, at this stage of your business, you will probably find yourself selecting from in-stock color and open-line designs and patterns. Converters have already dyed up large quantities in proven colors, along with a few fashion trend colors for you to choose from, and they may have printed or woven up goods in basic and fashion designs. These will be the colors and designs you in which you can select. Be careful when selecting, if a supplier does not have the shade or shades you originally had in mind, look further. There are plenty of suppliers to contact. When selecting in-stock colors, when in doubt- choose from the proven, basic colors, as often, the fashion colors set by the mills are short-term (a.k.a. trendy) colors, and therefore are riskier.
Lastly, if you require a custom color, color-way or design, and need only a small amount of yardage, you can occasionally find a supplier that will dye or print a smaller order that their standard minimum, however there will certainly be a surcharge for this service, so be prepared to pay more, and perhaps, quite a bit more. And, if a supplier is willing to do a customer color or design, do remember that custom work lengthens the leadtime and you must allow time to have approve lab-dips or strike-offs made, shipped and approved, on top of the company dyeing or printing or weaving or knitting your production order.
Know the fabric weight you are looking when you email or call suppliers. Fabric weight is another way in which fabrics are classified. Fabric weights are measured in different ways. Generally, the fabric weight is measured by weighing a standardized width of a yard or meter on a scale. Fabric weights are also occasionally determined by weighing square yards of a quality, or by weighing yards per one pound. The weight of the one-yard or meter is recorded in ounces or grams and the fabric is then classified by its weight. The weight of textiles is measured in ounces in the U.S. and in Asia, and is measured in grams in Europe. When it comes to fabric weight, the higher the number, the heavier the fabric. Therefore a light-weight fabric may be 4-ounces, and 8 ounces would be a medium-weight fabric, and 12-ounce and above would be considered a heavy-weight fabric. At time fabric weights are classifies by their end use. For instance: You might hear a 4-ounce fabric called a blouse-weight or light-weight;
And that medium-weight fabric the weighs 8 ounces/yard might also be referred to a dress-weight or a trouser-weight; And you will hear pant-weight, coating-weight, upholstery-weight, etc for heavy-weight goods that are greater than 12-ounces.
When you contact salespeople, you can state the fabric weight as a numerical weight. For example, if you are searching for denim, you may ask for a 12-ounce, 14-ounce, or 16-ounce denim. But it is also acceptable to simply say that you are looking for a light-, medium-, or heavy-weight fabric, or that you are looking for a top-, or bottom-, or coating-weight. This “vague” weight reference is quite common. The weight of fabric you choose does affect the garment you make out of that fabric. A heavy denim will be very stiff and weighty for a shirt that must be tucked in and have the sleeves rolled up. The really best way to learn weight is ask a supplier (or pop into a fabric store) and feel several fabrics of varying weights. Hold them in your hand, feel each and squeeze it. Feel the weight in your hands. Try that with ten or more different fabrics – knowing each weight. Then, randomly touch a few other fabrics and guess their weights. Within a few tries, you should be a champ and be able to guess the weight every time.
Fabric width refers to the measurement straight across the fabric, perpendicular from one selvage to the other selvage, not including the selvages. That is the way to measure fabric width for flat goods. (a.k.a. fabric with two selvages). Most fabrics are flat, so we rarely use the term- but some knit fabrics are knitted on a circular knitting loom, and are called circular goods. Circular goods come off loom as a large tube. The width of circular goods is the circumference of the tube- or the width of the flattened tube doubled.
Fabric widths vary. The traditional widths are: 36”/90cm, 45”/115cm, 60”/150cm, 72”/180cm or 120”/300cm. Occasionally you may even find goods in 27”/70cm, 39”/100cm, 54”/140cm, or 66”/165cm. The actual width of fabric can vary up to one-half inch or more depending on where you measure it along the goods. Therefore you will find that widths are often quoted in two numbers to allow for the variance, i.e.: 35”/36” or 58”/60”. Fabrics manufactured in the U.S. & Asia are measured in inches, while fabrics from Europe and elsewhere are measured in centimeters. The wider the goods the better utilization you get, and the less you will need of it per garment. For apparel, 60” wide goods are the most desirable for cost-effectiveness. wider fabrics are generally used for home furnishings.
As soon as you find a fabric you like, you need to know its width so you can figure out fabric yield. Fabric yield is how much fabric you need per style. You will need more yards of a 36” wide fabric per shirt, than you would need to make the same shirt in 60” wide fabric, but you pay more for 60” wide fabric. Generally the designer or manufacturer does not dictate the fabric width, unless they are remaking a style that has an existing pattern marker for a particular width, and they do not want to take time or money on creating a new pattern marker. In that case, it is best for a company to source fabric at the same width.
The end-use is what specific type of style category you will be using the fabric to produce, as well as the market in which it will be selling. A supplier will ask for the end use, or they may ask, “What are you using this for?”. When you advise the end use, the salesperson knows what types of fabric to guide you to. For instance, if you are making sleepwear for children, they know to pull fire-retardant fabrics for you, as that is required by law. Another example would be you want to design play clothes for the toddler market. That end-use lets the supplier you need a durable fabric to withstand for running, climbing and falling. Is an infant christening gown or suit, or a graduation gown, your end-use? If so, the supplier comprehends that the fabric will be used for a one-time use garment and launderability and rewear may not be your priority.
When a salesperson knows the market you are cater to, he or she can direct you to fabrics proven in that market. This is especially important when a company is making children’s apparel or home fashion styles, where there are laws and codes applied to the fabrics used for these markets. Your salespeople, once you develop a relationship with them, will become an invaluable source of information, as they speak to many other individuals like yourselves, and have the knowledge and ability to advise you on other fabrics that are popular with your end market.
Launderability and Compatibility
You do not need to advise a salesperson launderability preferences. Once you select a fabric you can ask them the care instructions. They may tell you, but often they will advise that you should test the fabric. To test fabric for launderability and shrinkage, you can simply throw it in the washer and dryer and see what happens. However, launderability and compatibility are important if you have a certain trim, notion, or embellishment that is going on the style, regardless of fabric. In that case if you have heavy embroidery, then you need a fabric that can hold up and not pucker when embroidered. Or if you know a certain fusible with go inside the collar, placket and cuffs of a shirt- you need fabric that can withstand the heat needed to apply the fusible. This is something to keep in your mind when sourcing fabrics. If you know the trims and treatments you will be adding to the fabric, you want a quality that will match those trims and embellishments. Also, if you only want to sell a machine-washable line, then you must ask for fabrics that do not need to be dry-cleaned.