How to Read the Label on a Bolt of Fabric (and the 4 most important things to look for)

Have you ever bought a few yards of fabric, got it home and then totally forgot what the care instructions were? Yeah. Me too. All that important information is on the fabric bolt label.

Which is back at the store.

Or perhaps you are new to sewing, and want to know what all that stuff on the label means. Since the information is really important, here is how to read the label on a bolt of fabric.

Colorful fabric rolls

How to read the label on a bolt of fabric

Keep the fabric on the bolt

When fabric goes on sale, I usually buy in huge quantities – as in fill a shopping cart with bolts of fabric. (Yes, I am a fabric hoarder.) 

Sometimes I have an idea of what I will be making before I shop, but most times I let the sale fabric inspire my next projects.

If there is less than a full bolt and the price is right, I will have the cutter measure the fabric and put it back on the cardboard holder. This will make it easier to store in my studio, AND I will be able to keep the label associated with that fabric.

Snap a pic of the label at the end of the fabric bolt

When I don’t buy the last bit of fabric on the bolt, I snap a picture of the label with my iPhone. I make sure I get a little bit of the fabric into the frame so I can identify each fabric when I get home.

Photos are uploaded into my computer, renamed with the fabric, and kept in a folder for sewing projects.

Before I start a project, I always check the label to make sure the fabric is suitable for the garment I am going to make.

How to read the label on a bolt of fabric

A quick guide to reading the 4 most important pieces of information on the label

1. Width of Fabric – When it is on the bolt, the fabric is folded in half. This measurement is how wide the fabric is selvage to selvage (those nice, finished edges of the fabric that won’t unravel or fray) when laid out flat.

When the fabric is wound onto the bolt, it may be wound with the right OR wrong side facing out. Always be sure to look at both sides of the fabric! Sometimes I like the “wrong” side more than I like the “right” side.

How much yardage do you need?

If you are going to make something using a commercial pattern, check the back of the pattern envelope and locate the view that you want to make. If it is a garment that you are making, look for the column labeled with the size you are making. The fabric yardage that you need to buy will vary with the view, size and width of the fabric – so always check that you have the correct width before you have the fabric cut!

2. Country of Origin – where the fabric was made.

If you want to take a deep dive into that topic, here’s a link to the US Customs and Border Protection for Textile and Apparel Rules of Origin.

3. Fiber Content – is another important feature of the fabric that should match the recommendations on your pattern. For instance, you don’t want to get a woven cotton if the pattern calls for a stretch knit.

Another thing to keep in mind is what you will be making. A 100% linen pencil skirt will wrinkle when you wear it, but a linen blend won’t wrinkle as much.

4. Care Instructions – this is probably the most important information on the label. Again, keep in mind what you will be making and how you will care for the garment.

Also remember to wash & dry washable fabric (if it is washable) before cutting out your pattern. Yeah, I know. It’s a pain in the ass, but it has to be done.

If you don’t, you will end up like I did when I was just learning to sew at age 11.

I made a cute skirt from some cotton fabric, but didn’t pre-wash the fabric first. After the first washing I ended up with an adorable skirt….for an infant. Live and learn, right?

Hey, I made these mistakes so you don’t have to!

Hope this helps you during your next trip to the fabric store.

Happy sewing!

Click on the photo to read:

Colorful sewing supplies consisting of scissors, pins, needles, thread and thimble laid out on pink, orange and purple felt squares
How to make your own pattern weights with yarn and hex nuts
A guide to buying your first sewing machine
A woman looking at rolled bolts of fabric. Click to learn how to read the label on a bolt of fabric

2 thoughts on “How to Read the Label on a Bolt of Fabric (and the 4 most important things to look for)”

  1. At Hobby Lobby on the end of most fabric bolt cardboard holders there is a 3 digit number for weight of fabric. What does that stand for?

    • Honestly, I am not sure. Hobby Lobby has their fabric made for them in China, so it could the grams per square meter weight.


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