|I enjoy trying new patterns as much as the next person. However, I get a sick feeling when I wad and toss a high expectation/high price fabric that just didn't work. A lot of my reviews here have been trialed with $1/yard fabric from Wal-Mart, and some end up becoming part of my wearable wardrobe that my friends can't believe I made for less than $5. Here are a few tips for finding chic and cheap fabric.
1. Keep in mind that all Wal-Mart fabric departments are not created equal. I have better luck finding fabric at the regular WM's versus the SuperCenters.
2. Also, don't overlook the more rural WM's when travelling. My coolest fabric finds (metallics, knits, interesting wovens and colors, etc.) were acquired at those locations, as they are usually not fast movers there. Sometimes if you've bought a fabric at one WM, you can find its other colorways at other stores.
3. Make friends with the fabric department manager. I troll a particular WM almost daily mid-week, and she has even set aside a couple of bolts in the midst of being stocked that she "thought I might like..."
4. Midweek is a good time to check for newly-stocked fabric. I make daily runs Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday as they replenish the shelves for and from the weekend.
5. Exercise is important! Usually the fabric section is in the back of the store. Fabric shopping can be cardiovascular! Hoof it on back there!
6. Look for Golden D'Or bolt labels. They are often the manufacturer's end runs, and you'll find the quality and the unusual fabrics -- most of the time.
7. Avoid those rayon-y crinkle type fabrics. I always prewash and dry all my fabrics before cutting out. Those fabrics which look slightly crinkly on the bolt, will turn into an uncuttable mess and end up in the trash.
8. Check out the $2/yard bolt section. Often they are a bit nicer quality than the $1 ones, and you are still getting a great deal!
9. Form an informal fabric co-op with your other sewing friends, particularly those who live in different parts of the city. Work the network, you can cover and acquire more yardage that way! We know each other's colors and sewing taste, and will often call on the cell phone right there in the store with the words, "Hey, I'm at Wal-Mart and just found a knit you might like. How many yards do you want?"
10. Cull the herd. All these acquisitions can take over your sewing room/fabric storage capacity. About every 2 months, I will go sort the fabric and see and remember what I bought. And then wonder what state of mind or mood was I in?! Charity thrift stores and yes, even selling and making a profit on eBay are both good ways to recoup your mistakes and make more room.
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I'm the first one in line to shop and support the independent fabric stores, but they are becoming as extinct as dinosaurs. The fabric chains seem to be more crafty and quilty, but the more we shop and buy the good stuff from them, the more they will stock it and send more to the stores based upon sales figures. Online stores may be future, but I miss being able to feel and sew the fabric in my head while holding it. It is with a little guilt that I do shop WM, given their recent publicity. But when I do find a pattern that works out, I tend to make it over and over again, putting my support behind the fabric stores that support us.