Sunday, June 28, 2009

The "How Much Fabric?" Series: Dresses

A beautiful color catches your eye... You reach out and touch - the texture is to die for! You MUST have that fabric! But, how much should you buy?

Obviously, the ideal situation is if you have the perfect pattern in your hand - it will tell you exactly how much you need. But sometimes life isn't perfect and gorgeous fabric comes into our lives before we have a pattern picked out. ;)
Well, if you think the fabric will make the perfect dress, maybe this table will help. Just like with my previous skirts, pants and jacket tables, I collected dress patterns and entered the required fabric amounts into a spreadsheet, broken down by fabric width and dress size, and calculated the following table of minimun, maximum and average fabric requirements.

I collected more patterns than for my earlier tables, because dresses vary so much in their styles (and thus in the amount of fabric that they require). Approximately 300 patterns went into the values for 45 inch width fabric, and about 350 patterns went into the 60 inch width numbers. I included patterns from Simplicity, McCalls, Butterick, Vogue, Burda, Neue Mode, New Look, and some BWOF magazines (3 issues from 2009).

I whited out some of the minimum and maximum values for sizes 6, 22 & 24, because the extreme patterns that I found didn't come in those sizes, and so I felt that those values weren't accurate.
Of course, even with a table like this, you still need to have a rough idea of the type of dress you might make, and you still need to estimate the amount of fabric to buy. I like the table because I feel like using it helps me start my estimating from a solid foundation.
Remember that an "average" is a number that approximates the middle value - that means that there are a lot of patterns just above it, as well as a lot of patterns just under it. So if you think you are going to make an “average” dress, you should buy a little bit more than the average number listed in the table above.
But how much should you add? This “Safety Margin” table should help you decide, based on how large of a safety margin YOU personally prefer! :)

To help make the values in the table more concrete, here are some images representing the patterns requesting the minimum, maximum and average amounts of fabric:
The pattern in my table requiring the minimum amount of fabric is view C of this McCall's pattern (view D has similar requirements - only a bit more than the minimum for certain sizes):

Notice that it is basically short, fitted and strapless.

Here are 3 patterns that represent the maximum values of fabric from the table for 45 inch fabric, 60 inch fabric and 60 inch fabric / plus size dresses. Note that many of the larger dresses do not include patterns that will work with 45 inch wide fabric, and that all of these maximums include very wide, long skirts.

And here are a few examples of patterns that called for the average amount of fabric (n most sizes):

It seems that you EITHER get sleeves OR a full-ish skirt (but only knee- to upper-calf length) for an average amount of fabric.

Do you think these tables are useful? I have updated all of my tables with even more patterns and had them printed onto small, plastic cards - perfect for slipping into your purse and accompanying you on all of your fabric shopping trips! You can order a set of 5 sturdy cards (covering dresses, tops, jackets, pants and skirts) here for just $14.95 - both US and metric versions are available - or get the eBook version on your smart phone or tablet for just $7.00!  

You can learn more about them here:


Anne L said...

Wauw, you sure put a lot of work into these overviews. :-) I'm impressed.

Unknown said...

Ooh! What is the Vogue pattern in the 6th figure down (the shirtdress)? I don't think I have that pattern and it looks pretty cute (despite tons of yardage to make).


Nancy K said...

What do you do for a living? This is interesting, but it's a lot harder to figure out how much to buy without knowing what kind of a dress you are going to make than for pants. Either I buy too much or too little when it comes to using fabric in my stash for a dress.

Anne said...

You have amazed me yet again!! I posted a link to this article on Craft Gossip Sewing:

Anonymous said...

Wow! This is an impressive amount of work. I usually just buy random lengths of fabric if I don't have a plan for it. Now I can add logical analysis to my purchases. Thanks,

BConky said...

Thanks- these are so helpful.

Anonymous said...

Why doesn't the chart have amounts for sizes less then 6? I'm a size 2 and having some trouble figuring out how much fabric I'll need.

Shannon said...

Once again, excellent info. I love these tables!

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry but I don't know how big or small these sizes are. Can you indicate the dimensions of each of them? thank you

Carla Chávez Lino said...

just found yor blog, so awesome! I'm gonna learn a lot!
kisses from Perú :)

Maureen said...

I just found this site via google when looking to see how much fabric to buy for a dress I plan to free-hand create (no pattern). I really appreciate the work you put into this! Thank you.

Blacey said...

This is BRILLIANT! I love you for this!

Anonymous said...

Hi, this is very nice, but you don't state what set of dress sizes you are using [UK or US], or if you are listing amounts in metres or yards. This would help me understand what the table means. Thanks

Anonymous said...

I'm from the U.K and know a lot of the patterns noted are American, this is I would say an American site thus common sense suggests that these are U.S sizes and I believe they work in yards.

Gwen said...

I'm sorry to the folks who did not find this clear - there are 2 tables - one uses US dress sizes and the measurements are in yards. The other uses "European" dress sizes and the measurements are in meters.

At the time that I wrote this post, some years ago, I didn't realize that there is not just one "European" sizing system - but that different countries and different pattern companies use different sizing systems.

If you go to our website ( you can find the physical body measurements that go with the sizes listed in these tables.

I hope that helps.

All the best,

Anonymous said...

hello, im a newbie to sewing..
i thought of of starting with a simple dress. when i searched 4 patterns i got this starts with
fabric in yd:
-45":2 3/8
-60":1 3/4
can u tell me what this means? so how much fabric do i need?

Gwen said...

This means that the amount of fabric you needs depends on how wide it is.

Basically, if the fabric is narrower, you need a longer piece of it and if the fabric is wider, you can buy a shorter piece.

Pick the fabric you like and then see how wide it is.

Each bolt of fabric will have its width printed on a label on the end of the bolt. If you can't find this number, you can ask someone at the store to help you.

That is how you will know whether you need to buy 2 3/8 of a yard or 1 3/4 of a yard.

I hope that helps!

All the best,