Tips for Purchasing Fabric Online, Internationally | Lobster Silk Commissions

It’s been a lovely quiet, productive and magical holiday week here at 3 Hours Past.  I’ve been down to Byron Bay again with my girlfriends, I spent time in the country at my in-law’s farm, swam hard and slept long, lazed around with Lila and Stephen for several days of crafting and painting, and have been fine-tuning the Petit Four concept….

Blue Lobster Dress | Half Circle Skirt | 3 Hours PastThanks for all your kind words about Stephen’s lobster painting– he’s terribly pleased with himself and get this– he’s happy to take commissions to paint lobster silk for you!  A few people have emailed me since Christmas to ask where they can get a lobster of their own, and the answer is on Etsy.

Blue Lobster Dress | Dali to Schiap | 3 Hours Past

I’ll pack it carefully in a mailing roll, wrapped around a cardboard tube and wrapped in tissue paper.  It’s ultra light, so the shipping isn’t prohibitive.  He warned me that subsequent Lobsters will be prettier than mine (now he has his hand in) and I’m not allowed to swap!  As if I would.  Check out the Etsy listing for more details and for Blue Lobster measurements.

I’m working on several small projects right now to delight and amuse y’all, finishing off the Pavlova work and finishing up the notes for the Tiramisu 30 Minutes a Day Sewalong that kicks off on January 8th.  I also have several classes lined up for January, and I’m fine tuning a system to make enrollment a breeze for you and for me.

How To Shop for Fabrics Online

I often receive emails requesting help shopping for knit fabrics, more so in the lead up to the Tiramisu Sewalong.  It seems to me that rural areas in general and particularly Canada and parts of Europe have a dearth of quality knit fabrics.  I’m very sorry.  In Australia, I can generally find what I want for knits at The Fabric Store and I’m very lucky to have that resource.

However, I have an appetite for eco-fabrics that my local Fabric Store doesn’t always satisfy.  Also, fabric prices in Australia are shocking.  For example, I can find very useful organic cotton knit for about $22/m on a good day if I’m lucky.  That’s fine in my book because I know the shirts I make from the fabric will be well made and get a lot of wear and in our house we love the way organic cotton feels.  The price also limits my consumption, which is generally a good thing.

This morning, I had a lovely email in my inbox from Fabric.com with a 30% off code (clear1212 for 30% off all fabrics).  They are not sponsoring this post, I am a very satisfied long-time customer and I simply want to show you what a great resource they are for sewists in fabric-poor areas.

I have ordered from them for years and years- at one point I stopped because I couldn’t justify the shipping prices.  Their customer service has always been prompt and thorough.  I am a politely demanding customer and enjoy putting retailers through the paces, just like I stress-test all my designs and fabrics.  I worked in retail for a long time, I know what good customer service should look like.

One time fabric.com sent me the wrong colors of two lengths of cotton slub knit.  Rather than pay for return shipping they let me keep the mistake fabrics and also sent me the correct colors.  That’s a company who cares about their customers.

Picture 41

I was recently tempted back to fabrics.com by their tencel georgette and the great range of organics.   I discovered that their customer service has become even better for international orders.  I could see they’d improved and updated the shipping prices when I ordered.  Then to my great shock and surprise, my big box of organic cottons and tencel arrived on my doorstep less than a week after I’d ordered it.  That’s a big big deal to someone like me who has waited 6+ weeks for fabric orders in the past.  Also, the shipping prices weren’t outrageously expensive.

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This is my shopping cart from earlier today.  I have several Cake Patterns projects coming up in 2013 that I want to sample in organic cotton jerseys and twills.  They’re awesome fabrics and since I wear my samples into the ground I’ll use the fabrics I like best.

I have heard nothing but good reviews of the organic French Terry and figured I could make a couple of light tropical sweatshirts for Lila & myself.  The mocha tencel is for another Negroni- I recently bought a length in brilliant blue for a dress for me and it’s a gorgeous fabric.  You’ll see the dress soon, it’s loooovely.

How To Get the Best Price as an International Shopper:

There’s a few little tricks to getting the best price when fabric shopping internationally, small ways of shopping that make a big difference in price per yard (shipping inclusive).  I’ve been doing this a while, but if I’m missed a trick let me know in the comments.

Picture 40

This morning, I went shopping and loaded up my cart with the fabrics I still need for projects coming up in the next few months, showing zero restraint.  It’s a clearance sale, the prices are already less than half what I’d pay here and I know precisely what I need.  It’s also handy that I sew from a limited color palette, it makes shopping much simpler.

Once I filled it up, I went into the cart and put in my information and held my breath to see the dreaded US-Australia shipping prices.  I also entered my code for 30% off (clear1212).  The shipping was around $64, and the clearance savings was something like $48.  I wasn’t happy with that, for the clearance to be worth my while I wanted the shipping to be less than the savings.

As a rule I never buy fabric online if the shipping costs more than the fabric.

Picture 35

So I threw out the Tencel crepe georgette.  I don’t have a particular project in mind for it, I just wanted to have a little on hand.  I used it to line the tulle Pavlova skirt and it’s marvelous- cool and light and drapey.

Then I started paring down some of the other yardages until the shipping dropped dramatically from $64 to $24.  In international shipping of all kinds, that’s the way it works.  There’s “tiers” of pricing for various weights of packages and sometimes the difference between a $64 shipment and a $24 is merely half a yard of fabric.  I’m not kidding, it pays to play around with the yardages.

I am happy with my final purchase- if I could find these fabrics here, it would easily cost twice as much as fabric.com (plus shipping).  *IF* I could find these fabrics here- which is doubtful except for the plain organic cotton jersey.

Swatching For Sewing Confidence

I’ve mentioned fabric.com consistently on social media and here on the blog as a great source of good knits, to the point it probably looks like I’m on their payroll (I’m not, if only…).  The biggest aversion to purchasing fabric online I hear from y’all has to do with the tactility of fabric shopping.  You want to touch and play with the fabrics before buying.  I get that, I do. Picture 34So order swatches.  Fabric.com (and other online retailers) know you want to touch those fabrics first, they want you to love their fabrics and return to them as a happy repeat customer.  It’s in their best interest as a retailer to let you sample their fabrics and to create a positive buying experience for you.

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That’s why they swatch everything they carry.  Even if you live in Antarctica, a small swatch of fabric is cheap to purchase and ship- get several at a time for the same shipping price.  After a while, you get a better idea of what all the information on a fabric listing means because you have ordered before and/or swatched.  I usually toss in a few random swatches when I order other fabrics.

Sometimes I torture test the swatches to be sure the fabric is appropriate for my purposes.  It works really well, and means I spend my fabric money more wisely because I *know* I’m buying the right fabric for the intended project.

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I hope this helps as you sort through shopping for your upcoming projects and for the Tiramisu Sewalong.  Many North American retailers treat us internationals like our money isn’t worth their time.  Most of them, in my experience.  Fabrics.com is not like that, I have zero reservations in recommending them to anyone.

Do you have any experiences using fabric.com you’d like to share?  It’s always useful to hear the good and the bad about something, so feel free to express yourself honestly.  Do you have any tips for finding great fabrics online?  Do you have any leads for local indies that carry delicious fabrics in your area?  Share! Let us all know!

Postscripts

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Psst- just over 24 hours left in the Pieces of Cake game on sewingcake.com. It’s been really, really fun so far.  I got a bit cranky about some of the methods being used to hunt for pieces.  Just a bit- it didn’t sit well with me that most people played the game as intended and others did not.

Next time we do a search game (yes, another one.  I can’t resist, it’s too fun), I would like it if you all would help me set very clear parameters so we’re all on the same page and have a good time.  (If you’re a brilliant tech wizard and you want to show off your tricks, then share them with everyone so we all get smarter.  Sharing is caring)   Assembled Pieces of Cake are rolling into the Pieces of Cake gallery, I am in *love* with the variety of submissions so far!

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Oh oh oh and one last thing before 2012 kicks the bucket- I have a German translation of Tiramisu’s instructions on my hot little desktop, translated by Constance who is opening a pattern and fabric boutique based in Germany.  More on all of that later- but for now if you’re a German-English speaker and you’d like to run your eyes over the translation before I place the text beside the illustrations and publish it, please email me.  Thanks!

(Also, if you’re a retailer or a sewist in a language other than German or English and you’d like to have a crack at translations or proofing in the future, email me.  I’m open.  Let’s work together.)


47 comments

    • Awesome! I’ve been trying to get good tech shots with a ruler etc but the light is not my friend today. Give me a bit of time and I’ll set up my “inside” lights and get the posting up this afternoon. :) I rather fancy the Blue Lobster would make a really pretty wall hanging… Framed piece maybe, all kinds of possibilities… AND I got him to agree to paint me a 1950’s Hermes riff for a blouse in the next few weeks…. He’s between projects at work so he has a little time for painting… :)

    • I went back through my shots from the other day, they really show a great amount of detail so I went ahead and made the listing, complete with measurements and a little bit of backstory. :) The commission is open!

    • Thanks for that. I detest Denver Fabrics, but as a general rule I try to only post about positive things/great retailers/fantastic fabrics here on the blog. It’s only a small personal rule, I don’t apply that to anyone else and appreciate Kat’s frank description of what seems to be the standard Denver Fabrics treatment.

      Let it be known there’s a very very distinct reason I’ve never mentioned or recommended Denver Fabrics / Fashion Fabrics Club and that reason is because their service is terrible and the fabrics aren’t worth the hassle. Denver Fabrics is dead to me. ;)

  1. Word to the wise: The US Postal Service is putting prices up on January 27th, and it’s a big jump for international destinations. For example, priority flat rate mailers are going from $16.95 to $23.95, and a 5oz first class package is going from $6.12 to $12.75

    If you’ve got a favorite shop in the US that uses USPS, get your order in now before the shipping gets silly. It’s the kind of price hike I doubt many sellers will be able to just absorb.

    • Thanks for the tip! :) I’m doing deep research into international shipping logistics because I’m tired of paying through the nose on shipping. Sometimes it makes sense, other times less so. When I finish, I’ll be sure to post anything useful I discover. :)

  2. I’ve ordered many things online (mostly from the US – I live in Canada), and I’ve figured out through trial and (expensive) error what not to do, at least for this country. The number one thing is to make sure it is shipped with USPS. UPS and FedEX charge insane brokerage fees that are usually higher than the value of the order. USPS gets transferred to Canada Post which charges nothing extra for orders under $100 in value, and $10 plus federal and provincial taxes for orders over $100 (so at least it’s predictable). I avoid any company that doesn’t offer USPS options for this reason. I actually just ordered from fabric.com for the first time a few days ago and emailed them first to ask about their shipping policies since they just state UPS/USPS as one shipping option, and they told me that as long as the charge is $15.95 it will be shipped in a USPS flat-rate envelope, but if the charge is higher, that means it will be shipped UPS. So I placed my order and I have my fingers crossed that they’re true to their word. I hope this helps any other Canadian online shoppers!

    P.S. I just found your blog, and I’m super excited about your Tiramisu sew-along! It will be my first sew-along and my first time sewing anything since high school. I just hope my fabric arrives in time!

    • Thanks so much for the tip, Chantal! We’ve been discovering that for some reason the border between the US and Canada slows down packages more than entire oceans do. Weird for sure. So thanks for sharing your tip!

      I remember quite a long time ago placing an order with fabric.com and requesting the flat rate box as an option. They responded immediately that they’d look into it, and that’s what they used for me. :) The thing about retailers is they’ll mostly do as requested if you make it easy for them and are polite.. Really really. And if they don’t, well, we’ve got other options for shopping, don’t we?

  3. It’s good to hear the shipping is sorted out because it was ridonkulous. I wrote them a grumpy email about it once and got a stupid response.When I buy quilting type fabrics at specialist sites, I know that I can get up to 9 yards for $16.95 in a GP envelope, but the same amount of fabric on fabric.com was about $30.
    I may have to go have another look… :)

    • Awww that seems a shame. Give them another go maybe, they really do have some amazing and lovely fabrics we can’t get here. :)

      Ever hear that old folk tale about the sun, the north wind, and the traveler’s cloak? I try to keep it in mind when pestering retailers… ;) :D

  4. They are having a great clearance sale right now. I was checking it out the other day but I’m being strong…. Tell Stephen that this art teacher is thoroughly impressed with his painted lobster. It’s fantastic! Can’t wait to see your dress.

    • :) Thanks for that, I’ve long admired his work and I’m tempted to go mining his field sketchbooks for more designs and prints… botanical sketches with watercolor mainly…

      The dress will be a little while yet, but worth it I think.

  5. So I’ve posted my completed Cake and I want the Tiramisu for the sewalong… When will you start sending out patterns? Thanks for doing such an awesome giveaway game!

  6. I have used Fabric.com lately and found them to be amazing, my order turned up on my doorstep 4 days after ordering – crazy fast. I also had played with the yardage as their website gave a bit of an insight as to pricing and taking out 1/2 a yard made a huge $20 difference in postage!

  7. I actually like shopping Fabric.com for some stuff. I also like lowpricefabrics.com – I’ve gotten some really cute stuff there – I just loaded up on knits and I’m waiting for everything to be shipped. I should have at least one package in time for the sew-along. I posted on sewingcake.com – I couldn’t find that 8th piece – oh well – I did buy the patterns anyway – can’t wait to get the wrap top :)

  8. I have only bought fabric online once from eBay, it was lovely but other than that I have only ordered swatches and never followed through. Restraint really isn’t me so there must have been some other reason.

    I am going on a fabric diet (rather than embargo, meaning there is a small monthly allowance :-) ) for 2013 but I have found some great advice in this post and I will definitely refer back to it.

    Also checking in to say that I am a native Italian speaker and I sew from instructions both in Italian and English, if you ever need help with that.

    I also wanted to wish you and the family health and happiness for 2013, since you live in the future! Thanks for all your knowledge and the wonderful, kind and always interesting ways in which you share it.

    • Thanks so much, Stef! :) I’ll keep Italian in mind.

      I wish you all the best in the New Year, too. :D I think we’ll get some good stitching going, at any rate…

  9. Steph, have you ever got things posted to your mum with the free US shipping and had her send them? I have always wished for a friend in the US that could do that for me!

    • I have before, but usually only for things that won’t ship directly to Australia. It usually doesn’t save any money and I feel like it’s a bit of a hassle for the fams probably.

  10. I actually am not sure I like doing the swatch thing and here’s why… Sometimes they actually run out of the fabric you want before the swatch actually arrives. And I live in Douglasville, which is a stone’s throw away from Marietta, where fabric.com is located. (If only I could just go down and check it out in person… but they don’t have an open-to-the-public store front) My luck at purchasing knits from them is only iffy. Sometimes even though it says it’s good for shirts and such, it turns out to be much too lightweight.

    So here’s my advice– Go for ones marked “jersey”, avoid any that say they’re good for layering tees, and try for medium weight. Generally, that gets me what I want, though sometimes even that is a crapshoot!

  11. Thanks for this post! I’m always hesitant to buy online but the selection in local stores is so limited. My limited experience shopping online has certainly been a mixed bag of positive and negative. I do have one thing to add and that is that I was able to get shipping way reduced when I ordered from B&J fabrics. I live in Canada and their only international shipping option was $50! I was only buying 2 yards so I called and they agreed to ship using USPS instead of courier. I think I saved about $35!

  12. When my parents go to Florida for the month of February, I do a fair bit of stocking up and have it sent to them and wait for them to drive back. I’ve only ordered once from the US to Canada and I didn’t mind the shipping rate but I was hit for broakerage fees etc and it took forever to clear customs. I would do it again if I *really* could not find what I needed locally, but I can usually wait until February.

  13. I live in Alaska and have the same problem with shipping. When shopping online my first rule is finding out if they ship USPS if not I will not order. There are a few exceptions to that rule. The other is a may call the company, especially small companies, and ask if they could ship USPS. Many are willing. I think many companies get hooked into the FedEX/UPS convince thing not realizing how much cheaper and how fast USPS can be.
    I do shop Fabric.com and I do ask for swatches. They are a big help when trying to decide on a fabric for a specific project.
    Have a Happy New Year.

    • I’m exploring DHL, too.. They have some really nifty options and services I never even knew about… :)

      Thanks for the tip!

      Happy New Year to you too, Annette. :)

  14. Pingback: 30 Minutes A Day Tiramisu Knit Dress Sewalong!

  15. The Lamington Cray is gorgeous! I may have mentioned it in comments when you first floated the idea of the lobster dress; I definitely thought of it. Seeing them in the wild is truly one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen in nature. The colours are so unexpected and amazing.

    • Cool! We’re planning to go camping for a while in Lamington (like… maybe a week or so) once the heat cuts us some slack. Really, really, really looking forward to it. I’m so hoping we can track down a Lamington Cray in the wild, it’s high on our list of things we want to do when we go! :D

      But yes, his colors… Just amazing…

  16. Stephanie, I’ve been reading and following just not much commenting recently. Thanks for everything in the past year – you are a stalwart in the tumult of life and BTW I’m still making versions of the original kimono wrap top! Thanks, at least, for that! Happy New Year to you and your family.

    • Ruth, I think that is one of the nicest things anyone has ever said to me. Thank you. :) I’m so so pleased you love that top, she’s really good isn’t she? :D

  17. I’ve generally had a good experience with Fabric.com. Even though I’m in the States, my area is quite fabric-poor, with basically just 2 of the same chain store in the entire state. So I rely quite heavily on fabric.com for even a lot of basics! I’ve never had any problems with their customer service, I’ve found the quality of the fabrics to be generally good, and I like that they have a lot of sales!

  18. Postage was only $24 odd – that’s impressive. I’ve looked there before but never bought. We get so ripped here…. I almost bought from Fashion Fabric Club (something like that?) but they were AWFUL service wise so I made zero purchases in protest. I’ve also emailed vogue/mccalls about their postage (ridiculous!!) they fed me back some rubbish, but it is still way cheaper buying sale patterns from them and paying the postage than buying retail here. Hopefully Aus retail can compete one day… PS – that lobster is beautiful.

    • seriously- the package arrived 4 days after they shipped it. And once I emptied the box, I could see I’d easily pay three times as much for fabric here. I know that aussie retailers like to shout about the internet taking their business, and sure I buy local and etc but there’s really almost no comparison for fabric choice and price if fabric.com continues this high level of good service. (especially when most of the time I wander around big fabric retailers here, the staff are completely MIA)

      Fashion Fabric Club and Denver Fabrics are the same Great Evil. They seem to have two names.

  19. Pingback: Wintry Pavlova Fabric Picks & Position 1 « 3 Hours Past the Edge of the World


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