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How (and Why!) to Set Up a Fabric Swatch Book!

Fabric Swatch Book, Free Download | Vintage on Tap

A fabric swatch book? What the heck is that?

I’ll just say it up front: my fabric swatch book is one of the most important tools in my sewing arsenal.

The swatch book has never before appeared in a single video, but I consult it regularly and it lives next to my giant sewing pattern library. Its invaluable. If I ever have a fabric question, its there for me.

A fabric swatch book is a book of possibilities.

Setting up my book was one of the very first projects I did as a textile design student and it taught me a few really important things:

  1. Fabric names and fiber contents
  2. Weaves and characteristics of each type of fabric
  3. Suitable end uses

Of course, this sort of education for a home seamstress and sewist may only come from a fabric mishap and can be a painful experience. For someone who may not know what is out there, they might not know of everything they could work with. Especially if you live in an area where really high quality fabric stores are not available, not being exposed to different fabrics and understanding how they differ can really set you back in growing as a seamstress.

Fabric Swatch Book, Free Download | Vintage on Tap

Online fabric stores can be a game changer, but you have to know where to start.

I’m sure there is a percentage of people who order fabric online because they expect one thing… but get something else.

Fiber content and qualities are described as accurately as possible, but if you’ve never been exposed to Georgette, you will have no idea what it is you’re ordering.

Enter, swatches.

I am a huge fan of ordering swatches, specifically ordering swatches in bulk. A swatch will tell you more than color of a textile- but it’ll show you the weave, the drape, the amount of body, the color vibrancy. It’ll give you the ability to test color fastness, laundering qualities, and how much your fabric shrinks.

Usually priced relatively cheaply ($1-$2 a swatch), I recommend picking up 3-4 swatches every online order to start building your book.

Fabric Swatch Book, Free Download | Vintage on Tap

Building your Fabric Swatch book is SUPER easy.

Gather up your materials!

Use the free printable!

FREE Fabric Swatch Printable!

Get this FREE printable swatch sheet in your inbox!

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My free printable is organized with what is most important to me in a swatch, specifically:

  • Fabric name
  • Fiber content
  • Characteristics
  • Source

The download includes three pages, the first as pictured above, the second page reverses the position of the swatch boxes (for an evenly balanced binder!), and the third includes blank boxes in case you want to track different information than what I use personally.

If you love working with nothing but natural fibers, you might want a box that talks about shrinkage. If you want to have pages dedicated to a specific fabric company, you might want to include a box that talks about release date or collection.

Ultimately, build your swatch book in the way that might work best for you.


Fabric Swatch Book, Free Download | Vintage on Tap

Step One: Ordering Swatches

Every time you place a fabric order online, order swatches. Every.time.

Swatches are cheap and you should really aim to start collecting swatches from fabric you’ve never used before.

Scuba knit? Double knit? Broadcloth? By ordering a few at a time, you start to build an array to add to your book. Also, if you’re seeing the same types of fabrics listed as recommended fabrics in your favorite sewing patterns, order them, too.

Another tip I recommend is that if you see a free swatch sample available, jump on it! For services like Spoonflower and My Fabric Designs, new fabric types become available regularly and swatches are usually distributed for promotional purposes. Put in an order and add it to the book.

Step Two: Build the Book

This is pretty straight forward, but please note a few things as you get started:

  1. Please use cardstock or thicker paper for this project. Regular paper is too flimsy for heavy use.
  2. You can print your sheets double sided! This way, you don’t waste paper and you can get more swatches into your binder.
  3. Decide early on how you want to organize your book. Do you want everything organized by source location? By color? By fiber content? This doesn’t have to be a strict choice, but it’ll help you organize things and find things later down the road when all like-swatches are near each other.
  4. 3M Double-sided permanent tape might not seem like it’ll hold: but it’ll hold (I promise!) My original university book still has its swatches firmly in place, even after 6 years!

Follow along with the video, and get your book set up. And then, flip through and admire it!

Step Three: Use the Swatch Book Regularly + Add to the Book

This is where the book and its uses really shine!

Picture this: you’re about to work on a brand new pattern and the recommended fabric is a satin charmeuse. You’ve never used satin charmeuse. But. You happen to remember ordering a swatch of that a while back- so you go and consult the swatch book. Now, you know what you’re getting into.

Or, you’re in a fabric store and absolutely NOTHING is labeled. But, you touch the fabrics in store, consult your book, and now know that you’re buying 3 yards of organza and what sort of sewing needles you should be using with it.

The uses in this vein will go on and on. A pattern might say to use a “silky type”- and you can flip through, find all your silky fabrics, and decide right away which one of them you’re going to use. Or, you might go into a department store and try on a top where you love the fabric- you can later consult your book to find out what they used so you can replicate it from home.

Adding to the book is a piece of cake.

Besides ordering the swatches as above, you’ll also want to add swatches of the projects you’re working on as you try new fabrics out.

As I said in my video, not all Italian stretch wool fabrics are going to be the same and documenting the differences are going to hone your sewing and textile discerning skills. Not all tana lawns are the same, not all midweight cotton knits are the same, etc. etc.

Building a catalog of the fabrics you’ve worked with- in addition to the swatches you’ve ordered, will make the book more robust and you’ll become stronger at recognizing the differences.

Ultimately, getting this fabric swatch book set up will allow you to expand your fabric knowledge and be able to more accurately select the perfect fabric for your project.

Fabric Swatch Book, Tutorial | Vintage on Tap

Do you have a fabric swatch book? What sorts of fabrics would you want to include right away?

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  1. Juana Fernandez Juana Fernandez

    where would i find the fabric information needed to complete the swatch book

    • Good question! You can find the info for your swatch book on a couple different places. If you’re buying the fabric in store, the info is usually printed on the side of the bolt. I personally snap a quick photo with my phone before I head over to the cut table, just so I have it on hand for when I head home. If you’re buying the fabric online, the info is usually listed on the website itself. If you’re ordering from a really nice place online, the swatches sometimes have a printed label attached to them that you can copy over.

      Hope this helps!

  2. Thank you! I have been thinking of doing this, but I have just never figured out a nice, clean way to do it. I have swatches to put in a binder this weekend!

    • Woo hoo! Hope the little download was useful for your book!

  3. Sherri Sherri

    I have a 12×12 book meant for scrapbooking. I put clear photo inserts in it each section measuring 3×5. It holds an index card containing info similar to yours and a fabric sample. I can remove thesample and take it with me if I need when I go fabric shopping.

    • Oh- that’s such a clever idea, Sherri! I might actually have to do something similar with the index card- it would make for such a faster trip to the fabric store that way! I also heard another good idea is to put the index card into an accordion sleeve, too.

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Vintage on Tap started in 2013

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